Searching for Empathy

Artwork by Faith XLVII. Photo by Luna Park.

Artwork by Faith XLVII. Photo by Luna Park.

Empathy. It's just about the last thing you can expect to find in an advertisement. Unless it's the phony empathy of "I see you. I see you're hurting. You deserve to not hurt. I can help you (for the right price)." But openness to a conversation with a perceived enemy, risking the physical or emotional safety of staying in your own bubble, that's radical empathy. It's rare, and it's what Faith XLVII proposes this week in her Art in Ad Places installation.

Faith XLVII said, "The white flag is an internationally recognized protective sign of truce or ceasefire. It signifies to all that an approaching negotiator is unarmed, with a desire to communicate. This symbol urges the move towards reasoning and empathy in time of increased polarity and ignorance. I find the mass presence of advertising in our everyday lives stifling and support Art in Ad Places in its attempt to replace these spaces with art in order to have more meaningful interactions with each other."

Art, especially public art, allows us to build communities of understanding across society's traditional boundaries. But first, we have to be open to the experience. Watch a New Yorker walk through a crowded street. They can't be open to that experience. Just to walk at a reasonable pace often can require putting on headphones and trying to tune out everyone and everything around you. Part of what needs to be tuned out are the billboards advertising crap. Brands are always trying to find new ways to grab your attention, and in response we have to try harder to tune them out. It's an arms race over attention. Remove all the ads, give the city a few more empty spaces and a few more spaces to create community through art, and we could all relax (just a little bit) and build empathy as we move through the city. What a better city that would be.

Artwork by Faith XLVII. Photo by Luna Park.

Artwork by Faith XLVII. Photo by Luna Park.

Wealth, Power, and Culture

Artwork by the Guerrilla Girls. Photo by Luna Park.

Artwork by the Guerrilla Girls. Photo by Luna Park.

This week has been a bit of a dream, installing the work of some of our heroes and inspirations, the Guerrilla Girls. In case you don't know, they say, "The Guerrilla Girls are an anonymous group of activist artists who have devoted our lives to fighting for ALL human rights and against the takeover of art and culture by the rich and powerful. Most of our work has been about discrimination and corruption in art, but we have also examined other issues like film, pop culture, gender stereotypes, war, and income inequality."

The issues that the Guerrilla Girls have spent decades tackling in the art world are some of the same that we have been trying to address in advertising through Art in Ad Places: Sexism, wealth, power, and how those things influence culture and society at large.

So this week we installed a few identical Guerrilla Girls posters near major NYC museums. We hope they'll catch the attention of visitors and staff alike, and get them to consider their museum experience more critically, maybe even work towards a new kind of museum and culture of art.

Artwork by the Guerrilla Girls. Photo by Luna Park.

Artwork by the Guerrilla Girls. Photo by Luna Park.

Everything in Its Right Place

Artwork by Jeff Soto. Photo by Luna Park.

Artwork by Jeff Soto. Photo by Luna Park.

Jeff Soto told us that his contribution to Art in Ad Places "would never be used to advertise anything." All the more reason it should be used to replace a mini-billboard. Generally speaking, the images and messages that most valuable in public spaces are also the images least likely to be used as advertising.

Jeff said,  "I chose this image because it would never be used to advertise anything. It’s really hard to sell anything with images of death, and I made sure there was no wording or even my name on it. It is an anti ad. I’m hoping this image looks out of place enough that a few people will take a second look. People interpret my work differently, and I encourage that, but despite the sometimes creepy imagery, most of my art celebrates life and positivity. I would love this image to give viewers pause or to inspire a young artist. We’re subjected to unwanted advertising everywhere, all day and I LOVE the idea of reclaiming these advertising spaces as art spaces."

And actually, Jeff had already inspired the Art in Ad Places team, long before his poster went up. He was one of the first people to know about the plans for what would eventually become Art in Ad Places, before there was a website, a name, artists attached, even a fully-formed concept. His early encouragement, over late-night tacos, was invaluable. We wondered what artists would think of our marketing campaign against advertising, especially artists whose work isn't often explicitly political, or who do work with brands from time to time. Jeff embraced the idea, was excited by it. That inspired us, kept us brainstorming. So, this week we say thank you to Jeff Soto, for being an early champion of Art in Ad Places, and for contributing such an arresting piece.

Artwork by Jeff Soto. Photo by Luna Park.

Artwork by Jeff Soto. Photo by Luna Park.

Searching for Jeremyville

Find Yourself by Jeremyville. Photo by Luna Park.

Find Yourself by Jeremyville. Photo by Luna Park.

There's a place, and it's just a fantasy but it's one work striving for, where everything is okay and we're all good to one another. It's the world of Jeremyville's illustrations. It was interesting to install one of Jeremyville's iconic Community Service Announcements on the street, because they belong to that other world. But that's so much of what Art in Ad Places is about: Changing public space to temporarily create a different reality. So it's weird to experience, but it's also a perfect fit for Art in Ad Places.

Jeremyville told us:

"The Jeremyville CSA project comprises of about 1,200 Community Service Announcements that I have created over the years, and I draw new ones almost every day, and add them to social media @Jeremyville. They've spread organically, using design methodology cues taken from billboards to get a message across quickly: A simple, arresting image, and some short copy.

"So the advertising billboard is the perfect forum to share a CSA message, as rather than selling hairspray or soap, we can use these mediums to remind us about personal growth, empowerment and social change. Art in Ad Places really aligns with the CSA concept perfectly.

"Find Yourself is a play on telephone pole posters announcing a missing dog or cat. In this case, Jethro Bunny tears off a piece of his own missing poster, essentially for us, so that we can take one footstep along the path of that journey of self discovery."

What will you discover when you find yourself in public space, rather than unattainable ideals of consumer culture?

Bringing Back Old New York

Original photo by Martha Cooper. Installation photo by Luna Park.

Original photo by Martha Cooper. Installation photo by Luna Park.

New York is always in a state of flux. Restaurants come and go. New condo buildings practically appear overnight. People leave the city. Others arrive. Even the city streets get remade. Martha Cooper's photo for Art in Ad Places captures a few of those changes between 1980 and today, the most icon being the Twin Towers.

Martha told us:

"I took this photo c.1980 while driving around Soho. Back then I often used my car to get around the city when on photo assignments, my camera at the ready beside me. The pair of motorcyclists together with the pair of towers was a sight too good to be true. I slammed on my brakes, jumped out and grabbed a few frames.

"Sidecars are exceptionally rare in New York City. I don't think I’ve ever seen another one. Looking at this photo today, I’m overwhelmed with nostalgia. The vintage motorcycle riding on cobblestones (more accurately Belgian Block) of course evokes earlier eras but could I ever have imagined that the only way to see the Twin Towers would be in a photograph? Thanks to Art in Ad Places for giving us evocative images to think about instead of to shop for."

We tried to find the exact spot where Martha took this photo, 30-some years ago. We have some guesses, but we couldn't quite place it. Belgian Block is disappearing and buildings have changed. New York is still beautiful, but it's different, so it's nice to bring back a bit of the recent past.  Particularly today.

Original photo by Martha Cooper. Installation photo by Luna Park.

Original photo by Martha Cooper. Installation photo by Luna Park.