Iselin in China and Some Thoughts on Current Work Strategies
I recently returned from a trip to China which took me through, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Macau, and Hangzhou. While in those cities I was able to test keys and gain access to most above ground advertising locations as part of the Public Access project. (I will be updating the PublicAdCampaign site to include the Public Access project as its own independent endeavor in the coming days, and will announce it with a new post) Without knowing whether or not I would be able to open ad locations in these new cities, I decided to pack light and only take a few posters with me. Below you can see the result of Public Access in three cities, Shanghai, Macau, and Hong Kong.
Shanghai, China 2014
As PublicAdCampaign readers are probably well aware, my personal work is kind of all over the place. This isn't an accident, but rather a choice I made a long time ago to not develop a stylistically recognizable set of images. I thought it was the least I could do to deflect criticism that I was simply creating my own ad campaign, a chance to keep the work fresh for the audience, and ultimately would allow me room to treat the project as an experiment rather than a proof. I have enjoyed it so far, creating figurative, abstract, sculptural, and photographic works all for similar locations.
In the past few years I have shied away from the more figurative work that I was doing early on. This happened for a number of reasons but more importantly it makes the Iselin series that is part of this post, an aberration in my current investigations. Iselin, unlike my other work these days, can be mistaken for an ad, fashion most likely, and therefor oddly out of line with a project critical of advertising. While I tend to understand this argument, it does treat the PublicAdCampaign project as an anti advertising project which is short sighted.
My critique, and the reason my pieces never address the specific ads they remove, or comment on advertising in general, is not of the advertising content itself but of the use of public space for commercial imagery. I am under no delusions that I will wake up one day and advertising as medium will have disappeared. I am under the delusion that I might harness control of this medium by mitigating its effects on my consciousness, starting with the cleanup of our shared public spaces.
So its important that my work not speak about advertising directly, so that viewers don't see it as a critique of the message, and it's important that the work is recognizable as an intervention so that viewers are aware of the demand for something better. Iselin fails to do both of these things. Because she looks like she could be an ad, (in fact she is a polaroid outtake from a fashion photo shoot I was on ages ago that I decided to keep, which subsequently wore thin in my wallet over the years) she is not recognizable as an intervention, and because she looks like an ad but isn't, she might be confused with a critique of fashion imagery, albeit a pandering one at that.
So how do I justify my use of Iselin on the street, an image I ultimately feel pretty strongly about and yet feel compelled to critically justify in some way? Currently, I am in the middle of RJ Rushmore's Viral Art, which you can download [HERE]. The book is about how the internet has affected street art and graffiti and it highlighted some interesting ideas about audience that I want to apply to the Iselin series and by doing so justify her failure on the streets and yet allow me a confidence using her in the future.
As you can see [HERE] I originally started putting Iselin up with the caveat that she always go in new locations. This was my way of creating a project which could be ongoing and easily reproduced, and which would push me to use new locations unfamiliar to me. It was also a way for me to justify imagery that was suspect given my stated objectives. Recently that ease of reproduction is what made me carry Iselin throughout China and use her as "proof" of another project I am working on called Public Access. The Public Access project is about figuring out how to offer the tools to anyone who wants them to open bus shelters in every city in the world. When I go to a new city, I figure out the tool and then make hundreds of them. These tools then become a part of a world map which users can navigate to find the right tool for them. It's about democratizing access and sharing my knowledge.
When I crack the code, I like to let people know, and that to me is best done by installing something quickly as proof. These images then get uploaded to Instagram and my website as an archive, hash tagged #yeahwegotkeysforthat. These posts are about letting the world know that a new city has been breached so that they might involve themselves in the project. While technically an ad takeover on the street, the image used is simply a placeholder that proves my access. My first thought isn't to the public seeing the piece on the street so much as the Public Access audience around the world.
In the context of this audience, Iselin doesn't seem so out of place anymore. The Instagram or website audience knows Iselin is an ad takeover and so questions democratic access. They also know she isn't a fashion ad and while we may argue about the detriments of using imagery which reinforces stereotypes, this world audience is in on the joke and can at least engage the image critically. While Iselin fails miserably on the street, she makes much more sense to an internet audience already in the know. The confluence of reading Viral Art and using Iselin in China to mark Public Access cities has thus altered how I would like to treat the Iselin project from now on.
From here on I will only use Iselin's image to mark the fact that I have gained access to a new advertising venue in a new city. With a majority of my audience online these days, I see this as a reasonable justification for my use of an image that I feel strongly about, and yet which contradicts some of its audiences expectations. This in no way means that I am forgoing public works which aim to highlight their resistance to commercial use of public space, but it does signal an understanding that my work on the street has many purposes and many audiences, some of which may seem to contradict each other but which might ultimately stand their ground amidst confusion.
Hong Kong, China 2014
Shanghai, China 2014
Shanghai, China 2014
Macau, China 2014