After years of silently absorbing corporate information, we're finally going to generate messages of our own. It's 10:30 Thursday night, the first official evening of Art Attack, an event hosted by the Toronto Public Space Committee (TPSC) as part of Media Democracy Day. At the Tranzac Club on Brunswick, rows of tables are covered with paper cut to fit over the ads on bus shelters and garbage bins. In about an hour we'll head out to tape freshly made art on designated commercial spaces.It's my first culture-jamming adventure, and I'm feeling excited. Our nighttime raid seems fitting considering the proposed anti-postering bylaw that would reduce space for posters on telephone poles by up to 99 per cent.
Two women draw a large skeleton, saying they're planning to tape it over an ad of a skinny young model in a sexually provocative pose who appears to be trapped in a jail. Nearby, another poster targets the myth of consumer culture: "I just bought these shoes. Why aren't I happy?'
Whatever is being created here isn't being put up for the purpose of selling a product. It won't be an image that's been designed through extensive studies of the consumption practices and preferences of a target audience. It will be made to create dialogue.
At around 11:30 pm, people start moving out. I have to admit that at first the idea of stealing away in the night to cover up advertisements seemed a little devious. Don't ads help pay for the recycling and garbage cans our city so desperately needs? Don't ad revenues from bus shelters help pay for the TTC?
Says Dave Meslin, founder of the TPSC and one of the event coordinators. "The public still ends up paying for these services, because every time you buy something, a proportion of the money, up to 20 per cent, goes toward its advertising budget. It's essentially a privately run sales tax system. We're paying taxes to corporations instead of elected governments."
At Brunswick and Bloor, we cover the ad on a garbage bin in the bright light emanating from the bar behind us. Further along Bathurst we discover a poster of a human figure struggling against a giant foot stepping on it. Seeing art instead of ads on our streets makes our community seem smaller, closer and friendlier.