To settle a lawsuit, the city of Los Angeles entered into a billboard deal in 2006 that was so improper that it would have been funny were it not for the damage it did to neighborhoods, the city's pocketbook and local government's reputation for competence. More [HERE]
A Takeover Inside a Takeover - White On White Reposted
Normally I don't post my street work before they remove it but with hurricane Sandy bearing down on us I'm catching up on small things like posting to this site. Back in 2008 I made a series of pieces I called White on White. The Spring and Bowery location was my favorite site and I decided to take the image of my initial installation, print it out and put it back at the site where it originally existed. I don't think I have ever used a photograph for an ad takeover, worried about the image being interpreted as an advertisement and overlooked. This image, referencing a previous takeover works similarly to some of my other projects and I am surprisingly happy with the results.
This is the third in a series of email conversations between myself and Brian Sterling of the OOH industry. If you haven't been following our conversation you can see the first post [HERE] and the second post [HERE]. Brian Sterling Response:
The way I see it, your argument boils down to two segments which I think you are incorrectly mixing: moral and social problems within the psyche of our human population and an overall disdain for OOH.
The bottom line is that while I share your concerns of over consumption and the problems with the social fabric of our generation, I have a hard enough time attributing these problems to larger, more prevalent forms of advertising (TV, radio, etc). I think you're giving this industry and advertising in general way too much credit: if all adverting had such a large impact on everyone, the company who makes BlackBerrys would not be on the verge of bankruptcy. Advertising at best can influence and reenforce tendencies and norms within our society; these tendencies and norms do not come from advertising.
I think the impact of Channing Tatum using an iPhone in a movie or the cool kid in school using one at lunch is exponentially greater than anything a billboard can project. While OOH may support and reenforce certain tendencies, we all have to look much deeper in ourselves as to what drives us to act in certain ways. Come on...is that Bacardi wildposting panel going to make you go to the liquor store and buy a bottle? Even when you don't even like Bacardi?!?!
Secondly, I also agree with you that there absolutely has to be limits and regulations on all forms of media, including OOH. If they left it up to us, you would be walking down a branded sidewalk every day! I absolutely, unequivocally reject the comparison of OOH to a coal plant. OOH does not cause bodily harm and the notion that ANY social norms that any advertising supports, for better or for worse, can be equally damaging as breathing in pollution is absolutely absurd. No matter how much you hate watching commercials, they will never directly give you cancer.
Which brings me to my last point: don't use the state of our social well being to support your personal disdain for OOH. If you don't like signage because you feel it degrades our physical surroundings, then just say that. Don't use "over consumption" to unfairly attack the specific OOH industry when the problem lies much, much deeper. You are mixing two very, very different discussions and issues into one attack and you are, quite simply, very wrong for doing so. If you removed virtually every single piece of OOH from the world, you would definitely have a neater, and arguably enhanced physical landscape. But the problems you talk about would still be there. When you go and illegally deface and vandalize phone booths and other transit media, don't pretend you are doing anything more than mounting an attack on what you personally believe to be ugly urban blight. If you really want to help improve the human social condition, go kill a few rappers. Stop TV shows and movies from depicting false realities to kids. Teach parents how to better prepare their kids for the real world. Because NO advertising has a stronger message than those three things.
On a side note- I think you're smart enough to know I'm never going to tell you where I work or divulge any personal information about myself, including my real last name. I'm sure you're a perfectly nice guy, but I would prefer to keep things at this level.
Jordan Seiler Response:
I think we have come to the heart of the matter. While you seem to be concentrating your counter arguments around the fact that specific advertising campaigns may or may not "work", I am not talking about specific campaigns but the larger role advertising as a form of messaging (private or publicly transmitted) has on increasing our attention to consumer ideals. You say "Advertising at best can influence and reinforce tendencies and norms within our society; these tendencies and norms do not come from advertising." While I would tend to agree with this statement, the reinforcement might be exactly the problem with advertising, and our ability to opt out of that system of reinforcement a vital right.
Speaking about tobacco advertising and to this very point Rory Sutherland says, "While I can accept that the purpose of tobacco advertising was not to encourage people to smoke. I find it astounding that anyone could barefacedly suggest that cigarette posters seen everywhere did not serve to normalize the habit." To this point you may not see a Bacardi advertisement and run out for a bottle of rum, but the repetition of alcohol imagery does encourage a continued thought process around the consumption of alcohol. Similarly, and taken from a more macrocosmic view, the repetition of images that all point to consumption in its myriad forms encourages consumption more generally. Now this is not to say that consumption is bad, but given your opening statement you do agree that there are issues to be faced surrounding this topic.
