Group project curated by Elena Siemens

Elena Siemens. Christmas on 5th Avenue, NYC

Henri Lefebvre famously lamented the demise of the Old Town: “As yet there are not that many traffic lights in Mourenx. But in a sense the place is already nothing but traffic lights, do this, don’t do that” (Lefebvre). He urged to introduce “surprise” and “possibilities” to the New Town, and to “think of it as a place of privileged experiment where at last men are about to conquer and control their everyday lives.[…]” (Lefebvre). 

The Traffic Lights Pop-up combines entries by students and invited artists. Student participants formed several working groups, each devising their response to Lefebvre. Foucault’s dictum “Liberty is practice” (Foucault), de Certeau’s “second poetic geography,” (de Certeau), along with other sources from Baudrillard to Douglas Coupland, provided additional guidance. Salvador Dali’s Lobster Phone (1938) and Rene Magritte’s Golconda (1953) served as examples of how to elevate a casual snapshot of traffic lights.

Student Group Prehistoric

Greg Student: “By implementing fossilized dinosaur skeletons throughout the cityscape, I aim to highlight the fragility of life; a life in which even the most powerful and fearsome of creatures will meet an inevitable end.”
Zafir Buteiri: “The Raptors and the Pterodactyl in the sky are all coming from the secure and safe freeway into the intersection of vulnerability trying to warn the other. While the T-Rex, selfishly is running towards the ‘safe and secure’ Whitemud freeway. All attempts to reach a haven are futile, yet characteristically, these dinosaurs act as though they may have a chance. ‘The city was here before the freeway system, no doubt, but it now looks as though the metropolis has actually been built around this arterial network’ (Baudrillard).”
Merna Rachid, Beirut. “[…] there aren’t too many traffic lights/ intersections in Lebanon in general (I swear that country has no driving laws!)”

Invited contributions cover diverse geography from Beirut to Montreal to Brazil as captured by professional and amateur artists. Pop-Up exhibits disregard conventional hierarchies of professional status, location on the map, and subject matter. Traffic lights, we argue, merit close-up exposure.

Student Group Sci-Fi

Declan Keeler: “The image of the alien at the bus stop is evocative of Lefebvre’s idea of traffic lights representing the arbitrary rules to which we submit ourselves as members of an urban society. The flying saucer does not need to follow the rules of the road – it is capable of avoiding traffic jams and red lights, and yet it does.”
Colby Brodeur: “One night this past summer, I was out alone in my neighbourhood learning on my new longboard. I slipped and shot my board out onto the road at an intersection. Luckily, it was late out and there was only one car on the road in the distance. I ran to the edge of the sidewalk and waved my hands to catch their attention. Despite their acknowledgement, they continued on, and trampled my new board. […]. The crashed U.F.O. reinforces the authoritative nature of the traffic lights by turning them into eyes. The surrealist take on this ordinary photo of traffic lights helps call to our attention the absurdities in our own reality. How a world where people follow law over common sense, is just as bizarre as one with little green men from space.”
Elena Siemens. Utility box art, Vancouver.

In contrast to Lefebvre, Andy Warhol celebrates the New Town: “My ideal city would be completely new. No antics. All buildings would be new. Old buildings are unnatural spaces” (Philosophy of Andy Warhol). Warhol’s philosophy appears to find advocates in today’s Vancouver and its flamboyant utility-box art. This debate on the pros and cons of the New Town continues in Part Two across more destinations, both real and imaginary.