Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Billboard Porn And Disobedience Call Attention To the Obvious

I just realized that the two posts before this one compliment each other nicely. In the first post, the authors of Property Outlaws put forth a theory that certain levels of property disobedience should be tolerated as they can often lead to the dissemination of information which serves a public good and thus outweighs the initial transgression. In the second post, we have a clear example of someone breaking property laws by hacking someones private property and using it for their own devices. Moscow's reaction is to punish this behavior, but if we think about the assertion Property Outlaws makes, this might not be the most appropriate response. In fact we might want to look at what "information" has been gained from this act of disobedience.

Advertising might not be as shocking as pornography but the intended result in this situation is the same, grab, and hold, a viewers attention for as long as possible. The fact that cars ground to a halt on a highway shows the digital video medium is affective, whether or not the content is equally matched is up for debate. I would mention that if advertisers could halt traffic with an ad campaign, they would jump at the opportunity. So if the interest is the same only advertising is less affective, what are we doing letting drivers be pulled from the duty at hand simply to sell them crap. We don't let people talk on cell phones, or even text for that matter. Why would we allow an ad company the right to distract, us even for a moment, just so they can sell us one more can of sugar water?

In this way I think the Moscow hactivist's dirty work constitutes a protest, interested in creating a public dialogue around the issue of digital advertising signage on highways. His act should not be looked at as someone harmfully breaking the law but rather someone using disobedience to open the eyes of the public to the potential dangers of digital signage on the road.


Monday, February 15, 2010

Comment Response to The Hunter

As the PublicAdCampaign project is really about opening up a dialogue on what a more socially productive public space might look like, we often enjoy answering reader comments as full on posts. The Hunter asked us to qualify one of our answers to the question, "What does the term ‘public space’ mean to you? Who has the right to public space? Is street art a way of reclaiming public space?" He writes...

"Curious as to an addendum to the final question: Where is your line drawn between private property and public space? If I own a building and want to paint it my own color, do you feel you have the right to paint over it as a reclamation of public space? You've always left me a little fuzzy on where the line is drawn. Thanks."

If Anything, I might be a bit "fuzzy" on this myself and the PublicAdCampaign project might simply be about testing where the line is drawn between private property and public space? Should the public be allowed to treat all the walls that face the street, all those vistas from the street onto private property as their own, like graffiti seems to? Should OAC's be given free reign to do what they want, demanding free speech rights, and go unregulated by the city? Should property owners be allowed to consider the outside of their buildings which face the public environment as private property in the same way they do their living rooms? The answers to these questions are important in that they constitute how we use and develop the places in which we interact as a community and therefore create our common society.

One thing I do believe is that allowing the public individual a certain level of curational responsibility without criminal consequence is an important part of a healthy public space. As I have said before I believe it engenders a sense of personal responsibility for public space that creates a more invested and concerned public citizen. For example I believe street art production should be a legal practice and the artists should have free reign of the public environment. I know this is a slippery slope but I rely on the artists interest in creating a healthy public space to determine how far they will go in claiming their fair share of our public environment.

One thing I have come to believe very earnestly is that outdoor advertising, through its monopolizing of the public environment in a quest to control public thought, silences public dialogue and therefore is incompatible with a healthy public space. A new paint job on the side of a building might deserve to be left alone while a 5 story advertisement must be aggressively reworked as it presents an obstacle to community and neighborhood development.

As for the case with The Hunter's building paint job, I think some distinctions need to be made which help answer that question. First the neighborhood in which this building is being painted must be taken into account. Modern buildings, often in business districts where the architecture imposes its own visual order, are hard places to consider ripe for public participation. The all glass sides of the IAC Gehry Building in Chelsea don't beg for an artists helping hand. Indeed it would seem that this is in some way responsible for the sterility of these spaces and why people are less inclined to consider them neighborhoods with a valued community. The possibility of public interaction here seems to determine a level of community.

If this hypothetical building is being painted on the Lower East Side of Manhattan where a rich history of public participation is a part of the community, one would treat this newly painted surface differently. I would lean towards saying that the public should be allowed to use this newly painted surface as it sees fit, embellishing it or simply commenting on the horrendous color the property owner has painted his building and what an incredible eyesore had been created. In a community in which public dialogue is part of the neighborhood discourse, this sort of expressive property disobedience only knits the community together more tightly if dealt with in a thoughtful manner. The consequences of these types of interventions are not without problems I know but the benefits I believe outweigh the detriments.

On my recent trip to LA, I stopped by the Philip Lumbang mural in Silver Lake to get a better idea of the situation for myself. Here a resident had commissioned the work of Mr. Lumbang which was largely revered by the community except for one individual. Having only what the internet was telling me about the skirmish between neighborhood residents and the resulting removal by Los Angeles impending, I favored this murals continued existence. I was at least upset that the city would force the result of this conversation through bureaucracy instead of allowing the community come to the decision on its own, fostering local communication.

As I drove to the quiet street upon which this mural was located, I must say my mind began to change. This was a much quieter neighborhood than I had imagined and the pre-school which apparently loved this mural didn't seem to be within walking distance, and if it was it didn't seem like the young ones were passing it daily. I myself liked the mural but could see how one resident might consider it out of place, although not "ghetto" as he has called it. To my delight, as Philip was being interviewed for Fox news, the resident that had complained, who had remained anonymous until then, suddenly appeared from his house, directly across the street from this mural!

Fox news approached the man for comment. He wore a t-shirt that read something about anarchy and held a cup of tea in a Sex Pistols mug. He explained that he had moved to the quiet street to remove himself from the noise on the more traveled areas surrounding the neighborhood. He complained that the mural was obnoxious and that he was not consulted on how it would affect his experience of the neighborhood. These were all reasonable claims despite the fact that the mural was of cute smiling animals. I thought to myself how he would have reacted if the wall had simply been painted a bright red or blue and I came to the conclusion that his reaction would have been similar.

So this leads us back to The Hunter's question of how we should treat property rights for those spaces which have a direct effect on other people. It would seem that this upset resident should have recourse against this mural or the less obvious aggressive color choice possibility. In this quiet, almost suburban neighborhood, I would tend to think that this recourse should come in the form of conversation, hopefully resulting in some mutual agreement between neighbors. Ideally this results in the two people becoming closer through the experience and binding the community together in mutual respect. If conversation does not do away with the problem I would lean towards some type of direct action, although the neighbor must then be responsible for the ire of the community if he destroys something beloved by many.

I know this has not fully answered the question but I think understanding that rigid concepts of property rights in situations which affect the public must be negotiable. Because property owners can rely on a strong tradition in our capitalist system of upholding their rights above the public's right when dealing with private property which affects us all, direct action answers are sometimes necessary to push the public's agenda. I do not promote wanton reclamation of private property just for the sake of it, but I do believe it should be an acceptable manner of disobedience in many cases.

There is a reason my personal work happens over outdoor advertising. I have made a conscious decision that the detrimental affects of outdoor advertising on public warrant my breaking the law in order to promote a discussion about advertising's' placement in our public spaces. I do not hit building facades and other private property because I do not feel a strong enough motivation to alter those spaces. Many street artists' interventions are placed in remote areas, hidden moments in the city, where the conflict of interest between the property owner and the artist is not an issue. This is done out of an inherent respect on the part of the artists for the sanctity of private property and allows street artists to continue working without pissing off the public.

As a study, The Hunter's question is interesting to think about, but whether or not we would see a public outcry or even need to use this newly painted wall is another story. It would seem that opening up public participation in the production of our shared environments would open the gates to a torrent of unwanted activity but I do not believe this to be the case. As a society I believe we have a vested interest in promoting certain private property norms and that given the opportunity we will not alter then as heavily as one would expect.

