Professor Joe Lupo of West Virginia University rented a local digital billboard in 2021 and curated a national roster of artists to create imagery to, in his words, “take over this commercial space with nonsensical messages.” I was invited to create an image for the month of March, 2021 in a rotation of artists including: Andrew Kozlowski, Sarah Ellis, and Joe Lupo. Each month in 2021 brought a different set of artists to the billboard.
Professor Lupo writes on his website about the project,
This project is designed to appropriate space that is designated for commercial use, marketing, and messaging, expanding on a larger cultural conversation about the overlap of public and commercial space and the role art can have infiltrating these spaces. Digitized imagery has become ubiquitous in the United States, proliferated through social media, television, and digital billboards. While some of this imagery exists in a private space (a phone screen), much of this imagery is projected publicly (billboards) without consent. These commercial spaces are privately owned which prevents any kind of larger conversation about what imagery and information can or should be projected publicly, and if advertising should be in the public sphere to begin with.
Most messages displayed on billboards are succinct and to the point. They direct the reader to go online and make a medical appointment today or to buy specific commercial products. Lately messages with a cultural or political agenda have appeared. These images ask specific questions like “Have you talked to God lately?” or offer misinformation about vaccinations. Regardless of the language used, these messages have a specific intent. The imagery created for my billboard project will either have no message or an intentionally confusing or contradictory one. This project is designed to complicate and confuse the messaging and intended use of public commercial space and raise questions about our tacit acceptance of these spaces and offer alternatives to how they can be used. This form of cultural critique is often referred to as culture jamming, a more contemporary version of a 20th Century artistic and activist strategy called détournement. Culture jamming (and detournement) often utilizes media and commercial spaces to create an ironic or satirical commentary.