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Smashing the Image Factory A Manual of Billboard Subversion & Destruction

Smashing the image factory
A Complete Manual of Billboard Subversion & Destruction

"When our work is done, advertising and billboards will fly beside the soviet flag in the museum of dead totalitarian experiments"

Billboard Improvement:- On how to clean up your high street

Destruction of any of the State's ideological weapons of control will always be a rewarding experience. Most times it may be you don't need any more than a tin of paint, a little humour and a quiet night to turn a multinational's expensive advertising hoarding into your own guerrilla tapestry.

But maybe there's a tobacco advert that really bugs you. Maybe you've got a graphic that would look good as a poster but would look even better if it fitted over a ten foot high Marlboro smoking cowboy (still retaining the beautiful sunset over the Rockies). Maybe you`d like to wreak a joyful and subversive doubletake on unsuspecting victims of the advertising machine.


Methods of devastation and total obliteration are covered in the rest of the manual. This section deals with the direct subversion of the billboard's message - to answer it, question it, or overturn it, all at their expense.

With the use of a few simple tools it is possible to take their glossy hi-tech death culture billboards and turn them back on themselves. We`ll start with straight up graffiti and work up to do-it-yourself, no holds barred Big Art.

If you want to use spray cans then beware illegible scrawl and spelling mistakes during the excitement. Also: like the hip hop graffitos, get yourself a pistol grip plastic handle that fits around the can, saving on tired fingers and ensuring that the paint goes in the right direction. These are cheap and easily available at any car shop.

But maybe you want to go a little further. Well the most effective alterations are certainly the simplest: the addition of one or two letters; or a speech bubble: or pasting over certain words or letters with appropriately coloured paper. All over Britain during election time 'you can't trust Labour' became 'You can trust Labour' by pasting plain white paper over the offending `T`- the message was wrong but the method simplistically brilliant.

It must be said that the skillfully reworked billboard directs the passer-by to a consideration of the original corporate strategy in the context of a thoughtful reaction.

A huge slogan or subversive graphic on a roadside billboard helps you reach the people that these are aimed at - car drivers - to make it plain to them how destructive and alienated a car obsessed culture really is.


Smashing the Image Factory A Manual of Billboard Subversion & Destruction


Get access to a photocopier. It has to be one with an enlargement function. Some will only enlarge up to 141%- that is, it will turn an A4 into an A3. Others might go 200%, the best copiers will go 400%. Try to find one of these. Universities & Arts centres might be a good place to start looking.

The most accessible and cheapest machines have a set enlargement button; that gives 141% Why 141%- well, it's a dimension that always retains the relative dimensions of the two sides (that's why A4 paper is the size it is). Really. Divide the length of an A4 by its width and you get 1.41. Width divided by length is 0.71. What it means practically is that if you take an A4 and blow it up 141% it becomes an A3. An A3 blown up 141% again doubles in size exactly (to become an A2). And so on, A1, AO etc.

Doing this you can take a graphic on A3 and keep doubling (141%) each half of the paper the copier spits out and watch it grow to the size you want.

No problem. Except that this is incredibly wasteful of paper, and time consuming (though quite straightforward). If you can get at a copier that goes up in 400% steps then you'll be able to miss out all the stages in between.


To explain this method, take an A4 piece of paper. Fold it. It is now 71% of its size (an A5 in fact, which enlarged by 141%, will be the A4 again). Fold the paper again- that's 50% (an A6- put a picture this size on a copier and blow it up 200% and it magically becomes an A4 once more).

Now fold twice more and it will be one sixteenth the area of the original A4, the sides being a quarter of the original. If you unfold it, it'll have grid marks on it. This is the essence of 400% enlargement.

Easy so far, eh? So do the same origami with an A3. Now get your graphic as big as you can on an A3. Turn it over and draw lines onto it to make it into quarters, and then again into sixteenths (like you done with the folding lark above). You can then cut the picture up and have sixteen little bits of paper- don't lose them!

Each one of these you blow up 397% (not 400%- you don't want to lose any of the graphic off the edges) and hey presto you've now got 16 A3 jigsaw pieces which, when put together, makes you a big fuck off poster 1.6 metres x 1.1 metres. If you start with an original made up of four or more A3's you got big enough to cover whole billboards (or building). [Laser copiers will do this sectioning for you- its called 'tiling'- they spew out all the pieces from an uncut A3.]


If you can only get to a copier that goes 200% then you have to quarter the picture, blow it up then quarter each quarter again- if you see what I mean. You can paste all the tiles together indoors with PVA/Copydex/Water soluble glue like you used in school (or Sellotape on the back).

You can redo bits in coloured paper; pick out bits using coloured toner; or paint on it; the limits are your imagination. Mind you, don't try to paste up graphics any bigger than 2m x 1m; if your message is larger, make it up of big chunks and butt the sections together as they go up.

If you want to fit something over an irregular size picture then you have to measure up the original and work backwards. Draw up a sketch of what you want to subvert and see how to fit A3's into it. Stare at it long enough and it becomes apparent.

