To exist in London is to endure thousands of adverts a day.
We start our day commuting with hundreds of them, telling us to invest in cryptocurrency, to use grocery delivery services which don’t pay drivers a living wage, buy clothes from e-stores we all know use sweatshop labour.
Ads telling me I'm fat seem out of fashion, too niche - ads today seem more for universal insecurities, like could I - should I - be preparing for, as Penfold Investments claimed - the day when a pint costs £17.50? Is that jolly, in times like this, the thought that:
“the year is 2040, and the grandkids trip to the moon won’t pay for itself?”
Finally, Yapp asks us if our breakup was really mutual (I guess I hadn’t really thought - but now you mention...) and Mindler/BetterHelp asks me:
“things getting you down?”
“hate getting up in the morning?”
“hate getting up in the morning?”
but forgets a very important question: “have you got £45 a week?”
Once, I got a pen and wrote PREDATORY under a mental health app ad.
It was great, but I could have been jailed. Why? Because vandalism spoils public space for everyone else. Nobody asked to read a message I made them read.
But did they ask for the other thousands? No.
Yet few people say a word about ads, accepting them as an inevitability, whilst amongst some, graffiti gets disapproving looks. Certainly I did when I wrote it.
But another whole bunch of people probably loved it, it might have even made their day.
It makes my day when I see that stuff. I take a picture of it, and look at the handwriting. I love thinking of people looking around, whipping out a pen and getting things out, the quickest little way to say what they want to say.
I’m not talking about tag culture here, where you want it to be known you were there, I’m talking about political stuff, words of protest, scrawls on ads, anonymous emotional stuff.
Such a pure act of communication, cheeky as AirDropping someone on the tube, pure as whispering love you to someone asleep.
And it’s got the sacrificial character of chaining yourself to a gate, it’s punk, now the PCSC bill upped the stakes on vandalism - definitely, not just a bit, against the law. It wasn’t like that a few years ago, when Banksy did it.
On Shoreditch High Street for a time, there was a Banksy billboard for an exhibition at the Tate. Not ten feet down the road was a 10FOOT tag (see below), Palestine colours, Free Palestine underneath it. Everyone knows 10FOOT's tag, but not many people know that he was jailed for 26 months for it. He was banned from carrying paint, paint pens, spray paint, or 'anything mark-making', and finally they banned him from public transport. Yes, the exact same thing that Banksy got a million billion pounds for.
Which is why it's a stretch to think that art institutions have anything to do with change. As far as I can see, they are sealed units, places where I have permission to scrawl the exact same stuff that my sources risked imprisonment to give me. Granted, it's going to be washed off hastily.
If we're thinking about the postwar context, think about this. In austerity Britain today, classism runs so deep that just 18% of artists are working class, 12% of people in film and TV, which explains why every family on the BBC are like the family off Outnumbered, and their humble little terraced house is literally a million pound property.
But the proper subject of art - what's going on, what hurts etc - can only be felt by working class people. So of course the world of 'coming up', the uni world, the gallery world, never features those issues. They don't seem smart enough, make people feel weird.
Yet the context, the performance of it, the anonymity, the dialogue with other bits of graffiti and ads, with the world around it, the - for my art snobs - palimpsestic quality, this is more art than an abstract clod of clay, or a very brave self-portrait of my genitals, no offence to posh girl artists.
Maybe replicating them in such a divorced context ruins them, I don't know. But at the very least I carry on the pure intention of the authors of these texts, what they paid for with risk - to meet with many pairs of eyes, to be read.