You also say "While OOH may support and reinforce certain tendencies, we all have to look much deeper in ourselves as to what drives us to act in certain ways." I couldn't agree with you more. In many ways every person has to constantly negotiate the inner and outer moral landscape and come to their own conclusions about what being a reasonable and responsible person entails. I would tend to argue that with the prevalence of advertising as a medium in our lives, it indeed plays a role (however insignificant) in this very moral negotiation we are describing. With evidence (from previous conversations) pointing to advertising making this moral negotiation more difficult (and the fact that so little research has been conducted into the actual burden advertising puts on our social and ecological morals) it would seem that we might want to allow individuals to opt out of advertisings influence in an effort to retain control of these moral negotiations.
Now this is where I believe you find my opinions to become "comical" and "overly idealistic". I would argue that un burdening public space from commercial messages would allow us all an easier time negotiating the moral dilemmas that are at the root of our social and environmental issues. (I also believe that it would have other dramatic affects on public interaction and aesthetic transformations that would positively affect the city but that is for another argument) I do agree that I am making a bold statement and also an idealistic one, but that is not an argument to refute my claim. My statement only seems idealistic in a society where advertising, and particularly outdoor advertising is so entrenched in our expectations of how public space is used. With the PublicAdCampaign project I hope we can look past what we have come to expect from public space and forward to how we might make it more conducive to the society in which we all want to exist.
Back to more specific issues. You say "Secondly, I also agree with you that there absolutely has to be limits and regulations on all forms of media, including OOH. If they left it up to us, you would be walking down a branded sidewalk every day!" Yikes! this coming from inside the industry. I must say I have found over the years that you are most likely correct in this statement. Battles between city governments and the OOH industry have cost tax payers millions of dollars and are all an effort to defend public space from the desires of an industry intent on "branding every sidewalk". Seems like a senseless war most taxpayers would probably not want to wage if given the choice. An interesting example of this in NY is the wildposting business. A while back a company named NPA operated illegally in NY, recklessly ignoring the law and littering public space with OOH ads in the form of wheatpasted posters. The city cracked down on them several years ago levying fines and demanding they stop their illegal activities. At that point NPA dissolved, fired a whole bunch of people, and then re-opened as Contest Promotions with a smaller but legal inventory. As recently as last week I spoke with a Contest Promotions employee who was removing another companies posters that had been placed over their ads on thier legal wall. He told me that the renewed wildposting and the inter business rivalry that had brought him out to fix this location, was being done by other rogue companies likely made up in part by ex NPA employees. Does this sound like an industry that we can regulate or one that by its very nature will break the rules in an effort to control more of our visual environment.
It seems that my comparison of the advertising industry to the coal industry did not sit well considering you "unequivocally reject the comparison of OOH to a coal plant." Stating "OOH does not cause bodily harm and the notion that ANY social norms that any advertising supports, for better or for worse, can be equally damaging as breathing in pollution is absolutely absurd". I admit that the two industries have a much different direct correlation to health, but if by the logic put forward before, advertising can reinforce tendencies which are already harmful, it might have a correlation to our health worthwhile considering. If our obesity epidemic is causing us serious bodily harm and advertising is increasing our tendency to eat in unhealthy ways, we might consider curbing those messages. We have done this in the past with alcohol and tobacco. The funny thing is I'm not even that extreme. My request is not to ban specific types of messages, but simply to omit advertising in public space, un burdening us from the worry of it increasing our tendency to become obese. If you wanna soak up McDonalds ads over the TV, go a head fatty, but I would kindly ask that I retain the option to remain outside of that influence.
And to wrap this whole things up. You seem to suggest that my disdain for OOH advertising is in some way misguided and that the real issues I am interested in lie within the social sciences and other activist campaigns that might more directly deal with the societal issues that I am blaming on advertising more generally. You say "If you removed virtually every single piece of OOH from the world, you would definitely have a neater, and arguably enhanced physical landscape. But the problems you talk about would still be there". I tend to agree with you on both points here but these problems, as you mention, are not isolated issues. The state of our social fabric is the result of an infinite number of small decisions and actions that we collectively make. Removing OOH advertising from public space seems like a step in the right direction albeit a very small one. That said it is the lens through which I have chosen to pursue my fight for a more properly functioning public space and by that a better society. I do think that advertising degrades our physical surroundings, but I also think it promotes a consumptive catharsis that has a net negative overall affect on all of us. However small my contribution to addressing this issue, there is at least a contribution.
