Signs Out of Time

U.S. historical markers are typically nonconfrontational—except for the fake ones put up by Norm Magnusson along U.S. Interstate 75
by Staff, Utne Reader
July-August 2011
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Courtesy of Norm Magnusson /

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The typical U.S. historical marker raises more questions than it answers, and many of the signs are rife with errors and bias. Artist Norm Magnusson’s I-75 Project uses the form for a different sort of provocation.

Magnusson hopes to install his own versions of the markers at rest stops along U.S. Interstate 75, which stretches from Michigan to Florida. He has already shown them in several states and is seeking funding for the proposed installation.

The blog Thick Culture (Sept. 9, 2010) quotes Magnusson on the signs’ sly, Zinn-meets-Banksy appeal:

“ ‘Are they real?’ is a question viewers frequently ask, meaning ‘Are they state-sponsored?’ I love this confusion and hope to slip in a message while people are mulling it over. These markers are just the kind of public art I really enjoy: gently assertive and nonconfrontational, firmly thought-provoking and pretty to look at and just a little bit subversive.”

Some of the markers’ messages:

“On this site stood a local market bankrupted by the monopolistic, make-it-cheaper-in-China, anti-union, big-box store where you shop.”

“On this site stood Ian Wikno. Joined the Army Reserve to pay for college, sent to Iraq 2005, has not yet returned.”

“On this site stood Karen Dewitt, who could not afford the prescription drugs that would have saved her life.”

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