Monday, October 29, 2012

Street Art: The Power of Location (second post)

When street art began to rise in popularity, it became a new vehicle to communicate to the public.  Advertising agencies and corporations viewed it as an opportunity to push their brand and increase sales and/or awareness.  Corporate strategy and the tactful placement of street art hold similar purposes across multiple channels.  In this post, I will discuss how street art is used in advertising and how the location of the street art speaks for the brand.

Zevs is an anonymous French street artist that is known for painting the outlines of shadows that objects make on the street during the night. In an interview with South China Morning Post (SCMP), Zevs said, “By outlining the shadows I make it more visible in the night and it keeps a trace of these shadows during the day.” [1] By painting the shadows of the night, Zevs is freezing a moment in time and placing that moment into different context during the day. The use of location for Zevs has to do with the location of the shadow at the particular time that it was painted. The shadow is continuously moving, but by freezing that moment the artist is telling the viewer to look at that moment at a different perspective.

Houtlust, now known as Osocia, is a non-profit advertising and marketing agency that focuses on social issues. In 2005, Houtlust and the Auckland Regional Council New Zealand painted shadows of trees, as part of the Big Clean Up Campaign, to freeze a moment in time where a tree once existed. The shadow of the tree connected the viewer to a pole that read, “Nothing Can Replace a Tree. Plant More Native.” [2] This is a good example of how the change in perspective that Zevs created in his street art of painting shadows of objects on the street has transcended into communicating a specific message for a non-profit organization. In both works, the location of the shadow is most important because it holds a position of something that existed and has now passed.

The tagging of street artists and corporate branding are a lot in common. The tag, the alias name of the street artist, and the logos of the brands that make up our consumer economy share the same purpose of creating recognition. In the book, Trespass: A History of Uncommissioned Urban Art, the author states, “One of the most salient features of graffiti is approximation of branding. At its most basic level, the tag mimics the ideographic compression, repetition, and saturation that we would expect of corporate logos and marketing campaigns. As a matter of practicality and artist’s tag must be fluent, fluid, flexible enough to be put up anywhere, quickly, under any conditions, and maintain the most primary of marketing directives: instant recognition.” [3] Just like a tag, a logo of a company must share similar qualities.

Shepard Fairey is a well-known street artist from the west coast that used a tag to create recognition of an iconic wrestler from the 1970s called, Andre the Giant. In the documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop, the narrator states, “Shepards experiment with the power of repetition went back to 1989 and an image based on cult ‘70s wrestler Andre the Giant. Combining Andres face with a command to obey, Shepard had already clocked up over a million hits around the world.” [4] Using a familiar image, like Andre the Giant, and using the power of repetition is a tactic commonly seen in advertising. Andre the Giant as a tag  has the same purpose as a logo for a company brand. Fairey would place his tag all over the country in areas of high traffic that would be seen by a large quantity of people.  It became worldwide propaganda.

In corporate branding and in street art the location of what is being viewed to the public has a direct relationship with recognition and popularity. The location of the work, whether it is placed in a location with a high traffic of people to view or if it is placed in a location that creates a new context or perspective of the work, embodies the purpose. In the article, Tagging as a Social Literacy Practice, the author states, “Tagging is not simply an act of vandalism or violence; it is a social practice with its own rules and codes – a literacy practice imbued with intent and meaning.” [5] The location of the tag plays a large role in the context and message that the street artist is communication with the public.
Joshua Allen Harris is a New York Street artist that uses trash bags as a medium to create installation street art. In 2009, he created a work called Airbear and Cub that was placed on a city subway vent. When the subway passes through the location underground, the air pushes the trash bags up displaying an air filled installation of a bear and cub. When the subway is not passing by, the installation simply looks like a trash bag on the street. The artist uses the location of the subway air vent to put his work into new context and to change the perspective of what someone would normally see as trash.  He is taking something that already exists on the street and using it as part of his work. Advertising installation on the street go by the same practice. Ogilvy & Mather is a large advertising agency with offices worldwide. In 2005 out of the Malaysia office, they placed an image of Duracell batteries at the bottom of an escalator in a local shopping mall. Escalators keep going and going and so do Duracell batteries.  The advertisement is similar to Harris’ Airbear and Cub installation work in New York because they are using the locations environment to create a new perspective to the viewers.  Each one of the works has a tag that creates an identity. The tag Harris has is the use of trash bags on the street, which creates instant recognition of the artist. The tag used in the installation piece for Duracell is the company logo, the shape and functionality of the product. [6]

