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  • Amy Young with Students of City College

Graff 101: Jordan Seiler

I've taught The Art History of Graffiti and Street Art class every other semester or so since 2011. Every session we meet with a section of amazing artists. On June 27 we met the ad bombing, ad stealing, ad replacing, ad takeover, subvertiser, culture jammer, or whatever he is called - Jordan Seiler of Public Ad Campaign. He explained his goals, showed us his current work over which we giggled in delight viewing the augmented reality function, and outlined his exciting upcoming projects. This is what my students had to say.

Amy L. Young

Lucas: The visit with Seiler taught me that the motivation behind his ad takeovers is much more nuanced and complex than immediately evident. Before this visit, I had assumed that a general hostility toward ads could only have been motivated by one of three concerns. One would have been that ads are usually trying to sell us things and are therefore tools of a materialist agenda. Seiler’s project would then have been based on an anti-consumerist concern. Another would have been that ad space and ad time are bought for large sums of money and therefore only support the agendas of privileged, moneyed interests. His project would then have been based on a populist concern. A third would have been that ads in their overwhelming, incoherent profusion have contaminated the visual sphere to intolerable levels. His project would then have been based on an aesthetic concern. While I think all of these hypotheses contain a larger or smaller grain of truth, there was a fourth concern, which I had not contemplated. He observed that when people took notice of his ad takeovers, instead of appreciating them as art, they would assume they were also ads, concocting more or less convincing hypotheses for what they were being sold. Their expectations of reality would not allow them to look past its conventions.

Oliva: Although I was familiar with artivism, I never took into consideration the importance of the space in which you create art and how that affects others. He said, “You cannot ignore this shit, when you pass this thing, an advertisement, even if you just catch a little bit of the color from the corner of your eye, likely you’ve seen enough of that image, then you can piece together what that advertisement is for and truthfully… your eyes are darting around seeing things subconsciously understanding them then making meaning of them later.” Street art and graffiti has always been abut reclaiming space and sticking it to the authorities but Seiler provides insight to how authorities are now trying to sabotage the public with that same space that they want to prohibit from others. Before this visit I viewed ads as an everyday thing I come across, like a mailbox, now I can see an ad and see the intentionality and schemes behind them.

Jakari: Jordon's main argument is that in a country with public spaces, why can’t the public post whatever they choose to. I understand his sentiments and ideas on the situation. If people are paying taxes and are obeying other societal rules than why can’t we take “public space” and make it our own? But that raises questions. Who specifically in the public could use it? It is something that could be discussed? The public as a whole would probably have to agree in order for it to work out. What if someone dislikes someone else’s ideas for the space?

Gwenoviere: Seiler had a lot of interesting things to say about how society operates when dealing with advertisements. What found interesting is when he first started coming up with the idea of representing his work to the public. We’re all trying to ignore the advertisements in the subway, so for him to get his point across he had to experiment. Oddly, black and white prints were grabbing the attention from the public passing by which is surprising.

Jennifer: One of the things that I really like about Jordan is that he really cares what people see in the streets. Advertising is one of those things he doesn’t like, he uses his name as a form of public protest, and he doesn’t hide, so basically, he believes in whatever he is doing, is right for the people. But what I think it was crazy is that as New Yorkers we are so tired of advertising that sometimes we kind of ignore it without even thinking. I never really think about what advertising did to us before, but now after meeting with the artist it’s frustrating to know how these advertising companies cover our public space with images and play with our minds.

Mileena: Jordan mentioned that he had always seen ads and how they, huge companies, benefit from us, and just by his explanation you see a whole other side. To me they start looking evil. When I take walks or sit in the train I like to look at my surroundings and at times I can make something so small and “unimportant” feel important so it was great that he does something similar. He had said people always asked, “Why do you continue with these ads?" Yet after that question he explained the deeper meaning to these ads is, one can’t escape.

Charlotte: Seiler's works take on an interesting political perspective about the harmful effects of advertising by inserting his own art into ad sites to to “reclaim public space.” He insisted that police largely “don’t care” about his cheeky tampering with public property because “it is not worth their time.” I asked him about exactly who his audience is (or who he would like them to be) since he goes out into the streets to interact with the public in order to create his art, yet his finished work is ultimately exhibited for a select crowd within a gallery setting. I usually conceive of street artists as people who create art on the streets for the public or for other street artists, and I would assume this would be Seiler’s intention given his anti-advertisement, pro-shared economy-of-public-space take on the world. While there is plenty of art throughout history that has been shown in galleries that takes on a strong political perspective which may represent the public’s best interest, however I still can’t help but feel Jordan’s choice of audience reduces the credibility of his agenda.

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