Interview with Jessica: Missoula’s Traffic Signal Box Project

We think conversation is one of the most fun parts of language learning. On Thursdays, we switch languages and ask each other questions to learn more about Tuesday’s topic. Today, Roberto interviews Jessica about her tour of the Missoula traffic signal boxes project. You can read Jessica’s original post in Spanish here

Roberto: Apart from the traffic singal box that represents the 1908 flood, are there more boxes related to Missoula in any way?
Jessica: They all have to do with Missoula to varying degrees of abstractness. One of the boxes depicts the M and the L on the mountain sides. Some of them show birds or other native wildlife. Another one has cartoonish figures meant to show different sides of Missoula’s recreational community. The artists were asked to not only think about Missoula, but about the place in which the boxes were located. The 1908 Flood box is located near the Clark Fork River, which the artist thought was an appropriate location.


R: Which painted box is your favorite? Why?
J: There is one I really like about a mile from my house called “A Perspective on Trees.” It always catches my attention because one side reminds me of the drawing of a rib cage skeleton on weathered paper. I’m guessing it was modeled after the inside of a conifer tree, but I like that those two things have a similar structural purpose. Another one I really like is “Our Community–Missoula,” for the color palette and style of the art.


R: Are the works in this project by local artists?
J: Yes, this was the main requirement, that the artists live in Missoula County. The committee has put out a call for artists to design the outside of the traffic signal boxes every year since 2009. Each year, they assign artists to the available boxes based on a 3-D model that they submit. Artists are asked to design all four sides and the top of the boxes and then to paint the base of the box. I read a couple of fun interviews with artists about their experience of painting the box, and how it was fun to interact with people coming up to ask questions or offer water when the days were hot. This strikes me as an interesting part of public art in general, and this project specifically: that the artists not only had to think about the community in which they lived to conceive of their box, but they then spent several hours interacting with the corner where their art will stay for several years.



R: Have you ever been involved in any public art performance? Did you enjoy the experience?
J: Yes, I’ve been part of a couple of site-specific dance performances. One of my favorites was some filming I was part of one summer in college. The choreographer was working on some pieces to opera music, but a lot of the dancing we did was without music, and she added it later. We filmed part of it in the courtyard of the art museum at the University of Oregon and part of it on the Oregon Coast. In dance, I think that more than acting with the audience, the experience is changed by the dancing surfaces. In the first instance, we were dancing in windows on a concrete railing, so we were both limited by a more narrow surface, and had new options being able to lean or push off of pillars. And of course, a beach is really different to dance on than a stage–sand and wind present different challenges, water and birds provide different sounds to work with.


R: In your opinion, are there other places in Missoula that would be interesting to decorate?
J: I would like to see a few more large scale murals or public art exhibitions in Missoula, maybe something similar to what Requena has, where sometimes two buildings are bound together in a piece of art. In the mission in San Francisco, there are a number of mural alleyways, so you can walk down the whole block and see art on both sides. There are also a couple places where you have a mural by the same artist in different places in the city, and recognizing the same style in a different part of the city has a unifying effect, and I think it would be to see more throughlines like that. There is a graffiti wall at the end of a pedestrian and bike bridge in Missoula that adds a lot to the experience of the bridge. It’s a little bit weird to have a city-condoned tagging wall since graffiti is usually about the artist leaving their mark and often breaking the law to do so. Still, it makes for a dramatic entry into the park.

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