Who’s in a Name? began with an intervention in a public project by artist John Baldessari. In January 2011, Baldessari launched Your Name in Lights on the façade of the Australian Museum in Sydney. Leading up to the launch of his project and during its three-week duration, viewers were invited to register their names on a dedicated website. They were then informed when their names would be illuminated on a nearly 100-foot L.E.D. screen; the website presented a 24/7 streaming image of registered names coming in and out of view every fifteen seconds. When Silton first learned about Baldessari’s project just prior to its launch, she solicited artist friends and colleagues—primarily Los Angeles-based—to instead each register the name of an artist who had committed suicide. These names she culled from a Wikipedia site devoted to the archiving of artists and others who had ended their lives. Fifty-nine artists (including herself) responded with willingness to participate.
Silton randomly assigned names from the Wikipedia archive to all participating artists. The suicidees represented are cross-generational, cross-cultural, and primarily non-iconic. Each artist was instructed to inform Silton when the registered name was scheduled to “go up in lights.”
The project is a response to the culture of celebrity that Baldessari’s project invokes. Silton’s interest lies in complicating the texts that seem to constitute a “life,” even beyond the life itself. She chose to highlight artists who committed suicide in part to honor their legacy, and in part to counter the stigma attached to suicide. This othering projected onto suicide is perhaps a strange twin to the look-at-me-ness of seeing one’s name in the distanced context of the glittering marquee and identifying with the name as oneself.
To further complicate the textuality of these names—and the art historical framing of artists and their work—Silton then gathered a group of eleven primarily LA-based or LA-educated young art historians/writers to rewrite 200-word bios of all of the artists, living and non-living.
The publication brings together 118 bios, plates of the 59 suicidees’ illuminated names—which Silton collected over the course of Baldessari’s project during its first presentation in Australia—and an essay by noted art historian Liz Kotz (Words To Be Looked At, MIT Press 2007).