A self-indulgent treatise on semiotics and why "You Are Driving A Volvo" isn't shit

Primary reason for the lack of updates is that I was in London all last week on a course (OLAP cube analysis if you must know). As always on these occasions, I popped over to Tate Modern for an hour or so. It's become like visiting an old friend. Two new items of note: Eliasson's The Weather Project installation and Julian Opie's You Are Driving A Volvo:


An unknown to me, but it transpires he's responsible for Blur's pop art-esque Best Of.. cover. Always quite liked that and some of his other works are pretty damn good too.

Cue a discussion on one of my messageboards - the old "Is this art?" debate. Me? I think that if you have to ask, it's definitely art. But how can I justify that for what is, after all, just a block of wood shaped and painted like a car?

On consideration, I think it appeals to me thanks to my interest in semiotics. Some definitions:

"The study of doctrine of signs, sometimes supposed to be a science of signs; the systematic investigation of the nature, properties, and kinds of sign, especially when undertaken in a self-conscious way."

"The theory of symbols and signs which explores how people glean meaning from words, sounds, and pictures. Sometimes used in researching names for various products and services. "

Clearly it's the symbol of a car that conjures up everything that we know about cars ("They go fast", "They use petrol", "I was sick in the back of a Toyota Corolla" etc). The inferred relationships are far more interesting than the car itself. Semiotics is one of those fascinating fields that seems to blend cognitive psychology, design and philosophy in one. I always appreciate ways of elevating the day-to-day mundanity of 'things' to a higher, more general level. I don't agree with Plato's theory of Forms (as I understand it, that each object we encounter is a flawed copy of a divine blueprint which only the enlightened can see) but I must admit I admire where he's coming from and the sheer audacity of his thoughts.

This all brings me round to the real issue: why I actually quite like my job. Semiotics is certainly a big feature of information architecture, along with a whole host of other fields (programming, graphic design, Human-Computer Interaction, research, psychology, information management) that run the gamut from the highly technical to the hand-wavingly vague. I can't think of many other jobs that have that sort of variety.

Cennydd Bowles