Tag Archives: culture jammin

Logo Jammers

The “Space Invaders” exhibition brought “adbusting”/ culture jamming back to my attention. I liked Marcsta and Merda’s “Disobey” sticker, which I saw exhibited at “Space Invaders”, as I’m tired of Shepard Fairey’s “Obey” logo being regarded as an example of quality street art. What “Space Invaders” defined “adbusters” is a culture jamming subversive alteration of corporate logos. (Adbusters Media Foundation is a Canadian not-for-profit organization.) There is a good summary of culture jamming and more links to articles about culture jamming from the Center for Communication and Civic Engagement (University of Washington).

Stickers and culture jamming at "Space Invaders" exhibition.

I hadn’t really though about culture jamming recently because I was so close to it. I used to listen to a lot of Negativeland and read about culture jamming organization like the K Foundation, Church of the SubGenius and the Emergency Broadcast Network. Before that I was reading Wm. Burroughs “The Invisible Generation” and other pieces of his writing best summed up in his line: “language is a virus from outer space”. And tracing the history of the “meme” idea of Richard Dawkins (I yearned to read his book, The Selfish Gene for as a child seeing it on my father’s bookshelf with its attractive cover of biomorphic surrealist painting by Desmond Morris); tracing it back to philosophical “spooks” of Max Stirner. Along with regular updates from the local Melbourne news about the culture jamming activities of BugaUp and other group’s billboard vandalism for political objectives.

But by the late 90s there were so many t-shirts with subversive alteration of corporate logos that I began to tire of the tactic. It all seems like a lot of graphic designers were just having fun with parodies to sell products with a cool vibe. It wasn’t anti-consumerist just another product range. There is still a lot of culture jamming stuff around, although, some of it like the Everfresh crew use a subverted version of the Cellarmaster logo is just parody (I’m not sure what the connection is apart from the guys from Everfresh drinking habits). But the lack of serious political intent makes many of these works simply parody and homage rather than culture jamming.

The politics of culture jamming is more difficult and subtle than mainstream politics; both sides are using the same basic psycho-technology propaganda repertoire. Many companies don’t mind the satire, many politicians collect political cartoons of themselves, if culture jamming was effective it might be worth pursing but the results of decades are not promising. Most people can take a joke, only despots who can’t stand satire. Maybe it is time for a return to the politics of the blunt aphoristic quality of the graffiti slogan.

Mac pills

"men never commit evil so fully and joyfully..."



Street Art Politics Forum

I did get to the Sweet Streets artist’s forum at 1000 Pound Bend on Saturday 23 October. The forum focused on “the challenges and politics surrounding being a Street artist and working on and off the streets.” (Festival website) The panel featured Kirsty Furniss (from KA’a), Tom Civil, Junky Projects, Haha, and Boo. The forum was organized by Boo (who is on the festival committee) and facilitated by Mickie Skelton, a circus performer who did an excellent job in introducing the artists, keeping the questions coming from the audience and the discussion moving.

Street art is not exclusively political but there is a political dimension to claiming a space, the personal empowerment of not being locked out and DIY. The decision to be arrested for a political empowers the individual to take dramatic actions like painting “No War” on the Sydney Opera House roof.

There was a small discussion by the Newcastle artists – Junky Projects, Civil and Boo about the differences between Newcastle and Melbourne’s approach to graffiti. Newcastle is fighting a loosing war on graffiti – “Dig a hole and throw money in it.” Junky Projects. All of the artists are currently living in Melbourne because it is more tolerant than Newcastle of graffiti.

All of the artists in the forum were interested in the political issues of street art but not all were political activists unless HaHa’s offer to fill USB sticks with conspiracy theory videos counts as activism. Junky Projects is not a political activist but his propaganda by deed of creating art from recycling junk bring attention to the politics of consumption and waste. The other three artists in the forum Tom Civil, Kristy and Boo have all used street art in political activism. Culture jammin’ was the entry into street art for both Kirsty and Boo.

It was a rambling discussion Tom Civil pointed out early anarchists propaganda techniques that have been taken up by street artists, including paste-ups. He has recently published a new edition of “How to Make Trouble and Influence People.”

Boo talked about her use of cognitive dissidence in her art to make people think. But even the way that she puts up her work on the street has some cognitive dissidence – Boo puts her work up with a tube of liquid nails on the way home from doing the shopping.

The discussion moved on to what is the future of Melbourne’s street art? “Brunswick” Junky Projects said it in one word. Junky Projects also pointed out that there is less hip-hop graffiti and more graffiti from other subcultures like, punks and metal. There are punk street artists with names like Snotrag, Neckface and the Looser Crew making ugly pieces.

Other predictions for the future were more proscriptive. Civil wants bigger street art, whole building size, but deeper subjects rather than the current shallow content. He is looking forward to more mature street art and hoping for break from the American aesthetic that has dominated street art. Boo is hoping for a less masculine street art, not just more women involved but less machismo in the street art produced. Boo noted that there were more women artists participating in this year’s festival.

(See my entry on Political Street Art)


Street Art Railway Notes

Pranksters struck at one of Melbourne’s train stations again. This time they altered a ticket machine’s instructions to dispense university degrees. The alterations used stickers of the same color and typeface, cut to fit over the existing information, it was so subtle that staff at the station didn’t notice them until informed by a confused customer. (Thanks to Jane for the photos.)

Lench's blockbuster since buffed

Being an appreciative observer of street art along the Upfield train line I have to comment on Lench KSA (Kickin Some Arse). His revival of the blockbuster style advertises his name clearly – what more can I say about a trademark and instant fame apart from technically analyzing the fonts that he uses. Actually there is more Lench is an active aerosol writer with other styles than his visible blockbuster pieces.

Anonymous pranks and instant fame are two extremes in street art. What is more important the idea or the identity? Or is it to make the neglected urban areas more beautiful? Graffiti is part of the urban system; like the fungi that live on rotting wood and have brightly colored fruiting bodies, orange shelf fungus, small blue parasols and others, aerosol graffiti converts neglected areas into works of art.  And on the subject of neglected areas, a major area of neglect in Melbourne is the public transport system.

Graffiti writers have mixed feelings about the transport network, they love the lines and rolling stock like train-spotters, the writers see train carriages and nearby walls as their canvases. The railways also bring the public to their art, or the other way around. Yet attacking the train system is a major motivation in Melbourne graffiti, as it is in other cities. The rail operators see the graffiti writers as their natural enemy. And, consequently, as in many cities the train operators and their thugs (also known as “authorized officers”) are seen as the enemy by graffiti writers – but in Melbourne the general public sympathize with this view.

All of Melbourne, especially the graffiti crews have been relieved not to have Connex running the train system even though the new train operators, Metro haven’t improved things. Hatred of Melbourne’s train system is so popular that it has its own Facebook page. I hate Connex/Metro, with 16,947 members when I looked. There are more examples of culture jamming the Connex system in the photo section of this Facebook group.

Cue some hobo railroad music:

“Oh, I don’t like a railroad man/ for a railroad man will kill you if he can/ and drink up your blood like wine.” Bascam Lamar Lunsford, “I wish I was a Mole In the Ground” (1929)

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