Help us to Keep The Lights On for another decade! Back the Cable
The Bristol Cable

Subvertising in Bristol: ‘A service to your local community’

The art of hijacking Bristol’s billboards to create new meaning

Visuals

 The art of hijacking Bristol’s billboards to create new meaning

Words: Alec Saelens (more by author)
Subverts & Photos: St Just Mob, Don Pedro & A0 Facts

You’ll have seen it during election campaigns. Amid the noise of party political posters and slogans plastered all over the city, disgruntled people have taken up their felt tip pens, pots of paint and spray cans to change and challenge the intended message, or subvertise. Last year, UKIP’s hysterical campaign got significantly mocked and defaced in what became a countrywide display of satire.

Billboards and bus shelters are familiar landmarks – and valuable marketing spaces. The relentless splash of advertising constantly changes, promoting big brands, products and ideas. The messages are unwittingly absorbed by us as part of the everyday experience of the urban landscape.

If taking ownership of advertising spaces back from private companies seems unlikely, subvertising is at least a way to take a crack at influencing public perception. “It’s a political act,” says a member of the St Just Mob, a well-established collective of subvertisers in Bristol. “Illegality is important to challenge the clampdown on public space.”

A corporate advert can become a nice canvas to highlight hypocrisy and push subversive ideas. Using crafty methods to make witty statements is what makes a good subvert and separates the trashy from the creative.

The strategy and purpose are simple. “You have to confuse the viewer. By distorting a message as if it was a part of it, you create an interaction, present new knowledge and help with education,” says our veteran subvertiser. “It’s a service to your local community.”

Although Bristol’s history of unofficial public artwork is notorious, here is a selection of lesser-known feats from recent years. By the way, a side-effect of spending cuts to the council is that “they spend less on cleaning up street art and graffiti”. So, more to come?

Join 2,500 Cable members redefining local media

Your support will help the Cable grow, deepening our connections in the city and investigating the issues that matter most in our communities.

Join now

What makes us different?

Comments

Post a comment

Mark if this comment is from the author of the article

By posting a comment you agree to our Comment Policy.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related content

Meet the Bristol artist casting nipples to celebrate bodies 

Ellen Downes’ pioneering bodycasting project aims to help women, trans and non-binary people 'connect to' their bodies, while challenging hypersexualisation and sexual harassment.

‘I am the only artist I know with this niche’: the platform supporting Bristol’s Asian creatives

WOW Asia is celebrating the work of Asian creatives in the city. The Cable went to their first fair to speak to the organisers and the artists involved.

Has a new ‘Banksy’ appeared on Bristol drugs rehab?

It appears that the elusive artist Banksy might have lent his support to the rehab centre as it tries to raise money to avoid closing down.

Upfest: Women challenging the male-dominated graffiti scene

Upfest gave a nod to the centenary of women first getting the vote by joining forces with Bristol Women's Voice and some of the world's top female street artists.

Hip Hop Hijabis: “Muslim chick with an itch to spit skits”

Bristolian Muslim rappers Sukina Douglas and Tanya Muneera Williams are “proud to be from a place of resistance.”

Street artists talk shop

Vandals? No, professional artists. The Cable talks to Bristol artists making a living from their spray cans.

Join our newsletter

Get the essential stories you won’t find anywhere else

Subscribe to the Cable newsletter to get our weekly round-up direct to your inbox every Saturday

Join our newsletter

Subscribe to the Cable newsletter

Get our latest stories & essential Bristol news
sent to your inbox every Saturday morning