“Bob-omb,” an all-GIF augmented reality exhibition in NO AD

February 20th, 2015 | By | 1 Comment »
A screenshot from Bob-omb, featuring stills of art by James Kerr (Scorpion Dagger) and Dave Whyte.

A screenshot from Bob-omb, featuring stills of art by James Kerr (Scorpion Dagger) and Dave Whyte.

Wow. That headline is full of some jargon and gibberish… Sorry. Let me explain…

Today marks the launch of the latest exhibition in NO AD, a new evolution for the smartphone app that simulates a world in which New York City’s subway station advertisements are replaced with public art. NO AD, which I’ve written about before, uses augmented reality to digitally replace the ads on your phone’s screen. Here’s how it works.

NO AD has become a really interesting exhibition space, somewhere between a digital exhibition and a guerrilla street art exhibition. The very platform is an artwork, so NO AD’s art exhibitions exist within another work of art, and the platform gets you thinking as much as the art it displays.

I’m honored that the NO AD creators (between PublicAdCampaign, The Heavy Projects, and The Subway Art Blog under the umbrella of Re+Public) asked me to curate the first exhibition NO AD made up entirely of animated GIF art. That exhibition, titled Bob-omb, launched today and includes artwork from by The Barkers, Caitlin Burns, Dave Whyte, Hrag Vartanian, James Kerr – Scorpion Dagger, Jeremyville, Maori Sakai, Molly Soda, Paolo Čerić aka Patakk, Ryan Seslow, The Current Sea, YoMeryl, and Zack Dougherty.

In the past, the vast majority of content in NO AD has been static images, but Bob-omb takes full advantage of the platform by focusing exclusively on animated pieces, transforming static advertisements into dynamic artworks.

Bob-omb is an effort to weaponize GIF art as a tool for reimaging public space while simultaneously highlighting the variety and depth possible with the medium. The artists range from filmmakers to illustrators to journalists, and their work varies from hyper-short documentary videos to abstract digital illustration.

To view Bob-omb, simply download NO AD for your iPhone or Android device (or update it if you’ve already got the app on your phone), find a New York City subway station, open the app, and start pointing your phone at the ads. Or download/update the app and try the test image below.

I want to give a big thank you to all of the artists in Bob-omb and the team behind NO AD for this opportunity.

test image

Test image: Download NO AD and use this image to see how it works.

Images courtesy of NO AD


Category: Featured Posts, Gallery/Museum Shows, Vandalog Projects | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

So we interviewed the host of Street Art Throwdown…

February 3rd, 2015 | By | 6 Comments »
An illegal wildposted advertisement for Street Art Throwdown in Philadelphia, torn down and thrown in the trash.

An illegal wildposted advertisement for Street Art Throwdown in Philadelphia, torn down and thrown in the trash.

Today we’re posting an interview that RJ and I conducted, but which we’re conflicted about. It’s an interview with Justin BUA, host of the upcoming tv show Street Art Throwdown, which premieres tonight on Oxygen.

Frankly, the show makes us a bit sick. It’s a contest/reality show like Project Runway or Work of Art, but with a focus on street art. Commenting on the show, some of the most respected people in the street art community have said “Don’t know whether to laugh or cry” (Martyn Reed), “Can we call it over now?” (Raymond Salvatore Harmon), and “Fuck this fame hungry ‘like me’ mainstream culture desperate for peer acceptance. … Any person who thinks this is art – fuck you too- it’s not. … Do not confuse fame with talent. Shame on The Street Art Throwdown, Justin Bua and Lauren Manganaro for selling out this culture” (Artist asked to remain anonymous). Okay, so we haven’t actually seen the show yet, but from the casting call, online video teasers, and common sense about reality tv, that all sounds about right.

Our negative visceral reaction left us wondering: What the hell does BUA think he’s doing? So we asked, and it seems like he came back with some honest answers.

RJ and Caroline: How do you respond to prominent members of the global street art community who suspect that Street Art Throwdown will be an exploitative dumbing-down of the contestants and the culture?

