Chris Fitzpatrick, Director of Kunstverein München, on »Serial Protest Signs« (1998–?) by Frank Chu.
Frank Chu. Is he an artist? He doesn’t self-identify as one. Instead, he steps emphatically into viewfinders as a professional protestor, intergalactic television and movie star, and the central figure in a vast trans-temporal conspiracy. Wielding a sign with codified rows of enigmatic text, Chu travels by subway from Oakland to San Francisco, California, every day – parasitically inhabiting various protests (regardless of the message), or hoisting his sign over rush hour traffic, festivals, stadium parking lots, street parties, and wherever news cameras are filming.
Chu was born in 1960, and lives in Oakland’s Chinatown district. In the late 90s, he began receiving telepathic messages from former Soviet and UN Presidents, who informed him that he has starred in a fulllength motion picture and television series called The Richest Family since childhood. Its weekly episodes are shot with top-secret invisible cameras, and Chu and his family are owed between 3 to 50 billion USD in royalties, respectively, which continues to be embezzled by a nefarious network: former US Presidents working in trans-temporal, pluralistic configurations, shape-shifting Congressmen, the CIA, the FBI, corrupted members of his own family, Universal Studios. They earn secondsalaries working with the 12 Galaxies – a dangerous galactic array inhabited by highly advanced populations, which has attempted to murder Chu via Oakland Police officers, and regularly uses telepathy to interrupt Chu’s sleep patterns, cause him laryngitis, stunt his sex life, ruin employment opportunities, and otherwise wreak havoc in hopes of deterring his protests.
Determined, Chu has ceased neither his campaign nor the production of his signs. Initially, text in black marker calling for president (and 12 Galaxies collaborator) Bill Clinton’s impeachment was handwritten on collaged white board. Accruing donations, Chu eventually outsourced his production to Signographics in San Francisco and his signs have since contained vinyl letters on black board. Chu often collaged sticker letters to alter descriptors (»zegnatronic« to »tetratronic«, for example) and, later, his informational organization became more complex – boasting seven lines, in alternating vinyl colors.
Chu selects a different sign from his armory each day, and commissions a new sign weekly – with terminology and figures transmitted by telepathy and through newspapers. Today, Chu’s system involves five justified lines of codified text: at the top, in blue, the name of a complicit politician; next, in white, a quantity of populations outside our galaxy; then in red, a news source, with a review of its coverage, or with a description of alien rockets or spaceports; white again, describing advanced billionaire cosmopolitans in other galaxies; and the bottom line, in green, pointing to specific aspects of the interglacial/ intergalactic rocket societies, their advanced architectures, and technologies.
Chu’s signs are visually prepossessing, recognizable, and linguistically bewildering. Yet if difficult for us to parse, they are, for Chu, tools – conversation pieces to be publicly presented and elaborated. There’s some barres de bois rond – André Cadere’s coloured wooden bars – at play here, sure, but Chu’s on another wavelength (as well as time, space, language, politics, metaphysics, mathematics, power, class, surveillance, psychology, medicine, technology, astronomy, legality, epistemology, semiotics, parasitism, culture, science, history, fashion, conspiracy, and so on). Perhaps the vastness of space, the fluidity of dimensions, the complexity of networks, and the polyvalence of time Chu introduces make for a rather unattainable key for even my most crypto-museological aspirations, but like Chu, why not keep trying?
Chris Fitzpatrick is director of Kunstverein München and of Objectif Exhibitions in Antwerp.