In the early 20th century, Robert Musil wrote about the most prestigious form of public art at the time: monuments dedicated to national heroes. But many of us will probably recognise our own relationship to public art today. It is only rarely that they openly manage to capture our conscious attention.
Musil perceived this as a deficiency and felt that art should make more effort to inspire attention –but in today’s media hubbub even a slightly subdued tone can be perceived as a strength, enabling the work of art to invite intimacy and contemplation rather than goal-oriented and hard-hitting communication; asserting ambiguity when so much in our contemporary world strives for distinct, unequivocal messages.
Anton Wiraeus applies an aesthetic culled from the appearance and materials of road signs – unambiguous symbols that get their impact through constant repetition, and are spread internationally through rules laid down by the UN. Lucidity is not just an ideal in this case, but a requirement. An ambiguous road sign is potentially life-threatening.
The power of Guides lies in the collision between the road sign’s characteristic of being closed to interpretation, and the striving for openness of the work of art; the half-figurative shapes of the sign become half-abstract images; straight lines and even, symmetrical symbols are transformed into asymmetrical, playful motifs from nature and technology. Made in the same way as road signs, the reflective surface means that the impression changes with the light. Musil also noted that public art is often used in traffic as a compass or distance marker. Guides is located in a closed area, but it is mounted on an entire facade, so it can be seen from outside – and perhaps it will serve as a distance marker.