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John Fekner in Public Ad Campaign/The Heavy Projects Times Square, NYC (photo: ©Rebecca Fuller 2011) (all images courtesy the author)

The Machine in the Bedroom

It was 1982 and it was just an ordinary night in the Bronx, Don with his wife Annie and I were sitting around talking and listening to music at their apartment. When the end of the record was over, Don got up to flip the side over. He suddenly turned toward us and we just stared at each other without saying a word. In this brief moment of silence, the future had just arrived. No, it wasn’t the sound of Springsteen, Michael Jackson, Grandmaster Flash or even the Clash. From the darkened bedroom next to us, came the sounds of smacking lips and bursts of ecstatic exclamations from Don’s kid Anthony and his stepbrother Danny. With bits of dribble and droll and tongues poking out from the corners of their mouths, they were feverously huddled in their pajamas staring at the screen of a Commodore 64 computer. It was 8-bit, hypnotic and all encompassing. The moths were caught in an overbearing and hypnotic light. The invasion had begun.

John Fekner & Don Leicht, “YOUR SPACE HAS BEEN INVADED ‘Our children are fighting a terrible war. Whole families are being sent to the battlescreen’” (1982) (click to enlarge) (image courtesy the author)

Yes it was that moment that gave birth to our battle cry collaboration; “YOUR SPACE HAS BEEN INVADED 
Our children are fighting a terrible war. Whole families are being sent to the battlescreen” (1982). The painting was not just about being invaded and controlled by video games and television/advertising, but about gentrification, home, property and intrusions to the mind and soul and your ability or non-ability to hold on to your very being.

Invasions in America began long ago; whether it was a railroad slicing its way through sacred grounds complete with a golden spike through the heart of Native Americans at Promontory Summit in Utah or Robert Moses dividing families and neighborhoods in the Bronx with a concrete and asphalt expressway. The Your Space Has Been Invaded project targets all the invisible and visible barriers that are created by government, media, corporations, etc. intent on keeping the people occupied with the meaningless. Divide and conquer. Thirty-second ad campaigns to keep you competitive and make your neighbor jealous.

This war continues today, shifts and morphs in new social media ways stripped down to a ransom note-like 140 characters of confusion.

The Fifth and Sixth Wall

John Fekner, “Vidiot” (nd) (+enlarge)

The older controller like television held reign as the fifth wall in our homes for over half a century. Let them be content and on the couch; happy, fat and dumb. This way they don’t think. Smart phones and tablets now allow us the freedom to carry our own portable sixth wall. Will we use these tools for the betterment of society? Or will they be used as a defensive shield to avoid looking someone straight in the eye and telling the truth. Or giving a signal that we are more preoccupied with the device that is in our hands as opposed to talking to the person right in front of us.

Wireless Warriors- Armed with phones as swords and tablets as shields

Does this assault dull our imagination? Well, these days we are armed with phones as swords and tablets as shields. This past weekend I participated with Jordan Sieler /Public Ad Campaign as they tested out an app that was developed with The Heavy Projects: an augmented reality viewer that “runs on smart phones and virtually replaces outdoor ads with fellow artists Ron English, PosterBoy, Doctor D and Ox.”

Augmented Reality Advertising Takeover in Times Square from Will Sherman on Vimeo.

I’ve always been a firm believer that new material is new thinking within the creative arts. Hopefully, we can forge new artistic defensives to these ingenious devices that attempt to control us everyday. We need to work and embrace a sense of spirit and vision in what we do each day, that will engender real growth; otherwise, we remain mindless and complacent perfunctory multi-task workers for junk peddlers selling nothing.

John Fekner, “Rua Vidiot” (nd)

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John Fekner

John Fekner is a visual artist who uses a variety of disciplines to address numerous social issues through poetry, street messages and online projects. He continues to collaborate with Don Leicht since...