In Mexico City, a Commercial Billboard Becomes a Giant Canvas

Sonora 128 is providing space for passersby to enjoy art 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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Feb 13 2017, 12:50am

Photos courtesy of Sonora 128 and the artists

We're bombarded by advertisements every day: while watching TV, browsing the internet, or even commuting to work. Even when our devices are turned off, billboards looms large in public spaces. We can’t help but absorb its giant visuals, whether we’re in a car, stuck in traffic, or walking down the street.

Sonora 128 takes advantage of one billboard’s imposing size to give artists a chance to display their work for a large audience. In a space in Mexico City once occupied by a commercial billboard, artists now have a canvas on which to feature their work.

Organized by Mexico City art gallery Kurimanzutto and programmer Bree Zucker, the project began in 2016 and will continue until 2018. The idea: to provide people with free, visible art that they can enjoy 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

“The billboard is located at the junction of two important cross streets in the Colonia Condesa and bisects the popular neighbourhoods of Condesa and Roma,” Zucker tells The Creators Project. “As it lies directly above the path most traveled, you are often stopped at its traffic lights for a minimum of 15 minutes during rush hour.”

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The area gets a lot of activity, she explains, with performers or vendors weaving their way through the cars. But the billboard also reaches pedestrians and cyclists since it “sits on the corner of a park and bike path.” Getting that variety of foot and car traffic was important to everyone involved in the project. Passersby can see it from afar, explains Zucker, but they can also stop for a second and really take it in. After they do, they can continue on their journey.

Projects like Sonora 128 advance initiatives many artists paved the way for in previous decades. Most of these included illegal activities, with artists painting over commercial billboards in satirical ways. Sonora 128 offers artists a more sanctioned opportunity to display their work. Artists involved in the project so far include Wolfgang Tillmanns, Antonio Caro, Nobuyoshi Araki and Daido Moriyama. Zucker wanted to work with artists whose message is strong and resounding.” She finds inspiration in working with “artists whose voices and powerful minds speak with hope in an age rife with political and social difficulties.”

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The most important part: giving artists an opportunity to show their work in a way that interrupts the everyday. In the wake of recent events, political protests and their accompanying protest signs have become even more important ever. Public art can continue to be a way to reclaim space, to express ourselves fully.

“We may never truly know the full effects of this project (who it affects and the extent of its reach),” writes Zucker. “But what is most important is that we open a space, a force field both passive and active in the continuum of daily reality, to dream the dreams that give us hope for the future.”

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Daido Moriyama’s piece, Lips, is currently on display on the billboard through February 28. Learn more about Sonora 128 here.

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