<body> Public Ad Campaign: November 2010
This blog is a resource for ad takeover artists and information about contemporary advertising issues in public space. If you have content you would like to share, please send us an email.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

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.

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Times Square Art Square: Ad Takeover and Potential Test Of Public Will

Animal New York is reporting on the new Kick Starter drive and video release from the Times Square Art Square project. This reminded me that I had spoken to Justus a while back after having been forward over to him by Charlie Todd of Improv Everywhere. For some reason we were going to meet and then our email conversation went cold. Ill recontact him out of curiosity but the reminder on AnimalNY begs a post. When Justus explained the project a while back it seemed not only an opportunity to takeover the biggest advertising location in the world but also an interesting social media experiment.

"...So we joined up with friends in Amsterdam and set up a foundation, and now we are trying to get as many people worldwide to join us on either Facebook or stay in contact with us via any other network; as the fact is there're about 500 million people on Fb, and we could a get a million or so to like us and have them donate, we'd be able to buy several hours on all the billboards. (a second is about $300, depending on the season.)"

Could enough people "like" an idea on Facebook or retweet a video enough times that a network so vast could be created that donations of pennies would be enough to will Times Square into a public art playground? I like this idea because it demands a place for art in public space, the problem is we end up paying for that privilege. If Successful, Times Square Art Square would be an incredible spectacle and a powerful statement, I would just hate to see that amount of money and potential social media power harnessed to pay for advertising space. It seems like the money this project would require could be used for better purposes.

That said, proving that large scale social media networks could rework the power relationship in a such a tightly controlled environment like Times Square is pretty incredible. It also begs the question why we cant do something more profound with such a large network of people? The amount of money it would require to take over all the ads in Times Square for even a small amount of time could do a lot of things. Large scale donation networks could instantly fund individual community programs, with minuscule donations from each party. And maybe thats the point of Times Square Art Square in a lot of ways. Replacing all of the advertisement seems an odd way to blow a few million bucks, but instantly funding a social program on a similar model would suddenly seem negligent if we couldn't make it happen.

I love the potential for this idea. Please check out the Time Square Art Square Video and try to make a donation to the KickStarter Campaign.

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Massive Parisian Subway System Takeover

This Art-Decaux video shows one of the largest Parisian subway system takeovers I have seen yet. From the looks of things in the video hundreds of posters must have been replaced. While I have some ideas of who was behind this event, I cannot be sure and don't want to attribute the work to the wrong group. That said it really doesn't matter, bravo to all of those involved.

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Turning Condo Ads Into Shelter-Sean Martindale in Toronto

Sean Martindale, co-conspiritor, friend, and one of four organizers of the TOSAT project has been busy lately. It seems he has been stealing condo advertising over the last year with the intention of using the material to fashion makeshift shelters. Sean's work is always thought provoking and this project is no different. Not only has he been able to rid his city of a blighting form of outdoor media but at the same time draws attention to the growing divide between the haves and the have nots, those that can afford high priced luxury living and those that might sincerely benefit from some simple construction materials, or promotional materials in this case. See more about the project [Here]
If you can't afford a condo on Queen West, have you considered a lovely makeshift tent in the heart of Trinity Bellwoods Park?

It wouldn't come with a stainless steel refrigerator, and you'd never be able to fit a seventy-two-inch HDTV in there, but you'd be walking distance from the farmer's market and just steps from shopping and transit. And it wouldn't even necessarily set you back a single cent, if you were to build it out of the same materials Sean Martindale used to build his. More [Here]

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Copycat Sites Try To Redirect Traffic And The Message

Just a few minutes ago I finished talking to a graduate student whose thesis revolves around media production in public space. As per usual, I will pretty much talk to anyone who wants more information about these issues as it is a vital way of disseminating information. We spoke for nearly 3 hours at which point the PublicAdCampaign domain URL came up. She asked if I had condoned the use of PublicAdCampaign.org and PublicAdCampaign.net. I told her I didn't know what she was talking about and immediately went to those addresses. Low and behold, someone has produced two copycat sites that are less than excited about the work we do here.

Many of the posts seem to suggest that PublicAdCampaign is all a big elaborate scheme to be self promotional and I would assume makes lots and lots of money as an artist. While this couldn't be further from the truth, it does raise an important point that I think we haven't talked about in quite some time. Mainly that my work in public does not lead back to me in any way shape or form. There are no logos, signatures, websites, or any other forms of promotional engineering specifically so that the work remains true to its cause and remains as effective political commentary. In fact, I have tried, often with great difficulty, to keep each project stylistically different enough that the content of my work would not lead you back to me as the producer. I consider the work that I do to be a gift to the public and a challenge to the current uses of public space. To misconstrue that as self promotion seems a result of aggravation with the efficacy of the PublicAdCampaign project and its entirely unselfish goals.

