All posts tagged: Public Ad Campaign

XAM : “Your Ad Here” Tiny Billboards

A funny thing happened on the way to Public Space.

Street Artist XAM has started a new series of miniature billboards that poke their little fingers in the eye of advertising and in the process call into question what kind of messages are legal or illegal. After the Public Ad Campaign last year successfully drew attention to the thousands of outdoor spaces in New York City that were illegally being used for advertising and poster glut was cut, the public became a little more aware of the street fight for their eyeballs.


Not sure what XAM means to say here, but they’re clever installations that can cause a cringe and a chuckle at the same time.  These petite Out Of Home (OOH) message platters first seen in LA last week mounted on the back of street signs appear to be faithful reproductions of their gigantic cousins, and ironically the same size as that glowing rectangle you have in your purse or pocket right now.


See more XAM stuff on the Flickr page here.

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Reclaiming Public Space: Artists Tripping Over Each Other to Help

There don’t seem to be buckets of money funding these Public Ad Campaigns to do this switch-a-roo stuff but the people who create and execute them are so earnest and straight-talking…  And from what we have witnessed and heard, artists of all stripes everywhere are lending them a hand in taking over advertising space.

Trend alert! Give it a name! Commodify it! I have the Tumbler page ready.

This week in Toronto a large number of illegally posted spaces were re-posted with art, by street artists and otherwise.  Revolutionary? Not really, unless the aforementioned MONEY is an issue.

In an explanation of the project, a press release for the installation says this:

“While it is understood that commercial messages do not share our collective interests, we still do not question its use of our shared environments. In an effort to invigorate debate about how commercial interests are using public space and raise questions about how our communities desire to use those same spaces, non-violent civil disobedience projects like TOSAT engage the public in a dialogue of participation.”


Brooklyn’s Bast in Toronto is replacing an ad in one of 41 allegedly illegal kiosk displays.

For filmmaker Sarah Berman, who made the brief and to-the-point documentary (below) with Jordan Seiler and friends, it is all about taking back public space that has been illegally seized by corporations. When you consider that just a couple of years ago Jordan was pretty much a lone wolf howling about illegal billboards, and this year the City of New York BOOTED one giant company who had been plastering willy-nilly all over Gotham thousands of posters – it sounds like the message resonates.Brooklyn-Street-Art-Toronto-Public-Art-QuelBeast_2

Brooklyn’s Quel Beast in Toronto

And today it’s not only the Public Ad Campaign who is reclaiming public space – you’ll notice an up-tick in the PosterBoy-ish messing with subway posters in the last months. You can dismiss it as pranksterism – but perhaps that’s just on the surface. Maybe it’s also because today’s teens and twenty-somethings have been cajoled and hoodwinked from every angle to buy “stuff” since the forceps clamped their soft skulls – and they see where all of that breathless pursuit of “stuff” has gotten us.  Maybe it is just because freedom of speech is a deeply rooted need and certain parts of “the public” want to give, not just receive, messages.

Sarah Berman explains Corporate Graffiti with Jordan and John.

Spoiler Alert: Artists Win

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Here Today, Gone Tomorrow: Public Advertising and Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow: Public Advertising and Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Brooklyn streets had a whole lot of blank white space on Sunday.  Big rectangles of white were staring at people on Bedford Avenue as the sidewalks filled with locals and vendors.


Tabula Rasa

The sparkling noon-time sun felt a little eerie as bed-headed late-night revelers and smartly dressed church-goers poured out to the street to see that the advertising billboards were bare.

Honey, I don't know what shampoo to buy! (photo Steven P. Harrington)

Honey, I don’t know what shampoo to buy. Help!

Both the heavily sprayed set-n-teased church ladies and the brightly hued Rayban wearing hipsters turned and looked at the openness, not quite registering what looked strange. They tried to remember what was there before, and walked on. One of the new professionals clutched a coffee mug and made harried phone calls.

On another topic, look at all those friggin bikes! Good think we have lots of new bike lanes in NY. (photo Steven P. Harrington)

On another topic, look at all those friggin bikes! Good think we have lots of new bike lanes in NYC. (photo Steven P. Harrington)

Of course it was only a short time before those ghosted quadrilaterals began to look like canvasses to enterprising artists and by late afternoon the normally buzzing neighborhood was augmented by speedily created art on the billboards.  Artists and their friends looked a little nervous and very pleased as they completed the takeover of illegal advertising spaces all over the once-bohemian territory.

The billboards are considered illegal because they are placed on walls without permission of the City agencies that regulate outdoor advertisements in New York, according to the Public Ad Campaign and a growing number of community and arts groups who are drawing attention to it.   According to the criticisms leveled at OOH (Out Of Home) advertisers, the process for controlling the quantity and location of these advertising messages is almost completely without civic voice, and the penalties, if any, are so nominal that they are considered part of overhead expenses for the companies.  In short, goes the argument, the voice of the people is being drowned out by money.


Yellow bulldozers in the patch, and a big crane against a white sky. I think I need one of those explanation labels please.

