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Tall Poppy Interview: Posterchild

2007_03_30Posterchild_box.jpgYou are more familiar with street artist Posterchild’s work than you realize. Visit his site Blade Diary, and you’ll immediately recognize his posters, stencils and outdoor installations. Like fellow stenciler Banksy once said, “If you have a statue in the city centre you could go past it every day on your way to school and never even notice it, right. But as soon as someone puts a traffic cone on its head, you’ve made your own sculpture.” Posterchild isn’t just putting up drawings on outdoor walls; he’s changing the way we see our public spaces. And now that you know his works are there, you’ll start to see them all over the downtown core.
Which will naturally make you want to know more about Posterchild. But anonymity is a time-honoured tradition of street and post graffiti artists. After all, postering is quasi-illegal, and look at all the trouble those Aqua Teen Hunger Force guys got into in Boston. Again, separating the artist from the work forces the viewer to participate in the art—to form his or her own ideas about what the artist is trying to say or what the piece means to him. It’s also ephemeral—a poster may last a day or a year, all the while constantly changing because of wear and tear and more graffiti.
So all we’ll tell you is this: We met in a downtown café to talk about astronauts, consumerism and garbage picking and this is what he had to say.


Torontoist: Just what is this thing that you do?
Posterchild: It’s called “street art.” Some people use the term “post-graffiti, but I don’t like to because that implies that graffiti is done and over with. The term [street art] is meant to imply that it has evolved. I’m trying to do something kinder and gentler and less illegal.
In your artist statement, you write “I gather my materials from the flotsam of the urban environment, process it, and return it to the city.”
I get a lot of my materials from the garbage. I’ve made posters from blue prints, Christmas wrapping paper or other advertising posters that have been thrown out. I flip them around and print on the back.
One reason we’re obsessed with newness and novelty in our culture is because companies are always trying to sell us their culture. Which becomes non-participatory. To take their detritus, flip it around, and do my own thing on it…to become an active participant in the culture and put it in a public space is very satisfying.
2007_03_30Posterchild_astronaut.jpg Who is Posterchild?
I chose that name for two reasons—one because I was going to do posters. Two, I wanted a name that would be emblematic of the culture. It puts me on the level of a guerrilla advertiser or a church putting on a bake sale. In Kingston, if you’re advertising a church bake sale and you do 1000 posters, you can get a huge fine. [Still] you’re less likely to get in trouble with postering.
Yet big businesses can put up ads wherever they want…
The number of illegal billboards in Toronto is shocking. Those trucks that drive around town, just idling. That is just the most aggressive thing I’ve ever seen. But they have the money to back this up. They buy legitimization.
Which is why it’s important to create art work for public spaces?
The reason why I like to keep doing it is that no matter what theme you’re working with, you’re doing it in a public space, quasi-illegally. And that carries certain messages in the work no matter what the image is. All street art or graffiti is inherently political because you are saying “I don’t think this space should be this way. I think it should be different.”
But there are risks, like the Mooninite thing in Boston in January. And last April, some teenagers in Ravenna, Ohio were arrested for putting up your Super Mario Boxes…they brought out the Hazmat team for that.
One of my fears when I’m out picking garbage is not that people are going to get angry at me for what I’m doing, but what they think I might be doing. I’m a a shadowy guy out at nighttime with a bag full of suspicious, unknown things.
The Mario blocks are a visual touchstone for people of my generation. The idea was to throw a little magic into day-to-day life. We put it up online and people started doing them all overt the world, which was very cool. This was before September 11. In a post-September 11 world, in small town America, this didn’t fly. There were six girls that did it in their hometown and the bomb squad was called in, and bio-terrorism experts were brought in all for these shiny boxes with question marks on them and flowers inside.
They’re always called hoax devices, which is not true. But the language that the [authorities] use implies these “pranksters” put up these “hoax devices.” A hoax what? A hoax bomb, right? It’s crazy. Only Batman villains would make shiny terrorist boxes with question marks on them. It’s such a Joker thing to do. Were they expecting a jack in the box wth sleeping gas to pop out?
Still you had a blinking LED light on your “Doomed Astronaut” installation last February.
I almost didn’t do “The Doomed Astronaut.” And after the Mooninite thing happened, I was kind of glad it was torn down so quickly because I had this nightmare that some one had called a bomb threat in as me, and the police came after me so hard.
I thought that the idea was that we weren’t going to let [the terrorists] affect the way we live, but its been totally the opposite.
Your work features a lot of spacemen. What was the idea behind “The Doomed Astronaut?”
The deal with that one was that it said “air supply” on the front—that’s were the LED was. And you’d think “Oh, he’s gonna be OK.” But then you’d realize that [the air supply] was battery powered and that it was going to run out and the astronaut was probably going to die. I do a lot of dead astronauts.
Why?
Space is the ultimate example of dreaming, of reaching for the stars. It shows the kind of things that are possible at humanity’s best. The death part is that it doesn’t always work.
Posterchild blogs daily at Blade Diary and a collection of past projects can be found at Fotolog.

Comments

  • http://www.publicspace.ca Jonathan Goldsbie

    Billboard trucks will be outlawed soon, thanks to the TPSC.

  • Colin

    I love Posterchild. Until recently I always figured it was a girl… not sure why.

  • Marc Lostracco

    I saw a billboard truck driving along Yonge downtown yesterday with Pennsylvania plates. Sucks even more when it’s not even a local company doing it.

  • Stephanie Hart

    Great post, Rhonda!

  • Roxanne

    I’m so energized by all the great street art in the city (great term, btw). Most of it is so much more inventive and creative than what I see in galleries these days. I love Posterchild’s work, this is a great post!