Art

iBlanket: “Ads” That Don’t Sell & Encourage Debate

Wednesday on Bedford Avenue (photo by Veken Gueyikian)
Wednesday on Bedford Avenue (photo by Veken Gueyikian)

My husband was walking down Bedford Avenue on Wednesday, and he spotted someone pasting up posters on a wall which is almost always dominated by a giant Shepard Fairey poster, so frequently in fact that it might as well be his permanent ad space. It was lunchtime and no one stopped or cared. Knowing my love of street art, and what can sometimes be inane details, he quickly snapped a pic with his camera phone and emailed it to me with the message, “Someone covering up fairey [sic].”

What at first glance appeared to be a run of the mill “sniping” (i.e. illegal posting of corporate advertising), turned out to be a new street art campaign, iBlanket, though the artist prefers the term public art. The brain child of Bushwick artist Ann Oren, iBlanket riffs off the ubiquitous Apple “i” genre and turns our attention to the problems of homelessness just as the temperatures have started to plummet.

I caught up with the artist behind the project and she described the campaign this way:

iBlanket is a public art project that I created. The concept of the iBlanket was inspired by both our dependency on technology and the fact that laptop computers provide physical warmth when they are in use. This combination is taken by the iBlanket concept into an absurd realm with an advertisement for this impractical product. I would like to engage with the public and open a discussion about this problematic image, lead by anyone with insight on the concept. The posters invite the public to go to the site www.iBlanket.net and start a discussion or simply comment.

While the project began in Tel Aviv a little while ago, iBlanket hit the streets of New York this past Wednesday. Oren is working with various people to help her realize the project, “In every place the street posting situation is different so I find someone to assist me with local experience to mount them, in some locations I will post myself. At large this is a project I am running myself hoping to engage the public between the website and the posters.”

iBlanket (click to enlarge)
iBlanket (click to enlarge)

She targeted the Apple brand since, she say, “Everyone has ithis, ithat. It is familiar overindulgence.” She has hijacked the tech giant’s clean minimalist aesthetic and hacked it with a sketchy DIY style.

What I found particularly interesting is that she shies away from calling the project in any way related to street art, though in at least one instance it is being pasted (perhaps unknowingly) on top of a known street art spot. Oren says she sees it as a “public art project,” since she insists, “Street art is not where it is coming from. I think that because the project criticizes our dependency on technology, creating a street ad campaign out of it is an absurdly pragmatic way to call attention to it.” She is also using Facebook and Twitter to promote the project, which she says, works much more efficiently at spreading the message.

I can only assume that her unfamiliarity with street art in general makes her avoid the “street art” label, since her critique of power and inequalities seems perfectly aligned with the political nature of the genre. Also, I wonder if Facebook and Twitter are in fact more “efficient” since encountering a poster in person makes a much more powerful and lasting impression than a tweet or posted message.

I asked her what she would you like the project’s outcome to be. “It depends on the public, if they care enough to engage in the discussion on iBlanket.net. The public’s responses are what drive the project to expand or die. It will also determine its relevance,” she says.

As of Friday at noon, there were only 12 comments posted on the site and among them was one commenter, identified as HeadHoods, who took offense to the project’s liberty with a street art spot:

I think it’s pretty disrespectful that you covered over much more aesthetically pleasing and conceptual street art. Your istreetart is ipretty imeaningless and itouches iupon a iparody ithat is very itired this iday in age.

The response from the site’s webmaster was reasonable but suggested he or she didn’t realize that they have stepped into a scene that has its own etiquette. It is a scene that is dominated by “respect” for more senior and talented artists:

The nature of street art is that it is dynamic and changing, one work gets covered with another (or an ad), its life span depends on the people on the street. It is a “non curated” terrain. Some love it, some ignore it and some get infuriated by it. Thank you for your input.

I’m guessing that the street success of the project may come down to its ability to adapt or else the work may be quickly covered over by other artists perceiving it as a “diss.”

Normally a video artist, Oren tries not to restrict herself to that medium. What I found particularly interesting is how she describes the impetus for her idea, “This idea came about [during the] cold days in my studio when I was keeping myself warm by putting my laptop on my lap and my projector closer to me, it can get absurdly cozy.”

For more information, visit iBlanket.net.

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