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October 18, 2008

Electoral Appeal

The electoral process awakens basic human traits that transcend geography and time. In Roland Barthes' mid-50's essay "Photography and Electoral Appeal," we are reminded that "electoral photography is... above all the acknowledgment of something deep and irrational co-extensive with politics. What is transmitted through the photograph of the candidate are not his plans, but his deep motives, all his family, mental, even erotic circumstances, all this style of life of which he is at one the product, the example and the bait." It seems clear that little has changed in the past few decades. Elections are about about motives, not plans, almost universally and certainly in the case of most western democracies. Our undeniable superficial approach to forming our own political views awkwardly unite us no matter where we stand. Maybe we should just celebrate this, even exploit it and have fun with it... as opposed to surrender to sentimentalism and anger. Life is just too short.

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September 12, 2008

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September 01, 2008

(R)

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June 28, 2008

skillman

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June 07, 2008

wc

May 31, 2008

Lovedrops

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[more music from Plunderphonics 69/96]

May 15, 2008

Bday [P5 by JO]

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music from Plunderphonics 69/96

May 13, 2008

David Noonan

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Arnulf Rainer

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May 10, 2008

mixed messages

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May 09, 2008

ART school

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May 07, 2008

"M"

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March 18, 2008

xly kwel person

December 31, 2007

The Possibility of Invasion

The Economist reflected on Banksy’s journey “from the cold streets to the prosperous warmth of London galleries and auction houses,” in the context of a piece that marveled at the financial accomplishments of the “graffiti artist” while questioning the system that validates his work as indeed worthy of attention and the price tag that comes with it. According to the artist, the world of art is nothing more than a big joke. According to the magazine, the artist could potentially be its greatest joker in recent history.

Whether art is serious stuff or not is not as interesting as what is at the center of the question: What happens to street art when is transplanted outside of the street? What The Economist and other serious folks really ponder is whether or not we can successfully separate the street from the art and still consider it art.

Channeling McLuhan we could argue that street art as part of a system ceases to exist when dissected into discrete parts and relocated to a gallery, auction house, or my living room. No more street art for sure, whether the art part remains is debatable. W. Terrence Gordon’s Everyman’s McLuhan [more about the book here], cleverly explains one of Understanding Media's core ideas: “Media operates in pairs, one effectively ‘containing’ another… so ‘information’ is dwarfed by the medium itself.”

The street in street art adds significant value to whatever message the artist intends to convey. The aggressiveness, irreverence, discontent, and plain rawness of the street serves as an amplifier to the savvy artist that understands and leverages the street as her medium. It is then worth thinking about the qualities of the gallery and other private spaces when attempting to make sense out of the same art in a different context. The official nature of such transactional spaces certainly alters the qualities associated with the street, driving attention away from its aggressiveness while revealing other aspects of the work.

I had the opportunity to attend WK Interact’s opening at Williamsburg’s espeis and couldn’t avoid feeling confused for a few minutes. The new context somehow eliminated the possibility of “invasion” and with it a lot of what is familiar about his work. With the spotlight on its aesthetics, other qualities and influences surfaced. I’m no art critic so I won’t speak about those but I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Speaking of street art out of the street, here are pieces one of my favorite murals, another artist, same neighborhood [if you want to check it out it might still be intact outside of The Front Room]. Needless to say, extracted from the street and dissected into individual images the piece morphs into something else. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

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All photos by Miguel Angel Lacruz.

October 27, 2007

Your [Message] Here

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The month of October marked the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Che Guevara, who became an instant symbol of revolutionary romanticism after being captured and shot in the Bolivian jungle.

Semiotically speaking symbols are wild and almost uncontrollable because they primarily work in the realm of convention. Convention makes symbols extremely susceptible to the collective spirit, which means that they are flexible and easily manipulated by critical mass. Che offers a great example of the delicate nature of symbols.

