A Billboard That Advertises Nothing But Clean Air

The government funds an art piece that comments on advertising. Tea Partiers: Is this proof that the U.S. is run by Commies?

A provocative new sculpture has opened at the U.S.-Canada border crossing near Vancouver, BC. It's a billboard advertising...well, nothing.

So instead of your usual glimpse of cheeseburgers and red-faced car salesmen, you've got a snarl of stainless steel rods vaguely reminiscent of TV static, but surrounding only the clean air of Blaine, Washington.

Clearly it's some kind of pinko Canadian stunt, right? A passive-aggressive commentary on Americans? conspicuous consumption? Wrong! Non-Sign II is the brainchild of the Seattle art and architecture firm Lead Pencil Studio. Even crazier: It was commissioned by the federal government, which usually regards high art the way one would a dead rat.

Lead Pencil Studio's Daniel Mihalyo sheds light on the concept:

Borrowing the effectiveness of billboards to redirect attention away from the landscape... this permanently open aperture between nations works to frame nothing more than a clear view of the changing atmospheric conditions beyond.

Which sounds nice and poetic and non-threatening, but clearly, this thing is a monument to everything America's not. Hey, Tea Partiers: The commie conspiracy has arrived at last, and it looks like a big ol' pile of hair clippings!

How the installation came about: Lead Pencil Studio was shortlisted for a project to design public art at a new northern-border control station through the GSA's Design Excellence program. The concept had to go through two rounds of approval, and Mihalyo insists the jury was "excited about the proposal from the start and the second round involved only small refinements and pragmatic issues."

Well, we think it is awesome, and we're elated that the government's supporting Lead Pencil Studio. Headed by Mihalyo and Annie Han, they've built a career on blurring the divide between architecture and art; questioning the idea of consumer culture has been a recurring theme. They've produced a raft of evocative installations: outdoor scaffolding in the middle of the Oregon grasslands, full-scale shops (without any merch) in an old shop, and so on. Think of them as a sort of Christo in the age of Christine O'Donnell.

[Images by Ian Gill courtesy of Lead Pencil Studio]

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  • roger

    I always thought this art piece is called "THE BOARDER", Which make sense to me!

  • Bamdad_yeganeh

    hi, i want to know if the margin billboard on road affect the  safty, do we have some ruel to use billboard in rural road? this is my email:bamdad_yeganeh .com

  • Blahblah

    before I read word one, I knew exactly what the piece was trying to convey - so you shoot the columnist for discussing it's meaning as biast and political, if it's not a statement for ridding our outside travels from the onslaught of ads, what's it supposed to be then?  guess folks got their feelings hurt with the Tea Partiers comment...

  • Rob

    No one wants to be recited your political biases, especially on a "design" blog.

    I've seen the piece and think its great, but the location is a bit strange. Getting grilled by Border agents doesn't allow much time to stop and stare.

  • Missourimule

    As a pseudo-Tea Partier (went to a rally once) and an art lover (been to a long-life's worth's of museums and art shows),  it's just unfortunately typical that the writer has gotten so politically-focused that she's apparently lost track of  "the main thing" - that is, the art.  As for the air billboard?  It's fine - interesting - different.  As for the writer?  She needs to get out a little bit more.

  • Connor Morgan

    Art, in any form, connects to four main themes. Politics, sex, nature, and God. No matter what the piece has something to do with one or more (if not all) of those four themes. Even saying "I am not political" is a political statement.

  • Bob Sawatzki

    My wife and I passed by this public art last week, welcoming us back to the USA. What a great idea to use sculpture with a message! WAKE UP and use your brain, travelers! What you need now is a mirror to show the drivers with their engines idling, waiting to be passed by Homeland Security.

  • Tammy James

    Amazing art - I'd love to see it in person. It's a shame the author chose to politicize what should have been a simple critique of art. I mean, "tea-partiers" and "commies"? Really? Art transcends politics. I'm disappointed that a senior editor of a design mag, of all things, can't rise to that level.

  • soilis

    Excellent work,really amazing idea and the critique of the makes sounds as if someone is a bit jeallous to say the least...:))dont wait for your neighbours cow to die so you can be they say in greece.....
    and i dont want to hear any comments on my comment ,i am greek ,i know art ,we are the ones who created your civilisation ,so respect.ok?shhhhh not a word.i say its nice ,its well spent.(if your country is not in crisis like mine )...:))))

  • Mark Von Der Linn

    Visually incredible... they managed to make gaseous filth out of physical materials.

  • mstem

    This is so cool! It's like the physical equivalent of a Tumblr I just created, where we crop the ads and keep the creative part. This is such a non-billboard it blows my mind a little.