Friday, January 18, 2008

The Decapitator

When I was studying art at college my self and my fellow students were lucky enough to be given a workshop by a creative duo that called themselves AVI Billboard Interventions, that also were a new breed of culture jammers. They worked to subvert existing outdoor advertising, to create a new and often opposing message to the one of the original advert. What was new about their approach was the way that they hijacked the advert. Until then, people would use far more crude means to subvert or hijack the message, such as spraying or painting over the image. But theirs was not such an immediately obvious take over. At the time the Apple Macintosh was just starting to revolutionise the design scene, and was putting cost effective and professional typography and print technology in the hands of the masses. Their approach was to harness this new opportunity make their changes to the billboard in such a way as it would be unperceivable to the viewer. Simply by selecting the right font, and replacing a few select words of a campaign, they infected billboards like a hidden virus, and their subversive message was suddenly given the weight and credibility of a polished, glossy marketing campaign, appearing to be delivered by a major brand. A billboard ad, ironically located at the exit of a car pound for towed illegally parked cars, suddenly Volvo cars appeared to be telling people to 'Buy A Bike' rather than their latest station wagon, and the government began suddenly being honest and self critical, telling people how their policies were failing.

I was reminded of the work of AVI after seeing the work of London based culture jammer 'The Decapitator', who has started re-appropriating billboards, albeit in a far more grotesque and darker fashion. The Decapitator pastes an image over the heads of models in adverts, to make them appear as if they have somehow been decapitated. Having carefully recreated the correct looking background, the subversion is not immediately apparent, and the viewer is left believing that the company behind the advert genuinely included a decapitated model. The meaning may be less apparently socially or politically motivated (or not as the case maybe), at least it but the approach is the same. I would love to see lots more of this kind of subversive activity!

I found the images on CMMNEWS Check out The Decapitators culture jamming on his Flickr account. Here are a few examples, a mix of subverted ads and their original formats.

UPDATE: Since writting this entry I also came across the work of Saatchi & Someone a culture jammer that created some very interesting and political billboard subversions.

There is also more info on how to go about hijacking billboards in this article on Urban75