The Economist reflected last week on the idea that “…it is semiotics, more than politics, that leads teenagers ignorant of Sierra Maestra to sport Che T-Shirts.” Definitively not a new concept but one that is certainly relevant in the age of hyperconnectivity, when convention can change in unpredictable directions and led by almost anyone or any group, unintentionally or otherwise.

A Flickr search reveals over 5,000 images tagged “Che Guevara,” the global nature of this platform makes it perfect to facilitate a reflection on the changing faces of Guevara and more importantly, on the emptiness of its symbolic presence as the result of the natural diversification of convention.

In the past 40 years the image of Guevara has been manipulated from many different areas of society: From dying revolutions to empty revolutions, from powerful brands to poor merchants, from artists to marketers… at the end only one message truly remains: Just like sex, Che sales.

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September 16, 2007

36 Works of Art by David

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David is surprisingly humble for a six years young. When praised about the quality of his artwork and ingenuity of the intervention, he replied that it was "easy" and that it only took him "about an hour" to complete. His work is so much better than the ads it replaced because it is honest and aimed at beautifying the environment, which directly translates into something of value for bystanders like me. Plus, supermodels are so 90's anyway.

Church of Jason Pollock

...still outside of the circle.

August 19, 2007

The History Book Remixed

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Culture’s byproduct is generally documented as history and confined to the realm of expert historians, at least when its formally packaged [think of the history book, photo essay, and the like]. As digital and analogue spaces mingle, the documentation of culture and its derivatives is mutating alongside the encyclopedia, video, and personal communications, just to name a few recently-shaken realms.

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Two seemingly unrelated trends might help us see how digitally connected citizens are rethinking history influenced by [or influencing?] remix culture: New York City’s “urban explorers” and Tokyo’s “trial observation maniacs.”

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The New York Times article Children of Darkness thoroughly discusses the concept of “urban explorers,” a term that can probably be best defined by Steve Duncan’s [an explorer himself] self-description as a “guerrilla historian.” These folks are devoted to “plumb tunnels, trestles and other abandoned places, often illicitly, and in those shadow cities find the pulsing center of New York.”

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Graffiti artists have traditionally conquered the darkest and deepest corners of the city with the goal of creative intervention; urban explorers are focused on their discovery through documentation, generally producing a body of work that facilitates our understanding of the urban landscape and its history as a multi-layered territory, blurring fact with fiction... like history books.

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In contrast, “trial observation” operates on the surface. According to a Monocle article, members of trial clubs find “their greatest pleasure” in watching “the slowly grinding wheels of Japanese justice,” documenting their experience in blogs following their own particular format, as another article in The Japan Times explains: “They are meticulous in their entries, recording serious yet funny exchanges heard in court, as well as describing the fashions and facial expressions of the protagonists.” One group, the Kasumikko Club, “have already published two books about their hobby, including The Kasumikko Club’s Guide to Trial Observation.”

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The documentation of trials by “girls ‘who dress up to go to court in the afternoon, listen to hard-hitting cases and talk about love at the Art Coffee Shop in Kasumigaseki Station’,” can sometimes feel more like fiction and perhaps even more human than the standard news report. By taking court journalism in their own hands, the club is discovering new layers of society in the same fashion that New York’s urban explorers make us aware of an alien landscape right in front of us.

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Both trial maniacs and guerrilla historians draw from the results of past and present cultural interactions to take its subjects to another realm: The trial becomes a fiction/diary/daytime TV hybrid while an abandoned urban space can equally be the subject of a National Geographic feature as well as of a highbrow art show.

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July 07, 2007

Copywrong®

The marriage of technology and popular culture often produces deep change in the old framework associated with both the system that develops technology and culture itself. The effect of technology's cultural layer can be seen today in popular culture's reaction to the legal framework that regulates intellectual property, which has been shaken to its core by the tight relationship between digital technology and modern citizens. Google "copywrong" and you will see at least 210,000 mentions, including a blog, several posts, a Wired article, and many other reflections from old and new media that build a collective point of view on the matter.

