When I first saw the blue signs around Pitzer’s campus, I did a double take. I had read the word “California” faster than I had realized that it was written backwards. “AINROFILAC TODAY YOUR HOST IS JAMIWU” it read. Looking it up later, I found that Jamiwu is the name of what we call Mt. San Jacinto, one of four sacred mountains that Edgar Heap of Birds makes reference to in his signs around campus.
Stylistically and literally, Heap of Birds’ art installation points to our college campuses and the erasure of the history of the land they are built on. He uses clean, simple and sturdy signs that look as is they could have been built by the college institution. Walking around the campuses, we are used to seeing signs for events and buildings – it is how we define the geography of our campuses and define what is culturally significant for us. But Heap of Birds’ signs definitely stick out. “California,” the name for this place that we are used to using, is written in backwards text. It is denaturalized as the principle signifier. Meanwhile, we are offered an alternative, and politely reminded that “Jamiwu” is our host.
(Last spring, I was inspired by Heap of Birds’ use of sign as political/artistic medium and as part of my junior show, I created three signs to go around Pomona’s campus. Going through the sign company that created our “wayfinding” signs, I designed and commissioned three signs are put them up in the middle of the night. )