Thursday, February 08, 2007

GRAFITTI OR SOCIAL CHANGE?

art institutions are a severely limited arena of reception for ideas about public issues --Robbie Conal


If I can't take my coffee break,
Gone is the sense of enterprise
...something within me dies.
-- How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying


I was born with a "Question Authority" bumper sticker metaphorically stuck on the back of my car. I grew up with that expression (and what it represents) as my moral imperative. But I've been worried lately. I've been worried because it doesn't seem to be turning out the way I thought it would. Seems a QA attitude is not necessarily conducive to civil society.

It all depends on who's the authority I suppose. I seem to have the easiest time applying it to government and politics. But at what point do the concepts of "questioning" and the notion of "participating" intersect?

Becoming a manager was a pivotal point in my life. A place where I had to make the transition from "hating the man" to "being the man". That's what we called "selling out" in the 70's. Yet it was eye-opening seeing the other side of the coin. Here were the grown-up headaches, here were the false workers comp claims that drove our operating costs thru the roof, here were the inebriated employees driving company vehicles and exposing us to unimaginable liability, here were the whining, complaining, slacking employees always wanting one more raise, but never doing anything to deserve it! Arrrrrrrgggggggggggggggg

That's when the light first went on...so this is why the company had rules, policies, drug testing, insurance requirements, safety committees... Something inside me cried "nooooooooooooooo". No, I did not like that moment at all. Who wants to come to terms with anything so oppressive, so infringing on individuality, so authoritarian!

That is why, when I saw my first "Obey Andre the Giant" poster plastered on a electric company cabinet, I felt conflicted. The wage-slave in me felt freed, the manager in me felt assaulted. (Sigh)

OK, here's the slightly awkward segue: I have been ranting lately about the Graffiti blanketing my neighborhood. Yet my inner artist feels how strongly the artistic impulse is, the struggle to say "this is me". That impulse survives even when all other vestiages of appropriate social behavior have been lost.

Then again, I learn something new every day, and that something today is "Guerrilla Postering". Fathered by the legendary Robbie Conal, who provides videos, website and list serves to explain the techniques, the art...and even the etiquette of clandestinely plastering your posters on public property (in the midnight hours of course).

Question of the day: Can you can be an activist and cover your a** ?

REFERALS:
Darwin has a posse
Obey Andre the Giant

TANGENT: God, there are endless spin offs on this topic. For example, back in September, I wrote a post on Guerrilla Marketing called Your Name Here. At the time I was quite smitten with the idea. Actually, I still am, albeit on unsteady ground about destruction of public property. Don't get me wrong, there are a multitude of opportunities for Guerilla Art, Marketing, Advertising, etc. without resulting in illegal or anti-social means.

Which brings us to the most recent act of a guerrilla advertising campaign...the Turner Broadcast "incident". File it under "how an underground cartoon show "Aqua Teens Hunger Force" was translated into a national terrorist scare...".

Get a sense of humor people! Do we really have to go so totalitarian that individualist artists will be cowering in the corners fearing that homeland security (substitute death squad here?) will be banging on our doors some night?

Obey

Obey

Obey


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5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. Perhaps activism, much like art, is a very subjective matter. One persons' activism is another persons' advertisement. Slapping a thousand posters up to protest an injustice seems like a cool idea, but what if that is really an ad campaign. Does the intention behind the act justify it? (yes I know we have all heard the "does the end justify the means argument") But let's be honest. There is no way of truly proving anyone's intentions. So it would seem to me, that in all fairness, public displays of activism/art/advertisment should all fall under the same jurisdiction. If you post anything in a "PUBLIC" location, then it should be done in a legitimate fashion. On a slight tangent, how come people never slap these posters on a private house. Why has this line never been crossed. People don't have a problem defacing a building that is owned by a big company or a rich individual, but never have I seen someone putting this so called artwork on an indivduals home (at least in the suburbs). Maybe these posters should move to more daring locations to really prove a point, or are they just too afraid to risk the vengance of homeowners?

Anonymous said...

A moment of enlightenment.. If you follow or aspire to "Obey" posters then you are a lamb among blind sheep(His SHEEP!). Best said here.."Slapping a thousand posters up to protest an injustice seems like a cool idea, but what if that is really an ad campaign. Does the intention behind the act justify it?" The real deal.. John Carpenter's "They Live".. NOT SHEPARD FAIREYS' IDEA..as if he's capable of one.

Colin Purrington said...

My solution to the question you pose is to put the art on magnetic inkjet paper. The "stickers" only stick to iron-containing metals, but the advantage is they are trivial to remove, and indeed I hope that people _will_ remove them (and take them home for their refrigerators).

Trucha said...

It feels good to be bad (and that's bad with a small b). I think that's some of what's behind the Obey/et. al posters. Going out and "illegally" plastering them on electric boxes and other public-domain-type places (after midnight) produces a rush. I think "the message" is secondary.

With that being said, I'm pretty mischievous but I'm also pretty law-abiding (DOH!), so I'll just share a couple potential pranks that I'm enjoying right now solely in my imagination. First off, there are the big advertisements for a certain organization across the street from the Staples Center. Those are ripe for tinkering with. The trick would be to modify them, but not so drastically as to stand out without a second look. The current text reads something like, "There goes those kids in those green shirts again!" or something like that. I'd like to modify the original with something like, "There goes those kids in those green shirts again--WTF!" :) I just get a sweetly subversive kick out of that, I don't know why. One part of me imagines a board member from that same organization exiting a Lakers game, after spending the last couple hours in their luxury box, and proudly pointing out "his/her" sign to their carmates on their way back to Brentwood. I'm not even sure there'd be any bewilderment of their part, and that's part of what makes the second version funny to me. From another angle, however, the second version also seems a fitting phrase for "those kids in those green shirts." WTF really is going on in that department?

I also think the new corporate logo for the same organization is also ripe for manipulation. An easy one is replacing the plant leaves in the middle with a marijuana leaf. That seems a truer fit on many levels. I'm sure there are many other possibilities, as well, that perhaps we can conjure up over lunch some time. :) By the way, I really like that idea of magnetic printing "paper"--I could definitely see some office possibilities with that one.

Colin Purrington said...

The magnetic paper also permits stickering of moving vehicles, as long as you can be discreet as you slap them on. I've only done this once, but it was fun. I also give my magnetoDarwins to my kids, and nobody ever, ever looks twice at a cute little kid pasting stickers around. That's why they make such good drug runners, too, but that's an unrelated issue.