The New York City Council has passed three new anti-graffiti bills which Bloomberg is no doubt itching to sign into law. Intro. No. 663-A amends existing law to mandate community service in a graffiti cleanup program as the minimum penalty for getting caught. Another bill announces a new "possesion ban," making it illegal for anyone under 21 to carry spray paint, inks, or other graffiti supplies on public property.
Those first two mostly extend current laws, but the third moves the city's law in a new and disturbing direction. Intro No. 299-A requires owners of commercial and residential buildings to remove graffiti from their property within 60 days of its appearance, or face fines. We've seen this kind of thing elsewhere in the country, but to my knowledge this is the first mandated-buff law in NYC. Just reading the text of the bill, you can tell that at least some councilmembers had serious objections on free speech and property rights grounds:
[I]t is important that graffiti in public view be cleaned as quickly as possible, while respecting property rights and First Amendment free speech rights.The goal of this legislation is to. . . addresses the need to rid our communities of graffiti as well as protect our important freedoms.
Right. It'll be interesting to see how this new law is enforced. These kinds of regulations are regularly included in zoning rules in small cities or suburban towns --- New York's size and the prevalence of absentee landlords who barely provide heat for their tenants should probably make implementation much more difficult.
Mark your calendars for this great show:
An Exhibition of Politically and Socially Engaged Printmaking
Curated by Josh MacPhee
111 Front St., Suite 210
Brooklyn, NY 11201
Opening Thursday Januay 5th, 2006
Artist Reception: 5:00-8:00 pm
Show runs through February 19th
5+5 Gallery, in collaboration with Josh MacPhee and justseeds.org, is proud to present a major exhibition of politically and socially engaged printmaking at 5+5 Gallery. The exhibit showcases print art which uses themes of social justice and global equity to engage community members in political conversation. Originally hung in conjunction with Seattle Print Arts at the Phinney Center Gallery in Seattle, the show has been expanded for this Brooklyn engagement to include even more printmakers.
The exhibition features work by over 180 artists from the US and around the world. It is curated by Josh MacPhee, a Troy, NY-based artist, activist and author, most recently of Stencil Pirates: A Global Study of the Street Stencil, published on Soft Skull Press. The exhibition includes work by artists who are primarily activists, as well as artists whose work may not always be politically motivated, but who wanted to respond to the monumental trends and events of our times.
Paper Politics presents a breathtaking tour of the many modalities of printing: relief, intaglio, lithography, silkscreen, collagraph, monotype, photography. In addition to these techniques, we are delighted to include in the show finely crafted stencils and street printing, traditional media used to convey political thought.
If you can't make the show, you can get a copy of the catalogue online at justseeds.org --- it has images of all the work in the show as well as essays by Josh MacPhee Deborah Caplow of the University of Washington on political art and printmaking.
In what was an extensive and coordinated effort yesterday morning, at least 30 Dallas police officers attempted to round up 10 persons with arrest warrants. In the operation, six graffiti artists were arrested for alleged property damage totaling about $100,000. Two face felonies punishable by up to 2 years in prison and $10,000 in fines. The other 4, including a 16 year old, face Class B misdemeanor charges that carry a possible 6 month jail term with $2,000 in fines.
Police Chief David Kunkle has apparently been motivated by a website that he claims features two of the apprehended suspects. Kunkle argues that anyone who would post their work on such a site, (presumably because the site pokes a bit of fun at the police) must have "a lack of respect for the community," and they are in fact making "an arrogant in-your-face kind of statement." Kunkle has taken it personally. He has asked the district attorney not to accept plea bargains in any of the pending cases. Sites that feature graffiti, and you know who you are, beware of the message that you may be promoting--according to Kunkle it cannot be celebatory or positive.
These arrests come on the heels of Borf's, or as he has now become known, John Tsombikos, arrest and consequent trial. He, in fact, did put in a plea of guilty to one count of felony destruction of property, a charge that carries a maximum prison term of 10 years and a fine of as much as $5,000. Though he answered routine questions at his trail he never had to directly mention any of the actions that put him in court. He is expected to do so however at his sentencing hearing on Feb. 9, 2005.
As part of his plea Tsombikos has agreed to clean graffiti for 80 of the 200 community service hours that he has, on top of $12,000 in fines. Jail time, if any, will not be known until the Feb. 9th hearing. According to another part of his plea, Tsombikos is not allowed to carry any art supplies on his person while attending art classes at Corcoran College of Art and Design.
