tape Aesthetic Hazard Project
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about the project

We are already familiar with the kind of plastic tape used in this project from our everyday experience in the world around us: a plastic barricade tape marked "AESTHETIC HAZARD—DO NOT LOOK" printed in block letters in black ink on a three inch wide yellow background takes the same physical dimensions and appearance as the familiar barricades "CAUTION" and "POLICE LINE," mimicking features of our environment. This particular form, because of its readymade basis, is almost "invisible" aesthetically; thus it has a low "art" content.

The Aesthetic Hazard project develops ideas that have been a consistent feature of my work in public spaces for the past ten years. This work, like the True Life Ad Campaign before it, relies on camouflage as part of its meaning. It has an institutional character, implying the same bureaucratic origins as an official designation would have. This non-art quality appears because barricade tape is readily assimilated into the environment, and so does not announce itself as an "art intervention." It also gives the work the same authoritarian "voice" as "CAUTION." Thus it should prompt its viewers to consider the issue of aesthetic hazard "transparently"—without the tape itself entering into their considerations as aesthetic experience.

Questions of aesthetic criteria are paradoxically more important in the contemporary world than in the past since there are no longer any "set" criteria for art. George Dickie's Institutional Theory of Art states anything can become art simply as a result of its inclusion within an "art context" such as a gallery or museum. Philosophically this theory is problematic: it renders all characteristics of physical objects arbitrary, and the status of "art" becomes purely indexical to the historical moment of its exhibition. There is no possibility to discuss standards-it is the standards themselves his theory liquidates, even as the criteria for inclusion and exclusion become more political. The issue of what can be included is at the heart of political conflicts over art.

For artists working in the contemporary moment dominated by variations on this theory, instead of being liberating, it is constricting. The Institutional Theory of Art places all the art world "power" in the hands of the dealers, galleries, museums and collectors, not the artists nor the audience for art. Their role becomes incidental to the discussion and significance of art; the same can be said of the general public. The concept of art is rendered variable, and aesthetic judgements become the sole jurisdiction of the people who control the exhibition venues.

By definition, then, there can be no aesthetic hazards within the art gallery; they can only exist outside of it entirely. This is the paradox implicit within this project: it proposes creating a situation where dialogue and consideration of aesthetic issues happens outside the gallery-by simply taking the implication of Dickie's theory that nothing outside an art gallery can have aesthetic value because it exists outside the art world context. Anything outside the gallery/art world is a potential aesthetic hazard.

In effect, this is a project where the artist and audience "take back" the authority to decide what is significant or insignificant about art. Because the sites are selected by a pre-determined arbitrary system, the sites escape from being readily explainable through a traditional set of aesthetic standards. Since the viewers do not have their preconceptions about value confirmed, they are forced to consider their critical relationship with/to the demarcated space. By making the audience consider their standards for deciding what is, and is not, aesthetic, they are asked to make the same kinds of decisions that art specialists typically make. Once an area is marked "aesthetic hazard," it demands some kind of explanation/justification.

Focusing on the issue of aesthetic standards in a direct way creates the possibility for a rational consideration of these issues separate from political posturing. The aftermath of the "art wars" in the 1990s is still being felt by artists, critics and the public, but there is no visible consideration of these issues. This work attempts to create a discussion by placing the question of what is "aesthetic" before anyone who encounters the work. A knowledge of contemporary art is not a requirement for understanding what's "at stake" in designating an area an "aesthetic hazard."

During the "art wars" it became very obvious that aesthetic value is considered self-evident by both sides of the argument. Their differences lie in what the criteria are, and only in those instances where value has been denied does a discussion result. Thus, the choice to designate areas as "aesthetic hazards" draws on this lesson to encourage viewers to take a much more active role in their environment.

The ideal audience for these works are those people whose participation in the art world happens vicariously-through what they see on TV, in the newspaper, or by reading a magazine such as Time rather than the specialized art-oriented magazines. This is the audience who are the real causalities of the 1990s art wars because, as publicity around the Sensation show and the earlier Cincinnati trial over Maplethorpe's photos revealed, both sides of the argument will attempt to use them as pawns in larger political battles. Rarely are they encouraged to consider the issues without political rhetoric. Suburbanites are of particular interest because they are typically ignored by the art-world elites; their encounters with public art projects are often limited to the "drive-by" while visiting a major city, and so their consideration of the role of public art is either limited or non-existent.

Help spread aesthetic consciousness
and raise aesthetic awareness!

Here's how you can get involved!

In an effort to expand the scope of this project, donations are now being accepted to fund a trip to install Aesthetic Hazard - Do Not Look tape at suburban and rural sites located off of Interstate 95 between Florida and New England.

all donations will be made through secure servers at PayPal

The Aesthetic Hazard—Do Not Look tape was manufactured by Seton Identification products.