Eva Weinmayr's 'Roadsigns' (2003), a series of works first shown at VTO in London before being presented, with some revisions, in Munich, consists of a number of found standard British road signs that have been collected by the artist and subjected to an act of reclamation or, more accurately, redesignation. Weinmayr takes abandoned, badly damaged signs and coats one side of them, with the assistance of a garage normally employed preparing racing cars, in layers of high-quality lacquer. The signs' imagery and text are thus obliterated and replaced with an intense, iridescent surface, an act of transformation aptly described by the title used for the London showing of these pieces: 'Alchemic Dross'. The base metal of the utilitarian sign becomes the support for a complicated chain of allusions and playful, intelligent conceits. Concise, practical information has here been replaced by something altogether more ambiguous, resonant and seductive in its materials and effects.
Wrinkled and warped, scratched, pockmarked and in some cases actually torn right through, these industrially produced message-boards bear the explicit traces of their histories as abandoned objects. Pebbles and dirt pressed into the metal by the weight of vehicles running over the disused signs have left generously complicated patterns and tracks; sealed beneath the layers of paint applied by Weinmayr, these stigmata collectively recall NASA photographs of the moon's surface or ancient, elaborate maps. Each piece having been finished in a single colour, what one might call the singularity of each reworked sign is interestingly disturbed by its new, highly reflective surface. As one moved about the gallery, the colour of each work accordingly shifted too, an effect triggered by the bends and folds of the battered metal throwing back, like distorting mirrors, the light from the gallery windows. Substantial changes in the weather, in the amount and pitch of available daylight, further affected the mood of the pieces displayed. One was reminded of Brian Eno's video installations in which light is manipulated electronically to produce slow drifts of atmospheric transitions - Weinmayr's works are more like pools of shimmering, tinted water, but the changes in ambience seem equally serene and certainly as rich.
These reconditioned signs in part fit into the tradition of the found object. As such, they are particularly close to what Marcel Duchamp described as 'assisted ready-mades'; that is, they are simultaneously chance finds and deliberately manipulated devices. The random markings impressed on them after they have literally fallen from use have produced elaborate automatic drawings, which the artist has then modified. The beautiful, concentrated colours - red, pink, blue, bronze, silver, black, grey and several shades of white - recall both Andy Warhol's early silkscreens and the painterly Colour Field experiments of the 1960s and 1970s, while not really looking like any of them. The use of metal calls to mind Frank Stella, but again such reference points are triggers for extended consideration rather than directly allusive motifs.
Weinmayr has emphasized the highly attractive surfaces of the 'Roadsigns' by making it possible to see, to some small degree at least, their reverse. With the works held in place by a series of magnets and metal rods that positioned the metal some way out from the wall, it was easily possible to inspect parts of the untreated side of the sign, or a zealous viewer could easily have flipped them over and returned them to what was in effect an earlier stage of their life. The rough condition of their obverse sides revealed just how knocked about these objects had been by the time Weinmayr collected them. When mounted on the gallery wall, these pieces operated somewhere between painting and relief sculpture, giving a new twist to Clement Greenberg's celebrated but incorrect notion that the essence of the medium of painting is the uncompromising physical flatness of the surface of the support.
Except in the case of the one triangular shape, the works in 'Roadsigns' would - had that title not been employed - perhaps not be easily recognizable as formerly functioning signs. However, since Weinmayr did use the word, it left the viewer wondering what exactly such highly individuated surfaces might mean if returned to the city streets in which they had been found. This thought in turn pointed to the recognition that works of art reiterate, but also brazenly shatter, the codes on which they are based.