Transforming adverts into works of art embodies so many purposes and motives of street art. This week Thom Thom, a French artist who has been doing this for 2 decades paid a couple of illegal billboard adverts in Shoreditch a visit with stunning consequences.
The means are quite simple, a steel tool and steel nerves. The intent is public art through hacking of adverts; opposing the saturation of the public realm with demeaning adverts and their conversion into art pieces.
Two days ago, Wednesday, the cut-up/cut-ut advert saboteur Thom Thom introduced himself when he saw me peering very closely at the new art work created on the billboards. The slicing was so subtle that it actually looked like the patterns on the advert may have been part of the original print but no, what was visible was merely a decontextualised fragment of the previous advert underneath. Spotting the unauthorised art on the unauthorised advert was a delight, having a chat with the artist doubled the pleasure.
As I am never more “On duty” than when I am off duty, wandering around Shoreditch the day before I happened to photograph some flyposter adverts, billboards in Shoreditch believed to be somewhat deficient in official licence so by fortuity here is the advert the day before its deconstruction.
Billboards comprise layers and layers of adverts, a laminate of the buried messages of corporate evangelists. Thom Thom cuts ribbons and shapes into the top advert creating little windows where hidden adverts become visible again, pushing through the upper layer, confusing and distorting the advertisers’ messages. The result has a distinctive “stained glass” appearance, or the naked torsos of models acquire a marbled effect to go with the rippling muscle.
Thom Thom demonstrated how his knife device quite simply cut shapes into the surface which he could then easily peal off like a fresh sticker to reveal the layers below.
Opposite the large advert was a collection of smaller posters, cutting into the imagery had transferred the central figure into a bird-like figure flying towards us.
The next day (Thursday), further changes. Thom_Thom’s creative destruction of the Armani ad remained in place but he had returned to extend the tearing.
Meanwhile the Flannels advert hacked the day before had been replaced by entirely new flyposters, which in turn provided further inspiration and material for Thom Thom to attack. The contest for the space didn’t end there as the next day (Friday) the flyposters returned and replaced those freshly detourned adverts with intact copies of the original ads.
If you wonder where the railings revealed today in the cut up Armani ad came from…this is the advert that was in the layer below.
Street art has always had an anti-advertising agenda at its core. On previous occasions we have written about different forms of ad-busting including “Some people are on the pitch”, 2019, about hacked adverts on that very spot; “Brandalism”, 2012, concerning anti advertising campaign, “Poster Boy In London” about a street artist – who may or may not have been a collective – subverting adverts in London with emulsion.
All photos: Dave Stuart except Zimballatree where stated