In fact, the evidence of advertisers deep pockets may be revealed in the expeditious re-postering that took place within hours, sometimes minutes, of the billboards city-wide on Sunday.  Various news accounts report about 100 (of an estimated 5,000) billboards were converted by volunteers and quickly re-claimed by advertisers, and that 5 arrests were made for unspecified violations. We didn’t see that kind of action in this neighborhood at all.

As recently as Monday night however, one set of billboards in Williamsburg were yet to be re-postered.  Ironically the artist message on the signs were predictive – multicolored letters comprised of commercial paint chips spelling out the words, “Here Today” and “Gone Tomorrow”.

A simple message.

A simple blurry message caught from a bicyle.

Aside from the legal, ethical, and aesthetic aspects of the events, the feeling on the street was pretty much “business as usual” with the additional feature of live art performance on a Sunday afternoon. We spoiled New Yorkers are feted to live street performance on a pretty regular basis, whether it is musicians in the subway, break dancers in the park, or newly minted street artists laboring on a big blank billboard.

An artist identified as Putu paints.

An artist identified as Putu paints.

As is the absolute norm today, many pictures were taken by pedestrians with a myriad of personal electronic devices, and many artists were engaged briefly by questions and compliments.

While trouble was reported elsewhere in the city with conflict between artists and the poster company employees, this little nook of Brooklyn known for a vibrant artist community had only one reported inquiry from two passing police officers. According to the artist, luck was on his side as the officers expressed appreciation for his work and continued down the street.

Kenny Aquiles, a performance artist by profession, blocked out in yellow a large portion of the billboard with a canary yellow paint, articulating a silhouette of a cityscape of some sort across the top.  Then with large tipped black marker in hand he rapidly printed sentences from canvas edge to edge, a wandering rant about grilled cheese sandwiches interrupted only by a him sprinting back to the other end of the billboard to continue.

We thought it was a cityscape, but it turned out to be cheese. (photo Steven P. Harrington)

We thought it was a cityscape, but it turned out to be cheese. (photo Steven P. Harrington)

BSA walked by after the first sentence and a half were complete and while he raced back and forth writing, trying not to fall down the steps, we immediately thought of those game shows where contestants race through a grocery store to win prizes.  Well located, Kenny was performing on the high-profile stage of the Bedford and North 7th subway entrance, with a steady stream of subway riders washing up and down the stairway behind him, sometimes stopping to take photos or discuss with other audience members gathered. Most people just watched to see what the story he was writing would turn out to be.

After he was finished we asked him some questions to better understand what was going on.

A billboard temporarily repurposed. (photo Steven P. Harrington)

A billboard temporarily repurposed. (photo Steven P. Harrington)

Brooklyn Street Art: It looks like you are a more traditional writer, rather than a graffiti “writer”. Can you talk about what you usually do to make art?
Kenny: I like to make stories about things I like.  I know that may not be the most profound artist statement, but I try to not to make writing/art that revolves around snark and sarcasm. Most of my current work on the writing end is just writing over-drawn essays on things that made me feel safe on Saturday mornings as a child. Like cartoons, chocolate milk, and grilled cheese.

um, what?

Um, what? See below for a full-transcript.

Brooklyn Street Art: What is this text about, and what inspired it?
Kenny: Well, the topic of this particular story was grilled cheese sandwiches. I had already written a short story revolving around grilled cheese, but recent events like my failed attempt to eat 20 in one sitting and my on-the-fly decision to buy bright yellow paint made me want to improvise something.  It was just a lot more fun.

Art and Advertising. (photo Kenny Aquiles)

Art and Advertising. (photo Kenny Aquiles)

Brooklyn Street Art: As you were creating this piece, it looked like a stream of consciousness, occasionally interrupted by street noise and running from one end of the mural to the other.
Kenny: I studied ‘Improv’ for a few years and I also do a lot of performance art where fluid monologues are essential.  The limited space (17 feet wide by 8 feet long), people gathering as they exit the subway station, the occasional person yelling “what are you doing, Mister ?,” and of course the fear of being arrested (I don’t look good in cuffs), put me in a very different writing state than usual. Usually I’m hanging at a coffee shop typing on my laptop, which is a different vibe.

Brooklyn Street Art: What interested you in being involved with this project?
Kenny: I’m usually highly skeptical towards activists etc, but this project has a personal stake, that being the city I live in and love. I’m by no means an ‘adbuster’ or  anti-capitalist leftist. I actually work within the advertising world and here’s a secret – a lot of higher profile people involved in this project do too.  I’m no spokesperson for NYSAT, but I do know what the NPA (the advertising company) do is illegal, and straight up ugly.

Teetering on the edge of a debate over legality.

Teetering on the edge of a debate over legality.

Brooklyn Street Art: What surprised you about this experience?
Kenny: I was half way done with my story, then two officers stopped to watch the small crowd that gathered.  They eventually leaned in on the subway entrance and exclaimed “Excuse me sir, do you have a permit for what you’re doing ?” They asked me to step down from the ledge then asked me for identification. Turns out I got the one sympathetic officer who went to SVA. He simply told me to hurry up and enjoy the rest of my day. I wish I was making this up …

Brooklyn Street Art: Are you doing any interesting projects in the near future?
Kenny: My friend Jessee and I write experimental comedy shows and perform them the last Thursday of every month at Hugs on N6th street but on a street-level, probably not, since there aren’t that many wide open spaces where I can uninterruptedly scrawl 400 words.

