all done go home
Significant Other / VIENNA (Austria)
26.01.2019 – 04.05.2019

Reflective surfaces, fallen heroes and the speed of cars

 In autumn of 1968 The Convention on Road Traffic was signed by 78 countries during the United Nations Economic and Social Council in Vienna. The agreement also included the Convention on Road Signs and Signals. All of Europe, most of Asia and parts of Central and South America (we are basically talking about European powers and most of their former colonial lands), are until now, and only with slight adaptations, following the regulations agreed upon during that conference, including a unified system of signs and signals. The history of road signs dates back to the times of the Roman Empire, famous for building roads spreading through their conquered territories. The first modern signs were - perhaps surprisingly - designed in relation to bicycle traffic in the late 19th century. When you think about it, it makes sense, since bicycles are relatively silent and therefore easily overlooked, yet fast enough to cause a potentially fateful crash. For this reason in 1926 European powers and the United States began to work on a system of internationally recognisable signs. But it would take another forty years and a Second World War to reach a commonly accepted regulation.

Enough of mere Wikipedia knowledge though! For Antonis Pittas road signs represent a physical and prominent visual form of state control, following aesthetic shifts in the universal perception of basic geometry, defined by the period of high modernism. Let’s break this statement down. Pittas has always focused on ways how the visual styles of a given period are utilised to translate political or ideological messages to the public and how such an approach changes and develops a common understanding, acceptance and even appreciation of a shared visual language. Historical roadsigns were designed according to a much slower pace of traffic, when it was still feasible to use decorative styles, longer texts and demand more focused attention, than modern car traffic would ever allow for. Their simplification to basic geometrical forms of square, triangle and circle paired with stylised and radically abstracted symbols came not only in reference to modernism, but simply as a mere necessity. Their layouts are nevertheless closely connected to the abstract language of Bauhaus, De Stijl and other related stylistic movements. Despite the prevalent role of historical styles of the past during the first half of the 20th century, dominantly used by oppressive totalitarian systems, certain practical aspects of modern life just couldn’t do with ornamental structures and forms anymore. The most significant upgrade of road signs since they evolved from stone pillars and wooden boards to metal plates was the application of reflective surfaces, in order to render them visible without direct daylight and even these materials remained faithful to the basic colours used by previously mentioned modernist schools of thought and style; red, blue, yellow and green still being the most commonly featured chromatic choices.

Let’s leave the topic of roadsigns for a moment. The most obvious form of visual representation of a state is, with the exception of architecture, the public monument. A genre which in spite of the lessons of modernism, land art, postmodernism and the anti-monument movement, remained predominantly realistic, or merely slightly abstracted. Most capitals, no matter which nation, are filled with sculptures of figures bearing witness to the official national dominant narrative. Thus it comes as no surprise that current populistic systems focus so much on reinstating a culture of realistic sculptures in public space, be it for example in present day Hungary or in the retrospectively discussed fate of the representation of war criminals, slave owners, proven racists or antisemites still proudly manifested on your city’s main square, the metro station stop where your kid gets out for school or the airport of your holiday destination. 

Another focal point of Pittas practice is directed at attacks targeting such moments as a gesture of public discontent, unrest or simply the need for expression of ones personal creativity. The slogan “all done go home” for instance was written by an anonymous member of the public on a newly erected, US sponsored, sculpture in the centre of Baghdad which replaced the previously decapitated monument of Saddam Hussein. In this respect, Pittas, despite living in the Netherlands for almost two decades, is not one to neglect his Greek legacy: the streets of Athens are, especially since the financial crisis, covered in self-confident expressions of malcontent towards the ruling elites. And this is where the wind blows in all done go home - which functions as a fragmentary extract from the endless archives of hijacked, vandalised, damaged, replaced or re-contextualized public monuments translated into warning signs themselves and accompanied by interpretative textual and visual material.

In this sense all done go home merges the allusion to the history of roadsigns and public monuments under the blinding reflective facade, which may or may not confuse the unsuspecting passing drivers. A subtle red thread of public imaginary formulated through re-verbalised collective memory, manifested in those depicted monuments and their literal or proverbial falls, opens up a fresh perspective over issues regarding the construction of memory and its unconscious power. all done go home tells a tale of the opposite, proving that actually nothing is done and we are still far from a point where we’ll be able to sensibly approach constructs of historical narratives of nation states and disclose their manipulative falsehoods.

Courtesy of the artist and Significant Other