In the ground breaking book, Reproduce & Revolt, my fellow co-editor, Josh MacPhee, makes a case for the role of artists in reclaiming public space for the purposes of educating the public about issues or agitating them to take action. He explains:
We live and breathe the visual. Our culture depends the most on sight, and privileges the eyes... As corporations have spent obscene amounts of money on advertising and product design, they’ve learned a lot of lessons about how people receive information and the way we all respond to our visual environment. This is the environment an activist steps into. In order to radically change society we’re going to need a lot of people on our side, and we’re going to have to be able to convince them a new and better world is possible. But we aren’t on a level playing field. The audience we are trying to reach is already being attacked by upwards of 2000 advertising messages a day!
One of the reasons that the poster is my medium of choice is due to its ability to be reproduced and to exist in various locations at on time. Unlike a painting which may hang in a gallery, a poster can hang in the grungiest of places and still blend in like part of the landscape. The fact that posters are often printed on paper gives it a lower per-unit value and so posters are more likely to stay up than say, a banner. Plus they are light, relatively to transport, and can be folded, rolled, wheatpasted, given away, shipped at minimal costs, and reused for other things like shipping!
Art that deals with political issues provides an opportunity for both the artists and the viewer to think critically about an issue, to ask questions, to inquire about alternatives, and to imagine a reality other than the status quo. In my artistic practice, I try to place my work in public spaces where people are doing activities such as waiting or spaces where people day dream. This includes lobbies, classrooms, waiting rooms, bus corners, bus stops and mass transit vehicles. I'm a bit bored with just doing posters so in recent years I have began branching out to other mediums, including online mediums. Recently, I've been discovering some awesome instances of artists reclaiming public space. Here are some notable examples which include some of my own work:
CAPITALISM IS OVER IF YOU WANT IT, by Paz de la Calzada & Eliza Barrios (San Francisco, CA)
Artist Statement: "By are using news stands located along Market and Montgomery Street as "vehicles to deliver information", we intend to send bi/weekly messages through the windows of these structures. Altering the visual landscape of the pedestrian/urban environment, the messages will be a mixture of iconography and slogans that call attention to the economy, consumerism and un-sustainability of the capitalistic culture." See more by clicking here
ARTIST AGAINST THE GRAIN, Film by Ann Kaneko (Lima, Peru)
Artists each held an oversize letter sign and stood in front of the National Palace of Justice, where laws get made.
For every artist, the need to create and be heard is as basic as food
and shelter. But what happens when you live in a country where the state
clamps down on free thinkers, forcing artists to censure themselves? Read more by clicking here
YOUTH BILL OF RIGHTS, Collaboration between Favianna Rodriguez & Youth 4 Change Alliance (Y4C) (Providence, RI)
I recently completed a piece with Y4C depicting local youth and their demands to the city government. The final design is rolling around Providence on 35 buses. The youth demands on the banners include, "Right to Employment, Right to Health, & the Right to Education." The youth in the piece are members of Y4C.
BILLBOARD ALTERNATIONS SALUTING ISRAEL'S RAID ON GAZA FLOTILLA, by the California Department of Corrections (CDC)
Artist Statement reads: The CDC recognizes that our colleagues in the Israeli Defense Force
(IDF) may require additional support and financing as they expand
Israeli jurisdiction into international waters. Annual US aid to Israel
will increase to only $3.15 billion by 2013. Although our Israeli allies
are thankful for such generosity, the CDC believes that America can do
better. In order to encourage additional tax-supported financial
donations for Israel, the CDC launched the “Blank Check” billboard
campaign. The corrected billboards read, “THANKS FOR THE BLANK
CHECK, AMERICA,” featuring a US Treasury bank note for $7,000,000. The
amount is a daily average of America’s $2.70 billion aid package for
Israel in fiscal year 2010. Read more by clicking here