An interview by Helen Soteriou
When was the PublicAdCampaign set-up and why?
PublicAdCampaign began when I started replacing advertisements on NYC train platforms in late 2000. I would create a single image and post it repeatedly over every ad in the station, usually covering between 30 to 90 ads at a time. While I continue to do individual projects like this, over the years PublicAdCampaign has grown to encompass many other activities.
Large scale civil disobedience projects like NYSAT, ToSAT and MaSAT enlist the help of large communities of artists and activists to pull off massive citywide advertising takeovers. Augmented Reality has allowed us to begin to imagine a more democratically curated visual environment in a soon to be pervasive virtual world, and keeping a long running PublicAdCampaign website dedicated to the intersection of advertising and art in public space has allowed us to keep current of trends and issues affecting our public spaces. While these projects vary widely, they all in some way engage the larger question of how and with what do we want to adorn our shared public spaces? The way in which we choose to use our visual public space has a direct impact on the society we live in and the values we, as individuals, hold dear. It’s a very important question to address as we become an increasingly urban species.
How have you seen advertising develop over the years?
The question I’d rather answer here is how has advertising not developed over the years. Advertising has continued and will continue to develop more and more affective ways of communicating their messages to you; you the consumer. Whether or not you believe those messages are bad for you or not is a personal question, but for anyone concerned about their effect I would suggest reading this report put together by the WWF and the PIRC.
That said, as technology moves forward, so do advertising techniques. The methods will become more insidious and much harder to avoid. What has not developed over the years that I have been watching outdoor advertising companies, are their very basic behaviors. Because advertising is a competitive business in which large profits are at stake, an unbridled hunger to overwhelm our cities has been the sole motivating factor behind these companies behavior. Laws are broken, lobbyists buy political will, and the public is left entirely out of the debate, if you can call it a debate.
In most cities, advertising companies have framed their business as an integral part of the cities economic potential and so questioning its ultimate existence is not even a part of the conversation. More and more we see outdoor advertising developing integral relationships with our cities infrastructure, undermining our ability to question its removal. This trend must stop.
Aside from the work on the streets – have you had any direct contact with advertisers?
I have had many interactions with outdoor advertising companies over the years. They are often what you would expect between an anti advertising activist and an advertising company. That said there are a few individuals who I remain close to for a number of reasons. You know how the saying goes.
How many installations do you think you have put up so far?
I have no idea. Sometimes I put up my own work which can be 1 -100 pieces, sometimes I help organize massive removals which are always in the hundreds, sometimes I just steal the damn phonebooth or billboard off the street to use as a frame for a gallery piece. That’s a really hard number to pin down.
The most rewarding and challenging projects are by far the Street Advertising Takeover projects which have happened in New York, Toronto, and Madrid so far. In these projects I work with a core group of artists and activists to illegally take back hundreds of advertisements in a city in a single precision hit.
It’s more like a protest than it is an art project, or maybe its more of an illegal re-imagining of the city in an effort to alter an ingrained perception that our public spaces are meant to be riddled with private commercial concerns. After months of planning with this core group of activists, we call on an international community of artists and public individuals to provide us with the content to replace the ads with. Hundreds of public works replace ads all over the city in a very short amount of time, often lasting only a day or so before they are removed by a baffled outdoor advertising company. Unlike individual takeovers, these organized protests allow us to speak to a much larger community with a single voice.
Do you think the general publics views have been changing towards advertisers over the years?
I think outdoor advertising has had a long history of battling against the public in their continued effort to expand. Public outrage has ranged from violations of beauty to the psychological detriments of ingesting thousands of consumer prompts every day. While all of the arguments against outdoor advertising have some credence, it is important to link ‘advertising’ directly to other social problems like depression, over consumption, global warming, and economic inequality.
By linking these social problems with the messages, I think it becomes clear that proliferating them in our public spaces where their consumption cannot be mitigated is an inherently bad idea. If this were the case I think the public’s views on advertising in public spaces would be very different and we might begin to see municipalities questioning outdoor advertising’s existence on public health grounds.
What motivates you to continue?
My ever increasing knowledge that advertising in general and therefore outdoor advertising’s monopoly on public space, has a detrimental affect on the society we live in.
What does the future hold for the Public Ad Campaign?
Beginning in 2012 we will be working with The Heavy Projects on an Augmented Reality mural application which will develop an extensive network of virtual murals around NYC. If private property laws and the overwhelming cost of using public visual space (due to advertisings deep pockets) prevent democratic use of our shared visual environment, then circumventing both of these issues by employing Augmented Reality seems like an interesting experiment in public media curation. Along side this PublicAdCampaign will be moving forward with Street Advertising Takeovers in other cities around the world.
BY HELEN SOTERIOU