The 12 Signs. Transposed and illuminated (with various indexes) exhibition only focuses on the illuminated signs in Sam Durant’s oeuvre. In 2002 his work was assembled in the MOCA in Los Angeles and in the Kunstverein in Düsseldorf. During the Venice Biennale in 2003, he exhibited illuminated signs that were hung in unexpected places in the Giardini and the Arsenale. His work was also displayed in the Whitney Biennial in 2004. Throughout his variety of work, Sam Durant focuses on objects that have an historic, social, political or art history dimension. They all draw attention to aspects regarding the relationship between arts, culture and politics. For example, he made works on Land Art artist Robert Smithson or photographed designer chairs in an almost unrecognisable fashion. To Durant, historical facts are visual material that enables us to understand the present better. His choice of working with illuminated signs originated from an interest in social movements in the USA during the sixties. The way language is used on the picket sings people carry around interests Durant. He appropriates handwritten texts of these pamphlets known from photographs in newspapers and magazines. He chooses texts that were more general and not specifically linked to a certain period or event, such as: ‘Tell it Like it is’, ‘We Are the People’, ‘No Lie Can Live Forever’ or ‘Justice’. The texts can be given different meanings in our present time.
Another selection criteria, is the fact that they must be handwritten. The texts are then transformed into the industrial format of an electric illuminated sign, as used by commercial companies. The manual character of the text contrasts with the mechanical production. It also refers to the ‘manual’; the idea of how a work of art ‘should’ look. Parallel to this, he makes detailed drawings of the newspaper photographs, thus giving a part of history a new reality. He has the newspaper photographs themselves printed with a wide circulation and spread, they can be taken home by the visitor. Sam Durant’s illuminated signs are exhibited in white, museum-type areas as well as in public spaces. They are easily related to public situations due to the texts’ general nature. Everyone finds their own message or reflection in them. In the autumn of 2003, for example, four illuminated signs were displayed in Project Row Houses, a community organisation that also organises exhibitions. The illuminated sings were attached to local wooden houses and resulted in many reactions from local residents. The S.M.A.K. displays all eleven illuminated signs in a museum context for the first time. The exhibition opens during the weekend in which the museum celebrates its fifth anniversary. As homage to Jan Hoet, Sam Durant will make a new illuminated sign for the S.M.A.K. collection with the text ‘Male Chauvinists Beware’. This twelfth work ends the series of illuminated signs. The museum will also be displaying various drawings. Four different posters, which can be taken home by visitors, will be printed, serving as a point of departure for the illuminated signs.More about Sam Durant