As the huge advertising potential of the Olympics rolls out across Britain, a group of British artists are reclaiming ad space for art and poetry.
The "Brandalism Project" is an initiative by a group of 25 artists from eight countries that co-opted billboard spaces in British cities such as Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Bristol and London.
Scottish poet Robert Montgomery, one of the participating artists, said the Brandalism Project is probably the largest reclamation of advertising space in UK history. The artists involved are a diverse group, he said in an interview with CBC’s Q cultural affairs show.
"Some artists come from a street art background, some come from a conceptual art backbround, but it brings street art and fine art together in an interesting way, I think," he said.
While Montgomery is a poet, who posts his poems in white type on a black background, some of those involved are visual artists, who create new imagery or subvert the ad images already there.
Montgomery said he’s been reclaiming billboards for about eight years and does it to eliminate "disturbing ad images."
Like street artist Banksy, whose postings could be painted over in an effort to clean up London for the Olympics, the artists involved want to encourage public discourse. They also see themselves as part of a long British tradition of creative resistance.
"I think you can achieve little moments of freedom of speech when you see something other than an ad for megabank product," Montgomery said, calling many ads a form of visual pollution. His poetry often reflects on today’s consumer lifestyle.
"I’m trying to speak to collective unconscious. I’m trying to say how it is to live a life in this kind of society; to live in this kind of capitalism and how that makes you feel in our hearts," Montgomery said.
Montgomery admires the Occupy movement and artists such as filmmaker Michael Moore for posing tough questions about how we live.
"I’m angry we squandered the privilege we have in our civilization," he said, pointing to problems such as global warming and poverty which are swept aside.
Many of the art pieces posted in the Brandalism Project have since been covered over or rededicated to the advertisers who paid for the space.
That determination to clean up for the Olympics could mean London work crews painting over Banksy images, which are worth millions of dollars.
The secretive street artist has created a work showing a javelin thrower tossing a missile, a reference to plans to put missile launchers atop residential buildings during the Olympics. A second image posted to his website shows a pole-vaulter jumping over a barb-wire fence onto an old mattress.
Several London graffiti artists were arrested last week in a preemptive sweep ahead of the Olympics. Banksy’s images, whose location is not yet known, were issued in defiance of the police crackdown on graffiti.
Montgomery said ordinary people don't seem to mind the art, poetry and photos posted by the Brandalism Project.
"It's collective psycho therapy for everyone," he said.