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Credit: Courtesy of Heather Saeger

A series of signs have been installed along Locust Walk cautioning to “Beware of Everything” and warning “Having Fun Prohibited,” to name a few.

The messages, which are written in both English and Chinese, are part of visiting artist Ko Siu Lan’s Harmonious Signs project.

The Master of Fine Arts program and the Slought Foundation invited Siu Lan to campus for this project and as an opportunity to work with students.

Though two of the first four signs installed Wednesday were stolen, Siu Lan was able to get back on track and set up the remainder of the signs yesterday, this time with the assistance of security wire.

“This was an opportunity to enhance the relationship and work more hands-on with an artist,” Exhibitions Coordinator at the School of Design Pernot Hudson said. “We felt that it was a rare opportunity to have students involved in the thought process, the decision-making process and also the logistical process.”

This project was formulated by conversations about effective and possible methods of conveying Siu Lan’s messages, he said.

“She wanted a somewhat quiet presentation. We talked about banners that stretched across the street and all different aspects of bringing her previous body of work to relevance here.”

He added that the idea of putting a public art piece across campus was intended to generate reaction or reflection, which he believes is completely open to interpretation.

“It’s more for people to think about the general daily life, human condition, political and social,” Siu Lan said. “It’s really signage for people to ask questions and to think signage we see everywhere in daily life, no matter what countries you’re from.”

There are seven different kinds of these lawns signs throughout campus, which are designed to blend in as an ordinary aspect of campus.

“My sign is of course inspired by China’s reality,” Siu Lan said. “A lot of the things that I try to play with in my signage actually speak in many different cultures.”

Signs in general tend to speak about social convention and what we should and should not do, she said.

“The ‘upside down’ and transformed language becomes subversive,” said Gerald Henry in his article, “Ko Siu Lan, the subtle subversion of words.” “The artist also plays with the ‘traps’ in translation between English and Chinese that provoke numerous misunderstandings.”

Siu Lan said that she wants her art to be in a context in which people do not realize they are viewing art, adding that it is not meant for the usual group of art enthusiasts.

She wanted to do this installation to demonstrate some of the barriers of language and culture that signs in China portray.

“In China we have a lot of signs that try to be bilingual and international, but a lot of times these English translations are really wrong and sometimes have nothing to do with the original message,” she said.

She deliberately mistranslated two of the signs in her installation. For example, one of the signs says “Caution Democracy,” but in Chinese it says “Slippery Floor” with the symbol of a man about to slip, Siu Lan said.

The sign that says “Having Fun Prohibited” is a direct copy of a sign Siu Lan saw in China, in which the intended meaning was “No Horseplay.”

The interpretation of the meanings of the signs will vary from person to person, but Siu Lan believes they will still speak to the Penn community.

“We are getting more and more globalized as a world citizen,” she said. “I know that there are a lot of Asian communities, and especially Chinese communities, here in Penn.”

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