And last, while I know you will not let our readers know your real name, this is an honest and productive conversation we are having. It would seem you share some of my own concerns about society and that there are real issues which must be dealt with. The fact that you are unwilling to reveal your name only makes me feel like you either do not fully believe what you are saying and are thus unwilling to stand behind your statements, or that there would be negative ramifications for you as a result of engaging in this type of dialogue. Either way is very troubling and speaks either to your disingenuousness, or to an industry which punishes its insiders for thinking about the industry that they are working within. I think the OOH industry can do more. When I "illegally deface and vandalize" phone booths and other transit media, I am not mounting a personal attack but trying to use my medium to create meaningful dialogue around this issue. Oddly enough it seems to be working. I use my name to speak to the sincerity of my beliefs and my interest, and however small my impact might be I believe it is worth my effort and a meaningful contribution to the fight for a more just and verdant world. I will leave "killing rappers" to other "activists".
Billboard Intimidation of the Day: Anti-Voter Fraud Signs in Ohio and Wisconsin
Here's the latest from the voter intimidation front: over a hundred billboards in black and Hispanic neighborhoods of Cleveland, Milwaukee and Columbus that warn of the consequences of voter fraud. "VOTER FRAUD IS A FELONY," the signs read, over an image of a judge's gavel, "Up to 3 1/2 years & $10,000 fine." Voter fraud is less common than UFO sightings. Wisconsin, in the presidential election year of 2004, had seven incidents of voter fraud. More [HERE]
Above is a more typical OX piece he just sent my way which I absolutely love. Below is a new direction for OX in which he uses brand imagery and names to draw equally strange connections that are often the result of his more typical process. What can only be described as an advertisement for Marlboro cigarettes, the below image is set in an open field full of fresh air. The contrast between the image and the scene, as well as the fact that advertising for cigarettes is illegal, makes the viewer wonder about the nature of the image but also the nature of the venue itself. In a clean environment, is this commercial messaging pillar as out of place as the contaminated air promoted by smoking. I look forward to seeing where OX takes this new work.
The Billboard Art Project is a wonderful example of how the signage we choose to surround ourselves with can enhance our perception and create wonder in our everyday lives. Monica Campana of Living Walls curated a week long run of images in Atlanta and I was happy to have been involved. Below is the image I submitted and above is the ten minute loop which ran for a full week.
Mobstr and I had a chance to talk at this years NuART and I have a feeling he will be active over advertising in some fun and significant ways in the near future. Until then here are two fantastic billboard takeovers whose simplicity is absolutely arresting.
Jersey Joe (AKA Rime) finished a mural yesterday on Grand and Union in Brooklyn. I happened to be walking by while he was painting and asked him a few questions about the mural, including how he came upon painting this location as it is the third mural to go up on this corner over the last few months. Rime explained that it was actually Converse that had obtained permission for the mural to be painted.
Normally I am opposed to commercial companies contracting artists to paint "art" murals as the murals usually end up being glorified advertisements in the end. This morning on my way to the studio I walked by the finished mural and was happily surprised to see that despite Converse contracting Rime to paint this mural, there was almost no branding whatsoever. In fact the only branding I could see was the small Converse star painted on the shoes of one of Rimes characters, a detail i might have missed if I wasnt aggressively looking for branding in the first place.
This mural raises some interesting questions about commercial collaborations between artists in public space. Can a company sponsor artistic endeavors and refrain from burdening the viewer with the type of one way message associated with brand recognition. If so, can those collaborations also prove fruitful for a company as word of mouth and social networks make potential customers aware that they were in fact responsible for the mural or artwork that we are seeing in public space, engendering a stronger brand loyalty through the recognition of their altruism. If so, what might public space look like if advertising in its traditional form was banned but the un-branded sponsoring of art was an acceptable way for companies to engage the public in public space?
Lady Kaylin, a piece I made for the Underbelly Miami show, has found a home with the Meszniks. Very happy to report that she will be living on the upper east side until they move to a new apartment in the neighborhood.
This post is the second in a series of email conversations I am having with Brian Sterling, a New Yorker working in the OOH business. Brian has been kind enough to engage the PublicAdCampaign project on a critical level and our conversation is a step in the right direction to illuminating the variety of oppinions surrounding advertising in public space. Please see the first converstation [HERE] if you have not already done so.
