New Internationalist

‘We are the city’

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Anonymous Brandal on reclaiming public spaces from advertising pollution.

Agit Artworks
The loanshark, Wonga, charges borrowers 5853 per cent interest. Agit Artworks

Over two days, across 10 British cities, 365 corporate ad spaces were taken over by original, handmade artworks crafted by 40 artists. Most of us didn’t have much experience of this kind of thing before, but we shared a desire for public space free from visual pollution and from cultural values that promote and exploit impossible bodies, wreck the climate through constant consumerism, fuel debt and normalize inequality, both global and local. We weren’t having any of it. So, we got organized, we got tooled up, and on the weekend of 10 and 11 of May – with specially printed orange high-visibility vests – we took to the streets and unlocked these expensive, ubiquitous, privatized spaces and commoned them with our own ideas and images.

Some of our sites were strategic. Outside courts and the flashiest department stores to poor residential areas taken over by repetitive drip feed buy-me value-me advertising that we don’t even realize is affecting us.

Fear was overcome through working with a tight and trusted crew, and by looking like those that work for the industry itself complete with blue overalls, black workboots, cardboard tubes, simple T-Bars, T30 or T45 nut driver tools. And by acting casual, that we had the right to do this. The aim of Brandalism is to ask certain questions such as: why does the industry think it has the right to impose images and values on us without our consent? Whose public space is this? Who does the city belong to? We felt: ‘We are the city.’

Below are a few examples from one brandalizing crew in London.

Daily debt and precarity

We had to target Wonga, one of the most bloodthirsty loansharks in the booming payday loans trade. Up went ‘We Live in Financial Times’ by Agit Artworks, (above, main photo), on the doorstep of Wonga headquarters. Wonga charges borrowers 5853 per cent interest.

According to the Institute for Public Policy Research two-thirds of low-income households have less than one month’s salary in savings at any one time. One in five people are in debt to their energy supplier following the Big Six price hikes of 37 per cent since 2010. The Children’s Society also recently reported that more than half of children aged 10 to 17 said they saw advertising for loans ‘often’ or ‘all of the time’. Britain is now home to more billionaires than any other country per capita – 104. Meanwhile one million people are reliant on food banks and homelessness is on the rise. We really do live in financial times.

Total Policing - Total Murderers

Peter Willis
Peter Willis

London’s Tottenham Police Station and Scotland Yard were adorned with Peter Willis’s ‘Total Murderers’ (left). This spoke to the hundreds of people killed by police both on the streets and in custody over the past decades. No officer has ever been successfully prosecuted for these deaths; families have struggled for years for justice for their loved ones. And the vast majority of those killed have been black.

Total policing’ including infiltration of protest groups, unions and family justice campaigns as well as the use of drones, riot squads and camera-wearing community officers, is an ideological concept aimed at defining public order and public interests around the interests of the wealthy and powerful. We wanted to show the excesses the police can get away with.

Ecological debt

‘Stop Right There’ by Stanley Donwood (right) and ‘Untitled’ by Dan Birkbeck went back to back outside the ‘oil and gas bank’, the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS). The World Development Movement estimates that emissions resulting from RBS’s loans to coal, oil and gas companies bring the bank’s 2012 carbon footprint to 911 million tonnes of CO2 or 18 times the total emissions of Scotland. RBS is 81 per cent owned by taxpayers after receiving a £46billion (US$77 billion) bail-out in 2008 and 2009. But we have since paid out a tenth of this – £4.6billion (US$7.7 billion) in bonuses for the bank’s top brass.

Student revolt and the right to education

Bill Posters
Bill Posters

We put ‘Politica’ by Bill Posters (left) outside the headquarters of the Conservative Party and opposite the Headquarters of MI5 in honour of the student struggles over Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) and the right to free education.

Suicidal fashion

Peter Willis
Peter Willis

‘Cotton’ by Peter Kennard (right) deals with the thousands of cotton farmers in India who have committed suicide due to Monsanto’s effective control of their lands through patented GM crops, resulting in bankruptcies. This ad went up outside the Primark flagship store on Oxford Street. Primark have been linked to paying workers in India 60 pence ($1) an hour and were supplied by the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh which collapsed in April 2013 killing 1,100 workers. Almost half (516) worked for Primark.

This was for them too.

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