With the Olympics kicking off this week, all eyes are on London. Taking advantage of the spotlight is Brandalism, a group made of 25 artists from eight different countries, who are using their art skills to showcase their stance against advertising and consumerism within their cultures.
The group is replacing existing billboards with photographs, street art, graffiti, and other forms of art that contain messages as their way to reclaim outdoor advertising in the UK.
We spoke to the group about how the concept came about, the kind of art work artists are creating, and if London residents are backing their concept.
See the gallery after the jump.
Turnstyle News: How did the idea of Brandalism come about?
Brandalism: The project is the culmination of a wide public disquiet surrounding the pervasiveness of advertising in our public and personal spaces. The project seeks to address some of the wider issues that accompany nearly a century of unrestricted consumption by installing art works in spaces that are associated with messages that encourage us to consume. The project sees prominent artists from around the world collaborating together to challenge the power and role of advertising and consumerism within our cultures.
TS: What do you wish to accomplish by doing this?
Brandalism: The Brandalism project seeks to delegitimise the advertising industry within our shared public spaces and to open the ethical debate regarding advertising and the responsibilities that the industry fails to recognise such as the way advertising affects our perceptions of body image and well being; Debt; visual pollution; and relationships between advertising and environmental destruction.
TS: Why is it important for artists to take this stand?
Brandalism: It is the role of artists to transcend the day-to-day goings on and to share ideas, messages and truths with others. The arts are one of the most important ways of communicating new ideas and perceptions to a wider public and can act as a form of social agency. The Brandalism project is a mirror that has been held up to reflect our western consumerist value systems, to show the effects that these value systems have on our environment, culture and each other.
TS: Was it difficult to convince artists to join this project?
Brandalism: The Brandalism project has seen an incredible response from artists around the world, with more contacting us every day to collaborate. The project has struck on a nerve that resonates around the world due to the same economic system being reproduced globally. Every nation on earth is being force fed commercial images at an unprecedented rate, the Brandalism project has made these feelings visible for many artists and members of the public in the Western world.
TS: Why London? Did the Olympics play a big part in the decision making?
Brandalism: The draconian branding restrictions of the London 2012 Olympics made our job a lot easier as the branding of the Olympics has served as a microcosm for the wider cultural practices of the advertising industry which has been exposed to millions of people across the UK and the world. The Olympics were a part of our strategy, however the Brandalism project is concerned with institutional practices and the advertising industry as a whole.
TS: Can you describe the kind of art you are using to cover billboards?
Brandalism: The Brandalism project involves street artists, graffiti writers, graphic designers, political artists, illustrators, cartoonists and photo montage artists. The installations are guerilla art interventions. The art is based on subversion – by appropriating the spaces and messages that you would normally expect to find in advertising billboards we offer new understandings and messages concerning advertisements and the realities of consumerism.
TS: What message would you say the artists are transmitting through their art work?
Brandalism: The artists have utilised our research and theory for the project to create works that are focussed on the wide spectrum of social and environmental issues that advertising exacerbates. The art works focus on issues including body image, well being, cultural values, debt, visual pollution and the relationships between consumerism and environmental destruction.
TS: How long did the art work last on the billboards?
Brandalism: The UK outdoor advertising association released a statement saying that they will ‘squash’ the Brandalism project. However, people across the UK have been sending in their photos of some of the art works still in-situ. We estimate that the majority of art works stayed up for just over a week, with more being added to the streets as the Brandalism project progresses.
TS: Are you getting support and/ or approval from residents on this project?
Brandalism: We knew that there was a strong feeling of resentment within the public for the way in which advertising manipulates our human needs and emotions. There has been a lot of independent research done that highlights the public’s perceptions of advertising and the social and personal issues that it creates – children as young as 5 years old are starting to develop body image issues; there are more people dying from obesity form eating junk food than smoking related illnesses, the constant normalisation of extrinsic values within our culture is drastically affecting people’s well being. If you add all these issues to the findings of the Riots Victims and Communities Panel report into the London Riots in 2011, which found that the ‘you are what you own’ culture that is promoted by the advertising industries across the world was responsible for a lot of the looting and rioting across the UK as young people from lower income neighbourhoods stole the products that they had been constantly told they needed to have to fit in to society. The public’s response from the launch of the project has been incredible, we have had press and coverage in Brazil, Argentina, US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Russia and Australia. The biggest success has been in the cross posting and sharing of the project images and content via peoples personal tumblr and blogspot sites – with social network sites being liked and linked all the time. The numbers are quite large and stand as a validation of the project. If people didn’t agree they wouldn’t share it and spread the word.
TS: Do you see this project/ movement expanding to the United States? Any cities in mind?
Brandalism: We are currently evaluating the first phase of the project and we are talking to all collaborators about our next project. We are also looking into ways in which we can bring the public into the artwork design and selection process so that in a small way, we can work together to re-democratize these public spaces.
View more of their artwork here.