March 22, 2017

Billboard Activism

R. Crumb illustration from "The Monkey Wrench Gang", Edward Abbey

I don't know of anyone that wants more billboards spread across the landscape. If anything, they would like fewer. But what about the ones that are already there?

You could burn them up, or cut them down, as in Edward Abbey's book, "The Monkey Wrench Gang". The group did "routine neighbourhood beautification projects, burning billboards along the highway 66". But I don't recommend it.

The free speech accorded to the advertising industry is fiercely protected to the full extent of the law so they can infect you with mind parasites that cause you to want to buy, buy, buy. Or conform. Or be afraid. Or hate this or that. Skin tags are the latest villain.

Or you could become a billboard artist/activist.

Take Jennifer Bolande, whose temporary artwork transforms a series of consecutive billboards in the desert landscape near Palm Springs, CA with photos of the landscapes they are blocking.

Each photograph is unique to its position along this route and at a certain point as one drives by, perfect alignment with the horizon occurs, revealing the beauty the billboard has blocked. It's a beautification project that reminds us of the damage done by the in-your-face advertising blighting highway sides that the wilderness-loving Edward Abbey disliked so deeply.

"Visible Distance/Second Sight" billboard art by Jennifer Bolande, image by Lance Gerber Studio

Or you could engage in a bit of billboard hacktavism such as during the run-up to the 2015 Paris Climate Conference (COP21). Street artists, working with the group Brandalism, altered ads in 600 European billboards, taking aim at global-warming denial and the corporate forces opposing climate action.

"Following on in the guerrilla art traditions of the 20th Century and taking inspiration from Agitprop, Situationist and Street Art movements, the Brandalism project sees artists from around the world collaborate to challenge the authority and legitimacy of commercial images within public space and within our culture. 
All the artwork is unauthorized and unsigned. This is not a project of self-promotion, and none of the artists names… or websites appear on the works: we believe there are already enough private interests taking ownership of our streets."                             
- from Brandalism website

Billboard activism - not as risky as burning or cutting them down, and possibly more impact through positive messages. I'm putting my gas can and chain saw away, and taking my art supplies out.

But I'm not turning in my honorary Monkey Wrench card.


  1. Anonymous3/22/2017

    They are annoying and companies spend a lot on advertising. We have no choice, but to look at them. It's odd that the entertainment industry spends a huge amount of energy making this stuff desirable and in your face, they then complain people download it, without paying. This is a contradiction, if you don't want people to watch it why make it. Because consumption usually effects your neurotransmitters it can actually be exhausting processing this rubbish.
    An interesting thing I discovered is that when you opt out of something such as consuming you start to get insight into the processes behind it and how unnatural it is.

    1. Alex,

      We found that, too. Things look quite different from outside of the work/spend/borrow/work lifestyle. That has never seemed like freedom to me. Quite the opposite.

  2. This is wonderful! The only billboard that is tolerable is the one that is blank, and even then...such eyesores. The artist Banksy has great things to say against this form of forced intake of advertising:

    “People are taking the piss out of you everyday. They butt into your life, take a cheap shot at you and then disappear. They leer at you from tall buildings and make you feel small. They make flippant comments from buses that imply you’re not sexy enough and that all the fun is happening somewhere else. They are on TV making your girlfriend feel inadequate. They have access to the most sophisticated technology the world has ever seen and they bully you with it. They are The Advertisers and they are laughing at you.

    “You, however, are forbidden to touch them. Trademarks, intellectual property rights and copyright law mean advertisers can say what they like wherever they like with total impunity.

    “Fuck that. Any advert in a public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It’s yours to take, re-arrange and re-use. You can do whatever you like with it. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head.

    “You owe the companies nothing. Less than nothing, you especially don’t owe them any courtesy. They owe you. They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don’t even start asking for theirs.”
    — banksy

    1. Erin,

      Thanks for adding the Banksy quote. I love it.

  3. There is a large billboard near me leftover from our recent presidential campaign. I noticed someone has thrown a big blob of paint at it. I wish I could sneak out at night and do even more to alter this "Make America Great Again" eyesore. It gets my mind going just to think of the possibilities!

    1. Marla,

      The possibilities - I am sure you have thought of many. How about "Make American Leaders Sane Again"?


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