Group Project Curated by Elena Siemens

Elena Siemens, Great Portland Street, London

It’s Summertime in London. On Great Portland, traffic lights bring transport to a temporary halt. The cyclist in the back row is checking his watch, the one in front waits with resolve. On the big red bus, the Aladdin ad “IT’S BEEN MAGICAL!” transports me to a Christmas of another year in New York, and the New Amsterdam Theatre on Times Square, where I saw Aladdin. Shakespeare’s “All the world’s a stage” is playing in my head.

A sequel to The Traffic Lights Pop-up Part 1, this new installment further interrogates the pros and cons of the New Town. Can it match the Old Town, where each house “has its own particular face,” and streets are “spontaneous and transitory”? (Lefebvre). Student groups represented in this sequel include “Theatre/ Dance,” and “Surrealist Windows.” Guests contributions offer images of traffic lights in Brazil and Montreal. This time invited entries also offer poetry and art. Is it a contradiction to pair the functional with high art?


Tammy Ausma: “From atop the light post, the Ballerina ceases being De Certeau’s walker and gains the panoptic perspective of the voyeur. She sees the streets ‘like a wasteland [which] is boring, like everywhere else is boring’ (Lefebvre). Meanwhile, the spectacle of her presence causes her to ‘become a delinquent; … [and] a threat to ‘public order’, as she disrupts the unified flow of traffic below her. (Baudrillard). I named the collage Brisé, a ballet term which means to break in order to show the duality and fragility of each of all these concepts, as they transition and break into one another while still coexisting.”
Vivian Wang: “It’s just not as simple as Lefebvre writes in ‘Notes on the New Town’: ‘nothing but traffic lights.’ Any place can become a spectacle. To quote Baudrillard: ‘Where is cinema? It is all around you outside all over the city, here the continuous performance of films and scenarios'” (Baudrillard).


Odile Cisneros, Florianopolis, Santa Catarina, Brazil: “Brazilian Carnaval (Carnival) is the annual celebration that precedes Lent in the Catholic tradition.”

Martha Nandorfy offered this comment in reply to my email about the Traffic Lights project: “I remember driving an old Mexican lady from Oaxaca in Guelph at night, and when we stopped at a red light, she asked all incredulous why I would do that when there was no one around…” This is similar to a scene in Under the Tuscan Sun (dir. Audrey Wells, 2003), in which Marcello explains the meaning of traffic lights in Italy to his American companion:

Frances : Do traffic lights mean anything around here?
Marcello : Sure. Green light – avanti, avanti. Yellow light – decoration.
Frances : What about red light?
Marcello : Just a suggestion.

(Under the Tuscan Sun)
Laurin Mackowitz, Smile at Red (aquarelle on paper): “The emotions of traffic lights balance cars and bodies. Symbolic barriers open and close. Colors are codes: red alerts your attention, yellow calms you down, by green you go in peace.”

“Semáforos imaginarios/ Imaginary Traffic Lights,”

En mi pueblito manchego nunca hubo semáforos
y la chica que un día fui creció fantaseando
con la ciudad, los flashes y todo el caos urbano.

I dreamed in green and amber, but red was my mind:
I could taste red in the kisses I thought I could have,
a red paralyzing my heartbeat, soon to interrupt

el verde en su afán por separarnos los labios.
Pero verde es también esperanza y, como en las
películas, deseaba otro rojo para besarte más y más.

Another green light, an emotionless pass:
I’d hold hands in prayer and count the seconds
in kisses, until colour or dream passed.

Sofia Monzon Rodriguez

Jeanne Mathieu-Lissard, Une bréche verte et rouge (Red and Green from a Cracked Window), Notre-Dame East, Montreal: “Since I’m from Montreal, I see this as somewhat of a reference to [Leonard] Cohen’s poetry: ‘there is a crack in everything/ that’s how the light gets in.'”


Brendan Heard: “This intersection is at the corner of my street, I walk past it every day and night seeing the same Circle K and apartment buildings, each cubicle lit up at night, everyone telling a different story. Thousands of students walk across these streetlights every day, seeing the same things I do, we are [De Certeau’s] walkers. The voyeurs stare below not knowing where any of the walkers are going. This is why I chose to create an image that represented a theatre, a stage, as that what walkers and voyeurs truly are. There are lights and seats for the audience to watch, it is truly art, the interaction between walkers and voyeurs. These buildings ‘symbolize a New World breeziness, and a gentle desire for social transparency – a rejection of class structures and hierarchy’ (Coupland).”
Emma Jones: “My image is called ‘Snoopin,’ and it depicts a surrealist version of the experience you get when walking at night and you can see into people’s illuminated apartments. Coupland describes this phenomenon in Vancouver, ‘a city of glass buildings and no curtains, and everybody gets to watch each other. A voyeur’s paradise, so to speak’ (City of Glass, See Throughs). The apartment in the image shows zoomed-in views of people eating (often a very intimate activity, particularly when you lick your fingers like the man in the top right), and the man with the binoculars can see them in great detail. In this way, he has become a voyeur.”
Elena Siemens. Kizombalove, Brussels

I took this snapshot of the flamboyant Kizombalove dance promotion on the historical Place de la Monnaie in Brussels. Both this square, and its most prominent landmark, The Royal Theatre of La Monnaie, are named after an old mint that once stood in this space. “Visible things always hide other visible things,” declares Rene Magritte, Belgium’s premier surrealist (qtd. in Siemens). In his own art, Magritte also chased after the contradictory and the unexpected, as in his Listening Room  picturing a giant green apple that takes over an entire room. Warhol’s larger than life Campbell’s Soup Cans, and Martin Parr’s more recent extreme close-ups of ice-cream cones and bananas (Common Sense) represent this trend as well. This project’s similar quest to elevate the ordinary (traffic lights) into the extraordinary resumes in Part 3 with more debates, images, and poetry, as well as new travels to Greece, Korea and Toronto. 

Read Part 1 here