PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University students will be stationed along three five-mile stretches of state Route 26 this Friday as part of the final artistic installment in a Spokane museum exhibit focusing on what has been described as one of the most boring highways in the nation.
Stretching between Vantage and Colfax, the state highway is traveled frequently by western Washington students attending WSU. It also currently is featured in a student-created exhibit, “The SR 26 Project: Imagining a 133-mile-long museum in Eastern Washington,” which runs through May 2 at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture in Spokane.
This Friday’s roadside student project, “Signing SR 26,” is intended to promote the Spokane museum exhibit by imitating the rhyming roadside messages of year’s past – such as those promoting Burma Shave and other products – and signs advertising local attractions like reptile gardens that once were a traditional presence along the nation’s highways.
As part of the performance art project, 15 student volunteers, including contributors to the original exhibit, will be stationed along three five-mile segments of the highway from 2:30 to 6:30 Friday afternoon. Each will display a sign containing a single word or short phrase. As passing drivers read each sign, a provocative idea about the highway will be revealed. Working in teams of five, the students will arrange themselves at intervals between mileposts five and 10, mileposts 60 and 65, and mileposts 125 and 130.
The roadside exhibition is being held in conjunction with the WSU Mom’s Weekend, an annual event in which the mothers of students are invited to campus for a wide range of events. It is hoped that those driving the state highway to Pullman for the weekend will be lured by the students’ signs to the Spokane museum exhibit and challenged to ponder the beauty of the road’s landscape.
Paul Hirzel, a professor in the WSU School of Architecture and Construction Management and the one who originally challenged the students to create the highway exhibit, said it seeks to demonstrate that the apparent bleakness of the highway is one of its greatest assets.
Many of the features that represent the beauty of eastern Washington are in evidence along the roadway – from views of dramatic geological events and historical trails, to diverse social, biological and agricultural zones, he said.
“Challenged to uncover the subtleties of the landscape, students endeavored to look beyond the prosaic surface of asphalt and lines and discover the hidden wonders of the highway. The result is a series of interventions that take viewers through the histories, myths, geologies, forms and politics of the highway,” Hirzel said.
Spokane’s Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, 2316 W. First Ave., is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday. Additional information about the museum and the Route 26 exhibit is available online at www.northwestmuseum.org.