You may have noticed them on the streets of London, Bristol or, more recently, Paris. Notice what? Those strange ads and billboards that look like normal advertisements but with twisted messages. Where do they come from? Who did them? Why do they do that? All those questions may be answered with one concept, brandalism.
If you look for a meaning of Brandalism on the Internet, you will find plenty of different definitions, one such as, ”The deliberate defacement of corporate iconography, generally for purposes of protest, parody, or social commentary”.
They are probably all true but what is Brandalism?
Brandalism is a group of artists who draws inspiration from the long history of protest art and other different movements like Agitprop, Situationist, and Street Art. Their project sees artists from each corner of the world collaborate to challenge the authority and legitimacy of commercial images and messages present within our culture. They do so by using a form of Street Art called subvertising. What is subvertising? Subvertising consists in changing meanings in corporate and political advertisements to make spoofs or parodies of them. But why do they do so? They firmly believe that the street is a site of communication, which belongs to the people and communities living there. Their interventions are a way to rebel against the visual pollution of media corporate and advertising giants who have a stranglehold over meaning and messages in our public spaces, through which they force-feed us with images and messages to keep us insecure, unhappy, and shopping.
It all started in July 2012 in England with a small team. Two friends had enough of the visual pollution present in their city because of the protective brand mania that was sweeping across the United Kingdom ahead of the 2012 London Olympics, so they decided to do something about it. During five days, they reclaimed 36 large format billboards in five different cities (Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, and London). For that project that would later be called the 48 Sheet, 28 artists addressed the impact of advertising on our culture by tackling subjects like body image, debt, cultural values, the environment and visual pollution.
Two years later, overwhelmed by the positive response following their work prior the 2012 Olympics, Brandalists decided to develop the Brandalism network throughout ten cities across the United Kingdom, adding Glasgow, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Oxford and Brighton to the latter. In just two days in May 2014, several teams in those ten cities installed 365 artworks in bus stop advertising spaces aiming at ecological damages, financial collapse, and gender stereotypes. The purpose of this stunt was to highlight the lack of control people have over their public space.
However, it’s really at the end of last year that they started making themselves heard. Just days before the United Nations COP21 began in Paris, more than 600 posters were distributed and displayed everywhere in the city. The posters were not hung on poles or handed to people on public grounds, but safely displayed behind the glass at bus stops all over Paris. The huge posters were fake advertisements, replacement ads designed by 82 artists from 19 countries. In those 82 artists, big Street Art names were present such as Escif, Jimmy Cauty or Banksy-collaborator Paul Insect.
The purpose of this last intervention was, as usual, to challenge corporations. This time, they took aim at the ones present in Paris on the margins of the climate talks. They formed ads that targeted the link between corporations’ advertising in regards to consumerism, global warming, and fossil fuel consumption. But this time, why take aim at corporations that sponsor a good cause? When interviewed, Joe Elan, one of the head behind brandalism said:
By sponsoring the climate talks, major polluters such as Air France and GDF-Suez-Energie can promote themselves as part of the solution – when actually they are part of the problem.
This is the reason the posters aimed many of the COP21 main sponsors including Air France, Dow Chemicals and GDF Suez (Energie). Many of the posters and images made for the occasion used the same branding and voice as the original ones. The goal was to force the people to take a deeper look at the content of the hundreds of posters dotting their daily commute.
After all that, you must be asking yourselves, ok that’s nice, but does that change things? What is the result of all that?
Well, by tackling major corporations and planting the seeds for a movement, the people behind brandalism may have empowered future brandalists. The bigger, the better! They may have also inserted elements of doubt into average individual’s minds as to the sad environmental resumes of many of these big companies.
One thing is certain, with their latest stunt in Paris, Brandalism had an impact and made waves on the Internet. And as French artist JR said,
if it makes people talk, if you can see an impact on their lives, it means that, in a smaller way, it is changing the world.
More pictures here.