Dissolving the definition of beauty

“As a private person, I have a passion for landscape and I have never seen one improved by a billboard.” As said by advertising legend David Ogilvy (1911-1999) in Confessions of an Advertising Man.

Many share this opinion. However, worldwide there are just two cities that have banned all ‘visual pollution’ i.e. outdoor advertising; Sao Paolo (since 2007) and Grenoble (since 2015). Elsewhere global conglomerates are still fighting for our attention by advertising on all sorts of street furniture.

The public outcry against this has been growing since the 70’s. Activistic citizens have mainly acted against the tobacco industry and misogynistic advertisements. More and more anarchistic groups have been actively implementing culture jamming through street art. For example when over 600 billboards were hacked simultaneously at the 2015 Cop21 climate conference in Paris. In 2016, the 25th of March was proclaimed annual ‘no-ad day’. A day during which all street advertisements are being removed worldwide. Illegally of course, by a growing movement called Subvertising or Brandalism.

The groups behind the moment are trying to expand their number of supporters through online tutorials. Not only do these videos show how to open up and replace a poster frame, but also how to make a ‘hi-viz-vest’. One of those orange vests that allows you to do just about anything in public areas. During Banksy’s Dismaland there were even live demonstrations and 2000 keysets were being sold that give access to JCDecaux street furniture.

The Spanish urban artist that goes by the alias Vermibus has an orange vest, keys and a mission. Contrary to other subvertisers, he doesn’t replace the advertisements with self-printed posters, his method is more impressive. He expresses his criticism on commercial beauty standards in a unique way - first he removes the existing posters from billboards, then he takes the ads back to his studio, manipulates them with solvents and brushes and selectively removes words, logos or faces. He then puts them back up in a different city. There, they get removed quickly by advertising-operators, ór, ironically, by art dealers that sell his work for a lot of money.

Considering its volatile nature a good documentary is important. You can watch Vermibus’ latest video ‘In Absentia’ below.

Photo taken by Tim van Laere during Graphic Matters
*This column was previously published in Dude, Dutch Designers Magazine

Peace = multi-coloured

Primary school children talk about the form of peace What does peace look like? Can you pet it, hold it? Does it have a certain colour or shape? Trough the years it has often been attempted to design an international peace flag, but without success. What does the perfect peace flag look like according to the 8th grade of NBS in Teteringen (primary school)?

It’s peaceful in the Netherlands; it’s been like that for a long time. Younger generations (read: everyone born after 1945) only know peace, so ‘peace’ is a difficult concept, for us especially. The pupils from Teteringen notice this too. Don’t you have to know what war is, to really understand what peace is? “Peace makes me feel happy”, Roos (10) says. “It connects you to one another”. Her classmate Stan immediately thinks of the white dove symbol: “You see it everywhere peace is mentioned. The dove is free, and it can fly everywhere it wants.” The colour has a special meaning too, Kyra knows: “It’s the colour you use when you’ve won.”

Red and green

Armed with green and red stickers, the children evaluate the flags. About ten red stickers are placed underneath Wilson McLau’s flag (Brunei). This shows that not a lot of children consider this to be a good peace flag. In the middle of the white flag there’s a dark circle-shaped line. The circle isn’t closed all the way and there’s a black line going through the middle. Kevin, one of the kids that stuck a red sticker underneath the flag, explains why: “I think this flag is violent. The design looks like a spear or the impact of a comet”, he says, whilst pulling a disgusted face. Still this flag is about peace. Winston McLau made the flag as a flag for Peace, like the other 95 artists did too. What about that? After some deep-thinking ten-year-old Annemijn provides a solution. The not-entirely-closed circle makes her think of society. In a way, they’re two opposites that come together, she thinks. A society that can’t be interrupted.  

Quite the opposite, ‘Ahota’e’iloa Toetu’u’s (Tonga) flagpole has a lot of green stickers. It’s a white flag with a dove that’s holding an olive branch in his beak. The different colours on the dove’s body and wings represent different countries, according to one of the kids. “The dove is the world, and the colours are the countries”, she says. Her classmate adds: “A dove always returns to it’s nest. Which means everyone is welcome, I think. It’s okay to be different. That’s peace!”

The perfect flag

According to the kids, which flag is the best peace flag? There’s a buzz of voices and murmuring. “Definitely not the flag with the gun”, a boy shouts. How about the flag with the dove and the olive branch? “That only works for people that believe in the Ark of Noah”, a dark-haired girl firmly explains. Not one flag is better than all the others. The Flags of Peace show the kids that peace has at least 96 different shapes and colours.  

*In September and October over 600 school children of different schools in Breda made their own flag of peace as part of the Flags of Peace education-programme. All flags will be presented on October 15th during the Graphic-A-Fair at the Graphic Matters festival location. More info here.

Participating schools: KBS St. Joseph, Scala, De Nassau, KBS Petrus & Paulus, KBS Jacintha, Stedelijk Gymnasium Breda, NBS Teteringen. 

*Translated from the Dutch article by Iris van den Boezem

The educationproject was created by Michael van Kekem and Marthe Roosenboom in cooperation with Graphic Matters and Trapped in Suburbia