I don’t want to sound preachy but the future of mass transport will be based on bicycles. That’s why I laughed heartily when I found this story on Treeghugger a few weeks ago about how a group of cyclists painted five kilometres of bike lanes in a single day. After reading this article I pulled my bike from the garage and planned to take it to a repair shop for a service. I still haven’t taken the bike to the repair shop. In fact, instead of my bike taking up space in my garage, it is now taking up space wherever I left it. Don’t judge me.

The next thought I had was, “Vandalism can be useful”.

I have often had this thought. Sometimes aloud. Especially when I see  tee shirts with ‘ironic slogans’ on them. I’ve mostly had this thought while standing on a train filled to capacity with people who think it sporting to sweat on me at eight in the morning and realising that my only option for relief would be to use my head to break a hole in the wall to generate some ventilation.

Importantly, I do not think this thought in the modern hipster sense that ‘everything is a canvas’ or that ‘city walls can host conversations’. This just perpetuates the illogical idea that everyone is an artist. I mean, how many truly meaningful things are written on walls? The last thing I read on a wall with any semblance of wit was “Lifes to short to sit here to long” (sic).

I approach the subject of vandalism more in terms of urban renovation. While the city walls are not necessarily canvases, I am of the mind that a city is never finished. This is probably a throwback to my ultra suburban upbringing; nearly every house in the area was in the process of renovation or had recently been renovated. Once a piece is completed (a new building, bridge or breakfast nook) it needs to be reviewed and improved upon. A city is the epitome of the perpetual beta.

Now, I’ve never been one to follow Wilson and Kelling’s broken window theory; the idea that if a window is broken and not repaired it will escalate to more broken windows, squatting, drug use, teen pregnancy and other things that Alan Jones rants about. I feel as though the results of their study are too eagerly used to encourage greater scrutiny of individual citizens and therefore normalises technologies of control, such as surveillance. Imagine Gordon Matta-Clark, busy making art by cutting holes in abandoned buildings, only to be followed by a city council worker taking notes about the level of damage done so that it can be repaired.

Imagine, if you would, that the same level of scrutiny and surveillance was applied to the current curses of urban living. City planners could, in essence, observe the areas of dysfunction with regard to transport and reduce the impact on those around them by working at the edges, implementing slight alterations that cumulate to greater social change. Say, helping to reduce congestion in dense urban areas by including bike paths would be a great idea. But, alas, people in elected positions of authority rarely listen to those who elected them.

But the thing about the team from Mexico City that is most interesting is that they used the systems that governments typically use to deliver large scale infrastructure projects. That is, the team took on the planning and physical work promised by their local government, shifting the cost of burden to those who intend to use the lanes (the ultimate user-pay model). They also got through five kilometres in an eight hour day, which means that with the correct funding it would take the team sixty days to complete the desire three hundred kilometres of bike paths (private enterprise is more efficient than government enterprise). Finally, ongoing costs of maintenance would be assumed by the citizens that make the path, meaning that the cost on the government would be virtually nil.

And yet, it is likely that this group will be charged with damage to public property and be called ‘vandals’.


Perhaps it is best if cyclists just make their own bike lanes as required.


Vandalism can be useful

I came across this a while ago and didn’t quite know what to make of it: London’s inoffensive, vaguely folk-sounding alterno-rock group Dry The River have created 3D posters to advertise their latest album.

Yeah. My first thought was, “How do they ensure that people are wearing 3D glasses when they view the posters?”

Then I saw that the posters aren’t 3D in the annoyingly ubiquitous “It looks just like Avatar!” sense. They are 3D in the “they exist in three dimensions” sense. They are not so much posters as much as they are sculptures.

3D Poster

3D Posters

Each poster was hand made in collaboration with French artist Xavier Barrade, taking thirty-five hours to complete one poster. Due to the large amount of time it takes to create each poster, only a few pieces were created and then each was strategically placed around London. The message then spread, or was pushed, through social networks. To close the loop on this intimate marketing solution, a time lapse video depicting the making of a poster has been used as the video clip for the band’s single “No Rest”.

So this is interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, it recreates the notion of the band poster. Now whenever I see a sad little photocopied A4 poster in black and white, covered in tape and speckled with mud I wish I saw a majestic paper horse charging toward me.

Secondly, it puts into play the media theory espoused by Harold Innis in his 1950 text ‘Empire and Communication’. Innis postulated that societies must strike a balance between using ‘time-biased’ or ‘space-biased’ media. In this sense, ‘time-biased’ media are durable and persist through time (such as stone and clay sculptures), whereas ‘space-biased’ media are easy to transport to the reaches of an empire (such as paper and papyrus).

The scarcity of posters meant that the medium was inherently ‘time-biased’- an artisanal medium with a consistent message, deciphered by a few with the knowledge acquired offered in pedagogic structures. When social networks were used to share the existence of the posters, a ‘spatial bias’ was enacted- a message translated into the vernacular and repeated en masse in androgogic patterns. The campaign was both exclusive and inclusive. Those in the know were called upon to educate their not-so-hip friends.

Thirdly, it further blurs the lines between advertising and art in a medium that has grown stale; where Banksy is a brand name and every telegraph pole is the site of passive one-way communication.

There is, however, one problem with the band’s media strategy- Dry The River are very mediocre. They cannot escape comparisons to Noah and the Whale or Mumford and Sons for one simple reason- Dry The River are very, very mediocre. I mean, once you’ve got the fish on the hook, you actually have to reel it in.


Sculpture and Social Media

I think it’s fair to say that I have a casual interest in the upcoming election.

‘Really?! We couldn’t tell!’ I hear you cry.

