“Advertising is as old as Humanity: indeed, much older; for what are the flaunting colours of the flowers but so many invitations to the bees to come and “buy our product.” Advertising might be defined as any device which first arrests the attention of the passer-by and then induces him to accept a mutually advantageous exchange.”
—James Laver, British historian
These all just started as writings on the wall as evidenced by the archeological findings in the ruins of ancient Rome and Pompeii advertising for a property for rent and a promotion for a tavern. Papyrus sheets that served as notices for reward for runaway slaves were however used by ancient Egyptians. The Babylonians, meanwhile used stenciled inscriptions on earthen bricks to mark or brand cornerstones for temples and kings who have commissioned such structures.
In Medieval times, a town crier served such purpose, shouting out the qualities of a merchant’s products aside from calling out the arrival of trade ships.
In the Renaissance period when art reached the height of patronage, the sponsorship of art can be seen as an early form of advertising, since it is a paid form of work representing religious structures or even persons of high-status as exemplified by the Medicis who granted commissions to skilled artists for their works of art in sculpture, painting, and architecture.
The use of advertising during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I was a result of the crown working together with the guilds in order to promote trade, mercantilism, and the arts. Guilds would gather round during the queen’s coronation parade, beseeching her highly coveted endorsement , hence ennobling them of a good word and better stature in trading goods overseas, a kind of early branding that forged the alliance of colonization and imperialist trade expansion.
Indeed from being mere writings on the wall, advertising had come a long way, in that it has taken the form of giant tarps, neon signs, LED screens, floating pop-up ads, painted signboards, skimpily-clad liquor girls, viral videos, infomercials, product placements, POP displays, standees, flyers, tear out coupon cards, free-tasting stalls, product demos, wrap-around car banners, celebrity endorsements, TV/movie product tie-ins, cover blurbs, playbills, brochures, catalogues, freebie merchandise, direct mail-outs, wall-papering every inch of the built space that we inhabit, invading our subconscious, intruding upon our senses, as a consequence of an expanded trade-based economy. No space lacking for such as structures for such are also continuously being built, as voids are framed in metal and aluminum to fill up metaphorically a hunger induced by the mantra of these ads, peddling more than products and services are symbolic ideations of happiness, desirability and fulfillment; and the clouds, the skies, nature, obscured by synthetic stand-ins and promises of Eden.
All these come to fore as Rain Dial examines the ramification of such an ad-induced world in her exhibit Adsciety. Her paintings of blank and abandoned encased ad spaces and billboard frames come off as coffins that echo much the hollowness of such squawking that pander much to our growing anxiety about our very humanity, as every space has been mortgaged now to serve such purpose.
We’ve come to know of places not because of its cultural and historical significance but rather by the size of the logos and billboards a company has put up on such site that urban landmarks has transposed into trademarks instead. It’s a formidable propaganda machine that is as oppressive as those used by fascist regimes that shackles society into a vicious cycle of want and consumption. And art unfortunately is party to this as well, as Upton Sinclair pummels it down to the core : “All art is propaganda. It is universally and inescapably propaganda; sometimes unconsciously, but often deliberately, propaganda.”
And art too has become a product to be peddled like all other products, in a market-driven industry. In a way, a propaganda unto itself, to commiserate itself further into this system. The situation seem hopeless and inescapable.
Or shall we hope then for typhoons for the redemption and reclamation of our wide open skies?
Artworks from the Show
Ad Spaces I, Ranelle Dial, 2014, Oil on canvas , 48×42 in
Ad Spaces II, Ranelle Dial, 2014, Oil on canvas, 48×42 in
Ad Spaces III, Ranelle Dial, 2014, Oil on canvas, 48×42 in
Ad Spaces IV, Ranelle Dial, 2014, Oil on canvas, 48×42 in
Ad Spaces V, Ranelle Dial, 2014, Oil on canvas, 48×42 in
Ad Spaces 1, Ranelle Dial, 2014, Oil on canvas, 48×42 in