Tradewinds Sign Rally, 2013

a vacant lot in Albuquerque, NM

Tradewinds Sign Rally was an event included in High Desert Test Sites, a series of site-responsive projects curated by Libby Lumpkin and Dave Hickey.

Along a decaying stretch of route 66, roadside visibility and signage became a point of departure for an open-ended outdoor public experiment that took place on a barren Albuquerque lot where the Tradewinds Motel once stood. Amateur volunteers held sign-like props made from scraps of cloth and repurposed embroidery hoops, lined with tiny remote-controlled LED lights. They moved in a loosely choreographed tracing of the floor plan of the motel, that was razed in 2008. Accompanied by a wistful rendition of pep tunes by the street-clothed marching band of the nearby public high school, the dance became an incantation, a revival of the lot’s former, more festive spirit.  The dancers spelled out the name of the hotel in semaphore, chanting the name in unison after the last letter had been signaled.

The event aimed to frame a range of movement, from the idiosyncratic and vulnerable to orchestrated shows of strength and pageantry, that is evoked by people holding signs in public spaces.  On one end are protesters, picketers, and the homeless, on the other are flag corps, color guards, sports pageantry and military parades. I am interested in how people move with signs when they are holding them, and how this can give rise to deliberations about power, control and impulse. Because signs can increase the volume, range and temporal presence of a person’s message, these objects become extensions or even magnifications of a particular body’s capacity to address the world, often employed by groups and sometimes individuals needing to assert themselves in situations in which they feel disempowered.

There was no organized opposition to the Tradewinds Rally, only the inertia of emptiness and the tug of economic decline, no internal force or resistance to express other than the exuberance of dancing across an empty dirt lot to resurrect the spirit of travel and adventure associated with the long- gone motel. Orchestrated to march in a tight circle and then in lockstep two-by two through a steel arch placed where the entrance to the pool had been, the dancers then frolicked free form when they reached the imagined water.

As dusk settled in and the band wound down, the LED lights came on, the dancers in a semaphore incantation called out to the Tradewinds. The rally ended as the dancers placed their sign props, now blinking like tail lights, along the long wall of an old carwash on the western edge of the lot.  It was painted by artist KB Jones with a mural rendering of the view one see if the building were to vanish.

Tradewinds Sign Rally was reported in the online magazine Arid, a Journal of Desert Art, Design and Ecology, August, 2014