By definition, culture jamming means altering the messages brought to us by public advertisers. However, in real life, this definition seems to be more flexible. Culture jammers do not necessarily need to work with advertisements which already exist, in order to tackle the omnipresent negative influence of corporate advertising. Artists who are concerned about social issues and the abuse of public space find various ways to reach people. Because of that, today’s culture jammers’ works differ quite a lot one from another, contributing collectively to a greater range of information. As you can probably imagine, there are many different voices to be heard in Berlin. The difference between artists who are simply socially engaged, and the ones that could be classified as culture jammers, is not that clear. In order to get the whole picture, we will mention the names of those who make their art with the intent to provoke global awareness, and to break the pattern of playing by the rules, without questioning any of them.
Vermibus – One of the most Famous Culture Jammers Today
Vermibus is certainly the first name that comes to anyone’s mind when talking about culture jammers closely related to Berlin. Like most of his fellow “artivists”, Vermibus expands the areas of his work from Berlin to many other parts of the world as well, and his most recent project was completed in four different cities. Aiming to unmask the messaging behind fashion advertising, the artist traveled to Paris, Milan, London and New York. Throughout his work, Vermibus challenges the way we perceive the typical, standardized beauty, questioning the artificial nature of physical attractiveness, generated by fashion industries. His works are quite easy to distinguish, but are not that easy to understand at first. The reaction that his billboards evoke gradually changes, going from silent observation to empathy and concern.
The Wa – Bitte Keine Reklame
Through delicate, but still very deliberate interventions, The Wa alters the visual and political landscapes of his installations’ locations. Very often, he returns to Berlin, to remind the Berliners of all the other options that could exist in their shared public space. Naturally, he also counts on the ephemeral nature of his works, and therefore these messages are also addressed to the ones who were not quick enough to see them in person. Fortunately, we have the opportunity to see most of his works on photographs, and the titles usually explain the broader context. In the image presented above, because of the visually aggressive content and the trees in the background, you may not even see the handcuffs at first. Many of his works are made with a similar approach, so make sure to look for the details, while examining the photographs of Safari in The Urban Jungle for example.
OX – Minimalism in Public Space
A bit more inclined to ad busting than altering messages, OX implements his site-specific minimalist images into public space, creating completely compelling installations. His input is so plain and simple, that it really leaves us speechless. His works are equally arresting as the advertisements themselves actually, but in a completely different manner. OX’s work may be the Yin to corporate advertisers’ Yang. What is even more important, he does this with a great sense of humor, which lightens up the whole subject of dealing with the problems related to public space. The French artist calls his works “Affichages”, and makes them out of abstract, geometric forms and structures. These images look like they are trying to get away from the billboard frame, into freedom.
Aïda Gómez – All the Small Things
On her official website, Aïda describes herself as a street worker. The unpretentious tone, which she uses to determine her position in our society, is present in her work as well. We already used the term “delicate” to describe The Wa’s witty interventions, but when it comes to Aïda Gómez, delicacy really explains her work in depth. The Spanish artist acknowledges how everyone is constantly preoccupied with whatever they find important, and how our lives are saturated by information. Through her simple, brave public interventions, Aïda Gómez finds a way to challenge the perspective of each passerby. Her playful comments and bright messages remind us of the beauty of the world, and there should always be room for true beauty in our lives.
BR1 – Encouraging Diversity
One of the people who definitely know how to put billboards to use is BR1, who tries to break the controversy of burqas and niqab in the Western society. By pasting large, illustrative posters on billboards, BR1 changes their initial purpose, and invites our modern society to embrace diversity. Since we’re living in a state of constant crisis, the artist also reminds us not to forget about the refugees and migrants, large numbers of people from Africa and the Middle East who have crossed the Mediterranean in search of a better life. Still, the key point of his social engagement is the question of female identity in the Middle East and the Mediterranean countries. BR1 directly speaks to mainstream advertisers, who avoid depicting Muslim women wearing face veils in general.
In case you’d like to expand this list of amazing public activists and artists further, you may want to check out the work of Barbara – a famous German artist who goes only by a very common name, and yet has great popularity. You’re going to love her clever works, as much as you’re probably intrigued by her alias. Also, take a look at the interesting stuff made by Brad Downey – you’ll come across a variety of all kinds of public art. Some pieces are real miniatures, some are quite serious projects, in any case, you’ll certainly find something interesting and inspiring.