OX-Continuing To Make The World A Better Place
OX is kind enough to send over images of his ad takeovers every now and again. I'm always excited to post them not only because they are incredible breaks from the common intrusion of commercial media onto our public lives, but because they fulfill my often fickle definition of what constitutes the most affective ad takeover. It being a slow Sunday, let me illuminate the three things that I think help create an affective ad takeover.
The first, which may seem obvious, is that the work must be recognized as an artwork and not mistaken for an advertisement. This is incredibly difficult to achieve as most viewers have a hard time imagining anything but an advertisement within certain framed locations around our cities. There are many ways to achieve this recognition and I have found no steadfast rules. I want to say omit type, but then I think of Mobstr, I want to say remove all figures but then I am reminded of Kaws' old bus shelter collaborations with Calvin Klein. There simply isn't any rule, although it must be kept in mind in order for the work to be effective.
Two, I find that omitting all reference to the advertisement that was there before is normally best. This is because no matter how insignificant the referent left behind might be, for example fonts and simple color juxtapositions, these simple motifs can often lead a viewer directly to brand recognition or the product being advertised. Think the green and orange of a Newport cigarette ad or the font of a Coca Cola logo. Through a lifetime of continued consumption of brand iconography we have come to recognize the most imperceptible reference to the ubiquitous commercial signifiers that surround us. One would be appalled to learn how little stimulus one needs to place a company or even product in a fraction of a second and while being bombarded by a myriad of other signs at the same time.
I personally find it a more successful public interaction between artist and viewer when the brand doesnt come in and muddle the intimacy. There is something cleaner about the experience, or conversation, when the commercial world can be forgotten and an interaction remains between two people. I find emotions like empathy, honesty, respect, and even anger are easier to contemplate when the dialogue is kept between the producer and viewer. That said, when weighing your own interests for taking over commercial media space, there is always an argument for targeting specific companies or leaving enough of the ad behind to remind viewers that something is being covered or an ad manipulated. It really depends on what your objectives are and obviously critiquing specific ads or culture jamming in general requires that the initial advertisement remain referenced in some way. The difference between a culture jam and an omission based ad takeover can be subtle, but while one admits to a struggle between the different media formats, the other simply enjoys an interaction between individuals. To take street art as an example, juxtapose the elusive intentions of a Dan Witz with the more obvious and aggressive expectations of an A.S.V.P.
Which leads me to my last definition of a good ad takeover, anonymity. There are valid arguments that street art and graffiti are self promotional and therefor similarly as abusive to our public spaces as advertising. (An argument for a public space that should be used for self promotion might exist, but artists agreeing with this will find their voices drowned out by a tidal wave of commercial messages and therefore I think it wise to entertain alternate possibilities.) I think for those that find street art and graffiti to be a visual blight, this notion of self promotion becomes a valid arguing point, and one that is even harder to dispute when your work asks for advertising's removal and outright acceptance of other forms of public media production, so often the undertones of an advertising takeover.
It then becomes important to rebuke these claims of using public space for personal gain as a street artist and more importantly as an artist who targets outdoor media. It seems there are two things one must do to accomplish this. No logos or signatures is the first and most obvious, as well as the easiest to employ. The second is a little more murky and must be navigated deftly. This is the notion of stylistic recognition. In the same way brand repetition makes brand recognition so uniform, repetitive image consistency on the part of an artist causes us to see the artist as much as the art. While artists creating brands is nothing new and is in fact a widely accepted practice these days, I think it functions differently when dealing with street art and particularly ad takeovers. The problem with stylistic recognition is that it is dependent on the viewer, so while I may recognize a Mobstr piece, an average citizen might make no connection between the simple stencil font and the history of his work that has come before. This forces artists to think about multiple audiences, their pop culture status, and other things which might contribute to them being more recognizable in a street piece than the actual artwork itself. As much as I hate to hark on Shepard Fairey, he is the perfect example of this idea in all of its nuance, and an interesting figure upon which to make arguments for and against this notion.
Now the question is why is recognizing the artist problematic with street art, and more importantly with an advertising takeover where self promotion becomes such thin ice upon which to stand? To put it in simple black and white terms, self promotional Street Art is tacky, and with ad takeovers, it is hypocritical. One simply cannot expect to be seen as a well intentioned artist while taking over street advertising or even a street corner to advertise your own brand. It simply wont be taken seriously. Even if you are not being outright salacious or pushing any specific agenda, ultimately one is using public space to build an identity which if used in other venues is cause for criticism. (Even while I write this I do not fully agree with what I am saying as other circumstances come into play when criticizing self promotion by an individual versus by a corporate entity with the means to employ an army in order to disseminate their messages. Think Swoon on the streets or Daniel Buren when he was doing unauthorized work, both of whom might be recognizable to a sizable audience, but whom I would never argue are using the streets for self promotion. That said, at the least for ad takeover work, in order to rebuke criticism by those who might question an advertising takeovers sincerity due to self promotional possibilities, I think it is important to error on the side of caution in order to make ones work as effective and affective as possible.)
And what is left when a piece of work is placed on the street, the author unrecognizable, or an ad takeover employed in a similar fashion with no reference to the advertisement that lies beneath the artwork? I would call this a Gift. The viewer, stumbling upon an artwork, can only imagine that there is a person behind its production. This moment did not simply appear out of nowhere and the mind, trying to explain why it exists, begins to conjure both the author and their intentions. Without anything concrete to hold onto, the artwork remains in an implausible space where its production cannot be attributed to any particular set of reasons. It simply is, and the mind, reacting to this will wander down other more interesting and meaningful paths. The subject matter or emotional qualities of the work might become more focused, its relationship to the environment might become of particular interest; but most importantly the question of why the author might make something potentially beautiful and abandon it with so little regard becomes paramount.
As a viewer, the only answer I can think of when imagining why a particularly anonymous street piece exists or why a certain ad was consumed by an artwork, is that each was a gift. Something left behind for no other reason than for me to find it and do with it as I may. I can simply walk by, I can ponder its aesthetic qualities, or I can engage it on a political level but in all those reactions, what I am left with becomes very personal and without much reference to anything or anyone in particular. And yet it ties me to someone anonymous, purportedly someone who lives around me or in the same city. It creates a invisible bond that assumes a level of selflessness and care that is not always a part of our city experience. And in a city which can be isolating in its vastness, cruel in its ability to overlook us, this emotional connection is a powerful force for reversing those pitfalls of living amongst so many.
And herein lies the reason I am so fond of OX's work. His interventions not only cover the advertisement in question, sometimes even 3 or 4 within the same piece, but often will ultimately integrate the ad structures into the environment so quietly that you forget about both the media and the medium at the same time. Then there is the notion of recognition, and while I could certainly spot an OX work, I think the general public would be hard pressed to attach a name or even to say that they had seen something similar before. This is in part due to the graphic nature of OX's work but also in its general adherence to site specificity. Often OX will use his graphic sensibilities and the environment which surrounds the ad to make work which could only exist at a single location, making it hard to even imagine outside of that context. And so for me, OX's work moves beyond the common notions of an ad takeover, intent on questioning advertising in public space, and begins to instead create a public space where individuals have interactions which breed selfless relationships bringing the people and city that surrounds them in closer proximity in a wonderful way.