It would be nice to know who those “prominent members” that you are referring to are? Because there are many “prominent members” who are actually appearing on the show like Ron English, Mear One, OG Slick, Lady Pink, Claw Money, Jules Muck and others who thought this was a great idea and not an exploitative one.  This is TV, a collaborative medium, so there are always concessions.  That being said, the good of making this into a TV show out weighs the bad for me.  The good is that this show gives a platform for a beautiful art form that the majority of the world views as vandalism.   Most of America thinks the average street artist is a hooded vandal lurking in the shadows tagging on public property with no artistic veracity.  This show is a good educational tool to showcase not only the skill sets of the contestants but their unyielding necessity to paint.  Also the captive TV audience, who might never get a glimpse at a true master artist like Mear One  will get the opportunity to see how powerful his craft and other judges and competitors artists skills are.

There are many artists, who I consider prominent, who have done various commercial projects that many would consider “exploitative” like Shephard Fairey’s Nike campaigns—Nike is considered by some an exploitative corporate conglomerate monster. Futura 2000’s collaboration with the alcohol company Hennessy, and the list goes on… Most artists I know, including myself, have done work for “the man” whose companies’ integrity is suspect.  Artists need recognition and there is no bigger and mightier podium than Television.  There is a difference between “selling out” and having an actual say in the discussion. I respect debate more than I respect shutting people down when you don’t agree. This show furthers a debate and let’s people in instead of locking them out.

Does Street Art Throwdown maintain the illegality that is practically inseparable from graffiti and street art? Is that important to you?

There is clear distinction between Street Art and Graffiti.  Street Art was birthed from Graff… So is this show illegal?  No.  This show is called Street Art Throwdown not Graffiti Art Throwdown.  This is not a Graff-centric show.  There is Graff repped, but this is Street Art in the context of a television reality show. There are realistic aspects of the culture like the physicality of the high-octane challenges that mimic life as an artist on the street as well as the time constraints that represent what it’s like to paint fast and furious.  This is not a documentary about street artists painting illegally.  But it is the first of its kind as a competition reality show that is just one part of a sometimes trangressive practice. What an artist does on this show does not affect a street artist or graffiti writer painting a wall and making their mark or co-opting or interacting with public space. This show highlights one aspect of those complex realities and personalities that people posses as they move back and forth between criminal acts and law abiding and creative forms of expression… like we all do. We are too complex to be reduced to just one aspect of what it means to be a street artist, and I am showing the most visually stunning side of this world.

What is your own relationship with the law and law enforcement?

Used to be not the best ever, but I have learned that there are good cops and there are bad cops, but I have been unlucky with respect to my personal interactions with the law.  I hope this show will ask people to realize that street artists and what they do are just as complex and diverse as cops’ lives and actions. We need to take a step back and let individual action and expression tell its own story. When we do that we may actually get along a lot better as a society based on experience and respect instead of generalization one way or another.

You’re a well-known commercial and fine artist and you wrote graffiti at one point, but Oxygen describes you as a street artist. What is your connection to street art?

I started on the walls and in Black-Books back in NYC, but these days I paint on my easel.  I did a 20-foot mural the other day in Los Angeles but for the most part I keep my painting in my atelier and paint with either acrylics or oils.  That being said I am a documentarian because of my understanding and appreciation of graff, street art and art.  I was the first artist to ever paint a narrative of a Graffiti artist prowling in the Ghost Yard.  (The Ghost Yard also known as the 207th street Repair overlooking the Harlem River.)  I made this image, entitled, BUA 420, into a poster, massed produced, for the world to see, experience and appreciate.  In my painting entitled  “The Artist” I document those nascent moments of the historically significant graff artist. This painting represents an era when we had to paint.  When there were no advertising companies recruiting street art, where it was a pure culture.  By naming my painting “The Artist” I am I circumventing any pre-conceived notions of calling him anything other thanan artist.  Thereby giving him more significance.  By naming him the Artist it challenges the naïve idea that graff writers can’t be artists.  So am I being recognized for bringing the narrative of the street to the traditional art space of the canvas? I hope so, and I am humbled by my role in the “street art” movement on what ever level I am being recognized for it.

