Non-Sign II by Lead Pencil Studio 09.08.11

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Even those of us with nothing to hide typically approach a border crossing with a sense of loathing: invasive 
security measures and tedious bureaucracy rarely make for a pleasant experience. Not the typical environment for a transcendent artistic encounter, in other words, unless you happen to be coming from Canada to the United States at Blaine, Washington. Here you will be confronted by an invisible billboard that emerges from negative space punched through a cloudy thicket of steel rods.

"We wanted to get rid of the billboard itself and use the structure to frame the image of the sky, the atmosphere beyond," says Annie Han, who conceived and built the installation, Non-Sign II, with her partner, Daniel Mihalyo, of Seattle's Lead Pencil Studio. "The idea was to take the effectiveness of the billboard and turn it against itself," he says. "It's a really remarkable location – a mudflat, divided in two by the border – but because it's a security zone it's hard to appreciate the environment."

The installation, which took nine months to produce, was a commission awarded by the General Services Administration's (GSA) Art in Architecture Program, which devotes a small portion (0.5 percent) of construction costs of all federal projects to enhancing art works, the object being to ennoble public space and promote American artists. Unlikely as it may seem, the US government is a model patron. "They've been amazing clients," Mihalyo says of the GSA. Indeed, the government helped Lead Pencil find a studio that would allow them to complete the project. Other participating artists include such luminaries as Jenny Holzer, Sol LeWitt, Maya Lin, Ed Ruscha and James Turrell. The programme, miraculously, has generally steered clear of political controversy.

As its title suggests, Non-Sign II, is just the latest in a series of works by Han and Mihalyo that explore evanescence in architecture, the most dramatic of which, until now, was Maryhill Double (2006), a ghost-like clone of a museum building constructed with scaffolding and covered in netting. "In architecture you're always working toward the moment when a building is complete, toward a moment of certainty," says Mihalyo. "We're challenging the certainty of a finite conclusion."

 

Image

Lead Pencil Studio

 

Words

Mark Lamster

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The idea was to take the effectiveness of the billboard and turn it against itself

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