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The Short, Happy Life of Street Posters

Architecture News - Jul 08, 2008 - 13:40   5301 views

On the surface, postering might seem like a topic unworthy ofdiscussion: take some paper, write or draw a message and slap the paperup where someone will see it. It seems harmless. But the simple act ofpostering has so much more meaning and significance than it wouldinitially appear. Postering is {quite literally} a messy, troublesome,and often fickle business. This fact makes postering both an excitingmedium and inherently problematic.

To some, posters might be seen as little more than crass, obtrusiveclutter. Yet for others they are essential to the lifeblood and cultureof a place. Thus, it is important to understand the forces andattitudes that lie behind street posters and the things that allow themto keep popping up even in places they are not supposed to. Theirexistence is tenuous, but the role of posters in public life should notbe overlooked. The intent of this article is to draw an understandingof street postering in Vancouver. As such there is a need to explorethe significance of posters, regulations, and the intriguing – if notconfusing – culture of postering in the city.

As a medium, street posters are profound in their accessibility,directness and simplicity. From an objective point of view, streetposters embody a civic culture that is messy, subversive, resourceful,and sometimes even deviant. But from another perspective, streetposters also reflect something deeper: the creativity,entrepreneurship, passion and political ideals of communities. Ifposters were not an available medium it is probably fair to say that itwould mean the loss of an essential component of participatory civiclife. It is also not unrealistic to suggest that a city without streetposters would be a much less interesting place not only to look at, butto live in as well.

The central tensions of street postering are, thus, questions oforder versus disorder and legibility versus chaos. Street postering isabout shock, surprise, and capturing attention. There is a certain typeof playfulness {some might call it deviance} in the ability of postersto turn up anywhere, seemingly out of nowhere, only to disappear ashort time later. Poster bombs {i.e. a barrage of posters} canliterally be a race against time: survival of the fittest. In colouringoutside of the lines of what is often “expected” within the publicsphere, this unpredictability has led to a lack of respect for posters.As much as urban enthusiasts might fantasize about the city as a placeof surprise and wonder, there is also an opposing tendency to contain,define, and regulate public spaces. Ironically, the lack of formalrespect for street postering is partly a function of the fact thatposters represent culture without permission and, almost by nature, arenot intended to be formal or particularly orderly.

Street posters serve many different purposes.Whether advertising gigs, spreading political messages, notifyingcommunity events, or expressing artistic urges, posters are an integralpart of DIY {Do It Yourself} culture. With a few scraps of paper, somemarkers, adhesive, and a little legwork, a full-fledged, grassrootsmarketing campaign can be born. As a means to get the word out aboutalmost anything artistic, informational or political, with a mere $10budget, posters are usually the first option. No doubt the internet andsocial networking sites {in particular} have taken on an expanded rolein the public sphere, disseminating information and building community.But these mediated forms ultimately do not work on the same tactilelevel. Think of street posters as part of a broader community dialog:one in which anyone with an idea, a message, and a willingness to putin a little effort can participate in.

The life of a street poster is short, but poetic. There is somethingnaturally fluid and regenerative about postering that nicely reflects
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