Robert Montgomery hijacks billboards and turns them into a poetic affront to modern society, celebrity, advertising and consumerism. His work is a continuation of the ideas and actions of the Situationists – who struggled, most famously in Paris in 1968, to make people aware, to awaken them to the reality of the Spectacle, a time, a moment when we become a product, a consumer rather than a maker of reality – which he enacts on the streets of cities around the world.
Here’s what he had to say in respnse to a question about the Situationists in 1968 and what’s going on now:
The Situationists certainly have been almost a point of obsession for me since I was at art school. I think Guy Debord’s idea of society as a spectacle – he comes from a post-Marxists perspective, but he analyses the coalition of capitalism and the media and predicts, what he calls, a “Spectacular” life where humans will feel disconnected from the things we make. A society where we live divorced from real life, surrounded by images designed to sell us things and give us paranoia. I think we are now living in the Spectacular age. The Situationists’ contribution to the May 1968 uprising was to write poems on walls of the campus of the Sorbonne. They saw poetry as an agent for political change, which I find fascinating.
As you can see in the images above not all of his work involves covering up existing billboards with his white-on-black text. Some are solar-powered light pieces which subvert the idea of neon installations – they brighten or fade according to the weather – while others are set on fire. All have something to say in a matter of fact way.
His writing process is slow as he begins with much longer poems which are then condensed down into a 80 – 90 word format which employs alot of vowel repetition to give the viewer, reader, an easy rhythm to get while they’re standing on the street. Oh, and his favourite poets? John Ashbery, Philip Larkin and Sylvia Plath.
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