A street artist, that goes by the name, Slinkachu, is famous for his miniature installations placed in an urban environment. In 2007, Tower Hill, London, England, Slinkachu installed one of his works called, After the Storm. After a rainstorm, he placed a miniature rescue boat and a drowned victim in a puddle on the sidewalk of a common street. The context of the puddle changes once the rescue boat and victim are placed in it. There is a change in perspective to scale as the puddle mimics the idea of a lake. Slinkachu is taking something that was already present on the street and sending a new message by changing the context of the puddle. Similar to advertising street installations, agencies will take ordinary objects and transform them in something new that creates a new way of thinking towards that object. Grey Worldwide, a large creative advertising agency, produced a sidewalk installation in Italy for Mr. Clean cleaning supplies. They made all the lines of a crosswalk dirty except for one that was bright white. This displayed the functionality of the product, while integrating a streets common crosswalk. Just like Slinkachu, Grey Worldwide and Mr. Clean used a specific location to display their work because it was the elements present in the location that brought new context to the miniatures and the product. [7] [8]

Whether it is for a corporate brand or for a famous street artist, the location and the elements of the surrounding environment play an important role in communicating a message. It becomes familiar, yet surprising because new context is placed into a space that might otherwise seem ordinary. Street artist and advertising agencies share a common ground, which is to create instant recognition. In integrating a familiar space, object or image with the work grasps the attention of the viewer with the willingness to absorb the message intended by the artist.

[1] SCMP – South China Morning Post, “A Profile of Artist ZEVS Before His Arrest in Hong Kong”, SCMP Youtube; available from > (accessed 21 October 2012)
[2] Wooster Collective, “Plant More Native”, Wooster Collective online; available from > (accessed 26 October 2012)
[3] Carlo McCormick, Trespass: A History of Uncommissioned Art (Los Angeles, CA: Taschen Publishing, 2010), 51.
[4] Banksy. Exit Through the Gift Shop. DVD. Directed by Banksy. USA : Producers Distribution Agency (PDA), 2010.
[5] Laurie MacGillivray and Margaret Sauceda Curwen, “Tagging as a Social Literacy Practice”, Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy (2007): [Journal on-line]; available from JSTOR digital library, <> (accessed October 2012). 354.
[6] Joshua Allen Harris, “Airbear and Cub”, Joshua Allen Harris online: Behance Network (2012); available from < > (accessed October 2012)
[7] Slinkachu, “Little People”, Slinkachu online (2012); available from < > (accessed October 2012)
[8] Carlo McCormick, Trespass: A History of Uncommissioned Art (Los Angeles, CA: Taschen Publishing, 2010), 225.


  1. Great picks!Slinkachu's miniature installations were my favourites~:) I think street art is one of the most creative artistic forms.These street art works remind me of another street art artist you may feel interesting ,Kurt Wenner.He is best known for his invention of 3D pavement art. He was inspired by Renaissance classic painting,but used his own geometry to create his unique street art work.I saw his Fishing in Old Shanghai and Shanghai Tea Party in 2007 in China.

    Xuan Han

  2. My class was having this discussion not to long ago about the importance of location. Location not only changes the audience but it can definitely can the context. Something that is in a gallery will have a different context if in a church... no different than saying profane words in a classroom or saying them on the playground. It is interesting that even the same viewers would see the shift in context when the location has changed. I haven't often begin to think of my own work, as a painter, how my work is influence by the location. Indoor, outdoor, framed unframed, on the floor or even on the wall.