When the casting call for this show was announced and agents began reaching out to well-regarded artists to apply, the general response that we heard was along the lines of “No way in hell am I applying for that.” What was the applicant pool like? What qualifications were you looking for?

Whatever you heard sounds… 23% true.  It’s funny how everyone comes out of the woodwork to hate and throw shade and pretend like they’re noble artisans that would never do anything commercial.  They say stuff like “I would never audition for Street Art Throwdown” but in reality those same people will do a fast food commercial in a heartbeat because they don’t care that animals are killed, the food is poisonous and the workers are treated like shit…They just wanna get paid.  The reality is that people came out in record numbers.  I was actually shocked how many people came forward for an unproven season 1.  Now it is also true that some artists, some of whom are very good friends of mine, sidestepped away from the opportunity, mostly in fear that they would be shunned by their peers.  Culture is complex and this street art culture is no exception, so I respect the dialogue but not the wholesale criticisms that lack any sort of self-reflection.

Now what qualifications were we looking for is a great question.  The honest truth is we were looking not for the best artist in the history of the world.  We were looking for raw talent that could be forged into steel.  A diamond in the rough. These kids are good, some could be great one day with hard work and dedication, but there was an undeniable shine to some of them that was unadulterated. Some exceeded my expectations and some fell short of them, but all of them were hard workers and that’s the most important thing.  People love to criticize and call some of these kids “Toys” but this was a painting military boot camp of sorts that made these kids face their fears and take on new challenges as artists.  They became better artists because of it.  It’s like my training at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.  It was nasty, intense and full on. Painting with some of the best figure painters in the world.  Training with high level perspective teachers and getting deep into light logic and color theory while being über competitive with some of the best painters in the world.  Did this make me a better artist? Fuck ya, and it was worth it.

I would love to see some of these haters jump into some of these challenges, and to be honest I had some heavy hitting street artists that wanted to do it but freaked out at the eleventh hour because they got cold feet.  Some just straight up told me they needed way more time to paint than we were allotting for and they were terrified that they were going to be embarrassed on national TV.  This is an honest and respectable emotion, but some of those same people that were afraid are some of the people that are talking smack.  That’s unfortunate because I know that it doesn’t come from a place of authenticity but rather from a deep sense of fear.

The common assumption is that most street artists are men, but in Street Art Throwdown, 60% of the contestants are women. Why do you think that is? Was that a coincidence based on the applicant pool, or was a conscious decision, possibly related to the show being aired on Oxygen?

It’s a heavily female demographic network.  You can Google that in 5 seconds so that’s an obvious fact, but I think you guys will agree that there is not enough recognition for female artists out there, and we know some of the ones that are painting are seriously burner.  My good friend Mad C is one of my favorite artists out there.  In my opinion she’s one of the top street artists in the world.   So by putting so many women on the show I think more woman will get recognized for what they are all ready doing and will truly get more into the game.  My prediction is that Street Art Throwdown will single-handedly change the face of Street Art and there will be a massive shift of woman believing that they can do this as a career… Watch out guys! Truth be told, woman already have a better sense of color…

From the teaser, it appears that at least one of the challenges in the show is to create an advertisement for a globally-recognized brand, and ads for Street Art Throwdown have appeared on the New York City subway. How would you characterize the relationship between street artists, graffiti writers, and the advertising industry?

How layered and ironic is it that the MTA would buff all the old cars in the subways back in my day and I’m talking about historical pictorial masterpieces done by the likes of LEE, DONDI AND SEEN. Then the second iteration of change in the “war on graffiti” was adding the graffiti proof trains in the late 80’s, and now they are doing ads wrapped around the train in the same way. This is just so ironic. Yes it’s fitting for my show to be wrapped around the train, but I also really miss the days I was getting on the 1 train on 103rd St. and I would see a wildstyle TRACY 168 tag and a SKEME painting… The advertising companies “own” the space and the graff writers define the public realm and interact with space in ways that are more potent then advertisers. But we all know who learned what from whom. Advertisers would only know how to use subway spaces by watching graffiti artists do it first. So I am at both end of this history.

