ISSN : 2266-6060


scooter sign

Boulogne, june 2013.

Mandatory signs are powerful devices. They fix an acute flaw of Law, though written and reproduced in few documents, still is supposed to be known by everyone. Even if the Web changed things in potentially giving access to every statutes and terms of legislation, Law generally has a very mundane mode of existence, besides and beyond texts, which takes two forms. One version of the Law occurs in what people tell you about it. And when these people are police officers, you are supposed to trust them, but when they are your neibourghs, it’s a bit more complicated. It is completely different when Law is recalled in a second manner: through signs that give you all the legal information you need to behave properly. The force of such signs lies in the semiotic translation by which legal details are condensed and displayed in very simple conventional shapes. It also lies in their very emplacement. Mandatory signs mark a place by their presence, giving it a legal qualification. No vehicle besides bicycle is allowed on this portion of the street, you cannot turn left at this crossroads. Madatory signs put Law in place and place in Law.
The best situation to understand it is when they come missing. Without signs, spaces get confusing. Or get free, some people would say. In front of this building, which is occupied by great public institutions, someone found a way to remedy the lack of sign boards, by putting a paper copy on each motorcycle standing on the sidewalk. Doing so, she invested in both signs’ strenghts: their replicability and their spatial properties. But do these signs enact Law the same way a board would do? Shall we trust them? Not so sure. Maybe because there is something else that goes with mandatory signs. It’s not only their mandate that counts, but also the one of the persons who are in charge for their installation. And if such a mandate is hard to find in a unconventional paper copy, it is because it runs through both social and material properties.