NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - In New York City’s subway system, self-described vandals who share the name Poster Boy have a political agenda: make passengers question the barrage of advertising they face each day.
Skilled with razors, they cut up poster ads for movies, television shows, or consumer products in mere minutes, rearranging letters and images to alter the meaning in a practice sometimes called “culture-jamming.”
The aim is to satirize American consumer culture and entertain with wordplay and incongruous juxtapositions.
One display cuts and transposes upper-case letters from the 2008 movie “Iron Man” to form “Iran=Nam” to comment on the possibility that the U.S. military might become involved in Iran as it did in Vietnam.
Another changes a ubiquitous train sign that reads, “Please do not lean on door,” to “Please do not lean on poor.”
A book of Poster Boy works is due to be published by Mark Batty Publisher (www.markbattypublisher.com) later this year. A member of Poster Boy spoke with Reuters about the group’s craft and political views.
Q: Hello Poster Boy. Are you one person or a collective?
A “It’s a group of us. It started with one person, but now anybody can pick up the moniker, you don’t even have to be in contact with us. Anybody can pick up a razor. It’s about taking control of your environment.”
Q: What are you saying? Is yours basically an anti-corporate, anti-consumer message?
A: ”It’s anti-consumerism and anti-copyright. It’s nothing violent, it’s not anarchism, it’s more about healthy communication. A majority of the Poster Boy stuff is satire, using humor to address issues that aren’t humorous. Some pieces are straight-up toilet humor, others are legitimate political critique.
Q: Is “culture-jamming” always left-wing?
A: “There are not many conservatives that do street art. The nature of it, the lack of respect for property, usually (goes hand in hand) with left ideas. It’s vandalism, damage of property, but it’s more that there is a political agenda.”
Q: A lot of the posters are mash-ups of movie ads, using faces like Jack Black from “Tropic Thunder” on a “Gossip Girl” poster. What are you saying about celebrity?
A: People let fame get to their head. This is a way of denying that. For me, it’s about being able to have a conversation with my environment and with public advertising. If they have a right to say something on public walls then I should have a right to say something back.”
Q: Is part of the appeal that the art can’t be owned, that it’s fleeting and ephemeral?
A: “Yes. Street art -- anything not inside a controlled space -- only has a short lifespan. It speaks to the human condition. We give too much value to material things and street art is a reminder that things don’t last forever.”
Q: How do you want the work to be seen? It only lasts 10-15 minutes before the cops come.
A: ”It lasts on flickr, other people flick it. I did a piece that’s been up for two months. Others are taken down in, like, 5 minutes. It’s usually done during the day, on the spot. If I have time before the train comes, I’ll do something.
Q: When this gets put out as a book, does it effectively become institutionalized, a part of the establishment?
A: “It’s something we’ve struggled with. Selling out is a touchy subject. That’s why we did pieces on flickr anonymously, so there’s no commercial aspect involved. But a book allows people who don’t normally take the subway to see the work.”
Q: Where do you want this to go long-term?
A: “Some people would like to see more serious public space for street art. A poster won’t stop war, but it will lend support to similar ideas that come through.”
Q: Have you ever been arrested?
A: I’ve gotten a few tickets. I‘m not afraid to get arrested. It’s not like I‘m stealing something. If this is wrong, we need to ask ourselves, what else is wrong?”
Q: Do you ever feel like you’re crossing the line, doing something really dangerous?
A: “Like it’s stupid? Absolutely. There are times I think I could be home. Other times I feel really alive. It’s illegal, but do I think it’s wrong? No. it definitely gets your blood going.”
Editing by Paul Simao