The ”liquidated” logos of French street artist ZEVS ( Schwarz Christophe Arhirre ) have drawn attention to the nature of graffiti art and recalled its origins which put the act and outcome within perspective and given it context within a larger artistic and political sphere.
Essentially, if the painter has permission it is termed graffiti, and otherwise the work can’t be condoned, and thus classified as vandalism in a legal sense. Zevs dripping logos of well known corporate trademarks and copyrights are clearly not granted with the board of directors blessing, though the public nature of the altering of image and the dissemination of the acts in the media are also a form of advertising and public relations for the multinational companies concerned. Zev’s targets include Channel, McDonalds, Coca Cola and Louis Vuitton for example. The choice of high profile imagery can suggest ingenious delinquency rather than artistic projection. Andy Warhol was not arrested for spray can pop art over storefront logos in tony neighborhoods.
Steal This Book was a Abbie Hoffman’s version of an American underground survival guide for the politically active and emotionally perplexed of his generation. He detailed pirating radio frequencies, constructing pipe bombs and other acts of insurgency. An Ann Landers of the tie-dye crowd, Hoffman gave counsel on how to obtain a free buffalo from the U.S. Dept. of the Interior. Theologically, Hoffman claimed, that given the nature and structure of modern industrial societies, it was not immoral to steal from those who held power. In fact, it was immoral not to do so. Much of the posing was just ”noise” and the book made the New York Times bestseller list in 1971.The art of Zevs appears to be a form of ”culture jamming’‘ with his goal being to disrupt and subvert mainstream corporate advertising and scratching the shield of some well known cultural institutions.
Zevs other tactic is ”visual kidnapping” which entails cutting figures out of billboard banners and blackmailing the corporate advertiser to make a donation to a given cause. Whether abduction or logo assassination, there is a certain reflection on the trademark’s visual power yet his tactic has failed to inspire ”copy-cat” activity which would then be far more threatening than mere isolated incidences and far less innocuous.
The work of the Billboard Liberation Front is also similar. The BLF will radically alter the message of outdoor publicity. Its disinformation of a more passionate variety in co
st of the clinical antiseptic banality of corporate advertising. For BLF, the issue is corporate annexation of public space, or usurpation of public space based on the foundation of nominal democracy supported by private property and the rights, far reaching, in which they can be used to exercise influence within a broader public space. The rub is where does one end and the genuine need of the public begin.
” Advertising is the language of the culture now. There’s no way to fight it. … Why should art be democratic? … I think were in a transition period right now with popular culture kind of consuming everything. The center of the universe in our world now seems to be Madison Avenue and Hollywood, and everything emanates out of there and ricochets all over the place. That’s what people are interested in, that’s what motivates them, that’s what they aspire to” ( Jack Napier, founder of BLF )
All the above examples of culture jamming owe some debt to Guy Debord and the French Situationists of May ’68 notoriety. The ”Societe de Spectacle” argue from the position that all advertising serves to mask the degradation inherent in the system by presenting a fake reality, an illusion to keep people on the treadmill hoping to catch the carrot at the end of the stick.