ONE MAN'S TRASH...
IS ANOTHER MAN'S (art) TREASURE.
To my Western mind's eye, the exotic, bright, multi-colored light boxes that line the streets of every modern Asian metropolis have always seemed like works of fine art. I first experienced them in person back in 1991 during a visit to Taipei and, to this day, I rarely pass under one without wondering what it would look like hanging on the wall of my home or office. I'm not sure if this makes it a passion or an obsession of mine, but I am certain that I've always thought that if I could somehow take these bright beacons of the Asian night and share them by turning them into works of art, they would be appreciated by worldly and adventurous art lovers and designers the world over. This project will hopefully prove my theory correct by giving everyone the opportunity to experience and enjoy these one-of-a-kind art treasures before they are all gone. The fact that this project helps ease the pressure on China's overburdened landfills while also providing financial support to some of the country's poorest and most at risk citizens, the recyclers and collectors who exist on the fringes of modern Chinese society having been passed over by the country's recent economic boom all in the service of creating great art are all reasons why you should feel good when you say, "GIVE ME A SIGN!"
"I'm not just the creator of the Give Me A Sign project, I'm also a client!" -- Jay Speiden talking about the up-cycled noodle shop light box sign hanging on his wall at home.
IS IT EASY TO FIND THESE SIGNS IN CHINA?
Interesting question. The short answer is, yes. The more detailed response takes more explaining. I first started traveling because I loved the way it allowed me to see the world from a new and fresh vantage point. This new perspective, in turn, has the power to let you see your own world in a new light as well, flushing away the blindness caused by familiarity.
The reason I love this project and know it will be a success is because it perfectly skirts the line between the familiar and the exotic in Western and Chinese cultures, using both to its advantage from start to finish. In China, lightbox signs are very familiar to locals and are therefore not seen as anything of particular value. Once torn down, they're just trash in the eyes of most Chinese residents. In fact, if one volunteers to haul them away, they can often be obtained for free. This is because they're so plentiful and because Chinese characters are simply not mysterious or exotic to Chinese people. But to the Western eye, these large glowing characters are iconic symbols of the exotic and mysterious Eastern night. To the Western eye, what appears mundane and familiar to Chinese eyes is something strange and wonderful and every bit as exotic as say, a lush green lawn would be to the average Chinese person.
We believe that precious things are not always priceless. It is often that they're just hard to find in a particular place and time. The man lost in the desert would surely pay his fortunes for a cold drink of water, the freezing man, his, for a hot mug of coco or cider and the drunken friend at a late night KTV, his last shred of dignity to be permitted to sing "Eye of the Tiger" yet again...but I digress. My point is, there are things in this world that are overlooked simply because they are familiar and thus, taken for granted. But move those things to a place where they are not regularly seen, and they often have the power to create a stir, drunken versions of "Eye of the Tiger" not withstanding. This is the theory that gave this project its birth and it's the only theory we've got. The rest is just sweat and hard work, which we will happily give to share our signs with you.
Throughout his career Jay Speiden has written, produced and directed projects for the likes of CNN, PBS, Vh1, Jakarta Globe, Taipei Times, TechTV, G4, CNBC, Comedy Central and E! Entertainment. He also co-wrote, acted in and produced the award-winning film “The Cloggers of Putneyville” (COMEDY, 2003) WINNER: Best First Film, Telluride Mountain Film Festival 2003. He enjoys surfing, making music, scavenging vintage stuff, eating carbs, exploring hot and teeming cities, the Kentucky Derby, smallmouth bass fishing, friends and family, his dog Guogai and speak Mandarin Chinese at a level that minimizes the pained and worried expressions in the eyes of all native speakers within earshot.
As an added bonus, each sign we use will one less item that will end up in China's overloaded landfills so, while we decorate the lofts and lobbies of the West with one-of-a-kind totally unique artwork, we're also doing an environmental service that is real and necessary. Finally, by purchasing these signs from the collectors that head out into the city to find them each day, we'll be providing a financial benefit to those who need it most, giving them the extra income needed to feed their families and purchase necessities. There are tons of old light box style signs here in China, most of which can be obtained cheaply or for free. Many of these bear the wear-and-tear of a life out in the elements, giving each sign it’s own unique and desirable scars from a life on the mean streets of Shanghai, giving each sign a distinct personality. It is this personality that makes it one-of-a-kind and unlike any other, assuring that the sign you get is yours and yours alone when you say, "Give Me A Sign!"