Like a scourge on our eyeballs, so-called ‘visual pollution’ proliferates in our cities in the form of advertising big and small -- from distracting billboards in public spaces to those annoying ad panels in bathroom stalls. But there’s a grassroots movement that’s starting to fight back, as documented by American filmmaker Gwenaëlle Gobé in a new documentary called This Space Available.DOC NYC film festival later this week, the film aims to generate dialogue about how advertising in the public domain has gone out of control, and what is being done about it. The film also charts the political history behind this grassroots movement:
From 240 hours of film, 160 interviews, and visits to 11 countries on five continents, This Space Available charts a fascinating variety of struggles against unchecked advertising and suggests that more than aesthetics is at stake. If Jacques Attali once called noise pollution an act of violence, is visual pollution also such an act? Should we also consider, as one Mumbai resident says, “which classes of society can write their messages on the city and which classes of society are marginalized?”
It’s a question worthy of consideration, if similar issues like light and noise pollution already being recognized as the nuisances that they are. With all the private advertising that occupies public spaces -- sometimes illegally -- the question of control, equal access and the quality those spaces becomes a vital one. More often than not, advertising is distracting, banal, ugly and is a thinly-veiled assault on our collective consciousness.
The film highlights positive developments, like a recent ban of “outdoor media” in Sao Paulo, the eighth-largest city in the world. It chronicles a number of “public space activist” organizations using diverse methods like guerilla art to combat the takeover of private advertising in public spaces.
But whatever you believe about advertising, it’s clear that if our “mental environment” is truly a common-property resource like air and water, as Adbusters’ Kalle Lasn describes, then it deserves to be protected from being overrun by corporate advertising.
This Space Available premieres on November 5 at DOC NYC.
UPDATE: The first screening was sold out, and due to high demand, the DOC NYC film festival organizers have now added on a third screening. The next ones will be Tuesday November 8 at 1:15pm and Wednesday, November 9 at 2:30pm. Both will be shown at the IFC Center, Sixth Avenue at West Third Street in Manhattan.