In both of these cases, I cannot help but notice a serious sort of personal satisfaction in bringing these kids to "justice." Dennis Butler, the D.C. public official in charge of cleaning up graffiti stated that he would give Tsombikos the remaining "Borf"graffiti to clean up, claiming that it was "unwanted art," going on to say that, "let him see the headaches we went through to keep the city clean with his miscellaneous antics." Though Butler admitted that Borf "was very good at what he did," he would never consider that it might have been warmly received by the community. I suspect that many more individuals hold the same feelings as these responders who wrote back to an ARTery post about Borf, but such views are not easily heard through the one-sided reporting about graffiti.
"Reforming" graffiti writers has become part of the fight against graffiti. The logic says, get someone who has been through the system to tell kids that its not worth it, and because they have credentials kids will listen and not fall into a "life of crime." I feel very strongly about community-based arts programs, especially ones that go out and transform neigborhood walls into vibrant and colorful expressions that reflect the feelings and hopes of that community. But, it just seems to me that too many people fail to admit that there is something positive about graffiti, without immediately bracketing it with a "but."
Case in point, this article writes about it "as a therapeutic form of expression," but then they can't help but add that it is "often a springboard for youngsters into a life of crime." This particular piece had several compelling comments that at least broadened the discussion on graffiti. Alex Avila, a Cultural Director for the Arts Council for San Benardino, stated that "it can also be a child's plea for help or a way of processing the struggles of life." She went on to suggest that community based programs "build confidence in the kids," and "allow them to take ownership of something and bring awareness to the community." Though some of her comments entangle themselves in the dangerous logic of "redeeming wayward youth," she at least points out that a lot of what is at stake is explicitly about ownership.
The "Myth of 3rd World Debt" mural images come to us via the Woostercollective site and I think they illustrate perfectly the problems that a community-based art collective, or any public muralist, has to contend with when their work is presented on a wall that is privately owned. The mural, no matter how open or unrestricting it may seem, must always pass through a filter, and if the message is not on point then it will be censored. In this case a poem by Nyarai Humba was painted over the day after it was put up. You can read it in full here.
On a final note, the WoosterCollective site has begun to map out where graffiti arrests have occured in NYC area. This is an excellent project and it may make more transparent which communities have been targeted by the Vandal Squads.
(also thanks to Wooster for the first image)
Stepping away from politics into another way of moving people through art, Paul from Eyeteeth links to an essay of his from February that asks the question: how can art connect us to the divine without distracting us with religion?
Art, it seems, allows us to ponder the sacred in non-dogmatic terms --- i.e. divinity for the reality-based community. Of course now is not the heyday for that bunch. But perhaps there's hope in what theologian Finley Eversole called a "spiritual underground." For him the term referred to a complex notion that artists who confront the emptiness of a godless world --- writing in 1963, he was thinking of Rothko, Pollock, and de Kooning --- connect us to the holy by presenting its inverse: "If our artists have been incapable of religious faith, they have at least shown us that modern man is incapable of unfaith." But I suggest that artists make up a spiritual underground in a different sense. While many mainstream religions are being hijacked by rigid fundamentalists, contemporary artists make up a loose-knit band of the covertly spiritual. If artists of the "secular mystery" can create work that resists co-optation by religious and political ideologues, perhaps we can call on them in more enlightened times to reacquaint us with the joys of asking questions we don't yet have the answers for.
Image at top from Pixietart's flickr photostream.
I'm sure by now you've all heard about the Bush administration's four-year campaign of illegal spying on American citizens. Last Saturday, the NY Times broke the story that the National Security Agency has been monitoring the communications of as many as 500 Americans at any given time. This monitoring went on without warrants, on Bush's personal order, in clear violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the Fourth Amendment.
Also revealed in the past week, the Pentagon is keeping a database of protests against military recruitment which labeled a kiss-in a credible threat. And it turns out the FBI is keeping tabs on probably every organization I respect in the United States. What else? A Dartmouth student who checked out Mao's Little Red Book was visited by Homeland Security agents. A German citizen was kidnapped by the CIA, flown to Afghanistan, held for five months, beaten and tortured, and finally let go on a deserted stretch of road in Albania.
These are only the revelations from the past week. It goes on.