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Interview For Student Dissertation

After finding me through Poster Boy, this interview was given to an artist and student at the University of Brighton who wishes to remain anonymous. They told me that they are finishing their last year of study in graphic design, and are writing a dissertation on the theme 'is street art reclaiming public space?' Having interviewed Ron English, Dr. D, and Poster Boy about this already, I look forward to reading the final paper. If they are okay with us disseminating the final piece, we will post it here.

Do you think street art in itself is a political act or does the content or message of the piece need to have a clear political message?

Until Street Art and Graffiti production on unsolicited walls is legalized, these acts will continue to be political even if the content is not. Whether or not the practitioner admits it, putting work up on the street illegally is a demand for a public space that is conducive to public curation and participation. Street artists and graffiti artists, or property outlaws, as they are referred to by some lawyers, express a "willingness to break the law that signals the intensity of his or her dissenting position" on how public space is used. I think this is a very important social health issue in our modern cities that must be resolved for the public environment to reach its full potential. Being able to interact with public space on your own terms is an important part of realizing your potential as a public citizen. When you produce something visual in public space that you care about it is like leaving a piece of your self behind. Once work in the public is created, a permanent connection to that space develops which endures beyond your leaving. In this way, street artists and graffiti artists' works are a way of connecting people with the spaces they live in.

Are you inspired by any particular political or artistic movement? What would you say is the main message behind the stuff you do?

I am inspired by social justice movements, public space reclamation projects, and the tireless work of non permission based public art practitioners who create unauthorized moments of serendipity in our cities every day. There are many aspects to the PublicAdCampaign project but the most important is the promotion of public participation in the creation of our shared spaces. Anyone who goes out and creates in public without permission is expressing their desire for a public space which appreciates their individuality and their voice. One of the forces preventing this type of behavior is outdoor advertising and the supremacy of the commercial message over the individual message. In this way I am inspired by the uninspiring state of public space and its tendency to give credence to the commercial over the public. We must understand that public space is one of the last spaces in which we can demand a non privatized arena for dialogue. Most other forums, including print, television and recently the internet have become controlled by corporate interest and therefor do not allow meaningful democratic thought. If our public spaces are to function well for our society then we must prevent them from falling prey to the same corporate control and allow them to be the last vestiges of our democracy.

What part do you think the internet has played in the growing popularity of street art?

The internet has obviously facilitated the spread of this international movement. Most of us are informed daily of new and innovative street actions through the web. This online community is an important part of the street art movement particularly for those practicing this art form in smaller cities which might not have a flourishing scene already in place. The one thing that the internet cannot relay is the experience of street art which is an incredibly important part of the art form. The one on one interaction between viewer and creator holds much of the power behind the work. It is the experience of finding, being given a gift by someone which asks little of the viewer, that invests the work with such power and makes a trivial moment into a deep felt connection to the city space and the community at large. Street art is a way of creating dialogue in a physical environment, and without the viewer finding the piece, or interacting with the work, the art falls short of its potential. If street art was only experienced through the internet its affect would be greatly diminished.

How do you feel about the fact that some companies use street art as their advertising, both by using the aesthetics of it in regular advertising and sometimes using the methods of street artists (‘guerilla advertising’, street installations, stickers, clever stuff and so on)? Is there any danger in this?

Advertising's co-opting of street arts tactics is extremely problematic. Advertising is notorious for stealing artistic innovations in aesthetics and design. It can only be expected that this would happen with graffiti and street art. Despite this, what gives these two forms their power is not their aesthetics, but their tactics. The emotional connection that is a response to stumbling upon a beautiful piece of artwork, placed unassumingly in our public space is at the heart of this practice. This connection is made more powerful by the fact that the viewer is asked to give nothing in return to the artist. In fact the work opens up a space for contemplation and communication that is more akin to a concert experience than a gallery experience in my mind. One may ponder the motivations, messages, placement, and context of the artworks, and in doing so engages in a two way conversation with the artist and the space in which it was created. Advertising has as its singular motivation the trapping of your attention to deliver a very specific message or a simple brand recognition. By using the incredibly selfless tactics of street art, advertising tricks the public into engaging it as one would street art, as a gift, with an innocence that is a result of two minds finding each other in the anonymous public arena. Once the fact that the viewer is looking at an advertisement with selfish motivations is revealed, the viewer feels betrayed and this then separates the public from public space. I find myself walking the city streets looking for moments created by street artists and graffiti, knowing they will enrich my experience of the city. If you ask the average citizen how they interact with outdoor advertising on a daily basis, they will tell you that they try to ignore it. The two create completely opposing forms of participation and interaction with the city. When a viewer is tricked by advertising that poses as street art it removes one more reason to engage your environment which separates the average citizen even further from the space that they live in.

What kind of reactions do you get regarding your work? Why do you think people react that way?

As I said before, most people attempt to ignore commercial messages in the public environment. This causes them to categorically ignore the spaces in which advertisements are placed. Because my work reclaims these commercial spaces, I am often battling peoples inherent interest in avoiding them. This causes the work to take on attributes that advertising would not employ like physicality/texture, lack of text, over simplified graphics, and no clear message or meaning. When people do notice my work they are extremely happy to have the moment of pause created by my art and are relieved that they are not being solicited as they move through their public environment. The public's attempt to ignore advertising is a result of its tendency to take from the viewer while my work asks nothing of the viewer but to reflect on its existence, placement, and origin of creation. That said my work is often misunderstood. When my work manifests itself in large scale organizational projects, it is much easier to understand because the execution is much more visible. The execution, or act of creation, holds much of the meaning behind my work and when this is visible it is more clearly understood. The larger organizational projects are the result of the incredible dedication and participation of many like minded individuals intent on bringing this issue to the forefront of people consciousness and this in turn creates a wider audience and therefor clearer objective.

What does the term ‘public space’ mean to you? Who has the right to public space? Is street art a way of reclaiming public space?

Public spaces are those places where we all share an equal voice and right to the city. To me this means not only the streets, but the walls that surround us which impose a multitude of visual conversations. Everyone has the right to public space, so long as they are acting upon it as individuals. In this way, commercial use of public space is an improper use of our public environment because corporations are using money to increase their influence beyond an individual level. Each person should be allowed to impose their own interests on public space, creating a level of noise equivalent to their own means. By paying to disseminate their messages more broadly, commercial entities break this rule and overwhelm the individual, ultimately monopolizing the dialogue that is so important to a healthy engaged public. Beyond this, the commercialization of public spaces ultimately prevents individual usage of public space because we cannot afford to do so. Street art only reclaims public space in that it is illegal for artists to impose their individual voice on the public environment, unless they can afford to do so. The proper use of public space would include the visual articulations of invested parties and therefore accept street art's use of our shared environment as a normal form of public dialogue. For this reason, street art is non-violent political protest attempting to alter what is an acceptable use of our neighborhoods and communities.

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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Reader Post Comment Response or Why Advertising And Public Space Are Inherently At Odds With One Another

A PublicAdCampaign reader named Dennis made a wonderful comment regarding the Philip Lumbang cuddly bear disaster in LA and I wanted to respond. He writes...
"The bloggers and commenters shaking their heads over this story need to look beyond the obvious. This kind of situation was created by our friends in the outdoor advertising industry who have used every legal tactic to destroy the ability of cities to control billboards, supergraphic signs, and other conveyances of outdoor advertising. In a nutshell, they have argued in court that the city is guilty of unconstitutional discrimination if it treats a fine-art mural differently than a supergraphic sign. In other words, if it permits a mural on a wall, it can't prohibit a sign for Nike or McDonald's across the street. There is ongoing litigation about this, but as of now the city jeopardizes its sign regulations if it issues permits for murals, or fails to act on complaints about unpermitted murals.
Dennis makes an incredibly important point here which speaks to the fact that outdoor advertising and a healthy public space are two incompatible ideas. Advertising by its very nature must control public space, dominate it, in order to have the most influence over public thought in order to push commercial consumption. This control is not only seen in outdoor advertising language which often describes its presence as dominating, but also in its legal tactics which attempt to strip the city of its ability to protect itself from advertising's ravaging behavior. (as evidenced by Dennis' comment)

What is sacrificed in the wake of advertising's constant land grab and volatile tactics, is the public's ability to use its own judgment on how to curate our shared environments. If the permit issue was not at hand in this current LA mural atrocity, the issue of whether or not to let this mural stay up would be decided by a neighborhood board. The single resident that is taking issue with the mural, calling it "ghetto," would be out voted by the many residents who love the mural and it would be allowed to stay. The public ultimately should be responsible for the curation of our shared spaces and the fact that the city must enforce rulings which do not agree with public sentiment is the horrendous result of how advertising alters and controls our public spaces for the worst.

