Scott Froschauer “Signs” Up to Inspire Viewers
by Genie Davis
“Signs, signs, everywhere a sign…blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind…” Once a top-40 hit in 1969 and more recently covered by Tesla, the negative, restrictive, and controlling aspects of signage telling us “Don’t do this/don’t do that…” is the subject the lyrics take on.
But artist Scott Froschauer’s signs do just the opposite – they expand the mind and the heart.
Using the materials and look of common street signs, Froschauer has replaced the usual commands of those signs with something far more positive. The Word on the Street is the artist’s public art project, unveiled in 20 different locations throughout the city of Glendale. With the installation, Froschauer offers lighthearted – and mood lightening, thought provoking – artistic signage.
Froschauer is hoping that viewers will take away increased engagement and compassion from experiencing his signs in the so-called real world.
According to the artist, “Our culture is based on advertisements telling people that they are incomplete until they own a certain product, and it’s also based on our information systems, which rely on people being afraid and angry to stay engaged. I feel like our culture doesn’t have very good mechanisms for telling people that they are okay. To me, it is a political act to talk about slowing down… it’s a political act to talk about being okay with yourself.” Froschauer adds “It starts with self-love, but the goal is increased compassion and empathy. I met a park worker while I was installing one of my signs and we talked about what the sign was supposed to mean. I didn’t give him any direct definition, but just kept asking what he thought. Eventually he said that regardless of the actual meaning of the sign, it made him feel something like, and he paused and said, ‘hope.’ I don’t know if there’s a better outcome than that.”
From diamond shaped yellow hazard signs that read “Breathe,” “Grow,” or “Relax,” to a one-way heart, Froschauer decided on the specific affirmations used on the Glendale signs through a combination of artistic process and self-awareness.
“I’m constantly playing with different language and different sign formats. Typically, I mock up a sign and let it sit for a while. Sometimes I make stickers of a sign to see if I like it and if other people like it,” he says. “That lets me tweak an idea before committing to an actual sign. But generally,” he adds, “the affirmations are for me. I think about what I need to hear and if I am honest enough with myself, then that message should ring true for others.”
Froschauer, who has had his signs featured in galleries as well as placed in public spaces, compares the two types of exhibitions.
“Public space is very different from gallery space. When we go to a gallery it is with an expectation to engage art. My current project is in direct opposition to that. The key to my street signs is that they are unexpected, that they might not even appear to most people. For example, I have some of my signs in Wallspace Gallery on La Brea, and someone observing the work there will pause and consider it as art. But when someone sees one of my signs ‘in the wild,’ they might assume it’s another sign that is telling them something annoying, or controlling,” he relates. “There is a huge amount of emotional energy in the moment of recognition that one of my signs isn’t a standard sign. It’s that surprise that fuels the project.” According to the artist, “The greater hope is that a viewer might imagine that there have been more signs that they have walked past and not noticed. That the art could be anywhere in their life.”
While the Glendale signs project will be on display to the public until November 2018, the experimental artist is not one to rest on his laurels. Froschauer will have several pieces from this series appearing in a show at the Renwick Gallery of The Smithsonian in Washington D.C. next March.
“I’ve also been in talks with other municipalities to do exhibitions similar to the one in Glendale,” he notes. “I’ve been doing large scale projects for years. My first projects at Burning Man were large, back in 2005 and 2006. I tailor the size of the project for what the project needs.”
Froschauer is versatile, and has worked in both very small and very large formats. He currently has several large-scale projects in the works, and is also working on a sticker and T-shirt line that carry the same message as his signs but in a more personal fashion.
“I’m also working on a project to put messages on LA City Busses called The Ming Ming Project,” he reports.
A delightful series still in the funding stage, it is designed to fulfil a dream to “place my cat, Mingus, on L.A. city busses, spreading his message of reassurance and judgement.” A prototype reads “Ming Ming says you know better than to do that,” and features Chinese-style type alongside the ginger cat’s expressive face. There are shirts, stickers, and social media supporting the project at http://mingmingproject.com/
And in the meantime, look for the signs Froschauer has placed throughout Glendale, and the messages he’s intent on placing in viewers’ hearts and minds.