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Here Are the Tools to Hack into Your City's Public Advertising

But you probably shouldn't do that, says the artist making them.

One example of how billboards can be "improved" with artistic interventions, done in 2012 by Berlin's Vermibus. (JUST)

Bus shelters are fantastic places to broadcast a message. You have the captive attention of foot-tapping commuters, as well as people disembarking from coaches and a steady flow of sidewalk amblers.

Advertisers know this—that's why the typical shelter is wallpapered in brassy pitches for movies, clothing, and car insurance. But one brave ad-buster, Jordan Seiler, wants to reclaim these spaces in the name of the art, and is even providing the tools to start the revolution. They look like this:

Seiler calls these things sculptures, and he does in fact make them himself. It just so happens they also function as keys to a variety of common fasteners securing bus-stop billboards. Visit the artist's "PublicAccess" map to see if the keys to your local shelters are available. If they are, you can obtain one for a $35 donation to the cause (or lower, if you're in dire need).

So far, Seiler's made keys for New York, San Francisco, L.A., London, Paris, and several other European cities. The PublicAccess map includes the disclaimer that these are "handmade art objects and not intended for use." But it's pretty clear where his mind is at judging from this manifesto:

The global corporate message stands against our public interest by distracting us from each other in favor of ourselves, invoking our desires to the detriment of our environment, and silencing our public voices by institutionalizing corporate visual expression in our shared public spaces. The PublicAccess project aims to reverse this one-way communication by providing access to municipal infrastructure for public dialogues. Artists and individuals can treat the tools offered through this site as functional sculptures to interject their thoughts into our shared public spaces.

Street-art site Vandalog notes PublicAccess is "still in the process of expanding," meaning if your city's tools aren't available now they might be soon. If you're temporarily keyless, perhaps bide the time by studying these artistic interventions in urban advertising (not that you should do anything like this, of course):

On some level I believe in capitalism, and the belief that consumer culture can drive the corporate agenda through our purchasing choices, but those choices cant be made in an environment of illusion. We need the mental space, that will allow us to develop the mental fortitude, to make conscientious choices about where capitalism will take us. #publicadcampaign

A photo posted by Jordan Seiler (@jordanseiler) on

Subway takeover circa 2001. #tryingtoburythepast #publicadcampaign #adtakeover

A photo posted by Jordan Seiler (@jordanseiler) on

My first phonebooth takeover many moons ago, before I left the hat behind for an all black ensemble. #publicadcampaign

A video posted by Jordan Seiler (@jordanseiler) on

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.