“Double Negative (Yes, this poster is not…)”
public poster campaign, digital prints at A1 and A0 size.
included in the Bucharest Biennial, Romania, 2014
This project attempts to visually manifest a “legibility” of social and ethnic difference via a series of posters that will be placed in outdoor public spaces on the occasion of the Bucharest Biennial in Romania. But rather than attempt to create a unifying or even utopian vision of a community, the overarching message is, paradoxically, one of both affirmation and exclusion, and more reflective of the contradictory nature of citizenship and immigration—insider and outsider status—as indicated by language and legibility.
A series of 20 different large-scale color posters will be printed, each in a different language (i.e. German, Czech, Ukrainian, Russian, English, Romanian, etc), each proclaiming what they are not, and alluding to the presence of yet another group. For instance, a poster could state in Hebrew: “Yes, this poster is not in Russian.” The posters would be placed in public spaces, akin to advertising posters.
Essentially a double negative, the phrase “Yes, this poster is not…” parallels the perceived positive and negative status of a culturally changing Europe, especially as it pertains to border areas and flows of migrants across expanding territories. On one hand, immigration is seen as a source of cheap labor, an invigorating push that helps stimulate business and growth. And yet these same immigrants become looked upon with suspicion after attempting to create their own cultural niche within a larger, mostly homogenous social structure. After skin tone, an ethnic community’s language is the first obvious marker of difference, and can be considered a liability to “integration” into society. Ethnic enclaves can be perceived as areas of vibrant diversity or a kind of self-segregated, insulated ghetto, depending on which angle is taken in describing it.
Public signage, billboards, and advertising all reflect local tastes and communities. The presence of signage in foreign languages is indicative of a foreign audience and community. While these signs may not be understood by all, they are completely and collectively understood in a different way: that of indicating presence of an audience that can read it.
“Double Negative (This Poster is Not…)” poses a question to the general public: to whom is each poster speaking, and of what? Is this legibility/illegibility a perceived threat—not by actual message, but by mere presence?
For example, if one does not speak Arabic, the poster text will only be read as belonging to a “foreign” tongue. And if one does speak Arabic, the cryptic message points, paradoxically enough, to what it is not — not in another tongue, that is. In any case, it may also be true that as an “outsider,” it can perhaps be comforting to stumble across text in your native language, no matter what it says, because, paradoxically, it affirms your legibility and presence within that society.