Experiments in White


Elaine and her daughter Lydia were engrossed in looking when I met them. The object of their sustained concentration wasn’t a work of art; it was a new sign in the Center for Creativity called Whiteout.

“We can’t find the spatula; we’ve found everything but that!” Elaine looked to me for guidance.

As far as signs go, this one is atypical. It’s a 4’x 4′ plexi-glass box filled with shredded white paper. Imbedded, or camouflaged, in the paper are 19 assorted all-white objects such as a spatula, takeout box, ping pong ball, and headband. A list of the objects is posted on the wall nearby and visitors are invited to find them.

I’ve witnessed many visitors (and CMA staff) who are relentless in their search for all 19 objects. The sign is a not a work of art, but it is a curiosity. People gather together to point out objects found and hunt for the most elusive objects, the pipe cleaner and Q-tip.

whiteoutsign2This particular sign has been on display for just a few weeks. In that time, I’ve chatted with several people engaged in the hunt for white objects and I am somewhat surprised by our conversations. Several visitors think this sign is, in fact, a work of art. Others admit that they didn’t realize that it is actually a sign. (The lower portion of the box has large dimensional green words that spell out Center for Creativity.)

As a result of these conversations, I have been rethinking the purpose of this sign and its sister signs. The Whiteout sign is part of an on-going series of sign experiments for the Center for Creativity.

When we opened the Center in 2011, we knew that run-of-the-mill signage would not serve our experimental, playful, and even quirky philosophy. Instead we made several large plexiglass box-like signs that can be filled with different materials. We change out the “filler material” whenever we have the time and inclination, or about every 9 months. The one defining feature of the filler is the color; it’s always white. So far we’ve used packing peanuts (clingy), string mops (heavy), plumbing pipe pieces (very heavy), artificial birds (creepy), paper, and flowers.

The Center for Creativity signs filled with birds and string mops.

The Center for Creativity signs filled with birds and a string mops.

I am frequently asked why we only use white objects in these signs. The answer relates to design and creativity. First, I like white. And white is an effective visual background to the green Center for Creativity letters on the outside of the box. But more importantly, I established this color limitation as a personal creative challenge. What else can I find that is all white, not too expensive, small enough to fit in the boxes, and (new rule) not so heavy that the box will fall off the wall?

In fact, these signs embody many characteristics of creativity. They exemplify a willingness to experiment and take risks. They require divergent and imaginative thinking. They upend what is normal and expected.  And like many creative experiments, they may not be successful for their original purpose; I am willing to admit that they may have be failures as markers for our Center for Creativity spaces.

Yet, something interesting is happening when visitors engage with these quirky experiments in signage. And, heck, the world is full of so many other white objects. So for now, we will continue with our experiments in white.

If you have suggestions for filler, let us know.