Vermont-based artist Jonathan Gitelson’s project Are You Here? consists of a 10 x 20 foot billboard that poses the simple but provoking question “Are You Here?” to visitors as they enter the grounds of deCordova. Installed on the front lawn of the Sculpture Park, the prompt is a reference to the phrase “You Are Here,” a wayfinding tool often found on highway maps at rest areas. By recasting the definitive statement as an inquiry, Are You Here?alludes to physical geography as well as metaphysical notions of presence and location in our digital age. Gitelson created Are You Here? for the eighteenth iteration of deCordova’s PLATFORM series, which invites site-specific installations by emerging and mid-career artists from New England and across the United States that engage with deCordova’s unique landscape.
Since 2015, Gitelson has installed a series of similar billboards on highways and country roads throughout New England and upstate New York. Printed in bold typeface on a white background, the signs present a curious interruption to the landscape, whether appearing unexpectedly in an open meadow or surrounded by roadside overgrowth. In a culture defined by an excess of information and media procured through digital devices, the phrase “Are You Here?” is a reminder to engage with our immediate surroundings. The billboard encourages awareness and serves to reorient the viewer in both physical and mental space and time. According to Gitelson, “My hope is that the extreme simplicity of these billboards, and the unexpected and unexplained question they pose, will startle viewers into at least a fleeting moment of ‘being here.’”