The Roadsign More Traveled

Axle Contemporary haiku project collected in book

Haiku puts images out there—everyday images—juxtaposes them, makes a joke or cuts an image in an unsuspected way. Then we, the viewers, decide what, if anything, the poem means.

What process could better suit Axle Contemporary than haiku? Oh right, lettering haiku on an old, portable road sign and placing it at various locations around Santa Fe.

OK, I'm a little behind on this story. Axle hauled 32 Japanese poems chosen by Santa Fe poet laureate Joan Logghe to 16 locations around town last summer. When the mobile gallery gathered the works in a book, simply titled Haiku Roadsign, Axle cofounder and co-director Jerry Wellman brought the collection to the SFR office in October. At that time, I said, "Whoa, cool," and waited to write a review until I had time. Meanwhile, my counterparts over at The New Mexican wrote up a pithy announcement about the book.

Having been scooped, my editor and I contemplated whether we should still write about Haiku Roadsign, and I said, "A Santa Fe road sign / Haiku flowering landscape / New Mexico art." In truth, I actually said, "Of course we should write about it; we'll just do better." Have your pick—I see either statement as another way to say that Haiku Roadsign, the project, is Axle's brilliant attempt to participate in the interchange between life (here, now) and art: It's innovative, imaginative, collaborative and investigative, without making a big deal of itself—hype, after all, is my job.

While the roadsign acted as an installation, a sculpture and a poem all in one, the collection is just a book. It's a memory of the project, but one worth keeping. Here's why: If the nature of haiku is juxtaposition, then the sign is haiku. It takes a familiar object—a portable roadside advertisement—and changes the context, so that the objective isn't to cajole passersby into purchasing ice cream or to entice them into viewing mystery caves.

Rather, the objective is no objective. That's the Zen way of looking at Haiku Roadsign. It's gone before you realize it was there, and if you think about it too much, it becomes meaningless—a notion made poignant by the fact that viewers saw Haiku Roadsign only in passing.

If advertising directs the subconscious to a purchase, haiku offers a different kind of direction—an awareness of the purpose we assign to things as relative to our selves.

We read the first line, and an image appears, based on form or experience; then a second image, similarly derived, finishes the first by complement or comparison; the third line fulfills our desire for completion. The process triangulates an idea through imagery.

Likewise, the sign closes a triangle with the artist and the viewer. The words enter our minds through our eyes and disappear into our subconscious until we suddenly find ourselves wondering, for instance, about the sense of music and gathering in a desert rain shower: "Showers tease desert / Water droplets hangout / Hip hop in sand."

The first line of haiku related to the project, however, actually began with the blank sign. Axle cofounder and co-director Matthew Chase-Daniels supplied the second line when he approached Wellman about using it for an art project. The third line is a location unaccustomed to art. The haiku might be written like this: "A Santa Fe road sign / Haiku flowering landscape / New Mexico art."

Haiku Roadsign

project book


Axle Contemporary

Follow SFR's The Curator on Twitter: @mji76

Letters to the Editor

Mail letters to PO Box 4910 Santa Fe, NM 87502 or email them to editor[at] Letters (no more than 200 words) should refer to specific articles in the Reporter. Letters will be edited for space and clarity.

We also welcome you to follow SFR on social media (on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) and comment there. You can also email specific staff members from our contact page.