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Detournement of Street Signs – Law Series

Detournement of Street Signs by Chris Girard

Law Series is a type of photo detournement. It constitutes repurposed photographs of street signs that are either cropped from their original state or framed. The change in composition alters the rules and regulations to produce other rules and regulations.

Detournement, Laws of Movement & Expression

When I was 21 years old taking art photography classes, I was interested in exhibitionism and the performance that one acts when on camera. I looked at constructs of intimacy and the clashes that it creates. I believe regulation creates the boundaries of intimacy and a change in the rules changes how one behaves. In a way, isolation forms the placement of these regulatory mechanisms. Expression isolates or ‘interiorizes’ and even alienates from these mechanisms. Outdoor NO signs clearly show these mechanisms. I lived near hundreds of these signs growing up in Orange County, California.

Photo Detournement by Chris Girard

The four scenes in each of the photo collages evolve a story by a reader who searches for correlations and patterns in scattered and ephemeral environments. California housing associations estrange these landscapes and gated communities by heavily regulating them.

External Regulation & Internal Expression?

Laguna Niguel is an inland town that borders the beach town of Laguna Beach in Orange County. I noticed when visiting my parents how many NO signs there are. Niguel Summit, which is the housing association my parents lived in the 1990s and 2000s, offers at least one NO sign for every 15 feet.

I decided to photograph all of these NO signs within a one mile perimeter from my parents’ home. It’s funny and absurd in a way to have a No Parking sign followed by a No Trespassing sign followed by a No Parking sign. This is something you wouldn’t see in most other places. Other places where I subsequently lived, like San Francisco, London or Los Angeles, do not do this.

I believe this has to do with is Laguna Niguel being a collection of privately-owned housing associations rather than a town. This phenomenon of private housing associations seems to define upper middle class living at the cusp of the 20th and 21st Centuries. These McMansions that look alike are also located next to shopping centers with the same stores. I wanted to explore how identities form and become alienated in these regulated private communities. So I made a detournement.

Photo Detournement by Chris Girard

Glass, mirrors, fog, blur and shadows symbolize intimacy. These selfies are taken indoors and reflected on glass and mirrors taken on different beds.

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Street Signs & Audio – Lady/Applicant: The Lazarus

Lady/Applicant: The Lazarus, street signs, by Chris Girard

Chris Girard describes the audio and video poems from the installation.

Lady/Applicant: The Lazarus is a multimedia installation and experiment in new media poetics that strategically re-imagines authorial identities. These identities are particularly those from street signs and audio clips of renowned confessional poet Sylvia Plath. By presenting collaged audio and video recordings, the project radically questions the power traditionally associated with the author. Since Plath’s suicide almost 50 years ago, she continues to be cast as a depressed wife and mother. The imperatives of this role still weigh heavy upon the production of her biography and the reception of her work.

The collaging of audio and video clips reembodies Plath as an omnipresent ghost and shifts meaning away from an exclusive association with the tragically depressed, the pathologized Plath. But, instead of disembodying the writing entirely away from the author, the author now wavers productively between Plath, reader/viewer and myself. The act of shifting references away from the author’s life and intention enables the writing to become more open to alternate interpretation, more open to this new historical moment and audience.

Print Versions

The collaged audio and video poems can be experienced through watching and listening to them. Printable PDF versions of the audio and video poems can be found here for audio and here for video.

Lady/Applicant: The Lazarus, 2009-10, Audio Collage

Installation Details

The installation consists of audio and video collages that are created through the cutting and rearranging of prerecorded audio and video recordings of texts into sequences of connected texts that play new poems.

The audio component was collaged from the poems that Sylvia Plath read in the early 1960s entitled Lady Lazarus and The Applicant to form a new hybrid poem entitled Lady/Applicant: The Lazarus.

Lady/Applicant: The Lazarus, 2009-10, Video Collage

The video component was a series of video collages of texts documented near the location where Plath committed suicide in Camden, London. The installation explores how meaning shifts from the intended authors recorded on the audio, video and images to myself through the process of collaging and recording the installation objects.

Theory Alert…

While the project primarily touches on issues of authorship, embodiment and performativity, discourse surrounding digital and new media poetics shows the effect it has on the reader too. It shows how the attribution of an author by the reader becomes complicated from the instability and constantly changing state of screen-based interfaces like that of the project.

For example… Plath, an American who lived in England for only a few years, oddly spoke with a fake English accent during these readings. It suggests a construction of identity to place. The audio presents a phonetic collage of Plath’s voice from BBC recordings of her poems Lady Lazarus and The Applicant during her stay in London and a few years before her death in 1963. The fragments of audio are sliced, extracted and rearranged from individual words of her readings to produce a seamless collage of poetry.

In theoretical terms, the project explores ‘performativity’ of the ‘author function’. The ‘author function’ is a term coined by poststructural theorist Michel Foucault to describe how readers attribute certain characteristics that they believe belong to the author and ascribe them to the writing.

‘Performativity’ is a term used by philosopher Judith Butler to describe a set of actions that ascribe and predetermine a set of attributes to a subject through his or her gender, age, timeframe, nationality and race.

The performativity of the author function appropriates these characteristics of an identity and attributes the characteristics to the author. For a much longer explanation, please see Ph.D. thesis here.

Installation Process & Behind-The-Scenes…

This image shows the process of collaging words from Sylvia Plath’s Lady Lazarus and The Applicant (bottom tracks) with SoundTrack Pro to form a new hybrid poem Lady/Applicant: The Lazarus (top track).

A poem was created based on street and storefront signs found near Plath’s former residence and place of death in Camden, London. These clips were weaved together on iMovie and inspired by experimental filmmaker Hollis Frampton’s film entitled Zorns Lemma. They are composed of texts arranged in a semiotic sequence that are subservient to their visual surroundings. The cadence of sound and the sequence of visual texts from instructional and public signs filmed within a five block perimeter of 23 Fitzroy Road reflect the constraint and play of a historical moment.

The plaque images show a transformation of a historical moment to an instruction. William Butler Yeats lived in the same townhouse that Plath committed suicide in about 25 years before. Though both are noted figures, only the plaque of Yeats is shown in front of 23 Fitzroy Road. This component was included in the installation as 4×6 matte photos scattered on the floor.