For this reason, outdoor advertising must not be allowed in public space. A good example of this is a story I come back to routinely. One of the problematic things that outdoor advertising does to our environment is that it assigns a monetary value to public walls, or rather private walls that face the public and therefore have a direct affect on public consciousness. Without a monetary value, public walls can be used for a myriad of things, the value of which is determined by the benefit that use brings to the property owner and the community as a whole.

Take for example a typical corner deli in New York City with an entrance on one side and a blank wall on the other. Now imagine this deli is in close proximity to a public school. This school might ask the deli owner or landlord to use the blank wall for a mural made by the students of one of the classes. Without monetary value, the landlord would be inclined to say yes, knowing that the mural will not only benefit the students, giving them a sense of self worth and physical investment in the neighborhood, but also attract the approval of the community which will then patronize the store.

A moral obstacle arises once this public wall has monetary value. The landlord or deli owner must now decide between receiving a small paycheck for the rental of this public wall, versus the benefits it might have for the community at large. I don't believe we can expect people to disregard the inherent value ascribed by outdoor advertising firms to public space. This would be expecting a self sacrifice for the greater good that simply does not agree with our ego centric capitalist societal values. The answer then is to simply eliminate the motivation to strip our communities of a valuable resource, public space, by preventing outdoor advertising from prescribing monetary value to our shared environment.

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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Dancing In The Streets: A History Of Collective Joy

January 1st I picked up Barabara Ehrenreich's book, Dancing In The Streets: A History Of Collective Joy on a whim because I thought I'd start the new year with something unpredictable. I was happily surprised with the choice and I highly suggest you read the book. Ehrenreich looks at ecstatic rituals from early in our collective history as a form of biological evolution evolved to amongst other things, join individuals together into cohesive groups. She then traces the evolution of this behavior through the Dionysian rituals practiced by the Greeks all the way up to our more modest forms of carnivalesque behavior exhibited in modern sporting arenas around the world. Along this journey we find the approval and more often control of our bodily movement, connection to strangers, and generally collective desire to "let our hair down", determining in part the mental and physical health of our society.

I have found the main thesis of her book to be spot on, enjoying myself most thoroughly in gatherings such as civil protests, happenings like the No Pants Subway Ride, particularly wild loft parties, and other communal events in which the self is lost in favor of the mass connection you experience by becoming one in the crowd. Somewhere in the back of my mind I see the restriction of physical movement associated with the collective happenings Ehrenreich's book speaks of, to be similar to advertising's control over the public space and thus the public's freedom of visual expression of ideas and images. Restriction of forces which are human at their core, like dancing in the streets, or parading your visual talents around our city walls has a detrimental affect on our social cohesion and ultimately our collective mental health.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

RawleMurdy Uses The Recent NYSAT 2 Project To Call On Advertising To Make Artful Ads

Despite a full understanding of marketing's interest in "trying to shape people’s perceptions of concrete things in order to sell those things." Mr. Mathieu still seems to miss the point of the last NYSAT project. Irregardless of how "artful" an ad might be, it is still stealing from the public. By placing a monetary value on our public surfaces, we prevent those surfaces from being used for things that are good for all of us and not simply those intent on profiting from our cityscape. Honestly it really has little to do with "artfulness" or "beauty".

The example I often use is this. A deli owner is offered $1,440.00 a year to allow an outdoor advertising company to hang advertisements on the side of his or her business. Without much thought he takes this offer and profits minimally. If that space was not allowed to be used for commercial messages, another scenario might play itself out benefiting the city and its residents. One example might be that the 3rd grade class from the local public school would ask this deli owner to paint a mural about the neighborhood on the side of his business. Unable to profit from this space, the deli owner would be inclined to allow these youngsters to make their own mark on the city surface.

The benefit of this type of use of public space is relatively simple to understand. By creating something visual, the students will leave a piece of themselves behind. What is left behind creates an attachment to that space that results in an investment that is both physical and psychological. An invested resident is just that, someone who has a reason to care for the space in which he or she lives. Better yet, this type of use of public space also benefits the viewer, creating neighborhood landmarks which create spatial relationships, alter your sense of place and offer you community in an often anonymous landscape. Juxtaposed, the advertisement creates no such investment on the part of the producer or viewer.

October 26th, 2009 by Henry Mathieu

A response to the NY Times article, “A Battle, on Billboards, of Ads vs. Art,” by Colin Moynihan, published on Monday October 26 — — and copied below.

There is an interesting piece in today’s NY Times. It reports on an artist named Jordan Seiler, and a group he founded called, “The Public Ad Campaign.” — – They whitewash billboards in Manhattan and allow advocates to spread anti-advertising messages, or artists to replace the ads with their own artwork work.

“ … ‘We’re bombarded by ads every day,’ [artist, Jordan Seiler] said. ‘Advertising frames the public environment as being for sale but public space is not inherently commercial.’ … Some passers-by liked the commando like cover-ups; an artist named Jane Gennaro, who was not connected to the project, approved of the men painting over an ad for the video game Grand Theft Auto, saying, “We need to get rid of all the visual noise. …”

This raises an interesting question in my mind. If ads were more ‘artistic,’ per se, would they be considered so offensive? Would beautiful ads contribute to the cacophony of ‘visual noise’ we’re ‘bombarded’ with on a daily basis?

Ads are very often considered to be obstacles that impede our ability to get the information or the entertainment we’re looking for, or distractions that clutter our everyday lives. We’ve trained ourselves to side-step or tune-out the vast majority of ads we see in nearly every context. We tune them out, that is, unless they offer up something we want. Nobody seems to object to an ad that give us a piece of information we find to be useful, or an ad that makes us laugh. Thus advertisers try to cut through the clutter with targeted media placements, and offer up engaging/relevant content. What I take from this article is that advertisers aren’t making ads that are artistic enough to be relevant and engaging to Jordan Seiler and his New York street artist friends.

While I’m sure advertisers aren’t loosing too much sleep over having lost that particular audience, I do think we should pay heed to the fact that we’re very likely loosing other audiences who aren’t aggressively protesting our communication efforts. One way to get some of those audiences back might be to beat Jordan Seiler and The Public Ad Campaign at their own game. Here’s my challenge to advertisers far and wide: make artful ads.