I don't think anyone can argue that the overall goal of advertising is to drive consumption, thereby increasing wealth of the corporations and people who create and sell products and services. I do, however, strongly object to the lines you draw between advertising as a medium and the social, environmental and human rights issues that plague this planet. I reject the cause and effect relationship between Apple's advertising campaigns and the human rights violations at places like Foxxcon. If you want to get to the roots of these extraordinarily entrenched and complex issues, I think you need to dig a lot deeper than marketing and advertising tactics. It has been the policy of every major industrialized country in the world since the dawn of modern economic systems to grow their economies and output, which in turn has fueled innovation in virtually all areas of life and has created the modern societies which we all enjoy. I could go on for hours listing benefits of consumption and economic growth, things that you take for granted in focusing on the negative aspects of "the desire for wealth and power". Ever think how the pay phones you speak of below came into existence?
While you're correct in noting that OOH is physically unavoidable, the message is in fact totally avoidable. If you don't like or agree with the message plastered over that big billboard, then don't pay any attention.
Finally, the notion that the walls of a privately owned building are public space is nonsense. Real property laws have been in existence long before the 21st century, and without them we would be living in a lawless and chaotic society. If a landlord want's to monetize the walls of his building he not only has the right to do so, he pays more property and income tax which in turn goes back into the community. (if a landlord has the means/motivation of putting up signage on his building, it is almost always the case that the building and surrounding property will be in better shape than one whose owner does the bare minimum to keep his property up to cod) Also, advertising essentially rebuilt Times Square into the tourist mecca it is today; without the proliferation of OOH, it would more than likely still be the drug infested, porn infested shit hole it was 30 years ago before I was born. Now the area is a vital artery in this city we both love so much. I think if you asked most people, they would rather walk with their kids past a Coca-Cola wallscape than a prostitute and drug dealer.
Bottom line: while we share the concerns that our word faces social, environmental and human rights issues, I truly believe that it is a cop out to sit around blaming OOH advertising in New York City, linking OOH with abstract and opaque lines about overcompensation and the "desire for wealth and power" when in fact the causal/effect just isn't there. Further, your notion of everything visible outside ones own home being our shared backyard is borderline delusional. Property owners have the right to do as they please and should not feel ostracized or guilty for doing so.
PS- I just looked at your website and noticed that you go around and cover ads with your own? Do you think that is OK?
My response to Brian:
You are right to say that these are extraordinarily entrenched and incredibly complex issues we are speaking of and I do not want you to misconstrue my earnest attempts to investigate an issue which is often overlooked or outright ignored by a major portion of our society, with the notion that I have this all worked out. Indeed I am an artist and citizen who finds that a deeper understanding of this issue might result in altered policies about how we use and share our public spaces that might ultimately benefit society as a whole. The premise upon which my entire project is predicated is illumination of an un illuminated issue and not a personal determination. I hope my project makes us think harder about these issues, something I am comfortable saying it has accomplished and will continue to pursue in the years to come.
That said, you are right that economic growth has fueled our pursuit of knowledge and ultimately brought about innovations which are unparalleled in societies that lack those economic foundations. Growth can be attributed to consumption in many ways but the specifics of that consumption might be worth investigating. What types of consumption does the advertising business promote? Does the promotion of that consumption have real and lasting affects on our society and our social psychology. Indeed this is a broad question but one which the advertising industry should be tasked with answering. Like any business, one must be accountable for the quality and affect of your product on the health of those consuming it and research has given us a good amount of evidence to suggest that we are ignoring the affects of advertising on our culture in an effort to appease growth above all without consideration of the consequences. While you might not think that the pursuit of "wealth and power" is as detrimental a result of advertising repetition as I do, I would imagine that the direct relationship between increased advertising consumption and our willingness to work longer hours, save less, and spend ourselves into debt in the pursuit of increased consumption does represent a problem to you. Economic growth is important but not at the cost of our implicit happiness. Advertising consumption increases our desire and therefore causes us to ignore our personal happiness in the pursuit of those products which we feel will fulfill the happiness. I see this as a major problem.
Brian, can you in good conscience tell us that advertising in public is unavoidable and that the solution should be to simply avoid it, or ignore it in your words? Would you tell your clients that yes its true, people who dont care about your product simply ignore the ads? or would you suggest to them that even those attempting to extradite themselves from the increased amount of advertising the industry is forcing them to consume, have a hard time doing so and will likely be aware of your advertisement and product despite their best efforts. The ad industry and those who use OOH are well aware of our inability to ignore those messages and that is what makes OOH so affective in our current climate of ad blockers and alternative content sources. On that note, do you think that overwhelming public space with messages which we must actively avoid is a good way to operate public space? I would imagine that the more citizens can engage public space, the people, the architecture, the images, the more invested they become. By attempting to actively ignore large portions of public space, advertising is causing a serious problem for our interaction with and in public spaces in general.