VR members have had compelling personal reasons of late to fear arbitrary government power. All this abstract political stuff has a way of getting really damn real sometimes. No one is immune to spying, arbitrary arrest, or other government intrusions. Feeling a little unable to deal with the recent wave of paranoia-inducing stories, I was glad to find an email from Scott Boylston in our inbox this morning:
like me, i’m sure you’re deeply disturbed by the latest blatant attempt at desecrating our constitution by bush and his puppeteers. i’ve attached a poster design i just did in response to the events of this past weekend. the image is taken from bush’s press conference yesterday. maybe you can put a call out for quick responses to this latest tyranny? we as a country have acquiesced to his insanity so many times in the past (times when i thought that surely, our country could see through his lies), and i’m afraid this, too, will be railroaded down our throats with little resistance from our congress and our people. it seems to be a very important point to make a stand.
If anyone has poster or stencil designs related to free speech, free association, surveillance, spying, privacy, political prisoners, or police state tactics, send it in and we'll post in on the site for download. For now, I'm re-posting some designs Scott sent us last year below the fold:
PS --- Many people are speculating that the NSA snooping is aimed at online communication --- e-mail and IP addresses. On general principle, you should consider using the following tools for maintaining your privacy online: Firefox, PGP, and TOR. Anyone with a blog should read the EFF's guide on How to Blog Safely.
Mark Vallen has a great essay up on his blog Art for a Change responding to Larry Beinhart's recent article bemoaning the lack of "political" art in a recent group exhibit. Reading both Beinhart's original article and Vallen's reply made me think of our recent discussion with rations about art, marketing and authenticity, and I've got to say I'm still torn. Beinhart writes:
Our public dialogue is anemic. The Right has hijacked the pulpits. Public relations speech and imagery are the order of the day. Public policy is sold the same way as cheap goods at Wal-Mart, with no regard for their quality or utility, or our need for them, but only to move product and contribute to the grosses of the grossest....
152 artists were given an opportunity to show a small piece of work. Each and every one of them, individually, made a decision not to be political, social, religions or scientific.... the artists abdicated. Universally.
No czar or commissar told them to, no corporate sponsor paid them to, nobody from Homeland Security came around and hinted that they would be taking names, no influential critic said the age of relevance is dead, no greedy gallery owner said I can’t sell anything with a political or social theme.
No doubt he's painting with a broad brush here, but his frustration is familiar. Vallen's response, however, transcends the political/apolitical dichotomy Beinhart sets up by arguing that all art is political, whether the artist knows it or not:
Beinhart falls into the trap apolitical intellectuals in the art world often find themselves ensnared in; the notion that art is somehow beyond or removed from politics --- and that it only becomes political when artists make a concerted effort to make it so. For most people "political art" conjures up visions of clichéd Bush-bashing posters, works effortlessly categorized as propagandistic, easily separated from the mainstream --- and so dismissed without difficulty. It is a label given to a small number of works with a perceived or overt left/liberal bias, and as such, a categorization that deflects identifying the political workings and tendencies of the status quo and its attendant cultural institutions. The term "political art" is never used to describe the works of a David Hockney or Ed Ruscha, and the dominant cultural establishment that backs such artists is on no account referred to as "political" --- though it clearly is.
Vallen is making the case that "establishment" art is by virtue of its position conservative. (The history of CIA support for abstract expressionism would seem to back him up on this point).
In a related essay he makes a different point, asking if the "transcendent qualities of art" places it "above the corrupt world of politics and the vulgar materialism of society." All three essays are worth reading in full. I don't have any grand pronouncements here; I think I tend to support Vallen's argument, but I default to Beinhart's when I'm feeling frustrated with the state of the world, the art scene, and my own efforts.
Generally speaking though, Vallen's two arguments --- that all culture is political and that art can transcend conventional politics --- are pretty much my starting points for thinking about art, politics, commerce, advertising, freedom, hope, and all the rest. I'd like to hear what people think; drop us a line or leave a note in the comments.
Image at top: Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) by Mark Vallen.
As I am sure everyone knows, Stanely Tookie Williams was murdered by the State of California December 13th at 12:35 am PT by lethal injection at San Quentin State Prison. He was 51 years old and had spent 24 years on death row. Williams' execution has inspired an outpouring of support from various people and groups.
