Storefronts Seattle recently had the chance to ask artist Ingrid Lahti a few questions about her installation, Forget, which can be found in The Tashiro-Kaplan Building. Ingrid has been making public art and solo work for over 30 years. Her work is incredibly diverse, ranging from video to sculpture to captivating neon sign displays.
What are the influences behind the messages of your signage?
In the late 1980’s, about the time that I began to concentrate on installation work, I read Roland Barthes and was impressed by his approach to meaning. There is an article about him in the recent, Sept 13, 2010, issue of the New Yorker. To get a feeling for what he was about I quote the article, page 26: “Those who love Barthes are reminded, by his writing, of what true intimacy details: supreme attunement alternating with bewildered estrangement. Instability – the instability of meaning, in particular – is his constant theme. The fragment was, ultimately, the form most congenial to him.” Roland Barthes ideas resonated with me.
The signs themselves grew out of my installation work. It seemed to me that viewers had trouble understanding my installations; I created spaces that I hoped would generate emotions in visitors – entering the space like entering the psychological state. In about 1993 I began using text (single words) to encapsulate the feelings I was trying to communicate to viewers, hoping to make it a bit easier, but not too simple. In 1999 I made my first neon sign “come here/GO AWAY” to set up the expectation of ambivalence at the entrance to my installation at Cornish College. Afterward, I noticed that this sign was able to stand on its own, separate from the installation. Then I became curious about other signs that could refer to common psychological dilemmas or general issues with commercial signage. “DO NOT/REMEMBER” and “PLEASE LIE” seemed to reflect the cultural atmosphere of the early 1990’s, the Bush administration’s era. Thinking along these lines, it made sense to revise the ubiquitous “EXIT” sign to “FORGET” – forgetting as a way of exiting a situation.
What do you hope to communicate to visitors and people in the neighborhood through your installation?
I would like folks to think about how tricky and complex communication can be. I am playing with ambiguity in language. My signs are not operating like commercial signage or advertising. My signs operate in a different way because they are about ideas. I have chosen words, colors, typefaces, and imagery to express contradictions, tensions, and desires I see in our culture.
What is the best reaction you can imagine from someone who sees your artwork?
Surprise and pleasure. I hope my signs are stimulating, fun, and freeing. My signs are not about hype or control, such as pressure to buy something, so they should come as a nice change.
How does the Storefronts Seattle opportunity change the way you see your own artwork and your career as an artist?
Getting a commission is always a boost to my confidence. I feel respected and, and since receiving the commission, I’ve gotten a lot of new ideas for signage and other aspects of my artwork. It feels good. I hope it brings color, life, and some thoughtfulness to the corridor.
What do you have in mind for your next project?
The next step for the signs is to imagine and develop other types of voices- little kids, intellectuals, geeks, moms, authority figures, etc. I think it would be fun to have a large installation space full of competing signs, like the many sorts of “voices” or opinions one finds in a public space, like a mall or a park or an airport, where all types of different people hang out.
Meanwhile, I will be installing my outdoor work from CoCA’s Carkeek Park, Heaven and Earth II in their new gallery in Pioneer Square in late October. I’ll have to reconfigure it a bit for the interior space. It is composed of 280 moving, mirrored plexiglas squares floating in a 8′ x9′ grid: the reflective bits recreate the pattern of the air currents generated by the flight of a butterfly. I took the pattern from a study published in 1996. Scientists were studying butterfly flight, because according to known aerodynamic principles, they should not be able to fly.
You can see Ingrid Lahti’s Storefront Installation in The Tashiro-Kaplan Building in the north windows facing 3rd Ave. To see more of her work, visit her website here.