Andrew Choate (aka @saintbollard) shares his bollard photography exploring “the human-to-geography relationship”

, 30 June 2017

“It’s certainly easy to call them phallic because they are, but as far as I know that is not the root cause of my attraction to them,” writes Andrew Choate via email about his relationship to bollards. They’re robust and vertical posts that are short, compared to poles, and the LA-based artist has built an Instagram-following, reaching into the tens of thousands, by documenting them as @saintbollard. “My relationship to bollards started as a purely formal appreciation for the way their colors and rhythms and shapes punctuate the landscape,” he continues, “Now I’m interested in how these byproducts of hyper-industrialization can be used as a lens through which to view both the history of various societies, as well as how humans psychologically experience a landscape.”

Saintbollard, ‘Bitten First Impression’ (2015). Photo taken California Institute of the Arts campus, Valencia, CA. Courtesy Andrew Choate.

Choate has not only developed a formidable social media following, but he’s built an art practice around these human-made objects that divide, shape and underscore curbs, driveways and garages, liquor stores, strip malls and nature paths. Discovered by accident, and now actively informing his work that also includes his “writing as landscape” practice, Choate’s interest in these subtle gestures delineating our interactions and conceptions of space extends to thinking about, what he calls, the “human-to-geography relationship.” He presents these findings in his outdoor tours and indoor presentations, where he discusses the history, etymology and poetry to what he’s applied the collective noun of a ‘warning’ of bollards, telling the story of a neighborhood or pairing it with his ‘Horizon Poems.’

One such poem is called ‘Too Many Times I See Every Thing Just the Way It Is,’ title lifted from the lyrics of a 60s song by West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band called ‘Buddha’ and surfacing after a description of “a bunch of fantastic, semi-hallucinatory images.” According to Choate, the phrase reflects the way it feels to live in a space not of our own creation. “It’s also our emotional job to make ourselves feel like we can survive within it. And if lamentation is the most instinctual place we go to when we see things as they are, then shouldn’t our response to that fact be to change both our attitude about seeing those things and to change the things themselves?”

In advance of his Saintbollard exhibition at Bucharest’s Outernational Days, running July 7 to 9, Choate answered a few questions and shared some of his favourite bollards below: 

Saintbollard, ‘Ample Horizon Feat’ (2016). Photo taken Alexandra, New Zealand. Courtesy Andrew Choate.

** When did you first discover your fascination for bollards? 

Andrew Choate: My first photographs of bollards were accidental. In 2001, after moving to Canyon Country, California from Columbia, South Carolina, I began frequenting a bike path that swiveled behind a giant strip mall filled with big-box stores. These loading docks were the opposite of a facade: it was a place where you weren’t supposed to look. The vantage offered a fascinating view nonetheless: multi-story, windowless walls painted in neutral colors formed a backdrop to the hard colors of plastic crates — beefy red, dark green, bright yellow, popped blue — that were both stacked in grids and strewn about carelessly, waiting for the next day’s deliveries. Black skid-marks from disaffected teenagers doing doughnuts in their parents’ cars peppered the open swathes of pavement.

I started to photograph the delivery zones and backsides of these strip malls. Five years later, in 2006, I was going through these photos trying to pick a couple out for an upcoming group show at High Energy Constructs, and I noticed that one particular architectural feature had unconsciously, repeatedly captured my attention: bollards. From that moment on, I made it a point to pay more attention.

Saint Bollard, ‘Dancing Like God Is Not Alone’ (2017). Photo taken Lismore Park, Wanaka, New Zealand. Courtesy Andrew Choate.

** Do you notice cultural differences in bollard placement/appearance?

AC: Not just cultural differences, but every city seems to have their own standards and styles of bollard arrangement. New York bollards are radically different than LA bollards: the most common ones you see on the street in Manhattan are on each side of a fire hydrant. Boring. Los Angeles bollards are too varied to stereotype, which makes sense because there is a different relationship to cars and the landscape here. So that is a cultural difference, but it’s within the same nation. When I go back to South Carolina, the most common kinds of bollard usage there represent the tension between downtown revitalization (vintage bollards with funky curves) and suburban sprawl (cement poured into a straight steel cylinder and painted yellow).

It feels like stereotyping to generalize about bollards, because every city contains so many different kinds, but the frequency of their placements in certain locations makes a strong argument as to what the society values: schools in Serbia, driveways in Berlin, street corners in Mexico City, electrical boxes in the USA.

** Do you think it’s in any way responsive to the environment, this kind of unconscious psycho-geographical map that influences buildings and planning? Could you, for example, guess where a bollard is from out of context?

AC: I think bollard installation is both responsive to the environment and an attempt to shape the environment, sometimes more of one than the other. As far as guessing, out of context, where a bollard might be located, I would like my chances! Ideally, I’d love to write a history of the bollard and document the ways different cities and peoples use the bollard as a way of protecting their people and their explosive energy from transportation technology.   

1. ‘Ample Horizon Feat,’ Alexandra, New Zealand

After the 2016 Fringe Festival in Dunedin, I decided to travel with the storytelling artist Gerard Harris to some of the sites where the television series Top of the Lake had been filmed. We stopped at every small town we found to walk around and, if we were lucky, tour each landmark or small museum. Alexandra instead offered these bollards outside their branch of the Super Liquor chain. I’m fond of how they bisect the rhythm of the chain’s newly branded color scheme.


2. ‘From Dog Howl to Pigeon Coo,’ Griffith Park, Los Angeles, CA

At a birthday party for people I didn’t know I decided my best bet for fun would be throwing and catching frisbees in the corner of the park. I really wanted to talk to these bollards. Sticking rocks into concrete like chewing gum onto a popsicle stick is no small measure of aesthetic dedication. My accidental cup emphasizes the precariousness of the situation.


3. ‘Bitten First Impression,’ California Institute of the Arts campus, Valencia, CA

Twelve years after I got my MFA in writing from CalArts I went back to help a friend sell books during the “&Now” 2015 conference. I noticed that if I framed the bollard in the forefront of this picture correctly I could also include a more subtle bollard on the ramp in the background. Additionally, it is common on city streets for the relationship of bollard to bike rack to confound definition. Light as both particle and wave.


4. ‘Dancing Like God Is Not Alone,’ Lismore Park, Wanaka, New Zealand

One of my priorities while traveling in New Zealand was to play as much disc golf as possible, and that’s how I found this bollard. Bollards in nature are not necessarily rare, but they always elicit a deeper, more yearning “Why?” than their urban counterparts. The difference between justifying existence vs. simply continuing I often find unnecessary. Sometimes I cheat the framing to hide what might really be going on.


5. ‘I Understand Why the Burgers Are So Grey,’ McDonald’s, Oamaru, New Zealand

I saw this bollard out of the corner of my eye while driving with my mom from Dunedin to Mount Cook. I thought about it for a minute, then apologized to my mom and pulled the car over and walked back to take pictures. Rarely does a scene make so much formal sense while adhering — just barely — to the laws of rationality and projected contingency. Warning as caricature of functionality.**


Andrew Choate’s Saintbollard exhibition is on at Bucharest’s Uranus Garden, for the Outernational Days Festival, running July 7 to 9, 2017.