Readers may recall our last encounter with Extensions: the Online Journal of Embodiment & Technology. Contributors to this publication include that mistress of mangled language, Professor Caroline Guertin, and Headlong Dance Theatre, whose Thrash: Physical Responses to the Bush Administration is forever seared into our memories. Another, no less daunting, contributor is Bettina Camilla Vestergaard, a Danish artist whose work “explores how collective identity and personal narrative engage one another using a variety of mediums.” Vestergaard’s artistic approach is described, by herself, as
Conceptual and research based. She works with photo, video, sound, drawing and installation. Her latest projects concern identity and gender with a focus on how this is constituted in public space.
The Online Journal of Embodiment & Technology is no doubt honoured to host a Vestergaard original titled Free Speech on Wheels, Let Your Opinion Roll, and which takes the form of
Intervention in public space, writings on car, photos and video.
I can tell you’re intrigued. Vestergaard obliges us with an account of how this “intervention in public space” came to pass:
I had been awarded a stipend from the Swedish government that enabled me to live and work in L.A. for 6 months.
But of course. And why not? Artists do endure hardship for the betterment of all mankind.
I had high expectations of the city’s complex cultural diversity, so it was quite frustrating that my first three months primarily consisted of passing time in quite residential Hollywood, sitting alone in my car, shopping and getting fuel for yet another round.
As I said, hardship.
I had a feeling of involuntarily being trapped in a fixed pattern that repeated itself: like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, my life had begun to revolve around itself, slowly but surely reducing my mental activity to a purposeless series of meaningless events. I conceived Free Speech on Wheels as a means of short-circuiting this experience.
For the betterment of mankind.
The basic idea was to muddle the barrier between public and private, by creating a space where the many and varied identities of L.A.’s communities could be expressed. I began by parking my car where a large group of people were wandering about and proceeded to put up a sign with the following text: “Free Speech on Wheels – Let your opinion roll.”
Of course some artistic interventions need a little nudge:
In order to kick-start the process, I asked the first volunteers the question: “What does being an American mean to you?” I received a lot of different responses depending where I had parked. For example, there was intense writing activity during a downtown student demonstration and at Earth Day, while it was absolutely zero at the Santa Monica Beach promenade.
Fortunately, things soon picked up dramatically.
Then one evening something happened; I had parked at the corner of Alvarado St. and Sunset Blvd. Quite a few people came and wrote on the car, including two middle-aged women whose conservative attire stood out in the crowd. It wasn’t until later, when a commotion arose, that I saw that they had written “FUCK THE POLICE!” in large bold letters on the drivers’ side of the car.
Gasp. Revolution is in the air. And sparked by two women in conservative attire.
My next stop was the May 1st demonstration, where I parked the car in the middle of Macarthur Park. Everybody was incredibly excited about the idea and the atmosphere was full of seriousness, concentration and humour. FUCK THE POLICE had legitimized a liberty where people could express themselves without reservation, and when I left the park, the car was covered in text. In the period of time that followed, I experienced how the car had taken on a life of its own, as it constantly invoked reactions wherever I drove… I saw how my own role had evolved from being the one reaching out to people for their input to conveying these inputs to others.
“Conveying inputs,” see, for the betterment of mankind. Is further escalation even possible?
With the addition of FUCK THE POLICE, the car had developed into a place where it was permitted to express oneself against power.
By the Great Beard of Marx, the revolution is here. It’s a socio-political avalanche.
The car became a transcending force, breaking social boundaries, and erasing memories of my humdrum Hollywood existence, except for when a police officer pulled up alongside me, at which point there was no doubt that my privileged position in society acted as a protective shield.
With such transcending force unleashed, the Oppressive Bourgeois Hegemon™ will surely have been enraged. Thank goodness Ms Vestergaard had sufficient “privilege” to shield herself against the terrible, terrible power of a nearby police car. Video of this transcending force in action can be found here. The material residue of The Vestergaard Odyssey can be admired at length below.
Ms. Vestergaard’s artistic endeavours have been subsidised by the Danish Arts Council, the Arts Grants Committee Sweden, the Danish Ministry of Culture and the Cultural Council of Aarhus. Further mighty works can be encountered here, along with their vast and staggering cultural implications.
If you can, make a donation. I’ve hit men to hire.