I’m not interested because I want to push a political agenda. I mean, everything would be better if people just lived in the benevolent dictatorship of Adornopia- the  magical world without hunger, poverty, disease and those smarmy pandas… I am interested because I HATE (yes, all caps) advertising.

What’s that now? ‘You cannot hate advertising!’?

Au contraire… I no longer watch live television so that I can ignore the advertising, I remove labels from my clothing with surgical precision and I spend my work days actively hunting and ‘neutralising’ advertising. Well, two out of three above statements are true.

I suppose it’s not that I hate advertising. I just take umbrage at being told what to do, how to think and which products to buy based on thirty second snippets or glossy images on non-recycled paper (Adornopia- it’s a wonderful place). I suppose my deep seated cynicism and ‘media’ background has given me a healthy level of disdain for ah, ‘unimaginative’, advertising.

So, when the election was combined with ‘unimaginative’ advertising, I lost my shit.

One of the best features of the 2007 Federal election was that slogan, plastered everywhere. Yes, ‘Kevin07′ was more than a catchphrase.. It was poppy, pervasive and plied into the porous mind of first time voters and those who had long forgotten its Whitlam inspired predecessor. It was a movement.

This campaign, however, is different. It seems to matter less. Nobody seems to care and I blame the advertising.

Crap like this:

And this:

Honestly, who do they think they are fooling? These are poorly constructed attempts to establish ethos in a field that has been eviscerated by the evangelical chorus of ‘Yes we can!’

Doesn’t the electorate deserve advertising (often equated with ‘awareness campaigns’ and ‘educational programs’) of a better quality than has been delivered?

I mean, advertising can do wonderful things. It can coerce people to buy and consume something to which they have a moral objection. Recently, the grocery chain Coles has decided it will no longer source pork from providers that use sow stalls. Would people be disinclined to buy pork if they knew how pigs were treated? Obviously. Do images of sow stalls appear in pork advertisements? No. Coles have formed their decision on an appeal to pathos.

The advertisements from both the ALP and the (incorrectly named) Liberal Party are based on flawed processes, appeals to reason and the establishment of ethos.

This advertisement is more efficient in getting me to reconsider my preconceived notions:

It makes some valid points. I mean, people tend to prefer lamb to mutton… Just saying.

But really, why can’t advertising for this election be more exciting? It’s not all about being serious, ‘economic conservatives’ and tilting your head jovially as you speak. Where is the fun? The bare-knuckle fighting? The explosions? Seriously.

Final example. If the Brontë sisters were this cool when I was in high school, I would have actually read their books rather than pretend to read so I could sit next to the cute girls in English class.

Postscript: In the land of Adornopia, all writers would be given the opportunity to turn into dinosaurs and bring down the ‘system’. Well, everyone except Stephenie Meyer.

On the persistence of bad advertising

Okay, so apparently Australia will have an election soon. How was I to know?

I mean, there has been an abundance of poorly designed political advertisements. There was that oddly insistent letter from the Australian Electoral Commission that followed me across three households. Also, there are those quaint banners around town telling me to pick a colour (either red, green or blue).

But, what really clued me into the fact that there will soon be an election is that there was a political debate. Moreover, it was on multiple television channels. Much moreover, the time of the debate was altered so as not to interfere with the final television episode of something called a ‘master chief’.

So, seeing as how there was nothing good on television (for the first time in Australia’s history, no doubt), I decided to follow the debate on twitter. Not with any serious intent or hardcore political analysis. Just to see what passes for ‘informed’ political debate nowadays.

What follows is my collection of the best twitter updates I could find relating to the debate. Hopefully this will demonstrate what policies an Australian government should follow.

Or, you know, how stupid ‘consultative’ democracy can be.

It’s good to see that, those following along at home, were able to read between the lines.

dirty word

Those in the audience, however…

chumps and chimps in the audience

Now, it would be remiss of Australian audiences to not engage in our national past time during the debate. 

To go along with national pride and past times…

After a while, it appeared as though people following on twitter got bored. I can’t understand why.

Then things turned personal…

I saved these for last, although I tried to have the posts listed in a semblance of chronology. I apologise if these posts seem crass, but Australian politicians have to show they have a sense of humour.

Finally, politicians have to deny, deny, deny that they are whores. Even if, deep down, they really are whores. Or, you know, they like whores.

Voila. That is the compiled reaction of the Australian ‘public’ to the first debate. Oh, did I forget to mention that? The debate was the first of THREE! Honestly, I’m not sure I can physically endure another two hours of quality Australian television.

Unless, you know, it’s ‘master chief’.

That ‘debate’ thingy…

The Department of Censorship the Attorney-General has announced that it is considering a European style data retention system, which would require ISPs to log the phone calls and internet activities of its customers. This was revealed on ZDNet a last Friday.

So, it appears that the Federal Government, in its infinite wisdom, has decided that its citizens cannot be trusted. Or, if you please, you may insert some other sweeping generality pertaining to our rights as citizens.

Frankly, I am not surprised. I am not pleased with the announcement, but I am not surprised. Currently, ISPs are required to give law enforcement data on customers only once a court order is produced. Under the proposed scheme, ISPs wold be required to log all traffic from all customers, essentially treating each piece of digital communication as suspect. There are claims that this will make the internet, that raucous no space place without politics or limitations, ‘safer’.

Combined with the proposed mandatory internet filter and the internet will become so safe that nothing bad will happen ever again. Ever.

I suppose I could wax lyrical about how governments are trying to reign in an ever growing medium that they cannot control. I could rant that the mandatory filter and the proposed data retention scheme is tantamount to burning books. I could maybe scheme with my friends about ways to subvert the system. Really, all I want to do is ask the government to consult the public on important policy proposals. 

I honestly believe in the principles of democracy. Hopefully the Australian government does as well. Otherwise, I know which party will get my vote at the next election.


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