By now, you know about my penchant for conceptual art involving text. However, Joel Ross is unlike most of the artists I’ve featured on this site in that he’s based in (gasp!) Illinois. His installations aren’t in subways or on busy street corners; rather, they mainly take the wonderfully ordinary and refreshingly subtle form of roadside signage.
From someone who lived a small town in New Mexico, can I just say, why the fuck isn’t this happening more? From a social standpoint, rural communities need art, especially given the lack of access to galleries, museums, and most public art. On the other end, art needs rural communities. If you’re making art that is meant to be interactive, provocative and catalytic, rural audiences offer a totally different response, and thus a totally different artistic experience. I feel like making and displaying art in the country is something that really hasn’t been tapped into enough lately, and it could definitely offer some radical new ideas and opportunities.
Take Ross’ words about his piece “Be Gay” below: (FTR, I actually find this description to be a tad SPARE-ME-PLS since Ross is not gay, but it’s still good in some ways.)
“This road [in rural Illinois] doesn’t get much travel. I use [it] for bike rides because, in the course of a 14- or 15-mile ride, I usually only encounter one vehicle. On a recent early- afternoon ride, a pickup truck came up behind me, and, as I typically do, I pulled my bike over into the grass so they could go by. As the truck passed me, someone in the cab threw a beer can in my direction and yelled out the open window. The profanity he used suggested the truck’s occupants were confused about my sexual orientation, and this confusion had clearly made them angry. I built and painted the sign the next day and then placed it at the spot where my new friends had tried to offer me a beverage. It was still standing the next morning as I made my way to work, but by Monday night it had been knocked down. It’s now resting comfortably on the floor of my shed.”
-Joel Ross on the photo “Be Gay.”