When I was a college student, I was an Art/English double major. In looking for that somethin’-somethin’ I wanted to do when I grew up, advertising struck me as a real world application of many of my interests. I perceived the industry to be an intriguing blend of storytelling, music, visual arts, and pop-culture all applied to shaping people’s perceptions of concrete things. What I’ve learned since (and frankly should have been obvious to begin with) was that we’re trying to shape people’s perceptions of concrete things in order to sell those things. So while I recognize today that – Advertising isn’t Art, it’s Business – I’m still unwilling let go of all that initially drew me to the industry. Granted, advertising does thrust billboards and a whole lot of other ‘visual noise’ into all of our lives. So when we create ads, I feel it’s important not to loose track of the fact that each of these billboards can be thought of as a canvas not only to sell things, but to sell them beautifully. I would like to believe that I might one day create an ad Jordan Seiler himself deems worthy of hanging in his living room.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Email Correspondence Between Mediacy & PublicAdCampaign

The following post is in regards to an interesting email interaction between the owner of Mediacy Inc. and PublicAdCampaign. I think it helps, at least on some level, to better explain how both sides of this argument feel about their use/abuse of public space, and how remarkably similar those feelings are. It also is interesting to see people consistently call advertising art in these contexts. It is amazing that some people can't see the difference between the two, their different motivations and because of this their different effects on society. Intention is a huge part of the equation that is consistently left out of the discussion.

After receiving an unsolicited press release for the company Mediacy Inc. regarding their newest form of OOH advertising, the Gatescape, we couldn't help but immediately publish our reaction. Within minutes we received a complaint from the owner of the company, Michael Gitter. This is not the first time we have been contacted by the heads of major outdoor advertising firms for taking them to task. About 6 months ago we sat down with Steve Birnhak of InWindow, at his request, to discuss his illegal Streetscape business and why PublicAdCampaign was keeping tabs on the companies activities. I am happy to report the last InWindow advertisement that I know of was removed only a few days ago from it's 13th street and University location.

photo of old InWindow Streetscape at 13th and University around 07-09.

At this point a bit of back story is required to give Mr. Gitter credit where credit is due. It turns out Mr. Gitter was one of two owners of the MaxRack company. The racks provided free postcards in bars and restaurants to anyone who wanted them, and appeared in New York City a few years back. About 3 weeks ago Mr. Gitter contacted me saying that the business was ceasing to operate and would I have any interest in using the racks for the PublicAdCampaign project. I pondered this offer and in the end declined, unable to find an appropriate use for the now unused equipment. When we posted our initial reaction to the Gatescape concept, I did not put two and two together to realize that Mr. Gitter was also the owner of this new company Mediacy. Considering the nature of the business the press release was proposing, I can't say this would have changed my reaction.

What follows is a series of communications between Mr. Gitter and I which he has given me permission to reproduce for you. I think they are interesting to read because they show the inherent lack of understanding by most people of how advertising negatively affects the community and our shared psyche. Mr. Gitter, obviously cares for the city, being a born and raised in New York. He also has a deep felt appreciation for the arts as is evidenced by Maxrack's support of local artists as well as his interest in using Gatescape locations that are idle to exhibit artwork. The problem is, support for the arts in this situation comes at a high cost and that is the overburdening of our collective subconscious with commercial messages which not only alter our individual desires and therefore our society at large, but also define the city as an inherently commercial space. This also does not address the issue that art in this situation might be used to legitimate what could be an illegal advertising business that will have to take advantage before it can "give back."

Michael to PublicAdCampaign:

I spoke with you only a few weeks ago about offering you my old Maxracks postcard racks for your arts projects. I was fine that you decided not to do this but now you have decided to criticize my Gatescape? C'mon.

What I was planning to do is offer your artists some of the real estate when vacant, and print their art on the banners at my cost, to really make a great impression.

I am in business and you might not like my product. But I am an artist (, a New York native and I am sensitive to over-saturation of advertising.

You could have at least called me, or sent me an email. But to publicly try to threaten or humiliate me and my efforts on your blog?

I don't scare and I don't appreciate this and I wish you would have taken a different tact where we both could have been happy.

But I guess this is not the way you work.

PublicAdCampaign to Michael with responses in red:
michael, i did not realize you were the same person who offered me the max racks. that was generous of you and i appreciate it.

I must say im a little appalled that you think my reaction would be any different than what it was, and if so then i take it those racks were a bribe for my sympathies.

Jason, I'm not looking to bribe or for sympathies. This is an idea that isn't even in our Media Kit and was conceived only weeks ago. I offered those racks, not out of fear of what you will say about the gates - I hadn't even thought of doing them at that time. I offered them because I liked what you did and the racks were becoming unappealing to me.

clearly this gatescape idea is nearly identical to the InWindow concept and given the way i have attacked their illegal practices I would clearly take issue with your "new" idea. not to mention this "new" adform you are trying to push can be extended much further than InWindow considering they rely on abandoned buildings where you rely on any space with a rolldown.

That's true it could be bigger. But given the ugly way these gates look as opposed to a nice clean 57th St storefront with huge clear windows and white walls, we see the concepts as very different from the efforts of In Window. (as I understand it, the idea is that Gatescapes will clean the city by replacing graffiti scrawl with huge colorful advertising images. If graffiti, and unclean gates is the problem, I suggest we address why young boys want to write their names on the streets and that Mr. Gitter start a gate cleaning business because clean gates have nothing to do with advertising)

all of this comes on top of how I have been championing the no longer empty project and these spaces being used for art. as well i think my position on outdoor advertising continuing to find ways to abuse the public by pushing commercial concerns on them is clear.

Jason, you are not the first and nor am I to come up with these ideas. For yrs I worked with Tibor Kalman's group at M&Co. And I'm sure you know about the work they did concerning making Times Square more appealing by doing many things with empty storefronts and gates when Times Square was the city's blight.

Im glad you thought you could offer a few free vinyl prints to artists and this would make what is potentially an illegal advertising business viable.

Please don't humor me with your snarky sarcasm. I am not interested in your views on how little or how much I do to sponsor the arts.

I think the no longer empty project clearly shows artists are willing to pay for their own materials.

Ok, so? Are there no talented artists or fantastic non-profit organizations who would appreciate and be helped immensely by space and supplies?

in fact im sure they appreciate the opportunity to install their work themselves, spending time on the street interacting with pedestrians and others interested in their creative process. Im also surprised you didnt mention this act of altruism in your press release. seems like it would be a big selling point if you were serious about it.

Jason, I have anonymously supported artists with Maxracks cards for decades without saying a word to anyone. Its none of anyones business what I choose to do with extra resources, and it is ironic that you are suggesting I exploit artists and nonprofits wrapped around the idea of altruism. Altruism is handled individually and if you want dozens of these people and organizations I have helped over the last 15 years just let me know.

As far as being an artist, a new yorker... what can I say?

You can say it counts for something. Or it doesn't. You can maybe say I am just like you in that I lived here my whole life and I don't want this great city to look like shit.

As for being sensitive to the over-saturation of that a joke? why if you are sensitive to saturation would you start a company which will be over saturating our environment?

Joke? Some might look at your gigantic black and white squiggle on the wall in Soho as nothing more than ugly visual noise. (I don't know exactly what he is referring to here but I'm assuming he is talking about the image on the corner of Howard and Broadway) But see that's not for me to judge. I went to the Guggenheim and saw modern art of the Marlboro Man photos. Is that art? Who cares. Someone does. (Here again the difference between art and advertising escapes us. Richard Prince rephotographing the Marlborough man was not to sell you cigarettes but to elucidate ideas about authorship and reproduction in art.)

As for threatening, or humiliating you on my site, I am sorry you feel that way. I really never called you out but rather the company.

I am the company, Jason.

I think advertising like this is a blight and a humiliation to the residents of this city.

Some people might say Christmas displays in October is horrible. Or the smell of bad perfume being pumped out of Hollister's store front door is a blight too. We all pick our battles.

it takes them for nothing but consumers and this is a travesty. It is also taking away from the possible space for murals done by no longer empty and putting store owners in the precarious position of having to decide on profit over public health.

You had years to do something with these gates. But now I'm doing something so you kvetch? Is it because you didn't think of it for your artists first?

My last question regarding what I assume you are calling the threats in regards to calling 311. and believe me i mean this sincerely as you have been nice to me in the past in our email communications

do you plan to get these permitted through the DOB? because if not you should know that they will be illegal and you should consider the possibility of fines not making this a viable business option.

i apologize for our differences and I hope you can understand my point of view.

