Why I Put Up Posters
I have a little brown messenger bag which waits by the door for me like a puppy wanting to go out.
In my bag, I carry a few pages of stickers, some markers, post-it notes, pope cards, my notebook, a camera, two fake moustaches, and a folder containing a few hundred posters. I like to walk around the neighborhood, putting up flyers, making changes to signs, and generally jaking around.
One day, past midnight, a one-eyed bum approached me on the street. "What've ya got there?" he asked. "I seen your pictures around the neighborhood. What ARE you doing?" I blinked. This question always stumps me. It's a funtime activity I've never really attached a name to other than "putting up stuff".
Searching my brain for a quick explanation, I eventually told him, "It's art," but the word stuck in my throat. Well I guess you could argue that anything is art, certainly some of the stuff I put up is artistic, but I don't really consider this activity art.
I lay in bed that night, the question turning over in my mind: What AM I doing?
For one, I'm taking back my environment and gradually transforming it into the place I want it to look like. I like making everybody's day a little bit more surreal, and this is a really visible way of doing it.
For two, I know that somewhere out there, there are other people like me. Other people who appreciate these weird little intrusions into pedestrian reality. My posters are signposts saying "I'm here, and you're not alone."
And for three, it sends the message to everyone that public spaces are public property. We all modify our environment by living in it. The sounds and smells and rhythms of the neighborhood are an organic reflection of its occupants. Putting up posters is just like trimming the hedges or mowing the lawn.
Walking through the neighborhood with my bag over my shoulder, my cabal at my side, I'm reminded of don Juan Matus and Carlos Castaneda on their way to Ixtlan, trying to walk with the entities and intelligences of the desert. We're urban shamans, befriending the spirit of the neighborhood. While you go on your ventures, I reccommend this attitude, one of respect and stewardship for your environment, your companion on this journey.
I've been regularly putting up posters in this neighborhood for about a year now, and I think it's "working". At first, they'd dissapear quickly, but they're staying up much longer now. I think people are either laughing at them (and leaving them up) or are getting tired of taking them down. I like the fact that when I walk from point A to point B, I get to chuckle at the cool stuff hung on the telephone poles, walls, and trees, the moustaches drawn on posters, the stickers in the phonebooths. It feels like MY neighborhood. I am having such a blast doing this, I can only hope that somebody else out there is digging it half as much as I am.
I don't have any agenda higher than that. That's why I tend to avoid posters with political or ideological propaganda on them - people have a lot of defense mechanisms when they sense someone's trying to sell them something. I just want them to stop for a second and be aware of their environment. I want to jolt them, if only briefly, out of their pedestrian autopilot. And after seeing a few hudred of these signs, maybe they'll join me in modifying their environment for the better. Or maybe when they realize how easy it is to have fun FOR YOURSELF, IN YOUR OWN WAY, they'll loosen up, just a bit.
If you want to join me, but you're stuck for ideas for what to put up, search the web for our code word, PosterGASM. I've collected quite a bit of material over at http://www.blackironprison.com/index.php?title=POSTERGASM. I also advise you to take pictures of your work and post it on flickr.com with the tag "POSTERGASM". That way, you'll KNOW you're not out there alone. There's a community of people who also dig these kinds of shenanigans, and we love it when other pranksters choose to help carry the torch into the Strange Times.
May your stapler be full and your stickers be sticky. May your streets be filled with laughter. And may your posters hang high, long, and deep.