Why impose rules on an art form that, in promotional footage, your own contestants define as having no rules?

This is entertainment. In gymnastics should there be rules? It’s just kids doing flips and who should judge that? Why should they have rules at the UK Bboy Championships? Or Battle of the Year? They are all great B-boys with different styles… The answer is simply because you need a system to analyze and judge. I know every artist is great and no one should be judged and we should all love each other and listen to John Lennon’s “Imagine,” but this is life and it’s harsh out there. Street Art Throwdown is in many ways no different than real life. It’s a metaphor for life. Besides ask a graffiti writer about rules and he or she will show you a list a mile long of do’s and don’t’s about everything from a proper letter to appropriate placement for a tag.

What would happen if the winner of Street Art Throwdown had to “throwdown” against Banksy?

Well would that really be fair? Doesn’t Banksy have like 12 artists painting for him?  The winner is only 1 person…  So they better bring a gun to that knife fight.

 

Thanks BUA. We took this as a fun/weird joke. On the one hand, we didn’t want to give airtime to a mainstream, commercial network to push their product, especially when that product is the sugar coated commercialization of an art form that we respected for challenging the consumer industry. On the other hand, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to engage in a critical discussion, and maybe have a laugh along the way. At the end of the day, we respect BUA for being serious and engaging us, even if we disagree.  Street Art Throwdown premieres February 3rd on Oxygen. We’ll still be hate-watching.

Photo by RJ Rushmore


Category: Featured Posts, Interview | Tags: , ,

Debunking some “leaked” “Banksy photos”

January 10th, 2015 | By | No Comments »
Part of an installation from "Banksy vs the Bristol Museum." Photo by fingertrouble.

Part of an installation from “Banksy vs the Bristol Museum”

Ugh… Another day, another ridiculous article about Banksy about to go viral. On Friday evening, Whitehot Magazine sent out an email with the subject line “Banksy Unmasked: Real Photos of Banksy WORLD EXCLUSIVE.”

Basically, I suggest that you ignore Whitehot Magazine’s post and photos. They’re essentially nonsense. If you’re content to leave it at that, feel free to ignore the rest of this post. If you want to know why Whitehot Magazine’s post is verifiably hooey, read on…

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Category: Art News, Featured Posts | Tags: ,

What and where are open walls?

December 24th, 2014 | By | 3 Comments »
Partial buffed Barry McGee mural at Bowery and Houston (the buff marks cover more red tags). Photo by Andrew Russeth.

Partially buffed Barry McGee mural at Bowery and Houston (the buff marks cover more red tags). Photo by Andrew Russeth.

UPDATE: Xavi Ballaz (known for Difusor and the Open Walls Conference in Barcelona) has responded to this post with some of the more positive advancements towards open walls, and suggests that the open walls movement does indeed need a manifesto.

A friend of mine recently used an interesting phrase: “the open walls movement.” I thought he was using the term as a synonym for “the street art festival circuit,” which upset me, because street art festivals do not have what I would call “open walls.” But really, my friend was commenting on a larger movement perceived to be spreading around the world to use public space differently (insomuch as walls on private property are public space). On the surface, he’s right. Street art festivals, grassroots muralism programs, free walls, curated alleyways and everything in between now exist in cities and small towns around the world.

Does that make a movement? I don’t know. Nobody is getting together to write a manifesto and participants’ aims and methods are diverse, but there is a disparate group of what I’ll call “open walls people” who share a new way of looking at walls and public space: Public walls are for the artists, murals enliven streets and communities, and there should be limited or no government regulation of murals, but advertising in public space should be heavily regulated or eliminated entirely. Simply put, “open walls people” believe in unrestricted art in (often odd) public spaces.

But how open are our walls today? Surfing the web, it sometimes feels like globe-trotting muralists can hop off a plane in any city, find a wall, and begin painting the next day, or that every small European city is covered in murals. That’s simply not true. Despite valiant and well-intentioned efforts, there’s a long way to go before we have anything approaching “open walls.”