Kenny emailed us the entire text, which we paste here:

Too much text to paste here but basically the author/performer recounts a contest with a friend where he tried to eat 20 grilled cheese sandwiches but barfed after 15 and blew a blood vessel in his eye.


This second “intervention” by the Public Ad Campaign may have had a small impact, if any, on the pedestrians on the street, as few interviewed were aware of what was happening or why.  What makes the actions a hard sell for some is that the takeovers themselves may be considered “illegal”, even as their purpose is to draw attention to “illegal” business behavior.  All things considered, this seems a pretty harmless stunt that aims to raise awareness through subsequent retelling of the story.  What impact the Public Ad Campaign will have on the permitting process for outdoor advertising continues to unfold as more people weigh in the discussion.

For more about the Public Ad Campaign click HERE

For more about Kenny Aquiles click his website HERE

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Public Ad Campaign Aims to Reclaim Ad Space for Public Space


Creative Commons License photo credit: anderspace

There are so many messages flying at you every day –

Messages from your neighbor “Turn that thumping music down!“,

your boss,”Going forward we’re going to need you to be more proactive in this area“,

your mom,”I love you, honey“,

and of course, advertising, “You’re in good hands with Allstate, Reach out and touch someone, The quicker picker-upper, A little dab’ll do ya, Please don’t squeeze the Charmin, It’s Miller Time, Drivers wanted, and Some times you feel like a nut, some times you don’t

Visual pollution
This image from Canada shows a campaign to question postering – even if it is dancing bears doing ballet! (photo Loozrboy)

Creative Commons License photo credit: Loozrboy

While you may limit the messages from your mother, it seems less likely you can limit the ones from advertisers every day. They are even posted over urinals in bathrooms, for crying out loud. There are messages from advertisers on your phone, at the checkout counter, on the floor in the subway, on lightposts, on websites, – holy Jesus and Mohammed they are everywhere!

An approved mural by artist Connor Harrington was plastered over by advertising in Soho recently. (animation Steven P. Harrington)
A mural by artist Conor Harrington was plastered over by advertising in Soho recently. (animation Steven P. Harrington)

How do those messages get to you on the street?  There are laws for these things, and there are certain spots that are approved by the public, and certain ones that permission is denied for. But what happens a lot these days is that big outdoor ad companies make more money if they can erect more posters and billboards, and they know that they won’t be punished most of the time. If they are, it will take a long time and the penalty will be a tiny amount compared to how much money they make.

Gotta love the tourists!  Times Square is a paeon to new advertising
Gotta love the tourists! Times Square is a rapid and continuous bombardment of advertising messages, and sometimes you just have to snap a picture of the good ones. (photo Steven P. Harrington)

And don’t even compare this sheer quantity of illegal billboarding happening to the amount of illegal street art there is – it dwarfs it in square footage and paper and paste and hands and feet by 10,000 to 1 (not scientific but I’m guessing).  But of course, it’s all up for discussion.

This Grey Gardens campaign was splashed across construction sites all over lower Manhattan in the spring. Of course we love the movie but still....

This Grey Gardens campaign was splashed across construction sites all over lower Manhattan in the spring. Of course a lot of New Yorkers love the movie, but was the postering approved by the City?.... (Edith 'Big Edie' Bouvier Beale: Aren't you going to feed, uh, Whiskers, Edie? Come on, go feed Whiskers. No, don't eat it; give it to Whiskers, please!)

So, in the past few years some people have been drawing attention to the fact that slowly but surely all of your public space is being covered by private companies messages. And there is a gradual awareness of this fact, and a movement to re-claim public space, or at least reclaim the space that has been taken without permission.

This poster from a community group in Chinatown protesting illegal and unethical behavior is probably illegal
Last month this wall had a poster from a community group in Chinatown protesting illegal and unethical behavior of landlords and real estate developers. It was probably illegal. (photo Steven P. Harrington)

And here's the same wall today (iphone photo Steven P. Harrington)

And here's the same wall today with tons of commercial posters - ? (iphone photo Steven P. Harrington)

Here’s a video about one group, Public Ad Campaign, that took a proactive and positive pleasant approach to reclaiming public space last spring in New York. They identified locations of outdoor advertising that had not been approved by the City, and replaced the images with hand-made art by a few of the thousands of artists who live here. Amazingly, most of the advertising was replaced in a day! Wow!

POSTER SCHMOSTER! The Bayer Company’s former Headquarters in Leverkusen, Germany is now a so-called “Media Facade” Built by ag4 media facade GmbH and GKD AG, the massive display apparently consists of 5.6 million LEDs that cover the entire 17,500 square meters of the building, and which can be lit up at will 24 hours a day. How does that affect the people in a city?  (original source Public Ad Campaign site)

Someone’s favorite quotes from Grey Gardens

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