Point noted.

Two last items. We have a website: And if any of your artists wants some free Gatescapes exposure have them call me.

At this point Michael and I decided it better to sit down and discuss all of this in person. Because of this I did not respond to his email after this point although we continued the conversation where our lunch left off. I will relay these small communications below, Michael in Red and PublicAdCampaign in Black.

Michael: "Hey, walking home, and have already seen about 1000 ads on everything from buses and taxis to umbrellas and signs outside stores. Any interest in coming to the other side? Because Mediacy could use a salesperson like you. :)"

PublicAdCampaign: "I think we established the going rate for selling your soul at a million two right? make me an offer."

Michael: "Just like Cemusa, I'll pay it over 20 years!" (this is a refence to the crap deal the city took when it gave Cemusa control over the bus stop shelters and magazine stands in New York. The resulting deal would have Cemusa pay the city for control of these locations over a 20 year span.)

There was some very interesting discussion that happened over lunch which has resulted in Mr. Gitter contacting his friends at GenArt, FlavorPill and the likes, offering them the Gatescape format for artists when those locations are not rented for advertising. I will be sitting down with them all after thanksgiving to discuss how this situation might result in a more appropriate use of our public spaces. More to follow soon.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Colby Is An Old Friend, And A Wise Friend

i think youll like this. i was just listening to some joseph campbell:

joseph campbell: now i just want to speak about the phases in the development of any mythology; how does it start and what happens to it. i think one can say this. that all of the high culchus, and low culchus, and primitive culchus, and charming, simple culchus, and great big enormous ones, have grown out of myths. they are founded on myths. and what these myths have given, has been inspiration, for aspiration.

the economic interpretation of history is for the birds.

economics is itself is a function of aspiration. it's what people aspire to that creates the field in which economics works. and people who dont have any aspirations - you know - the problem of a businessman who cant get people to want anything.

it's the want. it's the aspiration. and what is wanted is not simply one, two, or three meals a day and a bed. that's not enough. it's gotta be much more than that, to make a life. now where do these aspirations come from? they come from a very wonderful, childlike thing. fascination.

...these fascinations are the creation of new activities.

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Princess Hijab Hits Paris Again!

This newest piece from Princess Hijab was recently photographed by Christophe Meiries in Paris. The image shows a level of detail and sophistication I haven't seen in the Princess's work thus far. I like it a lot and I hope to see more soon.

As I have no contact with the artist, I may make assumptions here that aren't true. Please forgive me. As I understand it, this project isn't ultimately about the companies behind the advertisements, so much as it is about the proliferation of a cultural minority in media more generally. Despite this I still wish the logos were removed along with the "hijabizing," as the artist calls it. Without the company logo, the image refers only to the artist, whereas with the logo the image is somehow still a bastardized ad for Arena, but an ad nonetheless. I understand the artist might want the viewer to associate the new media content with the company, but that's just my thought on the matter.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

They Must Think I'm Crazy, And Maybe I Am

Read this cause it's kind of awesome.

Funny thing happened to me on the way to the theater... No just kidding, after I left a video meeting tonight I happened to pass by the infamous InWindow illegal location of choice at 113 University Place. There were three young men installing yet another illegal advertisement at this location. I asked them who they were working for. They responded very cryptically, avoiding the question. I asked them if they worked for InWindow. They told me they worked for one of the OAC's and asked what my interest was. I told them I represented a few small companies in New York who might be interested in using their new attention grabbing form of outdoor advertising. They still refused to give me their companies name, at which point I nearly left.

After thinking better, I turned and asked if they knew what they were doing was illegal? They all paused, stopped what they were doing and looked at me with greater attention. Suddenly out of no where I heard, "Are you Jordan?" "No" I said, realizing that response made it obvious I was Jordan. My next question was, "Do you know my work?" "Yes, what you do is illegal too." I agreed and did not press the issue as I didn't have time for a conversation about the differences between removing and adding value from our shared public spaces.

I told them I would be reporting this new illegal advertising location when I got home and that they should probably stop what they were doing. The last citation against InWindow at this very same location was given 3 months ago, and is still active under complaint #1260474. Our newest complaint, nearly 3 months later, is filed under complaint #1267606. If you find this company's flagrant disrespect for our city's laws egregious and without warrant, contact 311 and file your own complaint. There is only so long they can get away with this before the many thousands of dollars in fines cripple their activity. Remember your complaints will fund our public schools.

To InWindow: I'm glad to know you know me. I am the voice of your conscience. Respect the gift economy and stop trying to take value out of our communities by removing surplus in the form of advertising revenue. Look to No Longer Empty for a viable model of behavior which promotes the exchange of ideas and not the congregation of monetary value, you assholes. I apologize for my tone, but these guys once tried to meet with me to convince me what they were doing was a benefit to our public environment and shared public spaces by promoting community and reducing blight. A glossary read of Lewis Hyde's The Gift should teach you that breaking the rules of exchange inhibits community and our social ties to one another. We know better than to listen to your double talk. We will find a way to make those $10,000.00 fines stick, you can bank on that.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

I Never Post Any Of My Other Stuff

This has very little to do with PublicAdCampaign and so I was weary to post it, but I never post anything of my own stuff that doesn't deal with advertising in public and I'm bored. I made this piece for the Ace Hotel, for my good friends Mint and Serf. They organized an incredible lineup of artists to each take a room in the hotel and make it unique. This is what I did. It so happens that this piece inspired a song whose chorus was written on the walls of this piece.

Heartache, Heartbreak. And so she slept late. I didn't ask why. Didn't want to wake her, make her face the... Heartache, Heartbreak. And so she slept late. I didn't ask why. Didn't want to wake her, make her face the....


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Good Magazine's Top 100, Or So.

The recent issue of Good Magazine just came out and we are in the top 100, or so, people "changing the way we live". We couldn't be more proud to be listed amongst some amazing projects as well as on the same page as Jason Eppink, a fantastic artist and good friend. Check your local news stands and pick up a copy today, it is well worth it.

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Sunday, October 4, 2009

Empty Phone Kiosks Abound

I don't know if anyone else has been noticing the lack of advertisements in the black Verizon phone kiosks around the city, but it seems to be universal. Many if not all phonekiosks that look like this have been empty for the past few days. Very strange.

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Friday, October 2, 2009

Plastique Magazine-Argument For An Ad Free Public Space

photo by Adam Amengual

I wrote this small piece for Plastique, a fashion and culture magazine out of London. In it I quickly summarize my feelings towards media and my intentions behind the PublicAdCampaign project. A big thank you to Brylie for giving me a reason to put pen to paper and delve more deeply into the motivations that breath life into this project.
In today’s modern, market driven existence, every once in a while you have to think about who you might be without continual suggestion from advertising and commercial media. After all “you,” having been presented to you many times over by a marketing world intent on capturing your gaze and hoping to bend and transform your desires, might not in fact be the you, that you want to be. This conundrum is a result of living in a world where reality is consistently represented, over and over, by enterprises without your personal interests in mind through a myriad of media channels. Because of this, without fail, our lives are directed by a wind that recommends our desires, and imagines our selves. This isn’t a revelation, media influence is a very real and powerful force that shapes and directs the world we live in. This force affects even those lives that choose to consciously censor programmed expectations, and discern for themselves a reality in which they choose to exist. The force we are talking about is commonly referred to as marketing: the process of representing and illuminating one’s products or services in a dark world. Today more than ever, the cacophony of media lights shines bright in new and subtler ways. The saturation of media, like too many lighthouses guarding the shore, renders the waters of mass culture almost un-navigable for those attempting to avoid this confrontation, and impossible to ignore for those who make no such choice. How then do we determine who we are and what we are to become when the innocence of our decision making process is affected without our control on a daily basis?

