[-empyre-] empyre: circumventing and disrupting norms in art and in advertising

Julian Oliver julian at julianoliver.com
Wed Nov 11 03:08:44 EST 2009

Hi Renate,

..on Sun, Nov 08, 2009 at 12:30:04PM -0500, Renate Ferro wrote:
> Thank you Julian for explaining your project.  I'm sure that you, Clara
> and Diego have talked critically among yourselves about whether product
> replacement actually disrupts the capitalist system  or perhaps may
> enhance it in some cases.  

We have talked about this quite a bit yes, especially following contact from
several large advertising agencies that asked about licensing the software (!).
Whether they were strategically or non-strategically missing the point, I'm not

Just how much we perceive advertisements, even when trying not to, is of course
a well trodden area of study by cognitive psychologists and the agencies
employing them. In our project, we are ineluctably drawing a new kind of
attention to billboards: they form the basis of an exhibition, becoming landmark
canvases. What billboards are where, which billboards would make great digital
supports and which best suit our computer vision system (lack of symmetry, high
contrast, planar, clearly framed, etc). 

This is something that traditional methods of adbusting must also have to
contend with, even after application of spray paint or rearrangement of letters
(to pervert the message, etc) what was there 'before' or what lies 'under' the
alteration is recalled, at worst a moustache on the Mona Lisa.

(If you live in Berlin or Madrid you'll recognise some of the landmark surfaces
in this video: http://vimeo.com/3464018)

De-territorialisng the visual cortex isn't where our battle is however, if at

We are more primarily interested in re-using these proprietary surfaces on the
buildings of our cities, a (digital) strategy for making them writeable.  This
may sound defeatest - positioning advertisements alongside meteorological
inevitability, an incidental cognitive cost of living in a city.  Short of
miracles like the total removal of billboards Sao Paulo, I do consider mass
street advertising to be a given for the time being, so what can we do with

It's here that the project is motivated: it's a platform for rigorous, on site
visual commentary and play, a means of critically engaging the phenomena, a new
way of being in and with the visual expressions of a city. Secondly the
record-and-upload facility affords weight to the fact that we experience many
advertisements 'second hand'; in other peoples digital photos and films, for
instance. In this way we intervene at the point of memory, intercepting those
photons before uploading to a server near you.

Ideally all digital cameras would offer 'Artvert' mode. This of course begs a
new commercial opportunity "For a small fee you can capture those precious
memories free of advertisements.."

> I'm curious if you could share with our subscribers a couple of examples of
> artists in artwalk who used the system to deconstruct the billboard platform
> for viewers through their replacement art?

The system is very young, and so far we've had just one workshop where young
local artists in Cartagena, Spain were introduced to it. Three of the
participants immediately sought to remix the billboards, making the text part of
the Carrefour logo read as 'Consume' etc. They expressed active re-sentiment
over the billboards they live around, made more poignant perhaps by the ongoing
visual contest between between Roman ruins (historical identity) and large
advertisements throughout the city 

The other participants were less interested in adbusting, rather they were
enthusiastic about simply seening their work 'on' such huge private surfaces, a
photo of their face or images from their band on a building they cannot enter,
touch or otherwise have right to.

It was very interesting indeed. Let's see what the artists in Berlin do in
February, for Transmediale.


Julian Oliver
home: New Zealand
based: Berlin, Germany 
currently: Berlin, Germany 
about: http://julianoliver.com

> > Hola a todos,
> >
> > This is the second time I link to this project on Empyre and I feel a
> > little
> > self-conscious about doing so.. Nonetheless it seems relatively on topic.
> >
> > The idea is simple, replace street advertisements with art using hand-held
> > devices (like smart phones) and computer vision technology as a
> > substitution
> > platform. Artist's pick a campaign they want to exhibit 'on' and wherever
> > my
> > software 'sees' that advert, their 'artvert' appears instead when viewed
> > through
> > the handheld device.
> >
> > One can exhibit on Helmut Lang, Burger King, Apple or Yves Saint Laurent,
> > for
> > instance.
> >
> > I call this 'Product Replacement'.
> >
> > 	http://theartvertiser.com/
> >
> > Video documentation can be recorded on the device and uploaded as
> > (tourist)
> > footage to YouTube etc whenever an open access point is available, a
> > reimagination of a city where art is in place of adverts.
> >
> > Product Placement in film can also be exploited: a film found on a peer to
> > peer
> > network can be fed to my software, adverts detected and used as a
> > 'surface' for
> > the presentation of art; here third-party digital video is treated as
> > exhibition
> > space. The altered video is then rendered out frame by frame and re-seeded
> > as a
> > torrent file for redistribution using the same network.
> >
> > The project has been invited as guest of the upcoming Transmediale 10,
> > Berlin.
> >
> > Myself and collaborators Clara Boj and Diego Diaz will be working with
> > local
> > artists in the use of our system. The result will be in the form of an
> > 'art
> > walk' for local audiences where their artverts will be viewed on select
> > (gigantic) billboards in the city.
> >
> > Here's a great project with similar intention, in the form of a Firefox
> > plugin:
> >
> > 	http://add-art.org/
> >
> > Saludos,
> >
> > --
> > Julian Oliver
> > home: New Zealand
> > based: Berlin, Germany
> > currently: Berlin, Germany
> > about: http://julianoliver.com
> > _______________________________________________
> > empyre forum
> > empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> > http://www.subtle.net/empyre
> >
> Renate Ferro
> Visiting Assistant Professor
> Department of Art
> Cornell University, Tjaden Hall
> Ithaca, NY  14853
> Email:   <rtf9 at cornell.edu>
> Website:  http://www.renateferro.net
> Co-moderator of _empyre soft skinned space
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empyre
> Art Editor, diacritics
> http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/dia/
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre

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