Antonia Hirsch’s Anthropometrics
The visual economy of Vancouver streets includes both official and unofficial modes of public address. In locations that have a sense of transition, such as hoardings that surround new construction or buildings slated for demotion, one often sees posters for events, products and services. This ‘grey’ marketing practice occupies such contingent real estate on a temporary basis, using a strong visual impact and a sense of urgency to convey time sensitive content. Aside from their intended message, they remind us that the streets, the most public of spaces, are a strongly contested site in the negotiation of ownership, free speech and assembly. Cultural institutions such as the library share a similar interest in the principles of democracy and access to all forms of expression and information. A non-commercial space, it must assess the interests of a multitude of individuals and organizations when regulating its visual environment.
Into this arena, Antonia Hirsch has placed Anthropometrics, a series of six large format posters. Hundreds of copies are postered throughout the city, and twelve line the windows that lead to the main entrance of the library’s central branch. They picture solitary figures posed in rather mysterious gestures. At first sight, they might easily be taken for some sort of clever (yet decidedly out of place) advertising campaign. Small captions indicate two websites: othersights.ca and antoniahirsch.com. Should a viewer investigate further, they will learn that Anthropometrics is an inventory of colloquial types of measurement — such as “circumference of the fist = length of the foot”. These formulas are not scientific, yet have arisen through personal economic interactions within varied communities. One imagines their use in the spontaneous commerce of street markets where an improvised index of the body’s geometry compensates for unfamiliar sizing or unlabelled goods. A scientific mode of notation — the inventory — has been applied to a system in which each body sets is own standard and is neither accurate or repeatable in the scientific sense. Neither purely commercial nor scientific, Anthropometrics make temporary claims on both the library and the street, reinforcing and contesting the democratic ideals associated with such public spaces.
- First published by Other Sights for Artists' Projects, the Vancouver Public Library and the City of Vancouver Public Art Program as part of Group Search: art in the library, Vancouver, Canada.
- © Lorna Brown, November 2006