Visual Resonances

by Karin Bareman

English Essays

Sticker Blues – A Reflection on Lloyd Corporation’s Appropriation of Street Notices

For weeks on my way to the station I would walk past a lamp post with a sticker proudly proclaiming that Watford shits on the Luton. On my first encounter I simply thought it was amusing. But as time passed, something began to shift. Not only did the sticker make me smile every time I saw it, I also began to agree more and more with the view expressed: “Yeah! Watford does shit on the Luton!” 

Installation Lloyd Corporation – Person to Person at Carlos Ishikawa
Example street notice collected by Lloyd Corporation

This palpable shift in sentiment intrigued me. I have lived a little over a year in this town, so I have hardly earned the right to call myself a true Watfordian. I have also never been to Luton, nor do I know anyone from there. For all I know it is a lovely place, inhabited by friendly people. But here I was, identifying myself more and more with my place of residence, feeling an unexpected sense of belonging to this community. Not only that, it was clear that this newfound affinity was the result of a clearly positioned adversary in the form of another commuter town, as stated on a silly sticker on a lamp post.  

And then, suddenly, it was gone. I do not know what happened. The council might have removed it. The rain might have washed it off. A Luton resident might have taken offence and defaced it. A Watford citizen might have decided to peel it off for keepsakes. Or artists such as Lloyd Corporation might have appropriated it to incorporate it into their art practice.

Installation Lloyd Corporation – Person to Person at Carlos Ishikawa
Example street notice collected by Lloyd Corporation

I found myself missing the sticker. It was almost as if with its loss the community of Watfordians shitting on the Lutonians had ceased to exist. Was there still such an entity? If so, where could I find it? Or had I just imagined it? After all, historian Benedict Anderson, in his groundbreaking study on nationalism and the rise of the nationstate, coins the term imagined community. As he puts it: “In fact, all communities larger than primordial villages of face-to-face contact […] are imagined. Communities are to be distinguished, not by their falsity/genuiness, but by the style in which they are imagined.” [1] In other words, the sticker did not only evidence the existence of a specific community – one of which I had somehow felt part – but also highlighted the way in which this community was to be understood, visually and otherwise.  

This leads me to another point. Anderson shows in this seminal work that the confluence of the invention of the printing press, the rise of early capitalism, and the elevation of certain vernacular tongues to the language of choice for state bureaucracies led to certain communities imagining themselves as separate political, but above all, sovereign national entities. [2] It is useful to take these three factors – print technology, capitalism and language – as a means to understand the many street texts collected by Lloyd Corporation across the world over a period of six years and shown here in this exhibition.

Installation Lloyd Corporation – Person to Person at Carlos Ishikawa
Example street notice collected by Lloyd Corporation

Starting with print technology, the street notices found by artist duo Ali Eisa and Sebastian Lloyd Rees often fall back on tacky fonts, shouty colours and an overenthusiastic use of capital letters. The printed and photocopied documents seem perennially stuck in a Microsoft 95 Word Art mode, despite the proliferation of sophisticated but easy-to-use graphic design software in the last 25 years. A surprising number of street texts are still handwritten. The author’s grasp of grammar and spelling is generally poor. The language is vernacular in nature. The words on the various pieces of paper are laid down as they would be spoken. There is no apparent structure to the message. More often than not, it is a stream of consciousness typed out, evincing the author’s thought patterns as they emerge. If, following art critic John Berger, we understand publicity as a language for manufacturing glamour and instilling envy, for subtly suggesting products or experiences capable of transforming our lives, then these street notices are abject failures as forms of publicity. [3] Items and services may be on offer here, but whether they have transformative powers and turn readers’ lives into objects of envy for others to witness remains to be seen. 

In fact, all these street texts offer convincing proof that twenty-first century late-capitalism does not work for either the authors or their target audiences. Why else would one resort to advertising hot desks on car windows, or put up hand-written notices for house shares in shop fronts, if not for the lack of affordable housing through regular channels and the outsourcing of previously gainful forms of employment to the gig economy? Why else would one advertise massages and hotel visits, promote get-rich-quick schemes, or offer free labour in order to enter the job market, if living-wage, entry-level jobs or sustainable benefits for those in need were readily available? Why else would there be a need for computer and white goods repair men, if not for the built-in obsolescence of these items? Why else look for questionable language courses and dodgy university qualifications, if normal routes into education were accessible and affordable? Why else address matters such as deportations, the Windrush scandal, climate change, eviction and other planning matters, unless recourse to the legal system seems unfeasible and participation in local government impossible?

Installation Lloyd Corporation – Person to Person at Carlos Ishikawa
Example street notice collected by Lloyd Corporation

Of course, some of the found street texts also espouse debunked conspiracy theories or pursue petty local vendettas. But overall, a quiet desperation seems to underlie most of these notices, a desperation enhanced by their somewhat pathetic appearance. These street texts are proof of an invisible community, one that has to resort to operating within a shadow economy, and to using analogue means of communication to reach out to its potential members. They are also indexical of what visual culture scholar Nicholas Mirzoeff calls global cities, which “may present themselves as transparent hubs of frictionless commerce, but [whose] residents often experience them as conflicted, dangerous and even haunted.” [4] The lo-fi character of the street texts not only attests to a certain authenticity of this experience, [5] they are also representative of the inability of residents of global cities to participate in “the inevitable glass towers of the banks and the halogen-lit branches of global ‘brand’ shops downtown.” [6]

It is by virtue of appropriation of these street notices and their placement in an art gallery context, that Lloyd Corporation are able to highlight the jarring disconnect between late capitalist society and the marginalised communities residing in its shadow, and to draw the visitor’s attention to the endearingly mundane poetry and the fragile materiality of these street texts. In that sense, the artists’ work is highly political, in the way that visual artist and critic Hito Steyerl advocates: “[W]hat makes art intrinsically political nowadays: its function as a place for labor, conflict, and … fun—a site of condensation of the contradictions of capital and of extremely entertaining and sometimes devastating misunderstandings between the global and the local.” [7]

Example street notice collected by Lloyd Corporation
Example street notices collected by Lloyd Corporation

At the same time, the very removal of these street texts will have disrupted already precarious lines of communication, and will have counteracted the imagining of potential alternative communities and networks in these global cities. Part of me still expects the sticker of Watford shitting on the Luton to turn up in this installation. Part of me will forever be disappointed that this will not happen, and that the potential community this humble sticker hinted at might never be realised. 

This text was previously published in the brochure accompanying the exhibition ‘Lloyd Corporation – Person to Person’ on show at Carlos Ishikawa from 11 January 2020 until 8 February 2020.

[1] Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Revised Edition (London & New York: Verso, 2003), 6.
[2] Anderson, Imagined Communities, 36-46.
[3] John Berger, Ways of Seeing (London: Penguin Books, 2008), 131-132.
[4] Nicholas Mirzoeff, How to See the World (London: Pelican Books, 2015), 166.
[5] Mirzoeff, How to See the World, 276. 
[6] Mirzoeff, How to See the World, 167.
[7] Hito Steyerl, “Politics of Art: Contemporary Art and the Transition to Post-Democracy,” in The Wretched of the Screen (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2013), 99.


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