I myself fall somewhere in the middle of two opposing reactions to a media saturated world. I digest my TV commercials (for lack of a DVR), peruse magazine print ads with the same rigor as I do the articles, am awed by the event based spectaculars at the forefront of marketing madness, and continually find myself traveling through my city, paying more attention to the lofty billboards than the blind man risking life and limb to cross the street. My choice to imbibe these intoxicating messages is done both consciously and unconsciously as I navigate my way through life in the modern metropolis known as New York City. And though my travels through the mediascape are overwhelmed by a frenzy of messages, I know to want less, to challenge the consuming images that surround me in the public environment. It is in this space of our social lives that the decision to determine who we are, without the aid of behavioral psychologists and new marketing techniques, takes place. Within this space we can demand our own representation and illuminate our own visions of the reality we wish to live in, something we cannot do in the private theaters operated by magazines, television channels, movie houses and corporate theme parks. If only we could pull our attentions away from the full-building-wrap Bacardi advertisement obscuring 25% of our field of vision.

And herein lies the problem. We cannot shake the unconscious reception of marketing memes when our public lives are constantly confronting them at every turn. We are thus faced with a decision: Do we take the laws that protect these private messages, presented to us in the most public of spaces, to be set in stone; obey their every command and continue to live in the shadows of private concerns? Or do we take it upon ourselves to alter the landscape in which we travel, adorning the walls we live with so that they suite our needs and present our own image of a reality we have determined for ourselves? Faced with this dilemma, I have for the past eight years illegally reclaimed public advertising space for art and open public communication, breaking into and altering the mediascape to reflect my personal concerns. Along with providing an alternative to the private communications that overwhelm our public experience, I have found that visually interacting with public space has increased my sense of responsibility for, and dedication to my city. Rupturing the hypnotic control of these alternate ideologies has been a path to defining the city and myself on my own terms. By becoming a part of the process of production I have championed my own thoughts and desires; it is these that the public should reflect before the will of external industries and the media empires that promote commercial needs above all else.

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Public Art Versus Public Advertising

Felix-Gonzalez Torres', Untitled, public art billboard has been floating around since 1991 and has been a darling of outdoor advertising companies looking to fulfill their percent for the arts programs and "obligations" to the communities in which they operate. Currently there is one at the corner of 6th avenue and Canal street.

I think this image serves as a perfect example of how art imagery and advertising imagery affect us differently in our shared public spaces. If you would, imagine walking down the street and seeing Felix Gonzalez Torres' Untitled image towering above you. Then imagine the advertising image below, and your reactions to both. One asks you to concentrate your attentions on very specific commercial concerns, whereas the other asks you to contemplate ideas about your life and your relationship to the city around you. Clearly the more healthy thought process is the one that opens your perceptions as opposed to controlling them. And why wouldn't we demand a public visual space that is as healthy for our population as possible?

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

How Do We Think About Graffiti In A Modern City?

I've always had a tenuous relationship with tagging, with those who use/abuse the public by writing their names on the walls of our shared public spaces. Depending on who you ask, the scrawl is a rich texture of social networks and base level social communication, or simply the wanton destruction of public and private property by citizens hellbent on reaping havoc on our city and culture. I must say my views lie somewhere in the middle and at least in theory favor those striving to create a signifier which represents themselves in a vast network of individual, and corporate iconography. After all the city can be an incredibly complex environment in which to define ones identity and ideas, especially for those whose identity is perhaps forming for the first, but probably not the last, time.

It would seem that as a public we are fighting this scrawl to the best of our ability. Two examples of this counter initiative are the Anti-Vandal squad wing of the NYPD as well as the private maintenance crews employed by local BID's to paint over graffiti as fast as it can crop up. While doing our best to control this aggressive form of mark making, I think it is important to take notice of some of the interesting scrawl that exemplifies a more concerned individual armed with a spray can. Not all graffiti is intent on destruction and when it is, sometimes it is indicative of a social fabric rich with differing opinions and interests. Some graffiti goes beyond the name and enters into the realm of conversation. Is this form of urban writing worth preserving and even fighting for? And how, or should, we distinguish between the mundane and the exciting?

This photo was removed. It was a picture of one of the public art works at the LMCC's newest Lentspace project after having been vandalized with the words "This is not art". It seems there has been a mistake and the kind people at LMCC think I might have been responsible for this act of vandalism. I most assuredly was not and do not condone the destruction of public art. I apologize to anyone who might have gotten the wrong idea.

Take for example the recent vandalism of the LMCC's newest public art project. It appears someone took it upon themselves to make a commentary about the use of the term "art" to describe several works presented by the LMCC in their newest sculpture park, a public/private collaboration between the LMCC and the Trinity Real Estate Development Corporation. If you know this location, you know the high risk involved for the individual who made this commentary. I do not necessarily agree with the statement, but one cannot deny the fact that this was not your typical tagging so much as it was social commentary, whether you agree with the vandal or not. Again, graffiti is being used here as a form of communication, and not in an arbitrary way, something I think we should take notice of before we simply denounce all graffiti as vandalism. The question then becomes, do we want this sort of visual commentary/vandalism to be a part of our public experience?

photo by Jake Dobkin

Another instance of graffiti I think we would be quick to call vandalism is the work of Booker. Often you can see his work around town in the form of simple scrawl and stickers, albeit more interesting than most in my opinion. His graffiti employs the word "read" and "book" over and over again in many different iterations, "read more", "reader", "read more books", etc. As far as I'm concerned these statements defy the typical egocentric nature of street level name tagging by incorporating a beneficent slogan into the tag. True to form, one of the more recent works by Booker that I have seen takes this to another level, getting rid of the reader name all together, simply asking viewer to "Open Your Eyes".

How then do we qualify graffiti in our shared public spaces? is it vandalism? is it a simple nuisance? or is it something more that a city with such a widely varied set of opinions must embrace as a form of public communication? I still don't know but I think we must all think harder about what and who graffiti is for before we shut down our minds and cover the entire form in a blanket of illegality.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

What Would Jesus Do?

I just spent from 4am to noon handing out copies of the NY post special edition and I am pooped. Before I rest, I had to post this image Charlie Todd of Urban Prankster sent me that he took in Vienna. A good Italian friend of mine had told me about the practice of recreating the image of churches that are under construction on the scaffolding that surrounds them. In this way, the church remains, while the unsightly construction goes on behind the scenes. It seems the church has forsaken this ritual for a more profitable one.

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Why Are You Using Up My Minutes HBO?

A few days ago I was walking through Williamsburg past a cheap furniture store on Grand street when I caught this flyer out of the corner of my eye. The hand made quality of the flyer juxtaposed with the celebrity Jason Schwartzman didn't make sense and I immediately knew something was amiss. I tore off the number and phoned this so called private detective right there on the spot. I suggest you do the same cause it was kind of amazing. An answering service picks up and Mr. Schwartzman's voice explains that he is an un-licensed private detective.
"If you have a problem, like a cheating boyfriend or girlfriend, or you have some kind of amnesia and you think you yourself are missing, I'm your man."
After a few more remarks he explains you can see him in action on such and such a night at such and such a time on the new HBO TV show Bored To Death.

With advertising budgets extremely low and revenues for outdoor advertising plummeting since the recession began, it seems OAC's are finding new and "exciting" ways to bring ad content to the streets for what would appear little to no cost. I'm assuming the printing of this ad campaign was done on a cheap Xerox machine and the company didn't pay for the location, probably because they didn't tell the furniture store that the flyer was for a new HBO series. It would seem this type of advertising is becoming a trend as this is not the first fake flyer I have seen around. Kelli Anderson of the Anti-Advertising Agency reported on a similar fake ad campaign for Courtney Cox's new show The Cougar, in which advertisements masquerade as real estate signs, shown here.

