We take them for granted, hardly notice them. They are so deeply ingrained in the fabric of urban British life. Yet when returning from Chicago or Hanover, where it becomes apparent how poor the quality of images can be, the urban rambler falls for the multi-coloured and often witty images again.

      Billboards. In the inner cities of Britain, frequently placed in front of semi-derelict buildings or redeveloped industrial wasteland, they bring entertainment to the pedestrian and the motorist. They must work commercially - through subtle repetition of trademarks and images which creep into one's mind half-consciously. They are the urban equivalent to creeping weed in gardens, beautiful when in blossom but like a pest at the same time, growing roots in the minds of viewers.
The project begins with an apology. Manchester-based Pavel Büchler presents sorry at a site on Park Road in South Liverpool. Located between Dombey Street and Pickwick Street, the derelict building was a thriving row of businesses in the 1920's with George Harrison The Oil & Colour Dealer and Miss Hubbard The Greengrocer in residence. Today the structure is in a sorry state, a patchwork of corrugated metal, faded texts and holes in bricked-up windows revealing fragments of rotting wood. Twelve months later, the block is levelled.
sorry isn't good enough
Pavel speaks of the how the word sorry haunts him during the suffocating period of NATO apologising for misdirected fire. The memory of Ross Sinclair's work for The Bellgrove Station Billboard Project (1) is also evident in the piece. Then, the billboard company mischievously mis-pasted a sheet, forming a different word from that originally proposed. Eight years on, one of the twelve paper sections flipped upside-down intentionally is a strikingly simple and economic gesture. The public is not used to such catastrophes yet they have an inbuilt apology.
An invitation to Pavel to curate a panel in Manchester is extended to Kurt Johannessen in Bergen who provides a short tale from his subsequent '28 People' publication (2). Kurt's text is installed on Grosvenor Street adjacent to the former Deaf And Dumb Institute, now used by Manchester Metropolitan University. Lecturer Tosh Ryan is asked about his thoughts:
Alan Dunn       Have you seen the poster outside your building?

Tosh Ryan       Yes, we noticed it. We initially thought it was a teaser from Sony or someone.

AD                   Is the sound experiment Kurt describes in the artwork feasible? Can you record the sound of a snowflake falling?

TR                   (laughs) well, it's got to be possible! Although I'm not sure about getting a symphony from it.

AD                   The placement of the work was random, but there is some kind of experimental sound work carried out in your building?

TR                   Yes, since moving to the building we have concentrated on a lot of sound work. I remember the institute from when I was young and it was an Indian restaurant before we moved in. The building has a peculiar 'religious' feeling to it, a really uneasy disquiet.

AD                   Is there anyone working on trying to record this kind of unrecordable sound?

TR                   No, not that I know of...

      Artists have frequently broken into this world of publicly displayed open-all-hours imagery. Historically speaking their forerunners are the hand-painted posters and signwriting of cinemas and theatres, aligned with a century of awareness campaigns.
Back at the Park Road site, London-based Langlands & Bell pick up on the road's use as a main access route out to Liverpool airport. Their Frozen Sky (Night & Day) consists of sixty, three-letter acronyms arranged in circles; each acronym is designated to an international air destination. Adjacent to Frozen Sky is a commercial poster also split into two squares and employing two circles - a sun and a moon - with the text take your time, anytime. Elsewhere, in a joint Lufthansa/Nomos advert (3), a rectangle is split into two black and white halves with a round watch face in the centre. Around are scattered the full names of international destinations, located roughly where one would find them on the map.
Frozen Sky operates more as non-fictive abstraction than its commercial relatives by re-ordering, shaping and using acronyms. A poetry of places. Landing points offer departures into the imaginary. GVA - ROM- CAI in one night in a clockwise direction and back again the next day and onto CDG - LHR - CGN. Endlessly.
Liverpool-based Sue Leask takes inspiration from closer to home. To the right of the Park Road panels is the Toxteth Tabernacle with its infamous day-glo mini billboards repainted each month to present a new spiritual message (eg "Owen - God, Ronaldo - God, Jesus Christ - Superstar"). Sue picks up on the fluorescent colours for the project's first non-monochrome piece, flooding the backdrop with day-glo green and constructing a shallow day-glo pink pyramid to be attached in the centre. On sunny days, the huge impact of these colours, basic geometric shapes and distinct lack of text questions the nature of billboards as emitters. The work absorbs from its surroundings, attracting bird droppings from the derelict building and gathering traffic pollution which gradually deadens the colours. It soaks up the sun, functioning as a screen rather than a projector.
      The artist, with the same digital printing techniques as other billboard users at his/her disposal, may choose to hand-paint the artwork. Anachronistic in their mode of production, they stick out, single themselves out from the mass of billboards. Yet in a sense, even the printed artworks set themselves apart merely by being installed once, at only one location at any given time. They do not use the strategy of repetition but rather that of interruption. This allows a very specific fusion between image and location, whether carefully planned or in anticipation of the site's nature.
Thirty-one stern looking gentlemen, all bar five with moustaches, sit formally in four lines against a cool grey backdrop. Centre front row sits the most sympathetic and youngest looking, a timeless face of compassion and understanding. Collectively known as Unheard Voices, Unseen Lives, the group of young people from L8 who work with artist David Jacques look back historically to a time in Liverpool when Park Road was a product-free zone rather than an advertising alley. Between 14th June and 25th August 1911 the city of Liverpool was brought to a virtual standstill by the General Transport Strike.
text on billboard
The hand-painted piece depicts the Strike Committee and in keeping with the group's mission returns specific local history to its place of origin, highlighting the social changes of the century. The precisely painted poster lasts less than 24 hours before being callously ripped down. Discussions take place and the team faces a decision: to repaint a new design or to develop a work in response to what has happened. A third option, and the resulting choice, to repaint the first poster all over again stroke for stroke and reinstall it at another major access road, displays not only a stubborn determination but also an understanding of the public art situation and a strong belief in the work being carried out.
      One minute they are there, the next they are gone. Not quite, but with the installations lasting usually 2-4 weeks, each image must have a fundamental importance for not only the artist but also for the viewer to single it out for memory.
The work developed by Alan Dunn and Kirsten Klöckner stems from a series of small images e-mailed backwards and forwards between Liverpool and Düsseldorf. Rules are set: upon receiving an image, one has to respond immediately to it (recolouring, inversion or association), accept the alterations as final and e-mail back within twelve hours.
      In the case of the chosen artists in the Liverpool project, the short period of display has not caused their intentions or visions to lapse. On the contrary, most works appear coherent in relation to the artists' general body of work. Does the unavoidable disappearance of the work provoke added freedom and liberation for the artist? A Narrenfreiheit (4) which brings out the play instinct?
The first 12 images from this experimental process form the posterwork, playing on the fact that billboards consist of 12 separate sheets. The medium creates the form. The 'conversation' lasts a week. From the first image - ear - the work runs clockwise from top left, wavering in and out of recognisable motifs and abstract forms. The tiny e-mailed images are enlarged up and hand-painted with gloss paint, giving the work a crispness that many printing processes fail to achieve. Installed at Rice Lane in the north of the city, the work publicises snippets from a private process in a manner that Pierre Huyghe later sums up perfectly as 'conversing silently with images'.