Laura Bliss is a staff writer at CityLab, covering transportation and technology. She also authors MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles magazine, and beyond.
"I would like the viewer to reorient themselves and think about the space they inhabit with others," says Michael Pederson.
"I think we travel through urban space without really seeing it most of the time," says Michael Pederson, a Sydney-based street artist whose work plays on the official signage that mutely surrounds city life. "I like the idea of interfering with the overly familiar background blur ... Ideally with something a passerby might see out of the corner of an eye."
Pederson's signs can be unsettling: "Restless Area," "Vague Unease," and "Amnesia Zone," all firmly squared on blank brick exteriors, are a few examples that Sydney pedestrians might have recently seen. They externalize the very personal uneasiness of wandering into a strange place; they make the private public.
"I was wondering who decides what makes an area, 'good', 'bad' or 'scary,'" says Pederson. "I guess I would like the viewer to reorient themselves to their surroundings and think about the space they inhabit with others."
Still other signs are playful decrees on how to use public space. "I also like to think of these pieces as stories in a way," Pederson says.
The signs look firm, but Pederson says they generally last no longer than a month. That's part of the point—these pieces are temporary interventions, gone nearly as fast as they're erected. "I try to place the work quickly," says Pederson. "When possible, I wait out of sight until someone approaches the work. If the person has a serious and perplexed look on their face, followed by a smile or laugh, I feel the piece is working O.K."