It's funny how some outdoor advertising these days is becoming so localized and specific to its environment it is starting to take on similar qualities to street art. I must say I had a good internal chuckle when Mr. Schwartzman ended his taped recording "And if this is Suzanne, which I hope it is, I haven't had any white wine or pot since you moved out." It's just disappointing when you realize this moment of serendipity and joy was created by someone trying to pull change out of your project for some corporation that couldn't give a shit about you.

The similar, yet ambiguous, street project seen here is a perfect contrast to this HBO outdoor advertisement. Call both numbers and see which one makes you think, and which one leaves you feeling taken advantage of.

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Sunday, September 6, 2009

Using the Public For Political Dissent

It was recently brought to my attention that a group of 4 Italian artists created this public poster initiative in New York City to protest Berlusconi's reign over the Italian media. Repubblica, Italy's only major paper free from the media mogul's near 90% control of all media outlets, reported on the NYC action. The Italian journalist I talked to here in New York seemed to think many Italians were happy with the action taken by their friends overseas. I myself see this campaign as both the proper use of public space, for political dissent and open communication, as well as an attack on NPA City Outdoor, whose illegal advertising locations were targeted by the campaign. Despite the many outlets for this type of dissent, the public remains one of the truly democratic spaces where these types of ideas can find an audience as diverse as each and everyone of us.

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Melrose Place Apartments For Rent!

This is one of the most insane viral advertising campaigns I have ever seen. These tear off web addresses, taped to lamp posts in NYC, promote a real estate website Melrose Place Apartments. This website is actually an introduction to the cast of Melrose Place, the new revamp of the old "classic." At least they only have 7,000 friends on facebook. Who would go through all the trouble? God save us all

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I Was Here-Classic L'Atlas

Image VIA Wooster Collective

This giant "I was here" image, posted over an outdoor advertising location by L'Atlas, is a wonderful distillation of many public individual's motivations behind their graffiti, their street art, and their general tendency to mark their visual environment as they travel through public space. Major metropolis' often create a sense of anonymity that is inescapable. In order to combat this and define oneself and one's identity amidst so many, individuals turn to marking the spaces they have been. This need to define ones presence visually is only exacerbated by the presence of outdoor advertisements which promote commercial companies and their interests before those of the people who actually live in this city. As the individual becomes more and more anonymous and the corporate presence more and more prevalent, it is only a matter of time before individuals stop marking buildings and start taking back the space corporate america has robbed from them.

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

City Seeks Huge Fine and Order To Remove Unpermitted Supergraphic on Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel

Plastering our public with private commercial messages is not a "1st amendment right to free speech" issue. We censor many media in our public spaces, including cigarette and alcohol ads. These ads are extremely influential and have been deemed hazards to our collective social health. The giant supergraphics in LA, although not touting addictive and physically harmful products, are no less influential in their pushing of other products. The request to remove these other signs from the public environment is for our collective mental health and should be honored with the same respect.

VIA Ban Billboard Blight
The battle between the city and the owners of the historically-registered Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel over the right to keep a supergraphic ad on the side of the building landed in federal court two months ago, with the hotel owner and sign company claiming that the city’s refusal to issue a permit for the sign is a violation of the 1st amendment right to free speech.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Manhole Reflection Raises Important Public Space Issues

If I remember correctly, I was walking down west 4th street on Monday the 3rd and ran across this manhole create by Lawrence Weiner for the public art fund in 2000. I vaguely remember hearing about this project and after eight years was happy to have stumbled upon it on the tree lined street it calls home. The gravity of the fact that I noticed this obscure piece while traveling through the busy streets of New York was not lost on me. I'm sure the reason this spot was chosen by Lawrence was the same reason I noticed its existence in the first place. Surely amidst the chaos of a more typical commercial thoroughfare populated by larger than life images and products, I would have passed by this moment unaware of its existence. It is for this reason that PublicAdCampaign fights for an environment without the overwhelming commercial messages presented by advertising. The streets of this city are meant for interaction and communication, often best received when you least expect it. In order to achieve these wonderful moments we must quiet the streets and allow ourselves the opportunity to look closely at the space we live in as opposed to the wants and wishes of the commercial giants.

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Friday, July 31, 2009

Free Yourself, Confess.

I ran across this piece of paper taped to a phonebooth on Canal Street. Bemused, I took one of the phone numbers and promptly called. An answering machine immediately picked up and said the following before the familiar beep telling me it had begun recording. How Bizarre.
"Free yourself from your burdens.
Record your confession or secret after the tone.
There is not limit on the number or the length of the messages,
And its completely anonymous."

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Vandalism or An Illegal Labor of Love?

A while back it was suggested that I look into the etymology of the word Vandal. I never found a good enough reason to post my findings until now.

The word Vandal originates from the name of the Germanic tribe "Wandal" or "Wanderer." It seems they were held responsible for the sacking of Rome in 455 A.D., "and were notorious for destroying the monuments of art and literature." As with much of history, this isn't the only accepted view. In fact it seems some attribute the fall of Rome at this time to economic troubles and less to wanton destruction caused by roaming tribes.

Some believe the Wandal tribe was integrated knowingly into the social fabric of Rome as the city became less powerful and unable to keep others outside of the city walls. Ultimately, "Although they were not notably more destructive than others, the high regard which later European cultures held for ancient Rome led to the association of the name of the tribe with persons who cause senseless destruction, particularly in diminution of aesthetic appeal or destruction of objects that were completed with great effort." [source]

The word Vandal has changed over the years and today has less to do with the destruction of our sacred cultural objects and more with defacement of public and private property. Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Law defining the noun as "a person who willfully destroys, damages, or defaces property belonging to another or to the public."

Graffiti is often regarded as vandalism and I have been confronted with many occasions where this was the case. Just the other night I was on Grand street in Williamsburg when I came across an Atlantic Maintenance crew buffing graffiti one door at a time as they made their way through the Grand Street Business Improvement District. Clearly local shop owners as well as residents had agreed to the large scale removal, a clear indication of their feelings on the subject. No more than two blocks away I came across a man on a ladder outside his house spray painting the side of his house white, trying to cover a large black throw up. Not really knowing what to say, I asked what he was doing and he answered very quickly "Removing this fucking graffiti and I'm fucking pissed."

An act of vandalism is destructive, not constructive and yet despite little evidence otherwise, I can't say graffiti is vandalism. I started testing my notion of this by paying a lot more attention to the scrawl on the streets. What I have begun noticing is a lot of tags which I can only describe as heartfelt attempts to communicate feelings of sincerity. Below are some images I have found to support this notion.

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Thursday, July 2, 2009

Debunkers Collective Meeting

photo from Les Deboulonneurs photostream

Last night I sat down with the Debunkers Collective, or the déboulonneurs, which I was told roughly translates to unhinge, unseat, or unscrew. I met with Nicolas Herve who gave me an inside rundown on their operations in Paris and across France. They are an amazing force working both outdoors over advertising, as well as motivating people behind closed doors to listen to the public's wishes. They are meeting with the Minister of Landscape this upcoming week in hopes of helping to refocus the changing of billboard law in France which after 20 years, is being rewritten. They are a powerful force in France and now a friend of PublicAdCampaign in New York.

Their Manifesto is extremely similar to my own, including the deep felt conviction that advertising should be presented in a way that gives the viewer the option to take in the message. In most mediums, like television, radio, magazines, newspapers, the viewer has the option to turn off the advertisement, flip the page, and generally make a conscious decision. As outdoor advertising stands now, the public has little options and are often forced to focus their attentions on private messages and commercial concerns. The Debunkers, not particularly interested in the messages presented in advertising but rather with the way in which they are presented, hopes to change outdoor advertising in France to reflect their interest in a viewer with options.