The tools of new media are blurring the line between ideas and action, tacitly encouraging the communal enterprise. Intellectual work ceased to be an end in itself and is now more than ever part of the raw materials that fuel an ongoing creative cycle. In the words of artist Olaf Nicolai [see latest issue of opinions and culture magazine UOVO], copyright in the digital age “…eliminates the possibility of reflection, you are no longer able to think, to re-think or to re-distribute.” Nicolai compares the restrictive nature of today’s copyright laws with “…erasing the color red out of the color scale for a painting.”

Actors in the legal system itself recognize that “the future of copyright is up for grabs” as Lawrence B. Solum stated in a white paper published the Texas Law Review (2005). Solum explains that “we live in a magical, exhilarating, and frightening time: Many alternative copyfutures shimmer on the horizon, sometimes coming into sharper focus and sometimes fading away.”

Regardless of the evolution of the legal framework [which will most likely have to play an eternal catch-up with reality], the future of copyright can already be interpreted from the relationship between commercial communications and art. Culture Jam, Mash-ups, Remix Culture… the language already exists. Progressive brands like Nike embrace unofficial representations of its brand [Olaf Nicolai’s Big Sneaker (The Nineties) showed in Nike-Town] and take cues from street art to infuse a dose of modernity to the brand persona, sometimes applying the logic of street art itself.

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[Robin Rhode. Wheel of Steel, 2006.]

Also in the latest issue of UOVO, Francois Quintin asked artist Robin Rhode about Nike’s unauthorized use of his artistic style: “One of the recent commercial advertisements for Nike is an obvious plagiarism of your work. It shows a teenager (even wearing a hat like your character) drawing a staircase on the floor, and acting as if he was making a skate jump from the top of it. What is your position towards this?”

…the artist reply: “JUST DO IT.”


Nike’s Paul Rodriguez chalk stair jump ad.

July 01, 2007

Outside of the Circle of Obedience

May 23, 2007

Disobeying Woody

Google “American Apparel” + “Woody Allen” today and you will see at least 14,000 results, multiply that by a (very low) estimate of 10,000 views per week for the average blog and marvel at the approximately 140,000,000 page views generated by the recent two-billboard campaign (New York, LA) by the hipster-approved apparel brand. Try to actually buy that many impressions at an average CPM on $12 and you would have to spend around $1.6 million.

Enough with the math. Simple common sense might be enough to ratify the fact that the campaign had all the ingredients to be a success from many angles. From my personal point of view I was just happy to see Woody in a guerrilla-style billboard, the blown out screen shot of Annie Hall with its visible washed-out grain communicated a clandestine feeling that was validated with the mysterious disappearance of the ads a couple of weeks later.

There are many questions around the legality of the campaign, almost every media outlet speculates on whether or not the brand had any approval to use the image. Regardless of how kosher it was (always debatable), this is an example of how brands that are willing (and able) to take educated risks, informed by a true connection with their audience, are capable to spark serious interaction among people via crafting communications that, beyond advertising, become a topic of conversation with the power of shaping opinion and behavior.


May 21, 2007

Collective Imagination

Trying to get back in shape with writing, a bit difficult since summer is coming, my son went from babble to full conversation in a few days, and I have been dealing with tons of interesting work. Anyway, I have to thank Mark Earls for putting together his thoughts about our "true nature" as a super social species. Great reading for anyone in planning, market research, or just interested in mass behavior.

According to Earls, by detaching ourselves from the illusion of individualism and embracing the concept of humans as part of a larger organism (that some call society), we are able to better observe the true social interface that operates in several different conscious and unconscious levels of the collective imagination and drives everything from our opinions to our actions (often different).

We seem to be intensely interconnected and this has been observed by disciplines with cool names like ecobiology, sociobiology, social anthropology, social Darwinism, and the like. Our view of the world is shaped by our view of ourselves within that world, and it will change depending on who we think is observing or judging our behavior. This is why is interesting to see the spontaneous decoration of public spaces, especially restrooms at bars, which offer the perfect private/public space in which people express on top of each other expressions, creating a collage of imagery, words, and signs only comparable to the way we organize ourselves in many different levels of our communal life.

