reSIGNation. 2007 - 2009

Traffic signs, spray. Documented through photography.


Reassigning is the action of assigning a new duty or function to something or somebody that so far had been operating in a different way. Therefore it is also recoding – the alteration of the code or meaning of a sign. In fact, poetic creation means to unleash the polysemy of the signifiers that are hidden under a sign. Oddly enough, reassigning also involves political criticism. A urinal, a bottle rack, or a snow shovel, upon their being emancipated from their original usages and exhibited in a museum, actually unleash the innumerable signifiers that had been repressed under their main function or meaning. Only then can we begin viewing them as aesthetic signs, noticing their beauty for the first time. But these newly released signs also operate as powerful corroding agents against the general system of the arts, since they demand to be recognized as artworks, and thereby operate as social art critics.
There are a number of modes of combat that the contemporary arts have developed against conformism and resignation. Opposing the accepted idea developed in the late eighties that art is absolutely incapable of challenging the miserable living conditions that we have been doomed to exist in, and that it is a useless illusion, or even worse, that artworks are merely luxurious objects to be consumed by the upper classes, an ever increasing number of artists have developed their work as a strategy for poetic intervention, with definite political concomitances. These are artists who still believe that art is able to create a freer and more humane world, who no longer think that their work is necessarily designed to produce objects that can be traded, exhibited, promoted and sold in museums and galleries. As a natural space for intervention, these artists have taken not only the streets, but also the interstitial space where power is encoded upon citizens’ lives and conduct. This is how Valeria Schwarz works too. Intervening in the streets by surprising adrift pedestrians, showing her/him what he/she is actually seeing re-pictured in an image, or, as in the series we are dealing with now, directly intervening at the traffic signals, to generate equivocal or poetic signs where the signal loses its unidirectional ordering and commanding function (do not walk, do not park, one way only, etc.) and becomes either an indefinite enigma or a set of fascinating poetic proposals. This method of working also means subverting the code in order to not obey, not resigning oneself to accepting that the world as such is imposed on us,subverting the code by urging us to think, to become freer, more analytical, and more ironic.

Miguel Cereceda

Miguel Cereceda is a professor of Aesthetics at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and an art critic with the ABC daily newspaper in Madrid (Spain).