SMALL SIGNS OF BIG CHANGE (Participatory Place-Reacquainting Vending Machine)


We rush, we hustle, we drive. It’s the constant presence of, and instant response to signage that gets us there, guides us, tells us, and ultimately fills in the gaps… because without them, we are completely lost. Somewhere along the way, in our fast paced lives, we forgot where we really are. In that memory’s place, we have road signs dictating a single narrative from point A to point B at 100km/h. Small Signs of Big Change repositions these tools of disconnection in the form of a simple alternative beloved since childhood; a bright shiny road sign sticker from a big old-school metal vending machine!

When steel manufacturing took it’s hold of North American life, it never really let us go. We may not make it all in-house anymore, we may even make it out of polycarbonate today, but we still gather at it’s polished alter to worship the vroom, whoosh, and bing that comprise the speed of our fast-lane-lives. Steel cars and steel signs to guide them, steel boxes and steel bells to reward your increasing momentum. It was steel buckets like these that defined my childhood, as they likely did yours. Mine was made up of road trips that spanned the breaths and depths of this country from coast-to-coast, but I couldn’t tell you where we were most of the time, only the signs that marked the way.

“Read the signs on the highway.” — “They’re going too fast.” — “That’s how you’ll get better.”

This is how I learned to read. Long road trips, green, orange, yellow and white signs, with words like “EXIT,” “MERGE,” and “YIELD.” “MAXIMUM” was my favourite, but I didn’t fully understand it’s meaning until I was in the third grade. After all, how could “MAXIMUM 100km/h” really be all that’s allowed if my dad’s speedometer pointed to 135 km/h? It’s how we interact with signs: how their rules tell us what to do, how we choose to selectively agree with them, how they are more the landscape of our surroundings than the landscape, and their seemingly benevolent ever-present authority that has always captivated me.

I quickly realized that I could get better at reading road signs by reading indoor signs: “No Loitering,” “No Dogs,” “No Alcohol Beyond this Point.” These seemed less authoritative, sometimes printed on scrap paper, sometimes just written in sharpie, and yet, these were upheld to the highest extent of the law, or — compared to how I’d seen road signs treated — higher. The way I saw it, adults put signs up to bridge any gap they could think of. No need to remember, no need to know, no need to think. You could go as fast as you can (or 135 km/h) and not need to think about a thing, the signs would catch you. Well children don’t get to make road signs and they definitely aren’t trusted with sharpie markers, but when it’s time to fill up on gas a few hours into that road trip, there’s a steel bucket that will let you drive for a dollar-a-sticker. If whatever you get from the vending machine is your authority to rewrite the rules, then, like me, you’re hooked to the endless give and take that comes with its authority.

The faster we go, the more we crave the immediate response, the easier it is for us to forget that we are in a real place and we are intrinsically linked to the ground we stand on. Signs are everywhere, they’re meant to make up for the gap of us not knowing the places we live in anymore, Small Signs of Big Change attempts to reverse that and use these markers of our lost connection as a means for re-acquaintance.


Now the change is in your hands, find a place for your SMALL SIGN and make some BIG CHANGE! Then take a photo of it and post it using the hashtag #SmallSignsOfBigChange to join the movement!

Special Thanks to Em MacMillen, this project wouldn’t have happened without her. Visit their website to see more interdisciplinary art.