Overpass Light Brigade
Overpass Light Brigade (OLB) is an activist collaborative public art project initiated by American artists Lane Hall and Lisa Moline, based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The artwork is an episodic performance originally created as part of the 2011 Wisconsin protests to raise awareness about the campaign to recall Governor Scott Walker.
The artwork consists of a series of LED-illuminated Coroplast panels each held by a different person. Individual panels display one letter of the alphabet each. Performers, known as "holders of the light," assemble in a line with each person holding one sign/letter. Together, the Overpass Light Brigade presents a political slogan. The slogans typically relate to current events in local politics. The Overpass Light Brigade performs at night to increase visibility. Members typically make arrangements for performances via the social media platforms Twitter and Facebook.
Hall manufactures the panels in his shop. He describes his process on the Daily Kos blog to encourage others to use the group's tactics. Hall and Moline collaborate to create photographs and videos documenting Overpass Light Brigade performances. Public school teacher and founder of Occupy Riverwest, Joe Brusky joined Hall and Moline in March, 2011, to help with social media and the live-streaming of bridge actions.
The Overpass Light Brigade organizes its nighttime demonstrations on bridges and highway overpasses. It also mobilizes members to participate in political rallies and vigils. More recent actions have included collaboration with national labor advocates regarding Walmart's labor practices, the Chicago Teacher's Union (CTU) Strike, as well as environmental advocacy with organizations such as 350.org. In addition to overpasses, appearances have also have included picketing with striking Palermo's Pizza workers, a pedestrian bridge to the Milwaukee Art Museum, an event with Nuns on the Bus, and vigils mourning the 2012 Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting.
Hall and Moline developed the idea for the Overpass Light Brigade through their personal reactions to the movement to recall Governor Walker. Hall originally used a single panel and string of Christmas lights to create an illuminated "Recall Walker" sign, which he carried at a local rally. When images of the sign were circulated by mainstream media outlets ranging from The Rachel Maddow Show to CNN, Hall and Moline decided to continue their efforts. Their next step was to create six individual signs that spelled RECALL. After attempting to install the signs on the chainlink fence covering a pedestrian bridge across the Interstate and learning that this is illegal, Hall and Moline enlisted others to help carry the signs, a legal form of display. This participatory dimension to the work gives Overpass Light Brigade gatherings "the feel of a celebration, with scores of people gathering on the pedestrian overpasses," according the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
For the artists, their work with the Overpass Light Brigade is a "demonstration of citizen engagement...a Situationist paradigm of performativity within the contested and liminal zones of public space" and a navigation of the tactics of visibility. They cite French critical theorist Guy Debord's The Society of the Spectacle as an inspiration. Debord explored and explained how contemporary media creates spectacle that is essentially devoid of content. A founder of the artistic and political movement Situationist International, he sought, through the construction of "situations," to create multiple strategies for reclaiming an individual's self-determination from the sedative effects of ubiquitous spectacle.
Hall and Moline had a history of making collaborative work, often about environmental issues and animal subjects, but rarely pushed beyond the boundaries of traditional art spaces. As a result of the Wisconsin Protests, the artists became involved with activist work, in which the use of signs was pivotal. They also worked with other artists, activists, social scientists, and teachers to set up a political action committee called The Playground Legends and began working within some of Milwaukee's African American communities on voter education and Get Out The Vote campaigns. The group, with the central notion that public space and public discourse were necessary for functional democracy, set up "parties in the parks" for neighborhood groups, and used these relational activities to help create cohesion around a political purpose.
Additional and affiliated OLB organizations have been established across the United States in the states of Maryland, Florida, Hawaii, California, Texas, and Oregon, including San Diego, Austin, Tampa, Portland and Gainesville, among other cities. A short documentary film by filmmakers Matt Mullins and Dusan Harminc, titled Overpass Light Brigade, is currently under production. It is scheduled to be released on May 2, 2013, in Milwaukee, WI.
Photographs of Overpass Light Brigade in Action
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