The private property issue is obviously a very contentious one in America where private property is at the heart of our liberty and our pursuit of happiness. It is true that within our current understanding of private property rights, landlords do have the right to adorn their buildings however they see fit given they operate within the law of the city. I am not arguing this, but with the PublicAdCampaign project would like to interrogate this assumption about private property and see if there might be alternative ways to think about private property that serve everyone and not just the landowners. Within social theories like the Right to the City movement, strict notions of private property bend to the will of the city inhabitant, and your individual say in how space is used is not predicated on your wealth or property ownership. These are pretty alternative theories in the face of our strict understanding of property ownership at this time, but I would ask you to entertain this example. If I live next to a coal plant, billowing toxic chemicals into the surrounding environment, affecting an area that is not within the coal plants strict private property boundaries, do you feel I should have a say in how that coal plant uses its private property? We expect that the use of private property does not do harm to the surrounding area and in much the same way I would argue that we should take a long look at the negative social affects of surrounding ourselves with images of consumption as a form of visual pollution worthwhile curbing in an effort to create a more healthy living environment. How we negotiate private property laws to accommodate such a belief is alternative yes, but potentially a step we must take as we move to increase our societies general health.
While I cannot argue that advertising did play an important role in the redevelopment of Times Square, does this mean that it is the best answer for the reinvigoration of neighborhoods and the removal of blight from our streets? I dont think so. In fact there is some pretty sound research that private property values go down in areas with a dense OOH presence. This might be best exemplified by Houston Tx, whose high property values are in large part attributed to the quality of life sustained through zoning laws which curb OOH advertising and allow the city to control its streets and ultimately its image.
Delusional indeed and proud of it Brian. I am not looking for a simple answer but systemic change in how we use and operate public space. As a society we are always striving for a better life and the pursuit of a more utopic environment. What I am investigating is the ideal. I do not have all of the answers but would like to continue to pose questions which hold us all accountable for how public space is used instead of accepting current norms and simply chalking it all up to "thats just the way things are". I have no interest in making private property owners feel guilty or ostracized for making the choice to hang advertising on the side of their building. Instead I would like us to seriously weigh the benefits and costs of using our public spaces in this way and if the decision is made by the larger population that private property owners should not be allowed to use their property to perpetuate potentially harming consumptive norms then we should remove that burden from their conscious and enact policy which prevents them from dealing with that moral conundrum in the first place.
And last, the inevitable question of why on earth I think my "art" is a viable response to the proliferation of consumer messages. First, my singular voice and the small amount of OOH space I take with my civil disobedience project is a very small intrusion on the business as a whole. The benefit of my actions is the PublicAdCampaign project and the forum which it provides to talk about these issues. I think there is value in my small transgressions despite the "harm" they might cause the OOH industry in general. Second, I do everything in my power to make sure that my imagery is not an advertisement for myself. I do this by not signing my work, including weblinks or in any way promoting my project through my takeover work. The imagery itself changes with each project in an attempt to avoid the stylistic similarities which would allow viewers to recognize a piece as being made by me. My interest with taking over advertising locations is to draw viewers into the questions I have without forcing thier response. I am not criticizing the advertising content but rather the use of public space for advertising messages in general. In doing so I make simple work which I hope is enough to snap viewers out of their complacency and afford them to look at the OOH venues with a renewed critical eye. I hope that viewers of my work do not see it as another advertisement but rather a detournment that begs the question why did someone do that? do I like what they have done better? should that advetisement be there in the first place and if so do I like the new use of this space better. Unlike advertising, I would like viewers to come away not with a single thought about product purchase but with a critical response to that space which asks them to become active curators of the space that they live in.
I think the discord between our responses to this issue is in large part due to the fact that as a society we have not come to any firm conclusions about the questions posed. Engaging a dialogue about the issues is the first step in determining our future direction and if for no other reason our email conversation is an important step in the right direction. I hope we can continue this conversation further over the coming months.
Braniacs from Mars might just be the most predatory and outright shameful OOH advertising company I have ever come across. With hundreds of thousands of families facing dire straights and the imminent loss of their home and economic stability, Braniacs from Mars has come up with a solution. They will pay your mortgage as long as you allow them to paint your house and cover it with advertising. In the below video, they seem to suggest that their business is a solution to a larger economic problem and a tool in the fight against the predatory lending practices.
