ad, graffiti… what’s the difference?
Posted on February 13, 2009 by under-covered
Answer: The difference is obviously whose paying for that space in the public eye. In lay terms, money. But in the last few weeks there has been a lot of push-back to renew the debate.
In the last few weeks there has been a flurry of activity around the question of advertising’s role in our environment and who has the right to project messages to the masses.
New York City’s well-known metro ad-altering trickster Poster Boy was caught — but not really. Fact is, there are hundreds of poster boys out there and the police — who arrived at an art opening flagrantly advertising his appearance busted someone and claimed to have captured Mr. Poster Boy himself.
Police in Boston captured a more tangible suspect – Shepard Fairey — when they also arrived at his opening at the Institute of Contemporary Art where a retrospective is being shown in his honor.
In both cases the culprit is actually unknown. It’s anyone’s guess who put up the “obey” signs in Boston — Fairey has been around for so long and accrued such a following that any fledgling anti-addies with a library card or internet access could print out and slap up their own ‘obey’ signs. More obviously, Poster Boy is not one arrest-able citizen but many creative, albeit mischievous, metro-riders who are sick of seeing (on average) 5,000 ads per day… And started talking back.
One cunning blogger is Boston put it well on Universal Hub when she/he wrote,
“The whole point of the ‘Obey’ campaign is that it’s viral; that Fairey himself has no control over who uses the images or where they’re placed.” — Cynic
And, predictably, there’s always the narrative of the peeved cop who wants to keep order and make a show of dragging the ‘bad guy’ in and set an example (or at least frighten the next generation of anti-addies). Instead, in both clunky cases, the police were regarded by the locals as brutes. Party poopers. And as for those young street artists — as one ICA patron put it,
“It makes him even more of a hero to me. The fact that he is arrested for his art shows that it is meaningful to him and he cares about what he is doing.” — Ginny Delany, 27 in the Boston Globe
The meaning of contributing to your environment — to change what you find wrong or unhealthy in your neighborhood — is the catapult for these “viral” images. And the active anti-ad, street art movement (not new, by any means) will further force the question, what are ads and what is graffiti?
Here’s a fitting answer by a couple of New York City artists: