Thursday, June 26, 2008

Get Schooled By The Intern: The James Dean of Design.

There have been many rebels in our time. Some have been plastered on our television screens, their faces gracing the front page news and their names clogging our RSS fields. However, in my on-going quest of interesting weekly (or more than a week) research, a light was shed on a whole new subculture of rebels. And unlike the movie title, these rebels have causes.

Google bombing, Whirl-mart, Subvertising, Stickering and the Billboard Liberation Front are just some of the groups I looked into this week to provide you, my faithful reader, with some knowledge in my new favorite James Dean of designers: culture jammers. Typical aims of culture jammers can include many things, ranging from super serious to not-so serious. In the end, the basis is to have a good laugh at the expense of prevailing social events (sounds good to me).

The phrase “culture jamming” comes from the idea of “radio jamming.” Radio jamming stems from the idea that public frequencies can be pirated and subverted for independent communication. Here is your crash course in the fine art of culture jamming:

Google Bombing :: a widespread effort to purposely influence the automated association of specific keywords and results produced by internet engines. Whirl-mart :: an event that seeks to mimic and mock what they perceive as the absurdity of the shopping process, often by organizing a crowd to walk around a Wal-Mart in an apparent daze for several hours, buying nothing. Stickering :: placing stickers on stop signs to create messages. For example: “Stop War,” “Stop Eating Animals” “Stop! Hammertime!” and so forth. Billboard Liberation Front :: billboard modifications are done in the style of original billboards, by groups or individuals.

There are many artists that are involved with said ”culture jamming,” and a lot of them having pseudo names. This mysterious aspect of them, though intriguing, makes it hard to find information about them online. However, there are a lot of forums dedicated to the whereabouts and recent happenings of some of these artists.

BANKSY is a well-known pseudo-anonymous English graffiti artist. His artworks are often satirical pieces of art on topics such as politics, culture, ethics and a lot of his influences come from Blek le Rat (who worked with stencils in 1981). Banksy’s messages are usually anti-war, anti-capitalist and/or anti-establishment. He sticks it to the man, you might say. Banksy produced a quantity of spoof British £10 notes substituting the picture of the Queen’s head with Princess Diana’s head and changing the text “Bank of England” to “Banksy of England.” A large wad of these were thrown into a crowd during a Notting Hill Carnival and some tried to spend them in local shops.

RON ENGLISH began his liberation on billboards, where he would (illegally, he’s even been thrown in the slammer a few times) replace a billboard with his own politically inspired vision.
His work may sometimes lead to a literal revision: Apple Macintosh starring Charlie Manson with Ron English’s logo replacing Apple’s apple (left image). Or other times, they simply remark on the nature of advertising. Much like his mimc of Norman Rockwell, English emulates Picasso, Warhol, Munch and a host of other canonical Western artists to surprising effect. English is more interested in popular icons. Nothing is sacred, and in his new world, Mickey Mouse is more pertinent than Jesus.

MR BRAINWASH aka MBW aka Thierry Guetta, is a French filmmaker turned graffiti artists. His style is reminiscent of Banksy’s, and like other culture jammers, he takes cultural icons and warps them into interesting pieces of work. Recently, his art work has been unleashed and randomly appearing, wheat-pasted up and down Los Angeles and Hollywood. On my way to work, actually, I’ve noticed posters sprouting up and about. Why is this, you ask? “Life is Beautiful” is the first exhibition ever mounted by Mr Brainwash. Taking place in an old Hollywood studio complex, it will feature over one hundred paintings, sculptures and print alongside an installation made from 100,000 shoes. The exhibit hours are from June 27th-29th from 1PM-9PM and is on Sunset Boulevard. Leah and I checked it out last Friday and it definitely lived up to the hype. The space was gargantuan and MBW did not waste any space. The walls were covered with graffiti and his artwork. From 3D pieces to elegantly framed ones, it's definitely a must-see show. And it’s free to the public, so if you’re in the neighborhood, you should definitely check it out. Here's a link to the site as well.

Reading about these artists and their compassion, influence, and drives have provided me with a reminder of the reason we do art. We don’t do it to make money (but this is a nice perk, of course). We don’t do it to climb the social and economic ladder. We do art to express ourselves and what we believe in. And that, my friend, is a lesson well-learned.

Which brings me to the project I worked on to accompany my research on our artistic rebel rousers. I’d like to preface with an apology for my absence the past few weeks in delivering you with something to read from me. Forgive me! My project is inspired from a quote that I stumbled upon when working on my Nick Egan inspired collage a few weeks back. It was from an interview with an artist (the name escapes me, sorry) and the question was, “What made you decide to be an artist?” The response was, “I get to play God.” I liked this quote because it kind of leads back to the roots of the phenomenon of culture jammers. They ruled the school, they were kings of the world, they got to play God.


Blogger Emily said...

I'd like to add shopdropping to the list of culture jamming activities. Check out

June 28, 2008  
Blogger jack raffin said...

cool post

July 29, 2008  

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