There are so many things wrong with this model I dont know where to begin. First, funding for this "economic solution" is being crowd sourced on indiegogo so you can be a part of the solution. Wait…what? Braniacs from Mars is asking the general public to fund the mortgage of a family in need so that they can then go and paint the house like a giant billboard? If I was going to fund someone else's mortgage I wouldn't ask them to live in a giant billboard, calling attention to their economic plight and making their home the ire of the neighborhood. This is predatory in all aspects.
Second, lets be realistic about the problem here. 3000 mortgages paid for by crowd funding 925,000 Dollars from the general public does not address the much larger problem which is the housing crisis. To conflate this advertising and marketing stunt with a real solution to the problem trivializes the issue and undermines the need for real systemic change in how the middle class survives while building wealth and capital in the form of property. The fact that an advertising company is willing to promote itself as some sort of altruistic agency out for the greater good speaks to the industries ego and willingness to lie or stretch the truth to the point of breaking in the effort to promote aggressive outdoor advertising campaigns. This type of behavior is at the root of the OOH business and should be seen as an integral part of operating our cities with the pressures of the advertising industry weighing on our population.
VIA The Daily News Brooklyn homeowners go for gimmick to turn houses into billboards and get mortgages paid.
The neighbors might get mad but the price is right.
Brooklyn homeowners — 149 so far — are vying to get in on an advertising gimmick that will pay their mortgages in exchange for painting their houses bright orange and green and adorning them with company logos.
Read more [HERE]
A few years ago, we targeted a company call NPA outdoor with the NYSAT project because they were illegally operating hundreds of street level billboards in NYC alongside a massive illegal Flyposting campaign. The result of the NYSAT action was a massive crackdown on NPA by the NYC DOB which resulted in the near eradication of illegal Flyposting in the city as well an indictment of NPA's illegal billboard activities. Through legal gymnastics, NPA went out of business only to reappear as Contest Promotions, the same company operating at the same locations under what they argued were different legal circumstances. Long story short is Contest Promotions claimed they were not in the advertising business at all but rather working directly with mom and pop businesses to run a raffle program which allowed them to call their advertising product and their business operations first party, not third.
Surprisingly Contest Promotions was able to argue their case affectively and now those once illegal billboards are legal first party signage. Sad to see the illegal advertising company dodge responsibility and continue operating, we never expected our civil disobedience project to spur the city into action, but took heart in the fact that it did. It was a moment of staggering excitement when I noticed Flyposting had almost entirely stopped in NY and that the city was cracking down on the illegal business practices of NPA Outdoor.
You can imagine my reaction some two years later as Flyposting has begun full force in the city once more. I cannot say for sure who is behind these illegal activities but given my resources I will make sure to get to the bottom of this problem and bring whoever is responsible to light. Please send us pictures of any illegal Flyposting campaigns you see and if you can catch someone in the act, please take their picture so we can confirm the identity of the company in charge.
Also, if you are interested in the backstory, look back into our archives under NPA Outdoor, NYSAT, or Contest Promotions and you can read more from about this companies sordid past.
Just after NuART I got an email from Brian Sterling who works in the OOH industry in NY. He had some complaints about my behavior and my motivations regarding the PublicAdCampaign project. Eager to respond and have a conversation about this I asked Brian if he minded if I published our conversation for PublicAdCampaign readers. He agreed and recently replied to my initial response with a well thought out rebuttal that I will answer and post as the second part of this conversation. How long this will go on for I am not sure but here we go...
Brian Sterling: Initial Email
I find you're "campaign" against out-of-home advertising to be comical. I recently stumbled onto your website and find you're mission to be ambiguous, misleading and overly ideological. First of all, privately owned buildings are by no means "public space" or "shares space". Would I come in to your private apartment and remove a poster on my wall because I think it doesn't look good? If you truly believe that all space is "public", do I have the right to cut down a tree in a park simply because I don't like it there? Any agreement held between a building's owner and a 3rd party sales rep is totally legal and, most of the times, very far from "blight". Further, I have been introduced to many things by advertising (which, by the way, finances virtually everything that you probably enjoy. Like that TV show you watched last night? You owe it to companies like Proctor & Gamble).
I guess what I'm trying to say is if you don't like billboards and signage, then move out of Manhattan and go someplace like Kansas. You will have all the "public" and "Shared" space there you can handle. Until then, get a life and stop complaining about trivial things.