Here is a sample from a few establishments in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.


March 25, 2007

Mean Brooklyn


The last issue of Creativity offers Jeff Goodby’s point of view on outdoor advertising in the context of a rather funny anecdote about a recent mishap. Before telling his story, Goodby shares with us his “Warholian” vision of this controversial medium: “Make it public, talked about, outrageous, challenging, beautiful, resented…” If you are interested in examples, please do get you hands on Galvin Lucas and Michael Dorrian’s brilliant Guerrilla Advertising, which has a strong focus on outdoor communications and compiles some of the greatest initiatives of the past few years, a must read.

Interested in another source of inspiration? Well, all you have to do is take a walk and pay attention to what street artists are doing in your area. Street art, as a communications discipline and an art form, has a unique ability to digest the feeling and personality of the community and spit its messages in the kind of outrageous and challenging manner that Goodby referred to in his note. This form of communication is driven by a necessity to stand out from the clutter [legal and illegal] as opposed to be passively and orderly integrated with the urban environment. When done right, it can contribute to reinvent public space in a way that is not only memorable but that actually depicts local culture from the inside out.

After climbing ¾ of a mile on the Williamsburg bridge from Manhattan via Brooklyn, bikers and pedestrians are greeted by a sign that is meant to inform people of where they are [New York City, etc] and who built it [the corresponding department]. Locals decided that this information, while relevant, is redundant and for years have opted for enhancing the sign and adding another dimension to its message. This “welcome” sign is far from static and changes rapidly according the mood of the community. Here is its latest iteration, kind of bittersweet and certainly cheerful, after all spring is already here.




February 27, 2007

Legal Graffiti

Wikipedia defines graffiti as “graphics applied without authorization to publicly viewable surfaces,” which clearly denotes its antiestablishment nature along with the sense of empowerment that it provides to the artists and even local community through the “without authorization” part, after all, who has authority over public view? The values of graffiti art can be defined in the context of a postmodern society that appreciates true originality and celebrates the transfer of the means of expression from the powerful few to the general public.

It is not surprising that, once these values have been ratified by the ubiquitous power of social media, modern graffiti becomes one of the most important symbols of the early stages of a process that, more than reclaiming public space, has been rebelling against the monologue of old-fashioned media.

The new status of graffiti won’t come without a price. As a new glamorous figure [think Che Guevara], with high profile artists, graffiti art is rapidly mutating into a nobrow signifier representing most of the values that it used to antagonize. Proof can be found in the complaints of locals that no longer can afford the rent in the London neighborhoods that showcase some of the best work from Banksy, as well as in commercial billboards featuring Neckface’s art courtesy of Vans.

This shouldn’t be taken as something necessarily good or bad, on the contrary, an objective [neutral, if possible] analysis of the new values of graffiti could contribute to advance the understanding of how society reshapes the meaning of the figures and art forms that attempt to shape society itself [if that makes any sense…].


January 24, 2007

Not for SALE [part two]

Let’s continue with this glimpse at John Oswald’s work, considered an early wake up call to the reality of a music industry that pioneered and supported the development of what Nicolas Negroponte in 1990 and Chris Anderson in 2006 [among others] referred to as the modern “hit culture,” which perhaps will be deemed by the media critics of the future as a necessary step towards a post-modern, open society [no sarcasm here].

Post-modern and open [consumer] society have been incompatible for a long time, however today there are signs that the antagonism is fading. The Economist recently published a piece that deals with the unlikely reality of marketing appropriating the tools of post-modernism, that is, the discourse that post-modernists fashioned to eliminate consumer society, and using that same intellectual framework to do precisely the opposite: “…capitalism employs the critique that was designed to destroy it.” At least in the so-called advanced world, with its wired homes and wireless hyper-connected society.