Today our friend Brandon Bauer sent us a beautiful stencil in honor of Williams' death, writing:
Another reason why the death penalty must be abolished. Stanley Tookie Williams is another casualty of the injustice system --- I made a stencil in his honor and have attached the template as a PDF. Feel free to download the image, print it out on cardstock, cut out the dark areas with an x-acto and get the image up on the street.
Click here to download the stencil template (1MB PDF file).
Art against the death penalty and prisons has played a vital role in informing the public about the prison system and offering support to those unjustly locked up. One great example was SAW's Art vs. Prisons. Another comes from the Center for the Study of Political Graphics. The following brief history introduces their exhibition, "Can't Jail the Spirit! Political Prisoners in the United States":
Throughout the twentieth century, posters have been one of the primary tools for organizing support for political prisoners. Potent graphics give witness to the prisoners' existence, inform the public about their status, mobilize support on their behalf, and prevent them from being forgotten by future generations. Can't Jail the Spirit! includes posters from the labor and anarchist movements of the early twentieth century, the McCarthy period, the Puerto Rican independence movement, the protest movements of the 1960s and 1970s, and concludes with current political prisoners. Nearly thirty years of posters demanding freedom for Leonard Peltier remind us that these posters have a life-and-death function for those still imprisoned.
Since 1976, when the death penalty was reinstated in America, over 1,000 "convicted" prisoners have been killed. Though support is still high, it is declining as more and more people become aware of the profound flaws in the judicial system. Governor George Ryan also caused a sensation on January 11, 2000, when he commuted over 100 death sentences in Illinois, saying:
He had concluded that capital punishment was applied unfairly and arbitrarily and risked executing persons who were innocent. For these reasons, the Governor said he would no longer "tinker with the machinery of death."
More recently, Mumia Abu-Jamal has finally won a chance to be heard in court. It has been nearly 25 years since Abu-Jamal's 1982 trial that put him on death row. During this time he has witnessed wide support for his release, including some of the most inspirational and informative art about the prison system and the death penalty. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia agreed on Decemeber 7, 2005, to hear arguments on three separate defense claims of constitutional violations during his trail and state appeals. The catch however is if he loses, he may end up back on death row as "the Third Circuit is also considering the prosecution's appeal of a lower court ruling that overturned Mumia's death sentence."
Regardless of what your thoughts are about the death penalty or Williams's case, there probably has not been a better time in recent memory for a productive dialogue about the issue, especially as Abu-Jamal's case, and others, develop in the coming months. Do your part in any way you can.
As a reminder the deadline for posters on the Prison Industrial Complex that we featured over the summer is quickly approaching. The show is scheduled for Spring 2006 and will be held at the Watts Towers Art Center.
Deadline is January 30th, 2006. Once again the guidlines and where to send:
Criteria for posters CSPG collects: 1). It must be produced in multiples such as silkscreen, offset, stencil, litho, digital output etc. 2). The poster must have overt political content. If you would like to create a poster for an organization doing prison work or to donate posters, please contact:
Center for the Study of Political Graphics
8124 West Third Street, Suite 211
Los Angeles, CA
a big thanks to Brandon for sending us the stencil!
Deadline: February 1st, 2006
Cut & Paint was a fantastic, 54-page poltical stencil template zine put together by Josh MacPhee, Nicolas Lampert and Colin Matthes with contributions from some of our favorite artists, including Claude Moller, Nicole Schulman, Klutch, Erik Ruin, Icky, Andalusia, Janet Attard, the three editors, and a couple dozen more.
Now's your chance to join this illustrious company. The follow-up will feature more artists, plus new sections of photos and a how-to guide for beginners as well as die-cut stencil templates for easy application.
They're looking for high-resolution black & white stencil sprays, 7x8 inches. The full call is below the fold:
We're almost sold out of the 400 copies we made of Cut&Paint #1 and we barely did any promotion, the zines sold themselves!
We've decided this success demands a follow-up, so we're putting together another issue of Cut&Paint and we need your help. Once again, Josh MacPhee, Nicolas Lampert and Colin Matthes are putting together a zine of stencil templates. This time around we plan on scaling back the size of the zine a little (legal size folded, so 7" x 8.5"), but to make up for the shrinking size we hope to include a set of die-cut stencil templates with the zine. That's right, pre-cut stencils ready to use!
Like issue #1, most of the zine will be filled with some of the best and most exciting stencil templates out there (black and white stencil images that can be cut out and used), so we're looking for your best stencil template ideas. This time around we're also open to multi-color pieces, so if you are interested send a clean black & white print of each layer, as well as a composite image.
