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Cheeky Sign Artworks Say What Everyone's Really Thinking

Michael Pederson's illegal signs can be funny, but also soothing.

by Beckett Mufson
Nov 30 2016, 2:15pm

Images courtesy the artist

If someone could catch their random walking-down-the-street thoughts and leave them on the sidewalk for others to pick up, they'd probably look like the witty street signs of Australian artist Michael Pederson. Posted illegally, photographed, and then left to the elements, Pederson's ephemeral works package the spirit of graffiti into a city council-approved aesthetic.

His pieces often resonate with the kind of inner dialogue pedestrians faced on November 8: panic and a desire to scream in public. The Vicarious Yelling Station offers a sort of reprieve from that emotion, encouraging viewers to imagine a surrogate stationed in the wilderness letting out an open-throated bellow in their stead. "The idea of outsourcing your rage seemed sort of funny to me. Even though it's obviously fiction, I genuinely hoped the words would have some sort of cathartic effect," Pederson tells The Creators Project.

Pederson made The Vicarious Yelling Station more than a year ago, but felt it was an appropriate time to share it. "I posted the images again in light of a certain world leader's election, and the genuine rage a lot of people (myself included) don't know what to do with. Laughing can sometimes help too."

His other theraputic pieces include a clock that recalibrates relaxed breathing, a set of buttons to press in various states of emergency, and a squishy cube to kick if imagining someone else's scream isn't strong enough.

Outside of assuaging minds trapped in public spaces, Pederson's body of work also offers wry observations and clever interventions into seldom-thought-about aspects of public life. A velvet rope protecting a dandelion both lampoons the idea that such a barrier can influence anyone's behavior, and highlights the beauty of the overlooked plant. Miniature cones placed around street trash follow a similar train of thought, while placards identifying banal moments in an area's history remind us of all the stories contantly playing out around us.

"Some of my pieces occur to me after coming across a location or object while I'm out and about. Sometimes I already have the piece in mind and search for the right space," Pederson explains. Unlike a graffiti artist, he doesn't worry about the law when planning his art. He uses small and easily-removable materials. such as a waterproofed heavy-duty print mounted on board. His approach is different from artists like Brooklyn-based Steve Powers, whose surreal ICY SIGNS in New York look like actual metal signs, NYC-based Ryan McGinness, whose Signs series (a version of which we traveled to Monatuk to see) look like pole-mounted skateboards, or Richard Ankrom, whose fake sign over LA was so realistic it went unnoticed for eight years. Pederson's Vicarious Yelling Sign lasted four days before being removed.

Pederson majored in painting when he was younger, but didn't pursue a career in the art world. Now based in Sydney, he makes his living in mental health, helping people reestablish themselves into communities. "I had a photographic show at Above Second in Hong Kong this year, but I'm not sure how much I want to pursue shows like that," he says. "I think the pieces work better in an outdoor context, and if I pursued gallery shows in the future I'd probably take another approach entirely."

In his next work, Pederson says he'd like to "explore the interactive side more," which, "might involve calming elements." Whew. 

See more of Michael Pederson's work on his website.

Related:

This Fake Street Sign is a Public Art Masterpiece

A Giant Neon Sign Brings 'Understanding' to Brooklyn

Hong Kong's Farewell to Thousands of Neon Signs