This Billboard Near the Rogers Centre Has a Hidden Message
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This Billboard Near the Rogers Centre Has a Hidden Message

An American artist's own take on emoji.

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INSTALLATION: Combination of the Two by Matt Mullican
LOCATION: Bremner Boulevard, near the Rogers Centre
INSTALLATION: 2003

Much of what counts as public art can be spectacularly confounding. It could be hidden in plain sight as painted decals of water lilies on the exterior of a condo, or packaged as a cross between a billboard and road signs, to name two examples.

With “Combination of the Two,” American artist Matt Mullican’s assemblage of images plastered along a parking lot across from the Rogers Centre, the deception is intentional. His choice to use the “fleeting” medium of a billboard—often seen as junk—is fitting. It’s easy to mistake it for an advertisement juxtaposed against a stadium, which is in the business of selling us commercialized entertainment.

The work is as much for the highway commuter on the Gardiner as it is for those in the neighbourhood and the throngs of fans filling the stadium, according to Mullican.

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Those who are close enough can view a detailed map of the city and the blueprint for the Grand Trunk Railway, while those who are stuck in traffic can attempt to make out the pictographic black-and-white signs. Seeing the signs is almost like trying to decode a manual written in Wingdings font. Sure, the symbols are familiar and somewhat intelligible on its own, but what exactly is it saying?

To the artist, the billboard signs read like a board game in progress—a match of Parchessi or Monopoly. There also Toronto- and Canada-specific icons, such as the TTC logo, the AGO sign, and a Raptor.

Mullican has long been fascinated with the use of symbols in his art to create a kind of universal language of his own. And in modern parlance, where emoji reign and can sometimes capture moods better than words themselves, Mullican’s may not be so lost in translation.

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