Friends of the Orphan Signs grew out of a seminar that I taught about repair as an activity and strategy for artists that raised questions about history, appropriation, and relationships between creative construction and decay. For years, my solo art practice has involved, among other things, a preference for scavenged materials that bear traces of their past and for forms that are uncertain and fragile, precariously balanced between the half built and half collapsed. I found that some of the people in the seminar I taught in Albuquerque in the fall of 2009 were drawn, like me, to explore the shuttered motels of eastern Central Avenue, and shared my fascination with the stoic roadside skeletons of the old signs. Although mute and bare, they were still sturdy, and seemed to be waiting for something. We imagined that they called out for art.
What kind of art makes sense to for a group of newcomers to put in a roadsign on a barren lot in sketchy section of the mother road? The FOS group, originally myself and one other, had grown to include six artists educators interested in collaboration and in the potential of the signs; Bethany Delahunt, Lindsey Fromm, Jessamyn Lovell, Pete Yahnke Railand and Aline Hunziker. The reticence of outsiders , curiosity, and the conviction that drives the desire to provide a megaphone to the unheard led us to agree that we would generate artwork for the signs by working collaboratively with the public at large, especially with people who live, drive by, go to school or work in this part of town.
With concrete footings deep below the surface, road signs are hard to uproot, and untended ones just stand there and slowly shed wires and paint and bits of plastic. In their disrepair, the remnants of Googie design are both charming and depressing as testimonials to boom and bust. Restored vintage signs can be nearly indistinguishable from the superficial and slick retro-futurism of new establishments, but both bring bright light and color to a dark and dusty part of town. Friends of the Orphan Signs navigates this territory with a commitment to keep open the possibility for a non-commercial, stylistically hybrid, and changing voice of collective origin. We want to inject mystery, humor and surprise into the visual landscape of Albuquerque’s roads, and we invite all to participate. - Ellen Babcock
FOS members Aline Hunziker, Bethany Delahunt and Lindsey Fromm worked intensively with Highland High school students from January-June, 2011, to develop designs for a sign at 4119 Central Avenue. Forming an afterschool Art club, the FOS team introduced digital graphic design skills, critical thinking exercises and exploratory field trips to the teens as part of a collaborative design development focused on this particular orphan sign. Funding by the Albuquerque Arts Board, support from property owner Matthew Terry, and expert production by Sign Art Co. of New Mexico came together to produce the backlit, neon- lined sign that showcases the artwork of teens Hilary Weir, Ellie Martin, Gabe Thompson and Desiree Marmon.
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FOS holds a lease to use the three orphan signs that grace the barren lot that is the former site of the Tradewinds Motel. Since the fall of 2010, FOS team members have posted text messages submitted by the public in response to a number posted on the readerboard of the largest sign. With the help of Albuquerque’s Sprout micro-granting initiative, FOS has recently rehabilitated a second sign on this site, and launched a call for image submissions to post on this sign. In September 2012, FOS is planning a night of video projections onto the wall of the Octopus carwash at the western edge of the lot to celebrate the revitalization of the third sign on the lot. A call for short video submissions from the public for this event is posted in this exhibition - videos with a theme of lingering, or stopping and staying. FOS chose this subject as a suitable way to once more illuminate a section of the mother road.
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