In addition, we would like to expand the rest of the zine, too. This means more in the how-to section, so send along any new tips you've got. We want photos of stencils from your area, we'd like to run a couple spreads of regional stencil action, particularly from places we usually don't hear from. We'll also be including some writing on stencils as well, so if you have any articles you've been working on that deal with stenciling, public space, politics, etc., feel free to submit them.
Here's what we are looking for:
--- All designs should be 7x8 inches
--- Templates should be clean sprays of stencils on clean white paper. Flat black paint is preferable. We’ll be photocopying these templates, so keep the lines and edges as crisp as possible. In order to get a really clean print, you can spray little bit of spray-tack (like light spraymount) on the back of the stencil so it lays flat on the paper.
--- No racist, sexist, homophobic designs. Also, we’re really looking for smart and creative takes on what’s going on in the world, not copied portraits of movie stars or Japanese robots. Keep it original.
--- Stencils don’t have to be hit-you-over-the-head political (i.e. Fuck Bush, although that’s fine too), but they should be interesting to more than just you and your friends! The goal is to have stencil templates that other people will want to use.
--- Feel free to submit more than one template design
--- Tell us if you want your template credited to a name, and if so, what name (and contact information if you want, i.e. website, email, address, etc.)
The best designs will be used for the die-cuts, so send in great stuff and we might make 1000 pre-cut copies of you're stencil! We hope to keep the price at $5 or below, and distribute Cut&Paint #2 much further and wider than #1.
All templates that are chosen for the zine will become copyleft/copyriot (i.e. they can be freely copied and used by anyone, public domain). Everyone who has a stencil chosen for Cut&Paint #2 will get a free copy of the zine.
Send templates, photos, and writing to:
53 Third St.
Troy, NY 12180
or email hi-res (preferably 600dpi greyscale or 1200dpi line art) templates, photos (300 dpi) or writing to: josh [at] justseeds. org
If you have any questions, drop an email to animaltrap [at] yahoo. com or josh [at] justseeds.org
Speaking of badass non-confrontational temporary street art, San Francisco art collective Rebar pulled off an incredible intervention last month by turning a parking space into a park. Armed with rolls of sod, a shade tree, a bench, and nickels for the meter, they created an oasis of greenspace in the middle of downtown. Their explanation is smart as hell and worth reading in full:
The initial PARK(ing) intervention occurred on November 16, 2005 from noon until 2 p.m., without incident or interference from any level of institutional authority. Sort of makes you wonder what else you can do in a parking space . . .
Providing temporary public open space in a privatized part of town.
One of the more critical issues facing outdoor urban human habitat is the increasing paucity of space for humans to rest, relax, or just do nothing.
For example, more than 70% of San Francisco's downtown outdoor space is dedicated to the private vehicle, while only a fraction of that space is allocated to the public realm.
Feeding the meter of a parking space enables one to rent precious downtown real estate, typically on a 1/2 hour to 2 hour basis. What is the range of possible occupancy activities for this short-term lease?
Full description here. These kinds of imaginative interventions are really powerful --- we could use similar efforts here in New York!
Similar: Heavy Trash confronts gated communities & Chicago artists flip the script on Housing Authority. Found via Eyeteeth and Stay Free!, two excellent sites well worth reading every day.
Mr. Gallagher heads out on foot or on his bike with a backpack full of chalk, looking for shadows to trace. When he tells you that "everything is fair game," he means it. He has traced everything from hydrants to whole city blocks....
On a recent evening, a man named Steve stopped to watch Mr. Gallagher work, despite the cold. "A million times I walked by a street sign, how come I never thought to do something like that with a piece of chalk?" Steve asks. Mr. Gallagher smiles when he hears this, watching a new fan walk off down the street.
"It's very touching," he says sincerely. "People tell me 'you make me smile' or 'you make me stop and think,' and that's cool. I make a difference in people's lives. It inspires me to create more."
I stumbled across Ellis' shadow outlines in Park Slope while walking with a friend a few months ago. The very bright colors of the chalk highlights the contours of shadows you probably wouldn't have noticed otherwise. The effect is pretty mesmerizing: the shadows glow, and the sidewalk gains this weird illusion of depth. Just about everybody on the block was stopping to look, take photos, and talk about the tracings..
