The Manifest Destiny Billboard Project featured in W Magazine
LAND's The Manifest Destiny Billboard Project, a two-year exhibition of 100 billboards along the Interstate 10 freeway, was recently featured in W Magazine. In "Exit Art" by Fan Zhong, eight of the project artists explain the inspiration for their billboards and their experiences with the project.
Shana Lutker's chapter kicked off the project in Jacksonville, FL. She told W, "For the billboard, I looked back at depictions of the Florida sky dating to the first European settlers who arrived in this area, where the 10 freeway begins. It turns out it’s the site of the longest continuous European settlement in the New World, dating back to 1565. A sense of manifest destiny brought them here to Florida; it seems fitting the Manifest Destiny project start here.”
Mario Ybarra Jr., who created the exhibition's second chapter in Mobile, AL, described how his billboard drew from his childhood experiences in the South: "As a child, my father worked as a Naval draftsman in Biloxi, Mississippi, which is right near Mobile. It was where, as a kid, I first experienced the understanding that my skin tone has different currency in different places. [...] But now there seems to have been a shift, and Latinos are moving to that part of the country. Bringing a part of the barrio to Alabama was my goal.”
Sanford Biggers, whose chapter lined the I-10 in New Orleans, LA, explained how his billboards were inspired by a trip to the Afar region of Ethiopia. Biggers describes the dangerous yet exhilarating feeling of staying in the Afar desert at night, and likens the mood to the atmosphere of New Orleans: "I think New Orleans also has that effect—you can tell it’s a little bit dangerous, but also very beautiful. The politics, the segregation, the incarceration complex of the city are atrocious, but there’s also a lot to be seduced by. This picture wound up in New Orleans because it’s something that shows the calm beneath, or before, the storm.”
Eve Fowler recalls first seeing this billboard from her chapter in Houston, TX: "I remember the sun was about to set. We got out of the car and walked through the tall grass underneath it. Even though cars and trucks were passing quickly by, it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere.”
Jeremy Shaw's ten billboards in El Paso, TX all contained the same image, an advertisement for Marty Robbins Biggest Hits. Shaw tells W that he originally thought the location pictured in the image above was abandoned, but when he went back at night to take photographs, he "learned that Dreams Cabaret was far from abandoned—it was booming! I nearly got run over several times while standing in the driveway taking pictures.”
Daniel R. Small's chapter in Las Cruces, NM attracted attention when the Las Cruces Sun-News interviewed residents who mistook the billboards' mysterious writing for a message from terrorists. Small says, "The irony is incredibly dark, since the text was written with a fabricated language made up from paleo-Hebrew and Cypriot Greek, discovered at a local archaeological site.”
The Manifest Destiny Billboard Project co-curator Zoe Crosher tells W that the timing of her chapter in Palm Springs, CA was "rather uncanny. It coincided with Gov. Jerry Brown’s announcement of the first-ever mandatory water reduction in California, which happened at the very same time the amazingly charming Tom Tucker was interviewing me on a freeway overpass for ABC News. It provided an entirely new way to think about the 10 images of an entropic garden that decayed progressively the closer you got to Los Angeles. It’s a series I conceived of and shot in the spring of 2013. This outcome, and its timing, I could never have predicted.”
Matthew Brannon, creator of the final chapter in Los Angeles, CA, describes his shifting relationship with the city and the billboards that populate it: "I drive, waiting to see my billboards. At first, every billboard seems to advertise some film about Twinkies that do carpentry called “Onions.” But then they’re there, both blending in and sticking out like sore thumbs, their meanings changing with context."