Jordan Seiler: 1st Response
while I understand that technically the walls of a privately owned building are the property of the building owner, the fact of the matter is that their use has a direct affect on the public and all of those people which make up that group. For this reason, many cities have rules about how those private/public walls are used, most notably with the permitting process which allows the NYC DOB to control the amount and type of advertising which adorns them. For this reason alone I think we must rethink our idea of how the private walls of a building are used. That said, advertising imagery has a tendency to do two things which might be detrimental to the public's welfare and therefore require us to again, reconsider the private ownership of building surfaces which face the public.
First, research has shown that through repitition and normalization, consuming more advertising messages has a tendency to increase poor social behavior while increasing consumption, contributing to environmental devastation and lack of concern for human rights. This might seem like and oversimplification of the issue but basically being sorrounded by images which reinforce desire for increased wealth and power, causes one to give those social behaviors more prominence in ones life and their pusuit more importance. While the desire for wealth and power is human nature, increasing the prominence of that behavior in our population comes at the cost of other concerns like community involvement and increased concern for your fellow man.
The second problem with allowing outdoor advertising access to our public/private walls is that by doing so we monetize public space. Advertising has the luxury of deep pockets and once you tell a landlord that the walls of their building are worth large sums of money, it becomes difficult if not impossible to imagine that space being used by the community. The example I go back to over and over is that a landlord whose small two story building sits close to a NYC public school has a free wall. The landlord might offer this blank wall to the students so that they might paint a mural and become physically engaged in their environment. Something I think we can all agree would be a good thing. With advertising in public it becomes hard if not impossible to expect that landlord to donate the space when he or she could be making money from it. Allowing OOH advertising presents building owners with a moral conundrum I don't think we should ask them to face. Instead the solution might be taking away that conundrum by banning outdoor advertising and its tendency to monetize our shared environment.
To the comment about you coming into my home and taking down the Hiro print that I so much enjoy, you are right. To me the issue is that public space is in many ways our shared living room, and not the commercial space that we often see it as in the 21st century city. My argument then is that the advertising in public is actually akin to someone coming into all of our living room and hanging imagery which we didnt come to agree upon collectively. Its an assault on our shared space and our communal living space. This might seem overly ideological but i think the health of our cities and the people that occupy them should be treated as ideologically as possible in the hopes that we can live in the best environments we can.
The last comment you make about advertising paying for all of the services I have come to enjoy is one that is very often used by the industry to justify the massive proliferation of their medium. First, I have no issue with advertising on TV or any other media which I have the option to use. As a citizen concerned with how much advertising I ingest, I can simply not watch TV or buy a DVR, both an active choice that is not available to me in public space. My inability to opt out of public space makes OOH advertising particularly manipulative and as you probably know this inability to opt out is one of the reasons the OOH industry has seen little loss of business in this recession and age of new media possibilities like the internet and social media. With consumers blocking advertising in other media, advertisers know they get the same bang for their buck in public space as they always have.
As well you might argue that OOH advertising supports public infrastructure. We could look to companies like Cemusa to keep our bus shelters in service, or CBS to keep our MTA fiscally sound, or Titan, Van Wagner and the other two to keep our pay phones operational, but when we do they come up far short of actually supporting any of those amenities. If you take a look at pay phones in this city you will quickly notice that non of them work. If you consider the 100 million dollars the MTA receives from CBS for exclusive rights to everything transit and weigh that against the 10 billion dollar MTA operating budget you find that increasing fares by only 2 cents a ride would make up for their "help", and well we all know Cemusa got a great deal. The minuscule aid that the OOH industry brings to our city infrastructure should then be weighed against the detrimental social affects i mentioned earlier and I think the answer becomes a resounding we don't need that kind of help.
As for moving out of NY, well that's just not going to happen. I love this city dearly and my fight for better use of our shared public environment is one I think worth continuing as I try to make my home a better place for everyone.
Please tell us a bit about yourself and maybe respond to some of my comments about your initial email
I just got back from NuART 2012 a few days ago and had an amazing time. First, my immense gratitude goes out to the dedicated team which put on such a rich and inspiring event. Those names include Martyn Reed, Marte Danielsen Jolbo, Irene Ostbo, Sesella Knutsvik, GT Aamdal, and Kristel Talv.
During my stay I was asked to do three things in no particular order of importance, create gallery work for the opening exhibition, do some sort of ad takeover in Stavanger, and give a talk for the NuART plus program.