I gotta say I think it is pretty amazing that someone would go through the trouble of ripping off my site and buying domain names just to bad mouth what we do here. I feel honored that we are worthy of such treatment. Sadly it seems that whoever is responsible for this little prank stopped posting in April, maybe cause they didn't get the reaction they wanted. While they may have stopped posting, they do come up in a google search so it seems they are redirecting some traffic away from the real PublicAdCampaign site so if anyone wants to help me draft a cease and desist order it would be appreciated. HA! Oh the internet.

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Big Screen Project

Pilar Damato will be screening her short film on My (public) Space as part of the Big Screen Project viewing this November 19th at 6:00pm. PublicAdCampaign is the main focus of the film and we are super excited to see the project played out on advertising sized digital signage. The Big Screen Project's outdoor digital arts and culture wall is a 30 ft. x 16.5 ft. HD screen located in a public plaza behind at 6th Avenue between 29th and 30th Street in New York City. Hope to see you there!

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Newest Street Work Pits City Against City In A War Of Restraint

Outdoor advertising takeovers don't stay up long. With and interest in keeping their product in public view, outdoor advertising companies regularly check up on their inventory to remove potential vandalism, unintended use, or in this case outright critique. This has always been a problem for me and one which I have yet to fully get around. In light of this I propose the Let Me Handle This project in collaboration with New York City and Philadelphia outdoor advertising firms.
Here's the deal. I have taken 3 advertising locations in Philadelphia as my own media sites. One is a MetroFuel location and the other two are bus shelters. I ask nicely that the companies who would potentially remove my work leave these 3 pieces intact until my exhibition comes down December 3rd. The visibility and minimal disruption to the industry as a whole I feel makes this a small favor to ask of an industry that has bombarded my environment with its own messages for as long as I can remember.
While my request is unlikely to be met, I propose a little friendly competition between New York and Philadelphia be the result of my works removal. For each piece removed in Philadelphia, two pieces will be put up in New York. The same goes for pieces removed in New York, each removal resulting in two more images being put up in Philadelphia. This process will continue until my show ends December 3rd. If the imagery stays up in Philadelphia, no more work will be made, but if the work is removed, New York will be given the opportunity to end the cycle by leaving all six resulting images intact. If New York chooses to remove my work, Philadelphia's initial response will result in 12 images being placed on their streets, and so on until December 3rd.
To me the obvious choice would be to simply leave these small disruptions up for a month and continue with business as usual. In this way I might be able to come to some unspoken agreement with those who control media production in our urban environments while maintaining my own abilities to critique that very system. What is more likely to happen is that the images will be removed and the resulting multiplying affect of those actions will make the critique more visible. As my work is ultimately about questioning outdoor advertisings role in our public environment, the more visible the project the more likely large numbers of people will engage this question. More people pondering outdoor advertising's role in our public spaces can only help further a debate that is so often overlooked in our media saturated lives.

Watch the ongoing progress of the Let Me Handle This project HERE.

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Opening Is Over But The Show Has Just Begun!

