Client: City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs / Bond Companies (Real Estate Developer)
Location: Los Angeles, CA, United States
Completion date: 2005
Artwork budget: $20,000
Roschen Van Cleve Architects
Public Art Agent
Arts Manager, Airports and Facilities Planning Division, Los Angeles World Airports
(4' x 18' x 1' / Acrylic paint on aluminum sheeting)
The hand-painted mural is sited along a driveway/courtyard leading to the rear parking lot. Pedestrians and cars pass back and forth in front of the artwork. Five Los Angeles deaf actors use American Sign Language to convey, “Where does my voice touch you?” The signs for ‘where’ and ‘voice’ are broken into two images creating a simple animation. The sentence can be understood in ASL, from left to right or vice versa. Communication is suggested here as more than an intellectual transfer of data, but as a physical, bodily exchange.
“Orpheus,” illustrates the extent to which I strive for site-specificity. The painted outdoor mural uses a color scheme that directly harmonizes with the architecture. It references its Hollywood location by paying homage to L.A. based deaf actors. The work’s pleated surface reveals its message by utilizing the site’s predetermined passenger/vehicular back and forth movement. The artwork’s imagery references hip fashion billboards with its bold Andy Warhol style, yet also embodies the dignity of Orthodox Christian Icons. The American Sign Language hand gestures intentionally evoke gang signs as a means to reflect the site’s gritty urban location and win support of taggers who could potentially deface the artwork. This layered strategy is in service of an intimate, poetic message, unexpected in the context of a retail mall, “Where does my voice touch you?” The opening reception documented in the film “See What I’m Saying” was a meaningful validation to the deaf community and a rare opportunity for hearing and deaf to interact.
In addition to my site visits in the early stage of construction, Roschen Van Cleve Architects provided me with building elevations and color scheme. Experiencing the physical space firsthand, and having a precise idea of the architectural design was crucial in developing the proposed artwork. The final rendering of the accepted art proposal showed me from waist to chin performing the ASL phrase. Upon the strong recommendation of sign language author Gabriel Grayson, I hired sign language interpreter Cath Kiwitt in order to photograph five deaf actors (CJ Jones, Michael Davis, Megg Davis, Anthony Natale and Shoshanna Stern) for the finished painting. ASL is a full-bodied expression and who else to better deliver the message than local deaf actors? The process of educating myself on deaf culture, the unique structure of ASL and working with Jones and Natale to carefully choose the specific signs depicted was deeply and unexpectedly profound. Since the artwork's installation, I've been pleased to hear stories of people getting a taste of ASL by imitating the signs.