Jake points out on Gothamist that sidewalk chalking is not necessarily illegal, and Ellis states in the article that he goes chalking any time he feels like it, without fear of harassment or arrest. It's a reminder that art doesn't have to be confrontational or complicated to have an effect.
This email from Shaun in Pittsburgh came our way via the Street Art Workers email list:
I thought this was interesting, and a positive example of what happens when we release designs into the world. This is a design Claude (in SanFran) did a few years ago, I think for the Utopia/Distopia project. But those were printed blue, this appears to be reproduced on a photocopier or printer. I don't know if the person who put these up had one of the original stickers or if they got the image off our website, but there are a ton of these in and around my neighborhood in Pittsburgh, PA as of last month...
The original design can be found here. The 2005-2006 SAW posters are being selected right now --- a full gallery of downloads for the SAW archives is coming soon, so go bookmark Street Art Workers and keep checking back!
Political collage artist Judith Supine sent word of an impressive postering job at the Times Square recruitment office. You can check out a short video here. We asked about the inspiration for the action, and got this succinct response:
to quote e.e. cummings "there is some shit I will not eat"
If you're not familiar with Judith's work, check out her/his flickr page. The collages are always well-placed and seeing them in person is a real treat: their construction is delicate and subtle while the content still packs a real solid punch. Wonderful stuff.
There's a ton of great activist groups doing counter-recruitment work right now. The American Friends Service Committee has an informative collection of essays, and Citizen Soldier highlights the realities of military service, and Leave My Child Alone is a new campaign to protect high school students from intrusive and deceptive recruitment tactics. The Indypendent's CounterRecruiter is also a good resource for news on anti-recruitment activism.
If you are a teenage student, frustrated with authority and looking for a creative outlet, or a teacher looking to challenge the institutions of art education, or a graffiti head looking to be a mentor to young folks, here's something that might interest you:
My mom, a high school art teacher at Columbia High School in Maplewood, NJ recently showed me some of the work her students have produced. She encourages them to add personal elements to each art exercise they do. Clearly graffiti is an important element in these students' identities. One student drew a self-portrait incorporating graffiti style letters. Another drew a still life of wrenches with his name thrown up in the background. Another student drew a still life of his id tags (which each student is required to wear in the hallways) juxtoposed with his name written in bubble letters on a brick wall.
The recogniton of graffiti as an art form can lend itself to be a powerful lesson in the classroom.
Right now in New York City, graf legends Tracy 168, CoCo 144, Rate, Case 2, and JA are working with high school students at the Urban Academy to cover the walls of the school with tags, throw ups, and whatever else they can dream up. The school has been covered in chalkboard paint so that students and graf writers can piece up everywhere.
This is indeed a radical approach to art education, and one that teachers should take notice of. Teaching non-traditional methods of art to students encourages them to think critically about existing institutions of authority in a positive way.
In a recent New York Times article, teachers and administrators commented on the importance of creating a supportive venue for students to express themselves through graffiti:
"You can't act like it doesn't happen," said Roy Reid, an Urban Academy teacher who has created a class that centers on street art. "You have to try to direct it and channel it instead of just saying, 'Don't do it.' "
Even the principal Herb Mack expressed support for the project noting that it stands in opposition to Mayor Bloomberg's criminalization of graffiti:
"I'm not sure how it's going to be seen by Klein or Bloomberg," he added, referring to Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein and the mayor. (A spokeswoman for Chancellor Klein and the Department of Education said the department supported the project, but added, "We would expect the school to make clear both the importance of appreciating art and respecting property.")
Mr. Mack, one of the founders of Urban Academy, said he had watched it develop into an unlikely collaboration. "It's enriching for the kids to be able to see legitimate artists at work and to critique it," he said. "They see some of these guys as the da Vincis and van Goghs of their world. They know who they are, and they're excited that they're here. In fact, they can't believe they're here."
Seems every other month another ad agency hires another street artist to push another useless product on behalf another billionaire corporation. And each time, this causes an online controversy about the intersection of art and commerce. The latest centers around a campaign for some video game doodad, where writers in cities across the country were hired to paint a series zombie-eyed children holding said doodad. The ads appeared with accompanying text in a faux-graffiti style, and this has convinced some people that the ads are somehow interesting or worthy of attention.