I just returned from opening Taking From The Tip Jar at the Vincent Michael Gallery this sunday. Things went swimmingly and I installed 16 pieces, one empty phone booth frame, and a short video inside the gallery walls. I would like to personally thank Drew, Armon, and Elizabeth Gault for their incredible hospitality and friendship. I look forward to many upcoming projects with them, including a large scale multimedia mural project in New York that if properly deployed will be one of PublicAdCampaign's most interesting legal collaborations to date. More on this as things develop.
While the exhibition within the Vincent Michael gallery walls did have a street component that took place months before in NYC, it was still an indoor gallery show after all. Although excited to explore alternative ways to engage dialogue about outdoor advertising's preeminent position in public space while producing the fine art objects I so rarely have the time to make, street work is clearly my most tried and true method for engaging outdoor media issues. With a show in Philadelphia, it only seemed right that I hit the streets and remove some outdoor advertising. I set out on my task of finding appropriate spots the first night I came into town.
I started by driving around the gallery area of Northern Liberties. In close proximity were a few bus shelters and some MetroFuel ads sporadically placed along the more heavily trafficked streets. These main thoroughfares sported a few smaller billboards but most of the larger advertising was left to the highways and larger arteries around the city. As I drove towards downtown, the number of ads picked up, but only slightly, and remained in these 3 core venues. What I did notice was the incredible amount of mural work that is the pride of Philadelphia and the largest Mural Arts program in the country. While this was something I was well aware of after my research into Steve Powers' A Love Letter Project, the profundity of the situation was reinforced when I began looking for private media in this city.
I wanted to participate and so decided to make my street actions in Philadelphia would be twofold. First I began a small but ongoing project with 3 public advertising locations in the city. More on this in a subsequent post. The second part of my street action was a first for PublicAdCampaign. Given that Philadelphia is a mural city and one whose history of mural arts production has led to an interesting example of how one might alternately adorn our public spaces, I decided I would make my first public art piece that did not engage commercial media.
Close to the gallery was an underpass with a series of large columns supporting the roadways above. In total there are about 10 columns and on every one painted floral designs reached up about 8 feet. Elizabeth, the gallery director told me that the paintings of flowers which adorned these pillars were done by a local street artist. It just happened that one column had recently been hit with some graffiti and I assume the artist had come by to buff the tag with the intention of returning to repaint another flower. I decided that the artist would most likely not mind sharing some space with me and I quickly buffed the entire column white the night before the gallery opening.
After the buff paint had dried over night, I returned the next day to paint a series of upwards pointing arrows that I thought went along with the floral motif and added a modern design sensibility to the local spot. While I did not gain permission for this location, I felt extremely comfortable painting for a few hours, having only the best intentions at heart. True to form, the police did come check out what I was up to about 30 minutes into the painting. I was asked what I was doing and like a good citizen responded with the truth. I was an artist up from NY who had seen a wall covered in graffiti and decided to buff the wall and add my own artwork. The officer obviously knew that this was not a permissioned painting but clearly saw there was no harm being done and drove off without incident. I hope Philadelphia enjoys this small contribution and that it might still be up when I return.
You can see the full gallery exhibition HERE.

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Monday, November 8, 2010

Find Jay-Z’s Memoir at a Bookstore, or on a Billboard

Jeff Ferrell recently sent me an article from The New York Times that reports on an unprecedented advertising campaign within the book publishing world. It seems instead of flashy imagery and excessive posturing, entire pages from Jay-Z's new memoir will adorn the streets on advertising structures such as billboards, bus shelters and phonebooths. While this ad stunt is intended to sell books and not simply provide literary content to the streets, I obviously still have some issues with it. That said, considering Jay-Z's target audience is probably of the younger persuasion and not the bookish type, (I could be wrong) I do think this is an interesting campaign. There is also something simple and poetic about reading a page out of a book completely out of context that I like. (we tried to provide a similar literary oddity with the National Bestseller project in 2009) I do hope that advertising does not continue in this direction as it further blurs the lines between public and private while still condoning private use of public space but for the meantime, enjoy it!
PRINT advertising by publishing houses tends to boast about books that are being bold and original, but that can seldom be said of the ads themselves, which generally consist of ho-hum photographs of the book and author, a brief description of the subject matter and laudatory blurbs. [More Here]

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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Billboard That Advertises Nothing But Clean Air

A provocative new sculpture has opened at the U.S.-Canada border crossing near Vancouver, BC. It’s a billboard advertising...well, nothing. [More Here]

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Tuesday, November 2, 2010


I don't often post things that don't relate directly to outdoor advertising but I'm making an exception. Steve Lambert, founder of the Anti-Advertising Agency, friend, and one of a few personal heroes, will be giving a free lecture at the New Museum this Saturday. While I will still be in Philadelphia, I highly suggest that you attend. Not only is Steve an incredibly intelligent and articulate speaker, he's freaking hilarious. This talk/Walking tour is sure to be a great way to spend your saturday afternoon.

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Ludo, 'Halloweenism', Paris

Ludo has been destroying bus shelter ads in Paris lately. I am so happy to see the amount of work taking place over advertising these days. A true step in the right direction for a public media environment.
VIA Unurth

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Billboard Liberation Front Hits Mobile Sign in L.A.

      Sharon Zukin
      The Cultures of Cities

      Miriam Greenberg
      Branding New York

      Naomi Klein
      No Logo

      Kalle Lasn
      Culture Jam

      Stuart Ewen
      Captains of Consciousness

      Stuart Ewen
      All Consuming Images

      Stuart & Elizabeth Ewen
      Channels of Desire

      Jeff Ferrell
      Crimes of Style

      Jeff Ferrell
      Tearing Down the Streets

      John Berger
      Ways of Seeing

      Joe Austin
      Taking the Train

      Rosalyn Deutsche
      Evictions art + spatial politics

      Jane Jacobs
      Death+Life of American Cities