Outdoor advertising is one of the oldest forms of marketing. We live in a visually-oriented world and making a strong impact on consumers is the imperative in this field. Looking around any modern city environment, it is difficult to imagine a day without seeing all kinds of adverts – billboards, wallscapes, banners, and posters. They are there to influence our decisions in ways we often do not even realize and they certainly play an important role in our daily lives. As many of free-thinking intellectuals believe, this is the key to the problem. Many of us don’t even see these posters and billboards anymore, but they still fall into our visual field, making their way into our subconscious and creating the desire for a certain product. These ads are a part of visual pollution urban dwellers face daily, a by-product of consumerism, a phenomenon many of the said thinkers criticize.
Even though it seemed impossible to change anything about this visual pollution, a global movement emerged in the last decade, from Bristol to Sao Paolo. Known as the Adbusting movement, it is composed of artists and activists with a goal to rid cities of adverts. One of the artists at the forefront of this action is Jordan Seiler who endeavors to help the public regain control of their visual atmosphere.
Public Ad Campaign
Jordan Seiler is a New York-based artist and activist who began covering outdoor advertisements at the beginning of the 2000s during his studies of photography at the Rhode Island School of Design. He covered these ads with either simple patterns or blank, soothing images. Although his initial work looked like an outright street art project, it quickly developed into an sharp critique of the social effects of advertising on shared public psyche. This is how Public Ad Campaign was born, Seilers first and biggest project to date. Elaboration on the problem showed that the issue expanded far beyond aesthetic concerns, and the artist found himself making work that can be described as activism. Organized action and community development became important aspects of his practice and remain so today. Over the years, the Public Ad Campaign has become a global movement with over a hundred street artist involved. Intervening in the public space by challenging the predominance of outdoor advertising, the project has a goal to make a more democratic and open public visual surroundings rather than to cause havoc. It represents a form of a constructive social criticism, realized through the deconstruction of consumerism’s favorite means.
‘Action Art’ by Seiler
Identifying himself as an adbuster, Jordan Seiler shifts the attention to the performative aspect of his work. He is not particularly interested in the content of ads he removes, as they are all equally damaging. Rather, he focuses on the creative act itself, exploring its resulting impact as well as the emotional and contemplative tension it causes.
His work combines art and action and addresses the fact that advertisers intentionally (ab)use our shared space. In this sense, Seiler’s pieces exemplify ‘action art’ – they are similar to records of a turbulent encounter, even if there is no object left behind. His purposeful projects could be described as a particular form of social practice, as they all require the participation of others to reach their ultimate goal.
One of his most significant actions, the New York Street Ad Takeover (NYSAT) involved around 100 onlooking citizens, all of whom took part in a coordinated buff against 20.000 square feet of illegal advertising in downtown NY in 2009. Over 120 illegal street level billboards were turned into white canvases and painted by artists including I AM, Ji Lee, Erin and Over Under, who volunteered as part of the civil disobedience project. A similar participatory project called The PublicAccess was conducted in 2013. It revolved around creation and distribution of access keys for breaking into outdoor advertising infrastructure around the city. In 2015, Seiler posted links for free download of each key design in the form of a 3D printable file. This was an open invitation to a broader public to get involved in cleaning their visual environments and to join the practice of taking down commercial ads from public spaces. Access keys have been cast according to the standards of different cities throughout the world, from New York to Melbourne to Paris.
Work Based on Augmented Reality Technology
An interesting segment of Jordan Seiler’s most recent works is the involvement of the experimental Augmented Reality technology. AR I AD Takeover, also known as NO AD, is a mobile app that replaces the top 100 New York City subway ads with digital art. Made in collaboration between Seiler, The Heavy Projects and Jowy Romano of Subway Art Blog, under the umbrella of Re+Public, the project virtually turns the existing advertising infrastructure into a special kind of digital gallery. The main purpose of this Seiler’s excursion into the digital is to reconsider the function ads have in our public lives and to inspire fresh visions on how we might revitalize our cities. When asked why he does “ad-takeovers”, Jordan Seiler explained: “The simple answer is that I believe ingesting too much commercial media (advertising) makes it harder for us to be mindful conscientious citizens…”, in an essay you can access here.
Exhibitions and Collaboration with Open Walls Gallery
Planning and intention lie at the core of Jordan Seiler’s practice, but being a street activist, a certain level of spontaneity has always been allowed. Usually occurring during his travels, these casual actions have enriched many a street on different continents. He is one the regular invitees of the most relevant street art festivals, conferences, and events. Highlighting some of his solo shows, we mention Taking from the Tip Jar at Vincent Michael Gallery in 2011, and Removal Satisfies the Condition held at The Canal Chapter in 2006. More recently, his work was on included in a duo show with Vermibus at the Open Walls Gallery. The exhibition was a part of the grand opening of gallery’s new space at the center of Berlin-Mitte at Schröderstrasse in July 2015.
A definitive highlight of Jordan Seiler’s year of 2016 was an impressive series titled Collisions. This project was a part of the artist’s ongoing interest in directing outdoor advertising spaces in alternative directions. Following the conceptual trail setup in his previous projects, Jordan Seiler’s Collisions are meant to investigate how the tools of advertising use and alter public spaces, bombarding our subconscious without our consent. Composed out of simple, geometric abstract compositions, this series intended to be the perfect opposite to the chaos of visual stimuli found in busy urban areas. The emphasis here was put on the absence of colors, as black and white dominated every piece. Practically a negation of the colorful ads they replace, these clean-cut posters attempt to attract people’s attention by disrupting what they see as usual. The very moment when an unsuspecting viewer notices something is different and realizes that the common ads are exchanged with abstract pieces of art is the crown of the Collisions project. The observer is left feeling relieved, while the images installed by Seiler allow a more personal and meaningful contemplation than the overly aggressive ads. The entire project of Collisions was well documented by the artist himself, who photographed every piece of the series. All the interested people can follow Seiler’s work on our page and view videos of the artist installing the replacement posters via the NO AD app.
OPEN WALLS Gallery featured works from Collisions at the Urban Art Section of 2016 Berliner Liste and at the ART.FAIR Cologne 2016.
- 2015 · Grand Opening: Jordan Seiler & Vermibus · Open Walls Gallery · Berlin (Germany)
- 2013 · 10 Years of Wooster Collective · Jonathan LeVine Gallery · New York (USA)
- 2013 · Public Data Explorer · Harlan Levy Projects · Brussels (Belgium)
- 2012 · Running With Rocky · Harlan Levy Projects · Brussels (Belgium)
- 2012 · The Experiment · ICA – Boston (USA)
- 2012 · NuART festival · Stavanger (Norway)
- 2011 · Taking from the Tip Jar · Vincent Michael Gallery · Philadelphia (USA)
- 2006 · Removal Satisfies the Condition · The Canal Chapter · New York (USA)