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Category: Featured Posts, Random | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Community amongst excess in Wynwood

December 16th, 2014 | By | 1 Comment »
Inside of Wynwood Walls. Photo by Katie Wheeler.

Inside of Wynwood Walls. Photo by Katie Wheeler.

“Dude, those drips look so sick!”

That’s what I hear on my way to 2nd Ave in Wynwood. It is Saturday December 6th around 9pm, and this is the last big night during Art Basel. A group of guys are tagging this building and praising each other’s tags based on the quality of the drips. I am hungry, tired, and annoyed because it took an hour to get to Wynwood and another hour to park. Not to worry though, soon I’ll reach my destination: 2nd Ave with 23rd St, the heart of Wynwood. Soon at least one of my big problems, my hunger, would be taken care of by one of the 30+ food trucks parked nearby. I just had to navigate through a sea of people, cars, paint cans, beer cans, art tents, music speakers, police in horseback, and of course more people.

Oh dear Wynwood, you have once again left me feeling sad, hopeless, and discouraged. What is it that you’re doing? How did you let yourself get so bad?

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Category: Art Fairs, Featured Posts, Guest Posts | Tags: , , , , ,

STOP WHAT YOU’RE DOING: stikman is releasing his first book today!

December 9th, 2014 | By | No Comments »

DSC_0301 copy

Just in time for the holidays, I am thrilled to announce the release of the first book from the elusive artist stikman, entitled SIGNS, published by my new art book project Dirt Worship Publishing. For over two decades, the anonymous artist stikman has plastered his character on the pavements and walls of major cities and small towns across the US. Finally, there’s a book celebrating a selection of this elective artist’s work.

SIGNS documents a collection of stikman’s art on street signs across the United States, highlighting the huge variety in stikman’s work like his innovative methods and materials, clever placement, and diverse references from folk art to fine art. “stikman has retained his freshness by constantly reinventing his iconic character, unafraid to experiment with new mediums and configurations,” says graffiti photographer and blogger Luna Park.

He has gained something of a cult following among street art enthusiasts and pedestrians alike. “When I stumble across a stikman, I feel as if I’ve found a treasure,” says legendary street art and graffiti photographer Martha Cooper.

Typically, finding a stikman in the wild is a feat of chance. A few eagle-eyed photographers have made his image accessible to the masses. And now, for the first time ever, stikman and Dirt Worship Publishing have compiled a selection of his work in an official book.

signs1-3

You can get your copy of SIGNS in time for Christmas by placing your order through The Vandalog Shop anytime before December 18th (for domestic orders only). The standard edition is available for $30, plus shipping and handling. A limited edition deluxe version of SIGNS, limited to just 75 hand-embellished copies and featuring an exclusive inkjet print on archival paper (6.5” x 8”), is also available for $50 plus shipping and handling.

IMG_0689 copy


Category: Books / Magazines, Featured Posts, Print Release, Products, Vandalog Projects | Tags: , ,

Below government radar, street artists discover the people’s permission

October 28th, 2014 | By | 3 Comments »
Nether

Nether. Photo by Nether.

In Baltimore, where every water is uncharted, street art has navigated its own course. What began as a covert creative expression of artistic imagination by individual street artists has matured to become an important force that binds artists and neighborhoods. Baltimore’s growing legion of street artists has piloted a course of creating art on parched streets and using it to quench neighborhoods’ thirst for something beautiful and sometimes provocative in their midst.

Ways

Ways. Photo by Ways.

When I began wheatpasting, there were only three other street artists in town who regularly got their pieces up: Ways, Gaia, and Nanook. Mata Ruda began wheatpasting about the same time I did and we worked together often. Everyone used a fly-by-night installation approach, using the cover of darkness to get our work up. Unsanctioned street art was something relatively new to Baltimore and the public viewed it as a sort of furtive “where’s waldo” game. We used the element of surprise to start the conversations that our work desired.

Gaia. Photo by David Muse.

Gaia. Photo by David Muse.