The article reminds us that post-modernist thought predicted “the individual’s desire (and ability) to take control –-to become ‘the artists of his own life…’” in response to the ubiquitous influence of capitalism in society at large, with its tight control over mass media and the means of production. Plunderphonics, as a music genre, offered [back in the early 80’s] an interesting and creative way to challenge society’s conception of authorship by materializing the vision of individual control, which at the time was extremely revolutionary [Michael Jackson and CBS actually burned most copies of Dab] but that, in 2007, seems to be a little more than acceptable. Just refer to 2006 Time’s Person of the Year [You] or Advertising Age’s Agency of the Year [The Consumer] to see how, in the 21st century, post-modernism changed sides.

Here are two more brilliant pieces from John Oswald’s repertoire: BLACK from the album Dab, which is “part one of James Brown's Greatest Bits…” with a “guest appearance by Prince,” and BRAZILLIONAIRES THEME from the 69PLUNDERPHONICS96 box-set, which you will easily recognize.

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BLACK


BRAZILLIONAIRES THEME

January 21, 2007

Not for SALE [part one]

In a 1967 interview published in Encounter, Marshall McLuhan discussed, among a variety of topics, his views on media and technology as extensions of man. The interviewer, Gerald Emanuel Steam, asked if these extensions were as well “extensions of man’s will…” to which McLuhan replied:

“In the ordinary sense of subliminal wish and drive --yes. Man, however, never intends the cultural consequences of any extension of himself.”

Understanding media as cultural systems that grow around a particular technology [concept coined by Lisa Gitelman], then TV and Radio, just to use two common examples, are not TV and Radio in the literal sense. Television is not the actual extension of man but the system of Network Television [or Cable Television, Video on Demand, etc.]. Radio becomes a complex medium, which absorbs other technologies such as the telephone [essential for talk shows], and even other media systems like record labels.

The “consequences” of these extensions of man are today even harder to predict or understand, which is why we must turn our heads towards the work of artists as well as towards the artists themselves. As McLuhan explains in a 1962 essay [ironically] titled The Electronic Age, “for the most part men’s perceptions are overlaid by patterns of past experience that render them unapt to apprehend the world they actually live in. The artist alone is an expert in the contemporary use of his senses.” Paraphrasing Chuck Porter, experience is only relevant under the premise that the past is going to be like the future.

In this brief series we will look at the media system of the music industry in the context of John Oswald’s Plunderphonics as the response of the artist to an environment that, although not intended by the industry [as the extension of the industry itself], was and still is very real. Oswald’s work reveals the reality of a system that pioneered “hit culture,” and that created a legal framework that beyond good and evil has been recently rendered as [at least] unrealistic.

Back in 1985, in a paper titled Plunderphonics, or Audio Piracy as a Compositional Prerogative, Oswald reacted to the notion of copyright laws in the context of a pop culture environment that had transcended the brick-and-mortar principles in which the law was based. Over 20 years ago the artist led us to understand the end of the producer-consumer paradigm: “After decades of being the passive recipients of music in packages, listeners now have the means to assemble their own choices, to separate pleasures from the filler. They are dubbing a variety of sounds from around the world, or at least from the breadth of their record collections, making compilations of a diversity unavailable from the music industry, with its circumscribed stables of artists, and an ever more pervasive policy of only supplying the common denominator.”

Perhaps one of the strongest ideas in Oswald’s paper is rooted in the fact that, by acting as a tight filter focused on big moneymaking hits, most record labels had already entered a vulnerable space in which their final product is not entirely theirs anymore. Oswald clearly articulates why the music industry, powered by radio [among other distribution vehicles], lost their archaic right to have a tight ownership of every bit of sound:

“All popular music [and all folk music, by definition], essentially, if not legally, exists in a public domain. Listening to pop music isn't a matter of choice. Asked for or not, we're bombarded by it. In its most insidious state, filtered to an incessant bass-line, it seeps through apartment walls and out of the heads of walk people. Although people in general are making more noise than ever before, fewer people are making more of the total noise; specifically, in music, those with megawatt PA's, triple platinum sales, and heavy rotation. Difficult to ignore, pointlessly redundant to imitate, how does one not become a passive recipient?”

