Friday, July 17, 2009

WK Interact Fresh Hits in New York

Image from Wooster Collective

Often street artists will hit the streets for a while until they gather enough momentum to find galleries which will show their work. Once in the comfortable nest of four white walls, those artists might not go back to the street. Not only has WK interact not given up on the public work, but he has taken his latest gallery exhibition at Jonathan Levine and brought it directly to the street in all its glorious complexity. The images he is posting now appear to be straight prints of the paintings he has on exhibition. Now if only he would take one of those amazing doors and install it at my house in Brooklyn. You can see more images here.

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Thursday, April 2, 2009

What Invites, and What Alienates Us in Our Shared Public Spaces

The following quote comes from Ban Billboard Blight's response to "a response by Stuart Magruder to a March 26 article in the L.A. Times titled 'L.A.’s Great Signage Debate' by architectural critic Christopher Hawthorne." Amazing. It also happens to be an eloquent summary of the difference between place signage and advertising, sometimes referred to as first party signage and third party signage.
"The more insidious mistake that Mr. Hawthorne makes is his assessment of what is and what is not advertising. He rolls into one category the “thrillingly tall billboards…on the Sunset Strip” with the Hollywood sign, the LAX sign, the address numbers on the Caltrans building, and several others. Unfortunately, only the fist example - the billboards on Sunset Strip - is advertising; the rest are place signs, not advertising. The difference between billboards and place signs is crucial. The first and most obvious difference: place signs are about the place they adorn. They refer to themselves or to the building that they are on. The best ones, such as the Hollywood sign (which started its life as a billboard for “Hollywoodland” but now designates the place both physically and culturally), are landmarks, helping us get around the city and understand where we are. Billboard advertising is just the opposite. It is placeless; it disorients. There is no connection to what is advertised and where the billboard is located. Billboards make us lose our way in the city as the same product is advertised all over."
Advocates of advertising's removal from public space do not wish for an austere environment, free from anything but boring brick walls and sheer facades. In fact the opposite is often true. It is the selfish nature of advertising's use of public space that is at the heart of our complaint. Instead we advocate the removal of the selfish with replacement by the personal, individual, and inherently altruistic acts of peoples invested in their space for reasons other than profit. Personal interaction with public space often leads to moments of grand visual elegance, teeming with life affirming qualities that stand out against the background of the city. Unlike a billboard whose advertising content we shrink away from, public use of public space is revelatory and engrossing.

The above image by WK Interact once created a physical place in the city that truly inspired me. It was replaced some years after its creation by an advertisement and the entire corner lost it's identity.

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Art Dies For Advertising

The top image is the way this corner used to look back when WK Interact had his work all around this neighborhood and one could enjoy his art freely. A few years back the piece was painted over and replaced with a painted advertisement which then gave way to the large freestanding signage you see now. I have long pondered how public advertising can be viewed as more than urban blight or manipulative images coercing your subconscious day in and out. How can we understand public advertisement to be an alteration of the politics of public space? My usual answer has to do with the problems that arise by generally commodifying the public space. By giving real monetary value to the sides of our buildings and the walls which surround us we legitimate them as a commodity to be bought and sold. Once something becomes a commodity, the ability to profit from that space becomes a given right and to not take advantage of that right seems ludicrous. If on the other hand that space remains "valueless" the motivation for its use completely changes. Now that space is an empty canvas from which money cannot be gained and therefore becomes something that can be given away without the owner feeling like they are loosing anything of value. When something has no "value", people will find their own way to give it meaning. This is seen in the work of WK Interact, but also can be seen in the myriad of public murals which adorn our city, often painted by people from within the community in which the mural exists. Public schools often take advantage of this opportunity and develop relationships with local building owners to procure space on which the children can paint and thus connect to their neighborhood. Physical connection to ones community is an amazing way in which people build psychic connections to their neighborhoods. If public advertising can be seen as even a small factor in the disconnect between residents and their public environment, it can, and should be seen to be in direct conflict with our intended use of our public space.

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