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Cross-continent highway billboard project is Manifest Destiny

The billboard: One big outdoor display space. Los Angeles Nomadic Division turns them into an art installation

The first billboards went up in fall 2013 in Jacksonville. Artist Shana Lutker found historical illustrations of early Florida, placed them against recent photographs of sky, and the Manifest Destiny Billboard Project began: 10 artists designing about 10 billboards each in 10 locations across the country.

Los Angeles artist Zoe Crosher's contribution, Chapter 9 in the transcontinental opus, opened this weekend in the Palm Springs area. She commissioned florist Hollyflora to design the "fantasy of L.A." as a plant installation. Crosher then photographed the lush array of bromeliads, bougainvillea, palms and other tropicals from their fresh green beginnings to their sad decay. The sequence has been arranged chronologically across a 30-mile stretch of Interstate 10 starting near Indio and running west.

For Crosher the project has been a vehicle for thinking about the history of the West and the fiction of Los Angeles itself.

"While dating someone in Tempe, Ariz., I did a lot of driving through the deepest part of the desert," Crosher said. "There are a lot of weird billboards out there. Time disappears, space disappears, you get into this daze."

Billboards also seemed a natural choice for the arts organization LAND, short for Los Angeles Nomadic Division, which features art in nontraditional settings and is organizing this project.

"It's one of the most impactful visual formats that you see when traveling by car," LAND Director Shamim Momin said. "It a quintessential part of American culture — and it offers a captive audience."

LAND raised $330,000 for the project, most of which went toward billboard rental fees, Momin said. Participating artists include John Baldessari, Eve Fowler, Sanford Biggers, Jeremy Shaw, Daniel R. Small, Bobbi Woods and Mario Ybarra Jr.

Crosher's billboards will be complemented by an installation of foliage by floral artist Briana Burt, "Expanded LA-Like: The Actual Shangri-LA'd Disappearing Wall," at the Palm Springs Art Museum's satellite in Palm Desert.

Manifest Destiny culminates in June in Los Angeles with billboards by Matthew Brannon featuring a made-up musical group, the Castration Squad. For schedules, maps and information on free public events: nomadicdivision.org.

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