Plunderphonics goes to an interesting extreme in its quest to enunciate Oswald’s ideas, the genre offers fresh thinking in the shape of music, that happens to challenge our conception of authorship in a world that doesn’t know how to differentiate producer from consumer, active from passive.

It is very important to mention that, as you will find out in Oswald's site, Plunderphonics [the album] is not for sale.

Click on the image below to hear the song that gives the name to John Oswald's 1989 album Dab.

Thanks to Mogollon’s Francois L Betancourt [AKA: Francisco Lopez] for his dedicated collaboration with this blog.

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January 03, 2007

HAPPY [new year]

How do we know that it is going to be in fact happy? Perhaps happiness is too personal to be described or even measured. In any case The Economist brilliantly ended 2006 with an article that looks at happiness (and how to measure it) through the lens of economics.

Economists have an infinite number of tools to tackle a particular challenge. In the quest for measuring happiness the article walks us through the most scientific ones such as brain scans and face recognition to the more straightforward as a simple survey. The result so far is foggy with no apparent winner and the tragic (but very real) conclusion that it is all relative. Our happiness seems to be directly related to our neighbor’s unhappiness, “Doing well is not enough: we also want to do better than our peers. This status anxiety runs deep.”

Maybe economists need to stop looking inwards and do what they do best which is precisely the opposite. As the article openly acknowledges, economists’ forte is studying “outward behavior, not inward feelings; choices made, not pleasures taken.” And it is precisely a change of paradigm that is motivating new research on feelings. Well, feelings are not necessarily the domain of individuals as much as they are not confined to the depths of our hearts. Media Studies has been telling us for a while that we can also interpret feelings from people’s expressions, from art.

Marshal McLuhan once wrote in one of those essays that at the moment fell through the cracks, that artists are the one group of individuals that inhabit the present (which is regarded as the future by society at large) and their role is not merely limited to their own self-expression but is a reflection of the larger community as it also helps the community to understand themselves as well as the technology (or environment) that surrounds them.

If this is even close to be true then street art as well as Sonia Katyal's Semiotic Disobedience (see more about the latter in previous posts), offer a non-pretentious form of expression that is extremely intimate at the community level and perhaps can tell us more about our feelings than isolated individual opinions. Artists can be catalysts for the rest of us; sometimes they can accurately represent us. Street art with its irreverence has the potential of becoming a powerful medium to express and analyze feelings beyond the stiff limitations of scientific research.

Here are a few examples taken directly from the streets of New York City during the last day of 2006.

Have a happy new year anyway.


Billboard in Nolita, Manhattan


Poster in Nolita, Manhattan


Decorating Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn


Luxury Condo Construction Site in Williamsburg, Brooklyn


Bus Stop in Greenpoint, Brooklyn


Empty Lot in Williamsburg, Brooklyn


October 16, 2006

Bubblicious

At first glance, Ji Lee is a pioneer in facilitating semiotic disobedience. Take a second look and you will discover the beginning of what in the future can be regarded as “outdoor media 2.0,” or OOH2.0, which is probably a better fit for the acronym-obsessed business community.

OOH2.0 is the offline manifestation of the so-called Web 2.0 movement, which defines a new media model that exploits lightweight web-based businesses based on strong collective intelligence. People collaborating as opposed to just cold mathematical processing. Think of Wikipedia, del.icio.us, etc.

As any new media form, OOH2.0 is still not properly understood by the communications community, which most likely regards it as vandalism. Artists see it as another (if innovative) manifestation of activism. In reality Lee created a structure, a simple platform for people to participate in the advertising game on their own terms.

The bubble project has been defined as “a worldwide counterattack against aggressive public marketing,” through blank speech bubbles adhered to street advertising so anyone can alter the ad in a sort of clean, organized manner that sparks a collective conversation, replacing the monologue of traditional ads.

The project materialized in a book, “Talking Back: The Bubble Project,” published by Mark Batty Publisher in New York and that promises to be the first in an ongoing series. There is also an online version that keeps the project alive in real time with virtual bubbles inserted in digital photos (see below for a sample of my favorites).