Maybe it's just the headache talking, but I find the discussion about these ads as tiring as the ads themselves, and as uninteresting as the product they're pushing. The ads are generating some press about local anger over corporations sponsoring vandalism, and WoosterCollective had a series of posts a few weeks back debating the pros and cons of the campaign. Marc from Wooster --- himself an ad agency executive --- rode the fence:
The ads are open for interpretation. And we like this a lot. They don't hit you over the head with a two-by-four.... And most importantly, the characters are cute and infectuous. The ads are what you want them to be.
But here's the big problem with them:
At the end of the day - being deceptive never fucking works. Ever. Doesn't [the company] know that there's something called the Internet? The real lack of restraint is that the ads have been popping up all over the country. Because of sites like the Internet, the campaign gets exposed as a fraud by the same people they are trying to appeal to.
I think this is misguided for two reasons. First, no advertisement is "what you want it to be." Ads are, and can only be, what their sponsors want them to be. Ads have no purpose besides selling you something --- usually something you don't need --- and they have absolutely no meaning or message besides promoting a product. None.
Second, does anyone seriously think that the company cares about being "exposed as a fraud"? As long as you mention the name of the product, I doubt they care what you say about it. And the company isn't trying to appeal to graffiti artists or street art afficionados, they're trying to harness the energy and mystique of street art in order to appeal to people --- kids and their parents --- who know very little about the movement and sell them something that has nothing to do with the values or practices of that movement.
One of the most tiring arguments within this whole controversy is this one:
Whats so wrong with someone making a little dough to pay the rent or to buy a drink or some paint with their profit
Nothing. Fine. Go ahead. I work a shitty job too, but that's not the point. The point is, for every single artist that is paid big money to lend edginess to a boring product, there are hundreds of kids who do graffiti for free and put themselves at major risk every time they go out. The NYPD has made 2,230 graffiti arrests this year alone, almost double last year's number. Any discussion of the "mainstreaming" of street art or the ability of a few artists to get paid has to take that reality into account.
VR friends Garrison & Ray of Peripheral Media Projects are opening a store and commuity space in Bushwick next week. The store --- called Antimart --- opens next Thursday (December 8) and sounds fantastic. From their press release:
What would the world be like if people pushed to make their ideas reality? What if all those who said they cared actually supported their words through action? What if people didn’t view work as “work” because it was enjoyable? Antimart Inc, a revolutionary store in Brooklyn, answers these questions daily.
Please join Antimart, Inc. Thursday, December 8th, for the launch of the flagship store in the quaint, lovely community of sweet Morgantown (a.k.a. East Williamsburg, Bushwick, The Wick, whatever). Located at 49 Bogart Street, 1 short block from the Morgan Ave. stop on the “L” train, the shebang will begin at 6PM and roll ‘til at 10PM with live video and music performances, artwork, and gravity-defying feats throughout.
In addition to showcasing outrageously uncommon design, fine art, fashion, film, video, documentaries, books, magazines, music, and jewelry, among others, Antimart provides a place where people can experience community and creativity live and direct. Many of the world’s, let alone New York’s, loveliest minds are represented via music, performance, spoken word, digital art, vj/dj battles, art installations, exhibits, film screenings, guest speakers, and more. Antimart collaborates with individuals and groups thriving in diverse fields of creativity, ingenuity, and commerce such as art, design, music, architecture, engineering, film, fashion, and sculpture. Ideas and participation from the public are highly encouraged and Antimart is interested in producing, hosting, and assisting events and programs enriching the cultural landscapes within and outside of its store and community. Please join us in this bold creative partnership and cultural experiment as we step out and celebrate what it is to be a human being in our times.
Participating designers showcasing the eclectic will include Yes Labs, JunkieZ, Peripheral Media Projects, Plan D Clothing, Cannonball Press, Yoav Bergner, Ryan Greer, C-Spot Designs, Mike Force, Michael de Feo, Anne Arden McDonald, m ss ng p eces, Adbusters, Big Noise Films, Art Prostitute, Evil Twin Booking, Black-Irish Apparel, Imagenode, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, Marco Benevento, STS9, and more.
Antimart is the manifestation of a collection of ideas, of a vision, of people collaborating together to create something different, something meaningful, something sustainable, something with heart, soul, and substance. Most importantly, in creating this vibrant entity, we learn a lot about life and have loads of fun along the way.
Don't miss it. And if you're an artist or designer, you can contact the fellas through their website, antimart.net to see about participating in the new store.