No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man” — Scott Froschauer

  • Experimental artist Scott Froschauer’s Word on the Street project employs the materials and visual language of street signs, whose messages have been replaced by the artist with positive, affirming and inspirational language.

    SCOTT FROSCHAUER: My name is Scott Froschauer, and I’m an experimental artist living in Los Angeles. I studied photography and drafting in high school, but then I dropped out of art school in college, mostly because I didn’t believe that I was good enough at drawing. I thought, at that time, that drawing and art were somehow connected and that that was really important. If you couldn’t draw very well, then you were never going to be a good artist. In retrospect, I can look back and say I had a really tight view of what art was and what being an artist was. Now, I think a lot of the work I do is in an attempt to counteract those perspectives that I had when I was younger and even what my own definitions of art are about.

    My “Word on the Street” series is about Department of Transportation specification street signs. I use the materials and the visual language of street signs, but where you would normally find hostile and threatening language like ‘Do Not Enter,’ ‘Wrong Way,’ negativity, I replaced that with positive affirmations, things like ‘Breathe’ and ‘Relax,’ ideas about inspiration rather than ideas about threatening and confinement.

    In our culture, there is a profit motive in telling us there is something wrong with us. My project with the “Word on the Street” is to find a way to counteract all of the alienation and all of the ‘there’s something wrong with you’ language that’s in our culture by using this visual language of street signs, and putting these messages in a place that’s surprising. This is an opportunity for art to be in a place where nobody expects to see it, so there’s a surprise there that might carry through with them that they could imagine that this could happen at other points, at other times in their life.

    I’ve been building art at Burning Man for over a decade. One of the keys to Burning Man art is that it’s experiential. It’s not about taking a picture of it, it’s about being in the presence of that work and what sort of emotional reaction you might have with it and those sorts of things. That’s one of the big goals of taking art away from Burning Man and putting it into the real world.

    It’s important to me to create pieces that operate in that way. Just looking at a photograph of it doesn’t capture that excitement, that first moment. If you see one of my ‘Peace’ signs that looks like a ‘No Parking’ sign, it looks really intimidating and really irritating, because those are really irritating signs. All of this random information, and you walk up, and it’s a poem from Lao Tzu about how to create peace in the world, so now you get this transition moment of, oh this isn’t irritating, this is actually something that’s here to make me feel better and something to inspire me.

    When I first started this project, I was fabricating the signs and putting them up illegally. I think that there’s a misconception of street art that it’s just visual noise. My experience with street art is that it’s a counterpoint to advertising. That we are inundated with advertising and that corporations have the ability to get their message across, but their message isn’t always healthy, and it’s often alienating. Street art often works in opposition to that advertising to provide an alternative message.

    When I first started this process, I was working with it as a street artist. I would produce these signs, I would fabricate them, and go out in the middle of the night with a team of friends who would be lookouts, and we’d scout out a specific location, and then install one of these signs. It would take weeks of planning to figure out where the sign would go, and how it was going to be installed, and how we would protect ourselves so that we wouldn’t get caught to do it. The signs are actually expensive to fabricate and they take a long time. Some of them might only be up for 24 hours before a municipality notices them and takes them down.

    Then I realized that if I’m going to continue doing this, I need to find another angle. That’s when I started actually applying to the municipalities and saying, “Hey, how about I do this with your approval?” Now I’ve kind of made this transition from being a guerilla street artist to actually being a municipality-approved artist and actually being paid to put the work in the cities. Now they want it. It’s still kind of subversive in that I’m using their materials and their installation techniques. I’m just counterfeiting it and replacing it with my message.