The way they propose to do this while still allowing outdoor advertising is to limit the size of the outdoor advertisements. They suggest 50x70cm which oddly enough is the restriction that's already placed on political advertisements, NGOs, and union organizations across the country. Nicolas explained that by limiting the size of the advert, those who want the message must actually approach the poster because of its size. A interesting idea for a group trying to work within the law to create an honest debate about outdoor advertising's viability in a major metropolitan city.

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InWindow is back at 113 University place with larger than life digital projections. I Posted it to the InWindow Map, which shows this location's "ups and downs" if you will.

A while back I reported on this illegal advertising location when a large Snickers advertisement preceded what is now and ad for Sprint. The DOB seems to have issued a summons for the unpermitted illegal street level billboard, and yet this new copy is going up in broad daylight. The front door was open when I passed by yesterday and so I poked my head in to see what was going on. A team was setting up the digital projections and so I asked if they worked for InWindow. They explained that "they were from a different ad agency but were working with InWindow on this project." I asked them if they realized the billboard they were working on was illegal, at which point a woman stepped in and said that "They had heard that." I wasn't surprised that "They had heard that", or that they would bold face lie about knowing they were illegally posting outdoor advertising in broad daylight. If "They had heard that", don't you think a smart company would look into such an important potential business catastrophe?

I then proceeded to step outside and take some pictures of the property. They followed me out and talked amongst themselves until one guy pointed to me and said, "He's going to complain." I responded briefly with "of course I'm going to complain", which begged the question from them, "Why?" My simple answer, "Because what you are doing is illegal and the city doesn't want to look at this." didn't seem to sit well. Sorry guys, just looking out for the health a viability of our shared streets and public culture.

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Leave Film Here

I saw this left over "Leave Film Here" sign and thought it worth posting. When you are engaged with the city and conscious of your surroundings, moments like this prove how fantastic our space can be if you choose to take it all in.

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Friday, June 12, 2009

Why It Came Down, Straight From the Horse's Mouth

Originally I posted about the below illegal InWindow advertisement on May 27th 2009. Days later it was gone and I promised to find out why, thinking the landlord probably thought better.

Steve Birnhak, the CEO of InWindow explained that Absolute Vodka became aware that this advertisement was a mere half block down from a neighborhood church. Upon realizing this they immediately asked for its removal. What I don't understand is why proximity to a church or a grade school has anything to do with where ads can, or cannot go. Do the religious stay within a few block radius of their house of worship, never venturing out of the circle of comfort the ad industry affords them? Better yet, do the young never go home from school? To think that these ads, placed in commercial districts, do not affect or offend the public at large is absurd. The city streets are our collective home and the pathways through and between our communities. To admit that ad material is offensive in one area of the city is to admit its offensiveness to the public, period.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Fighting The Outdoor Advertising Invasion: A Trivial Pursuit?

The writing below is a wonderful answer to a question I am often asked, and even ask myself sometimes. The explanation of why controlling commercial messages is an important pursuit is directly in line with my own thinking. The only differing opinion I have with the text is with the idea that those who wish to be overwhelmed and underwhelmed by the outdoor advertising industry be granted their wish. Other than Times Square, where advertising and it's permanence give that location a place and definition, large commercial messages do nothing to improve upon our shared public environment. Those who may think that they want to look at over sized images for the latest summer blockbuster or newest offering from The GAP are under the influence. Addicted to consumerist tendencies and desires, outdoor advertising provides a fix of sorts for those buried too deep in the rites and rituals of a capitalist society. Because of this I think the goals of those who fight outdoor advertising should not just stop at control, but rather elimination from the landscape entirely.

VIA-Ban Billboard Blight

From time to time, someone will take offense at our activities on the grounds that advocating for protection of the visual environment from an onslaught of commercial advertising is a trivial cause compared to fighting poverty, or global warming, or gang warfare, or any number of other social and environmental ills. In other words, “Can’t you find something more important to be bothered about?”

Well, yes. We could join the quest to find cures for cancer, or to reduce the rate of infant mortality. We could go around cajoling smokers to quit smoking, and obese people to lose weight. Instead, we chose to stick our fingers in the porous dike that separates the public spaces of our city from a tidal wave constructed by those who want you to see commercial messages wherever you drive, walk, bicycle, sit, and otherwise experience the urban environment.

A trivial cause? Consider the ongoing implosion of our economic system, which in a very large measure was built upon the principle of consumption. Our jobs, our homes, our cars, our lifestyles dependent upon people shopping, which means reacting to those ubiquitous signs urging us to buy a hot new product or sign up for the latest service. We don’t need text explaining the wonders awaiting us, just an image to trigger a reflexive desire to consume, as though we were a collective Pavlov’s dog.

We don’t hate advertising. Retail businesses need to attract customers, so they can pay their employees and fund their owners’ retirement plans. We don’t even hate billboards, having experienced a tug of nostalgia while browsing the classic billboard images in the June issue of Los Angeles magazine. And we’re old enough to fondly recall the sight of Burma Shave signs scrolling past the windows of the family sedan as it rolled along a Midwestern highway.

But that was then, as the saying goes, and now is now. Entire buildings are turned into advertisements. Digital billboards with their dialed-up illumination dominate the night at busy intersections. How many times do we need to be told to buy an Ipod or sign up with Verizon or chow down on a McDonald’s hamburger? In some quaint past billboards urged passersby to eat at Myrtle’s Café, or spend the night at the Shady Rest Motel. Now they urge-no, demand-that you buy a ticket for the latest blockbuster movie, or tune in to the latest titillation offered by Fox TV. What we have is a voracious corporate appetite for “branding” that is ubiquitous-seen everywhere, all the time, impossible to evade or ignore.

We understand that some people feel this trend to a Blade Runner, Minority Report-esque future is perfectly okay. We understand that some serious commentators believe that raising alarms about this future is just the fustiness of people-likely to be white, affluent, middle-aged homeowners-who live in L.A. but want to believe they’re really in some small town with white picket fences, elm trees shading the lawns, and friendly mail carriers who stop to pet the dog and exchange observations about the kids and the weather. People likely to be frightened by the very things that make the urban environment vital and exciting-pulsating images projected onto the sides of buildings, dramatic light shows, vivid graphic expressions that may be intent upon selling you something, but so what?

Yes, so what? If you want to hang out in Times Square with the hordes of tourists amidst the oversized ads staring down from all directions, by all means do it. If you want to drive back and forth on the Sunset Strip gawking at the billboards, nobody is trying to stop you. If you want to spend your nights at L.A. Live gazing in wonderment at the multi-story Nokia and Coca-Cola ads, be our guest. You have your idea of pleasure, we have ours. The problem comes when your idea trumps ours and the experience you want becomes the universal experience, and because you happen to like bright digital billboards and huge supergraphic signs everyone has to see them whenever they venture any distance from their abodes.

Giving people the choice to see or not to see advertising might seem reasonable, even democratic, but it works against the principle at the heart of the outdoor advertising industry, which is that effective advertising is advertising that cannot be turned off, cannot be fast-forwarded, cannot be avoided by turning the page or getting up and walking out of the room. In a heavily fractured media environment a captive audience has great value, which is the reason that this recession has seen spending on outdoor advertising fall much less precipitously than spending on other media.

But just as the bucolic past of hand-painted billboards and Burma Shave signs has been displaced by digital billboards and supergraphic building wraps, the present will give way to something likely to be bigger, brighter, more insistent, more difficult to ignore. As the writer Evan S. Connell said in his brilliant historical disquisition, The White Lantern, ”The ultimate question, though, toward which all inquiries bend, and which carries a hint of menace, is not where or when or why we came to be as we are, but how the future will unfold.”

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