Everything changed in 2012. Under the direction of Gaia, Open Walls Baltimore began and with it the Station North neighborhood—Baltimore’s arts district—was transformed by the presence of spectacular, large murals funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and PNC Bank. With the arrival of the street art mural circuit to a city new to street art, Baltimore discovered street art’s ability to change an urban landscape. Most works didn’t deal with Baltimore politics and social issues directly but their presence acted to educate the public about the value of this new-to-it art form in giving voice to and beautifying our town. With Open Walls, Baltimore found a place on the map in the street art world. This place was solidified after the launch of Articulate by Stefan Ways in October 2012.

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Category: Featured Posts, Guest Posts, Photos | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The two sides of Nuart

October 9th, 2014 | By | No Comments »
Maismenos

Maismenos

This year was my third time visiting the Nuart Festival. I went first in 2009 as a tourist, returned in 2012 to participate in Nuart Plus (the conference portion of the festival) participant, and finally this year participated in and helped a bit to plan Nuart Plus. I have a lot of love for Nuart. For me, the three models of muralism festivals that I look to most often are Nuart, FAME and Living Walls. But, out of the three, Nuart has always confused me the most.

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John Fekner

FAME is (or was, since it’s no longer active) perhaps the only no-holds-barred street art festival. It can be difficult to tell what’s been painted legally and what’s been painted illegally, and festival organizer Angelo Milano doesn’t hide his face. In the small town of Grottaglie, Italy, it would be easy for anyone to track down Milano and confront him about painting on their home. Still, Milano never seemed to care. He just wanted to invite amazing artists to town to paint walls and maybe make a print or two at his studio. Grottaglie now has one of the finest collections of murals, graffiti and street art in the world.

Living Walls is one of the most professional DIY outfits I’ve ever encountered. They are the model of a well-run muralism conference with next to no budget, sometimes stumbling but always trying to do something great for Atlanta. Living Walls has the uncanny ability to launch or at least predict the impending launch of a muralist’s career. They produce some blockbuster murals, but usually not from the artists you would expect.

Martin Whatson at Stavanger's Scandic Hotel. His art also decorates the inside of the hotel.

Martin Whatson (with BON and Alex Face) at Stavanger’s Scandic Hotel. Whatson’s art also decorates the inside of the hotel.

Nuart is a brilliant schizophrenic beast, oscillating between Martyn Reed’s seemingly dueling interests of creating a spectacle of corporate art and disrupting The Spectacle. That was more true than ever this year, with an artist line up including Martin Whatson, SpY, Tilt, Fra.Biancoshock and others. What I mean is, there are artists who were invited to paint murals that function as billboards for print releases and decor for posh hotels, and artists who are invited to install “interventions” (Nuart’s euphemism for illegal street art). Even Nuart Plus was split (and this is an idea I agreed to when we were planning the conference so if this is a problem, I’m as much at fault as anyone) into one day about “activism” and one day about “muralism.”

Maismenos

Maismenos’ intervention for an existing public sculpture

Sometimes, this schizophrenia results in beautiful things that few other festivals would be able to facilitate. Maismenos‘ mural, indoor work and outdoor interventions this year are a great example. Reed isn’t afraid to let artists get political, with their topic of choice typically being oil, since Nuart takes place in the oil city of Stavanger, Norway. And maybe he’s only able to get away with that because he also brings in artists like Tilt and Etam Cru.

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Category: Featured Posts, Festivals | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This summer Droid 907 is Sick of Society

September 23rd, 2014 | By | 1 Comment »
Sick of Society by Droid 907

Sick of Society by Droid 907

A little over a year ago, I interviewed Droid 907 for the release of his first SOS zine, Sex or Suicide. This summer, through Carnage, he is sharing his past year of adventures riding through the United States. As with the previous volume, Sick of Society exists on the fringes of the mainstream where Droid 907 finds comfort from a society he abhors. As much as the title gives a negative connotation, the pages of the zine are instead filled with intimate portraits of those the writer cares for, including friends both here and departed. Using typewriter gifted by Amanda Wong, the author redacts locations, crosses out spelling errors while leaving in others, adding characterization to himself while continuing his narration. His continued fascination with analog technologies can be seen not only in the text, but through the production of the zine itself. Unlike the Internet, print production contains a finite means of dissemination (albeit large editions of 400). Within the hand silkscreened pages and closed-edition volumes, Droid completely placed himself on the fringes of society in which he exists and documents. Fittingly, when sent interview questions, the Sick of Society author returned with pages fresh from his typewriter rather than a Word Document.

