take a second look: photographic billboards by Karyn Olivier

inbound: houston

inbound: houston

inbound: houston

A comment someone made on my reduce, reuse, reimagine post from last week (on knitting needle jewelry) got me thinking about the idea of repurposing and, specifically, whether simply using something in a different way than it was intended to be used is an eco-friendly thing or if an item must have outworn its “workability” in its first life before using it for something new makes such use an “eco-friendly” act.

In the end I find its an argument I can take both sides on, and one that spins me around and around until I fall dizzily upon something different altogether.

Which is how I stumbled upon this week’s focus of attention: Karyn Olivier, the artist behind Inbound: Houston, a temporary public art exhibition displayed on, of all things, interstate billboards. Specifically, what Olivier did was use the billboards to display photographic representations of whatever really exists directly behind the billboard structures.

In Inbound: Houston, not only is Olivier repurposing existing structures (the billboards), she’s also doing something far more interesting: reclaiming a space usually reserved for big-money advertising in order to create space for public (read: free) art. The result is an art  installation that’s sure to turn heads, slow cars, and get people thinking – about the reuse of billboards, perhaps, or maybe about how we might reimagine our environments and our interactions with the landscapes around us. It’s worth noting how ugly many of the items pictured in the photographs are – power lines, transformers, and such.

For me, it’s got me thinking differently about the question that had me searching tonight in the first place: what does it mean to repurpose something, and is doing so an act of eco-activism even if said thing is still useful in its intended way? And I want to say that yes, in some cases, like in the case of Olivier’s installation, sometimes simply repurposing something can be an eco-friendly act. The billboards she used are, after all, still certainly useful as billboards. I’m sure that once Olivier’s run is up, they’ll once again be used to promote car insurance companies and health clubs and maybe even the occasional hit-and-run attorney’s office. But just seeing them used differently, seeing them turned into art and possibly even into a political statement, I think they certainly do make an eco-impact.

What do you think?

9 thoughts on “take a second look: photographic billboards by Karyn Olivier

  1. I love this train of thought! While the knitting needle jewelry was not to my taste I did find the idea clever. I like challenging myself to see things differently. The billboard project I LOVE! I have often imagined my art on the vacant billboards I see, but never thought of pursuing the idea. As for the repurposed vs recycled aka eco friendly conversation I say this. I think the knitting needles while clever are clearly repurposed as in the artist did not scavenge scavenge the needles from the garbage or the Salvation Army. She chose the needles she wanted with intent. Still the repurposing is a statement in how we can think about things. What else can I do with an item before discarding it and that is eco-conscious in my opinion. Especially when we are looking at the abundance of plastic in our lives.
    As for the billboard project I think the idea is brilliant. It is art as a political/environmental statement and raises all kinds of questions about art, advertising and environment. Kudos to Miss Oliver, and to you for sharing this. I hope the project gets the attention it deserves.

  2. Interestingly, I live in one of the few states where billboards of any kind are actually outlawed! They are considered to be a kind of “visual pollution”…keeping you from enjoying the natural landscape…

    That being said, I love the fact that this art also shows what you WOULD be seeing if the billboard was not there!

  3. I don’t consider this project to be eco-anything, but from an artistic standpoint, I find it very intriguing. I think it’s fantastic when art involves itself within the everyday environment and introduces itself to people who might not be exposed to much art otherwise. I love that this project makes people take notice of their surroundings and perhaps question WHAT they’re surrounding themselves with.
    Next I would love to see someone do an art history-type project on billboards, with billboards recreating da Vinci’s “Last Supper”, or Monet’s water lilies, or one of Pollock’s canvases, for example. Perhaps businesses/corporations could be involved to fund it. “We’re So & So, Ambulance Chasers & sponsors of the previous billboard.” Something like that.

  4. I agree with Nicole here on a bunch of points..I also wanted to say that I forgot to mention…that when you enter the state of Vermont, it looks so “different” BECAUSE of the absence of these billboards….we have almost become desensitized to all this visual junk…and it takes a few seconds to realize that the billboards ( and excessive signage, which is also not allowed) is what is missing!

  5. These signs are amazing (before I read the post, I didn’t even get that there were signs there at first!) I completely love this idea. I especially love that the normal big money companies aren’t advertised on them. I don’t, however, believe they are eco-friendly, except inasmuch as they are keeping non-eco-friendly companies from advertising on them. I think that’s a stretch. They are certainly repurposed, but I don’t think that repurposed is necessarily eco-friendly (although in many cases it certainly is.)

    When you use something new for something that’s not its intended purpose, you are not really saving the earth in any way. It can be creative, artistic, ingenious or clever (all great things!!!), but it it’s not saving any of the resources that making a new item use up, it’s not saving something from the landfill or ending up in the ocean.

    When you use something in a way that it’s basically intended to be used, and would be used anyway – like in the case of these signs – it’s not particularly eco-friendly, although it’s not particularly not eco-friendly, either.

    Very awesome, yes. Eco-friendly, no.

  6. I’ve wrestled with question about whether repurposing is truly eco friendly as well. I believe that it is if that item can no longer be, or will no longer be used as it was originally intended, so would therefore be discarded. I make jewellery from vintage kimono textiles and the fabrics that I choose come from pieces that are flawed in ways (usually a mark or tear or just general damage from time) so they can no longer be worn.

    These billboards are pretty amazing, though I wouldn’t put them in the eco-friendly basket.

  7. I agree , terms like ecofriendly and green and sustainable are used so broadly that they are a t risk of losing their original significance. They no longer point to a different way to do things when they become buzz words.
    I like the bill boards, they are fun, and I wonder how many people drive past them without noticing. What will the artist do with the canvases when they are removed from the billboards?Will she reuse them, ie. (make clothes or accessories?)auction them or store them indefinitely in her garage?

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