I began by installing two light boxes which I had previously shipped over a few weeks before. These light boxes are where my gallery work is going these days and involve an advertising frame, a used book, some LED lighting and a lot of drawing with pencil charcoal and spray. Knowing the work would be in a long "tunnel", I opted for two images which had religious undertones, hoping to create an alter effect at the end. Sharing the room with Ben Eine, I was able to keep the room dark and produce the affect I was hoping for by accompanying the two pieces with a video at floor height of how I got the frames, so that viewers had to bend down in front of the two women. I was pleasantly with the way the light boxes appeared to float in space. I apologize for the photos as these pieces are incredibly hard to photograph.
photo by Ian Cox
On wednesday evening 9-26-12 I installed a large ad takeover project of my own work. This takeover targeted the downtown Stavanger city center and included 30 freestanding and bus shelter ads as well as 3 street level billboards. I concentrated the work as tightly as I could hoping the repetition would clue people in to the detournement. Sure enough Mobstr, one of the other artists involved, told me that driving through downtown the repetitive nature of the image made him realize just how much advertising is on our streets, even in a small town like Stavanger.
Sadly, with an article in the local paper appearing the next morning, all of the bus shelter and freestanding ads were removed by 9am thursday morning. Unmentioned in the news article, the billboards stayed up. I was pretty upset about the work being removed so quickly because I was hoping to point out the pieces to participants in a street art walking tour that RJ Rushmore and I did thursday afternoon. In my anger, that same evening I decided to turn all of the advertisements that replaced my work upside down as a way of showing my unhappiness to JC Decaux. This little gem, plus my mention on facebook that I would be staying for another week or two to continue my work, prompted a call from JC Decaux. Basically they were calling to see if I would continue to make work for them and would they have to continue to remove my work or turn back around the advertising that replaced it. What I find interesting, and typical, is that they did not call the police despite being very aware of who was responsible for the civil disobedience. Unable to confront my transgressions for what they are, or maybe just unwilling, the typical industry response is to lay low. Open public discussion of the issue is the last thing they want as this discussion might actually lead to their demise. Maybe I just need to make them more mad!
The last part of my participation was in NuART Plus which was a first at this years event. The Plus program attempted to tackle some of the issues raised by street art and urban interventionist tactics, while talking directly to the community instead of amongst ourselves. My participation included a talk called Interrogating Utopia: Conscientious Curation of our Shared Public Spaces. All in all I felt it was well received and I will post the video of my talk as soon as it is available. I was pleasantly surprised with the turnout at the Plus event which included city planners, council members, community activists and others from the community that might not engage street art as part of properly functioning cities.
You can see more of my street work from NuART 2012 [HERE]
Highline Billboard is a Wonderful Example of Curated Art Space
While it isn't so much a democratically allocated public space, the once advertising billboard now curated in conjunction with the High line park in NY, is a wonderful example of advertising thats gone rogue and now a place for art.
Before I left for Norway I had the pleasure of being in a group show called Art That Iterates, curated by Sean Justice. I included 4 prints of work on the the street, as well as my favorite suitcase for making trouble, and two videos of other PublicAdCampaign projects. Thanks again to Sean Justice for including me in this exhibition of alternative projects.
Free The Billboards - A Non Invasive Takeover That Gets Right to the Point
A friend of mine named Matt Allen tipped me off to this quirky and fantastic project out of Portland called Free The Billboards. The projects creator, Nina Montenegro shares similar thoughts on the oppressive nature of billboard advertising and the need to reinvigorate public space with a public consciousness. But instead of pasting over them like so many of my friends, Nina simply envisions her utopia in all its wonderfully idiosyncratic ways by creating a sculpture through which to view an alternative world. She has in affect augmented the billboard with a publicly defined imagery and if you stare through the viewfinder to her world, that augment comes alive.
As part of the project, Nina has created a petition you can sign [Here] which asks Portland, Or, to ban billboards outright in the hopes that a more artistic and community driven media might fill its place.
TrustoCorp just recently left LA for a show in the UK, but not before leaving behind some fantastic bus seat takeovers on the streets. For many artists I think a slick approach like this takes away from the ethos of DIY takeover behavior, but with Trusto the words are so unusually apropos to advertising messages, those who see them get a wonderfully magic moment. More photos on Vandalog [HERE]
One of the best things about traveling is meeting new people with an interest in advertising takeovers or subversion. I happily give away the tools of my trade to anyone who seems legitimately concerned with public space and it seems like one of my gifts is already being put to use in this equipment test. I hope to be posting from subversions from this individual in the future.
I can only call what is happening in Paris a movement. This new piece by Ludo is fantastic and I think my favorite work from him yet. After the last post on OX, I can't but think I should be packing my bags for a city in repair. More by Ludo [HERE]