Photo by Droid 907

Photo by Droid 907

Rhiannon: So, the last typewriter for S.O.S. was found by the train tracks. What did you write Sick of Society on?

Droid:

INTVW_backgrnd

R: With equally a pessimistic title as the first zine, what makes you Sick of Society?

D:
INTVW_1

SOS page w text

SOS Page from Droid 907

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Category: Books / Magazines, Featured Posts, Interview, Photos | Tags: , ,

This app turns the NYC subway system into an art gallery

September 10th, 2014 | By | No Comments »
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NO AD beta-testers and friends of Vandalog, Luna Park and laserburners

I should be working on something else right now. I should be doing writing that I really need to finish ASAP, writing that could bring me some considerable upside both in money and reputation. But then Jordan Seiler and the heavy projects (as Re+Public) and Subway Art Blog went and released their awesome and eagerly anticipated new app: NO AD. So I’ve become momentarily distracted, and you should be too. Go download NO AD right now (for Android or iPhone), especially if you live in New York City.

NO AD is an augmented reality application that gives you a glimpse of the New York City subway system without advertisements, a world where billboards are for art instead of ads. NO AD replaces the top 100 ads in the subway system at any given moment with art. How? By using the ads like QR codes. Simply download the app to your phone, open it while you’re on a New York City subway platform, and point your camera at an advertisement. On your phone’s screen, you’ll see the ad almost magically replaced by artwork. Download the app now, and give it a try with this image:

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See how amazing that is?

And here’s a short video about the app:

This idea isn’t entirely new. NO AD may remind some readers of Steve Lambert’s Add-Art or Julian Oliver’s The Artvertiser. But Add-Art hasn’t been functional for some time and The Artvertiser never really made it beyond a fun experiment and no longer appears to be in development, so it’s great to see other artists take up the mantle of digitally and legally replacing ads with art.

One question that I’m sure will come up: How does NO AD know what subway ads look like? The app developers essentially have to feed the app information about what ads are up in subway stations at any given time, which means that they have to go out and photograph every different subway ad they can find and rotate ads in and out of the app. As new ads rotate in, so will new artwork.

On some level, NO AD is an ad takeover tool. It takes space that is currently filled with ads and replaces those very specific ads with art. They could have just as easily used other objects around NYC as “triggers” for the art, but they decided to go with ads. Plus, for the initial launch, they’ve partnered with about 50 artists, many of whom have been outspoken critics of public advertising.

Today, NO AD is a kind of “what if,” a thought experiment to get people thinking about what it would be like to replace the ads with art, because of course you still need to take out your phone, open the app, and look at specific ads to see the artwork. So, essentially, it could be said that the app is a gimmick to get people thinking about replacing ads with art, rather than a tool to actually achieve that.

But NO AD may not be just a thought experiment in a few years. Fast forward to when everyone and their mother is wearing some version of Google Glass all day long. There will still be ads on the subway, but with NO AD running in the background on your Google Glass, you won’t see the ads. You’ll just see art exhibitions.

And that’s the other half of NO AD, the part that is more than just a thought experiment or a very long-term thinking anti-advertising strategy: It’s potential as an exhibition space. The first set of artists whose work is being exhibited through NO AD (including Vandalog’s Caroline Caldwell) are a motley crew of experimenters and friends of the organizers, which isn’t such a bad thing since these guys have some very talented friends, but imagine given a single artist a chance to take over all of the ads on the subway, or bringing in a professional curator to use NO AD and the subway system as an exhibition space in a more organized way. NO AD is an exhibition space that exists somewhere between the physical and the digital, always bringing with it an energy of political activism and chance.

NO AD is a glimpse into the future, a new exhibition space, and a platform for activism. I’m excited.


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