Beyond Traditional Art
by brian prince
Politicians. Steel mill workers.
Mall security. Grade school teachers.
VPs. Celebrities. Florists.
Nurses. Immigrants. The rich.
The poor. The middle-class.
There is one place where you cannot avoid the diversity of mankind:
These stretches of asphalt and concrete overpass wonders house a contemporary art that everyone sees. They’re the gallery opening that no one misses. But as viewers of this exhibit, we miss it all. We miss the art. The messages are engrained within us as we are brainwashed with the news. As we are inundated with commercial propaganda. An art concept far beyond traditional art. It’s the role of advertising.
There is something very proper, convincing, and profound about the political art organization who reaches to break the mundane with social “correctness,” the California Department of Corrections (CDC). But it’s also sneaky, unlawful, and extremely controversial. And really, it’s just a parody. Disguising itself as a legit, law-making organization, they present themselves in a formal way, starting with their name. Who’s to say it’s not legal. They’re using a mass media vehicle. Depicting truths, lies, taking a stand and making statements criticizing the companies and governments that are controlling the spectacle. That are controlling our minds. Their Web site consists of information about joining their forces to beat the current advertising messages that we are faced with everyday. They put a positive spin on the subversion and destruction of current “brainwashing” messages posted on our highways.
The CDC uses the tag line, “Public Safety, Public Service.” And, that alone is joke on our public service organizations claiming to be of service. The CDC claims their protection of the general public by altering “the most criminal advertising in a secure, safe and disciplined setting.” And by providing “work, academic education, vocational training, and specialized treatment” utilizing current outdoor advertising boards. They teach you how to vandalize for a good reason, to better a public message, and teach you how NOT to get caught while doing so. This artist movement approaches the public as a “real” government or corporate agencies would. They are proactive. They are clever. There is a brilliance is using the tactics that already exist to get a message out. Almost like a taste of “Political and Public Service Communication’s” own medicine. More than activism, this is pop art.
However, this pop art is anything but pop. It is underground. It’s political. Even more so than the governor. The concept is so strategic because it has to be. So political because it needs to be. Keeping up with the government and corporate agencies, organizations under the CDC umbrella, even international artists/activists, strive for social change. A local example is the South Venice Billboard Correction Committee (SVBCC). They explain their mission with this arguemnt, “Billboard ‘art’ is the epitome of capitalist realism, a visual medium that uses women’s bodies to promote consumption, that glorifies substance abuse, and that deflects public attention from glaring social and economic inequities.”
How do you argue with that? A stance where the average American, specifically – Californian, would ignore this propaganda and conform to the laws as is. I’ve grown to appreciate the voice of this organization and recognize them as artists in their own right. Whether I am of the political activists kind or not. This artist movement is simply claiming the competition of the government and consumerism as Ford would to Dodge or Bud Light would to Coors Light. And after reading the essay, “Learning from Las Vegas,” I realize this NEW way of communicating is really just choosing the old or existing way.
What is so unique about this concept is that the audience is everyone. As mentioned in the opening paragraph, no one is excluded from seeing this “art.” No wonder the government and corporate agencies have chosen to use this medium from the very beginning. But it’s not just Political and Public Services that are comunicating this way. It’s the way of Consumerism. I worked on the out-of-home campaigns for Verizon Wireless from the beginning of 2005 to the end of last year and I know what the motive of their outdoor advertising is. Get a single message into the head of the consumer. As innocent as it sounds, in the end, it brings more dollar signs into the company with the most memorable campaign that benefits the consumers life.
I love that this political artists/activist organization uses a close-enough name to the “real” government agency. To me, that alone is art. Their approach is very wise for the concept they use. If this was a fine art organization, they would be in the wrong arena, but since their message works hand in hand with what is thrown in our faces on our daily commutes, you could ask for a better medium to display this kind of art. Besides the destruction value, I believe this is the most profound advertising campaign I have ever seen.
This research has led to many resources regarding the defacing of advertising and it’s vehicles, in particular, billboards. In essence, this quote sums up the view of these activists/artists who are destined to smash the totalitarian/advertisers image, “When our work is done, advertising and billboards will fly beside the soviet flag in the museum of dead totalitarian experiments.”
In the end, I see it to be just as disturbing as the messages they’re defacing or “improving.” However, I am always in favor of breaking the mundane. And this is exactly what it does when I visit these galleries everyday on my commute to and from work. The only question is, does it really work in terms of competition with huge dollar corporations and agencies? Or is it art for activist sake? And how long can this subversion last against the next wave of government intervention?