As the artist himself expressed in multiple interviews, his work exists partly because traditional advertising has done a poor job at truly connecting with people. In my view the problem has always existed but now we actually see it courtesy of media fragmentation, which is an industry term for “choice.” Given the choice people will walk (or click) away from meaningless, boring ads. That is not to say that all advertising fall in this category but certainly there is plenty, enough to create a crisis in such a gigantic industry.

It will be interesting to see whether brands realize that street advertising does not have to be about advertising, that it can also be about art, people, or even useful objects. There are infinite ways to communicate and develop a dialogue that can make life a bit more interesting rather than a lot more boring. The Bubble Project ratifies that the old formula is obsolete.

Thanks to my good friend José Ignacio for the lead.

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October 09, 2006

Disobeying Paris

The new work of semiotic disobedience by London-based Banksy could be described as an absolutely brilliant contribution to the field. An article published in the BBC site early September explains the details of this superb stunt of messaging substitution.

In true alignment with Sonia Katyal’s definition of the recently coined concept that defines semiotic disobedience as a type of expression that “seeks to occupy and replace some forms of corporate speech in favor of an alternative message,” Bansky literally replaced Paris’ new album with his own interpretation of it in several record stores in the UK.

I find Bansky’s intervention extremely interesting because it leverages the democratic nature of new media in order to produce a piece of work that accomplishes something almost impossible for a guerrilla artist just a few years ago. The final piece is an album, as real as the one produced by the big corporate sponsorship, which amplifies his message to a whole new level.

What would be even more interesting is if Paris decides to fight back and intelligently intervene one of Bansky’s outdoor pieces, or perhaps follow him and make a music video. Anyway, in my view, the concept of semiotic disobedience could potentially burst into something more real if it ignores the good versus bad, art versus advertising, activists versus corporates dichotomies.

In any case we should appreciate and be grateful for the artist's contribution to a global conversation about nothing. I promise to write a review of the album (which I heard is remixed à la plunderphonics) as soon as I can get my hands on it.

I would like to thank my friends from Mogollon for bringing this article to my attention.

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October 05, 2006

Beheading Advertising

In an article to be published this fall in the Washington University Law Review, Sonia Katyal, a Fordham University law professor, coins the already-popular term “semiotic disobedience” (a Google search today yielded 400 mentions), which can be considered (as stated on Katyal’s paper) a modernization of John Fiske’s “Semiotic Democracy.”

The central argument is not new but is presented in a way that enlightens and greatly contributes with the conversation surrounding intellectual property in the public space, collective intelligence, and the role of artists as the quintessential “attention economists” (extensively discussed by Richard A. Lanham in The Economics of Attention). Talking about finding innovation at the intersection of disciplines…

In Katyal’s words, “the objective of semiotic disobedience is to correct the marketplace of speech by occupying and transforming the semiotic “codes” within advertising.” She goes on to explain the different degrees of disobedience, which range from vandalism to reclaiming public space.

In this context, I find the work of an unknown artist that operates in the Union Sq subway station (New York City) extremely interesting, this person goes beyond vandalism to carefully intervene indoor billboards and surgically behead the human subject of the advertisements. I first noticed her work a few months ago through the brilliant intervention of a Target piece in which we could appreciate a perfect white square substituting the head of a surreal model that was enjoying time at the beauty salon.

Far from connotations of violence or vandalism, the work of this artist signifies the emptiness in the advertising message. This person literally uncovers what everyone can see when confronted with one of these ads: that it is empty. In my opinion, this does not necessarily mean that all advertising is superficial or that advertising itself is an empty discipline, as McLuhan denounced over thirty years ago when he asserted: “all advertisements, advertise, advertising.”

This anonymous artist is giving us a practical lesson, a reminder that society changed quite some time ago, that the role of advertising can’t be detached from the responsibility of adding value to the people it touches, which translates in a radically different use of the public space. Art sponsorship anyone?

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