Stickers and public space


The explosion of mobile communications technology has facilitated the crossing over of private behavior into the public realm, particularly, of private communications, which are seen “as transcending the constraints of local place and time, often disrupting the social logic of public places.”[4]

“As people navigate the urban environment, they selectively display aspects of their public identities to interface with local social and infrastructural resources: swiping a transit card at a ticket wicket or displaying a membership card to get into the gym.”[5]

Because of their miniature and mobile nature, these devices are designed to invade the visual plane of the city dweller; the individual walking along the sidewalk on a busy street, perhaps coming home from work, or going to a music venue, or walking to a nearby coffee shop to work, or simply engaging his or her neighborhood with the most ancient of transportation mechanisms.

As Rich Ling and Scott W. Campbell illustrate, the modern day city dweller engages the public space by incorporating mobile media in the form of phones, mp3 players, cameras, and other portable media devices into the public space; particularly by interfacing with different locations and infrastructures in the city.[6]

“Portable information devices provide opportunities for personalization of public and semi-public spaces in the form of cocooing and encampents, but also in the form of individualized relationships to commercial establishments.”[7]

Private and public spaces are merging with the use of these mobile communication devices; so just as well as an individual transports a personal phone conversation from a private space as is a bedroom or living room to a public space as is the sidewalk, the sticker artist must find a way to disrupt the visual public landscape. “Private communications via the mobile phone were seen as transcending the constraints of local place and time, often disrupting the social logic of public places.”[8]

Nearly all streetscapes in the world’s cities are dotted with public utility devices, from the simple street name post, to the traffic light, to the stop sign. All of these ancillary properties form part of the place simply known as the street or road. Because these surfaces are property of the city, they are in effect, property of no one. The city might make efforts to upkeep, install, remove and upgrade them, but not one person can lay claim to them.

Thanks to their exposed nature, these different public surfaces have then become the perfect target for sticker artists. “Civic leaders haven’t figured out how to stop this flood of guerrilla art. And the removal efforts have not been particularly effective, leaving the fading, handmade stickers of yesteryear posted next to the latest mass produced masterpieces.”[9]

When moving around the city, an individual establishes a form of territory by what Ling and Campbell call cocooning, encapsulating themselves with media, isolating their attention to the music they consume via headphones, or the videos they watch on their smart phones, or the video games the carry in their pocket. However isolated he or she may be, this individual is transporting themselves around the city and so the sticker artist must find a way to penetrate that isolated chamber of media and do so in a way that attracts the reader.

“Though the stickers often evoke themes of urban alienation and isolation, their effect is precisely to counter such feelings. Walking along the streets, one takes comfort from the camaraderie represented by such a large community, and the fact that so many individuals have found a means of expressing themselves.”[10]

These new location-free mobile communication devices are making place and distance irrelevant; instead they are focusing on the social element of interaction within a public space. As such, and as Drew Hemment points out in “The Mobile Effect,” “the fabric of the urban environment and even the contours of the Earth may become a canvas.”[11] This urban environment, of course, includes the various public utility surfaces that sticker artists use.

“Beyond leaving a graffiti mark, the stickers provoke an open-ended interpretation process and a desire to scour the urban landscape searching for more.”[12] In a way, stickers become part of the identity of a street or block, and by extension, they become part of the identity associated with the neighborhood and its inhabitants. The better-designed samples quickly stand out, particularly those that do not purport to market any one product or message in particular.

“The social outcomes of people engaging in private, mobile phone talk in public spaces is just one element in a much larger array of technosocial practices that mold public space to accommodate and trace personal identity and experience.”[13]

Euclid Avenue in Little 5 Points, Atlanta, Ga »

Street Adhesive Samples

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