|Masha Sumtsova: So, who are you and what do you do?
Jordan Seiler: Good question. My name is Jordan Seiler. I am an artist/activist that reclaims public advertising space for open public communications, be it art or any sort of messages that the public sees fit. I do my own personal projects which are design-oriented projects over public advertising, intent on making people question the space they live in, and how that space is used, what kind of visual images are presented to them, while simultaneously organizing and motivating people to do similar work on a much larger scale.
Jordan Seiler, interviewed by Masha Sumtsova
Masha Sumtsova: So, who are you and what do you do?
Jordan Seiler: Good question. My name is Jordan Seiler. I am an artist/activist that reclaims public advertising space for open public communications, be it art or any sort of messages that the public sees fit. I do my own personal projects which are design-oriented projects over public advertising, intent on making people question the space they live in, and how that space is used, what kind of visual images are presented to them, while simultaneously organizing and motivating people to do similar work on a much larger scale. We actually combat companies and institutions that kind of force their thoughts and ideas on our public environment. Organizationally that ends up being kind of large-scale projects that take on very specific companies and specific advertising venues.
MS: Can you describe your role as the head of Public Ad Campaign?
JS: The Public Ad Campaign is an art and activist project that takes over both legal and illegal outdoor advertising spaces in an attempt to question advertising’s supremacy in the public environment. Often these activities are considered illegal especially in the case of graffiti and street art. Criminalized for communicating in the public, art must watch while advertising takes over the public environment. This not only shows who the city is looking out for, but frames the way in which public space is expected to be used. By asking for the removal of outdoor advertising and going so far as to physically remove it myself, Public Ad Campaign attempts to question this balance, and present alternatives to an advertising-rich public space.
MS: What is NPA, and who are these outdoor advertising companies?
JS: NPA is a company called National Promotions of America. NPA is essentially a company that operates while posting on outdoor advertising surfaces across America.
That being said, the public environment is made up of all the voices that are the people who live in the city. Public ad companies are companies that take that visual space and use it to promote ideas and communications that are motivated by corporations—what I would call corporate individuals who have their own motivations, and because they do so with a lot of money and a lot of resources behind them, their ability to affect the environment is a lot greater than any individual’s. Therefore, when companies enter the public environment, their ability to affect and create a voice that’s larger than any individual’s is very simple, and public advertising companies like NPA, Van Wagner, Clear Channel, CBS, and all these companies facilitate these corporations and their ability to broadcast their messages and communications louder than any individual possibly could.
MS: So why do you do what you do?
JS: When you start to look at old-school graffiti you start to understand where graffiti developed very quickly out of the early times. And those were called masterpieces; those were called paintings. And when those people did their work, they did it with love, and they looked down upon people who did subpar work. It was only at the point in which people who did masterpieces started to be prevented doing their work by the police in New York that had to kind of recoil from their process and reinvent their art as the throw-up and as the tag. So I think if you released the legal aspects of graffiti, and allowed them as much time as they want to do “graffiti,” you quickly come back to the situation where masterpieces were the penultimate of graffiti. It wasn’t about giving your name a billion times; it was about how good can your work be. And that’s one of the biggest tragedies about the law enforcement of graffiti; they condemned graffiti to be subpar. And if you legalize graffiti, you quickly realize the intention behind graffiti is not to destroy but to create incredible murals.
It’s about soul, understanding the individual level of promotion when you allow money to enter the equation, you allow the multiplication of voice that’s unheard of and unseen and unrealistic in a public space. We should be individuals promoting our own ideas. I can’t convince you to promote the ideas I find worthwhile and spread those ideas. Then that’s two individuals agreeing on the same thing. Whereas in advertising, [an advertising company] comes in, puts a million bucks down to put their messages everywhere, and promote their ideas without convincing anyone to do that—they pay people to do that.
Going out and doing art or graffiti, and taking over public advertising is about asserting your presence and asserting your opinion as a public individual and your presence in that public environment. One of the motivations behind the Public Ad Campaign is that expressing your views as a public individual is an illegal activity and when you get to the heart of why that’s an illegal activity, you realize the pubic environment is not meant for public communications; it’s meant for private communication. By doing what we’re doing, we’re demanding that that space not be commercial and be public.