For lettering, you can do letraset and keep blowing it up, but again it's wasteful. Either paint your slogan on paper or better still, find a computer and do the alphabet, one letter on each A4 printout. These are your originals, don't paste them up. When you want a slogan take each letter in turn on a copier and blow them up. With a computer you should be able to find the exact right typeface as is already on the billboard. Very impressive was some bright spark's addition to Volkswagon's "We put people in front of cars" by reproducing in exact type underneath: "And children under the front wheels".


Smashing the Image Factory A Manual of Billboard Subversion & Destruction

Use wallpaper paste for the hit, a bucket and a paint brush. PVA in the mix makes it set quicker and waterproofs it as well.) A broom will get you higher- cut down the head to fit inside the bucket.

Watch the billboards for when they change them - in our area they get recovered every third Thursday, so if you catch them right you can get plenty of outside studio space and time for your visual banditry.

Rather than skulking around in the middle of the night looking suspicious and getting nicked, put on some overalls, get a gang together and go for it during daylight hours- you`ll be able to see what you are doing for starters. Jobsworths giving you shit are- in our experience- few and far between; most passers by we've met think it's a good laugh. If the beast catches you while putting it up, "Why officer, look, it peels straight off again!".

Hope this has been of some interest and future use for you (if you got this far!). Once you start doing it, it just seems to flow. Oh, and remember, happiness is subversive when it's collective.

"People tend to do a double-take on billboards we've tampered with. We think it's far more effective than just spray painting a billboard because people automatically dismiss that. With our slogans they don't immediately recognise it as agit-prop."- AVI Billboard Interventions


Smashing the Image Factory A Manual of Billboard Subversion & Destruction

Publish The Method
Generalise Knowledge - Increase Self Activity
The billboard artist's goal is to throw a well aimed spanner into the media's gears, bringing the image factory to a shuddering halt. We work to unmask the real corporate activity behind the glamorous image, and to assault the billboard itself, to question its given function of marking out urban geographies (areas defined for consumption, the territory devoted to the car, the space set aside for leisure that always seems to lack meaningful participation).

Our actions reclaim these billboards and use them as our own canvasses, maybe to advertise our own campaigns but ultimately recreate our communities for what we would rather see. After all, it's our walls that are being rented out for business propaganda. So we should recycle them to integrate once more the notion of Life and Living into the urban centres of the 21st century.

We can turn the tables on capitalism if we recognise that we can all be artists- if we don't compete, but play, play hard and play seriously. Billboard banditry is also excellent preparation for more advanced forms of monkey-wrenching. as well as being empowering through having immediate visible results, it's fun too.


The following section is taken from the American Earth First! book "Ecodefense".

It is important to remove billboards. It is also important not to get caught (so we can remove more billboards). Personal safety from self-inflicted injury is also extremely important when using the methods described below. Think of a sign as a giant fly swatter and yourself as the bug. Get the picture? Never stand in the area where a sign can fall (front or back). Walk outside of this danger zone. Don't take short cuts.

Watch a sign closely the entire time you are cutting. Leave the outermost poles for last. Always have an escape route planned if the sign shows evidence of falling prematurely. Sawdust can get in your eyes and prove irritating. A pair of good safety goggles, available at any hardware stores, can eliminate this problem. They are essential for contact lens wearers. Remember that goggles are reflective. Always pull them off your face before looking at passing cars.

When sawing, duck down while cars pass if they can see you in the periphery of their headlights. Stop periodically to listen for any indication of discovery. Felling is accomplished by pushing on the outermost poles, aided sometimes with ropes. See the illustrations for techniques on use of the rope. Use the rope(s) only for monkey-wrenching since it may have to be abandoned if your work is disrupted- you don't want it accumulating fibres, dirt and oil stains that can link it with your home or workplace. store it in a plastic trash bag between jobs. Dropping a billboard face-up will allow you to inflict additional damage by spray painting across the front of the advertisement.

Billboarding is dirty work. Evidence that will remain on your clothing includes bits of brush, dirt on boots and knees, and sawdust. if you wear overalls, remove them before the pick up and wrap the tools in them. After a night's work, clean off your boots and launder your clothes. Vacuum your car boot, seats and floor carpets. Drop the vacuum cleaner bag in a public bin, away from home.


Field Notes

Effective sign cutting requires a three person team: a driver and two cutters. With four, your cutting team can have a look-out who can also alternate with the cutters in shifts. A five person team is the largest size for safe operations and permits two teams of cutters and thus faster work at the target site.

Axes are the least desirable billboarding tools. Sometimes microscopic marks left on the wood can be matched to a specific axe in the possession of a suspect. Saw marks, on the other hand, are usually impossible to match up. like files and grinding wheels, their surfaces are constantly changing and so are the marks they leave.

Fun with paint
Fill thin plastic bags one third full with half and half paint and thinners (for better splatter); tie up tight, squeezing all the air out; carry half a dozen in a box to the target and, standing at an angle- unless you want to cover yourself- throw, throw, throw. Another proven splattering technique (that you might find a use for on other occasions perhaps) involves borrowing a pressurized water-type fire extinguisher from a business or public building. The ones you want are the old red ones with a valve, the same valve as on inflatable tyres.

Empty out the contents and relieve all the pressure inside. next, open the top and use a funnel to pour in a well-stirred 50/50 mix of paint and thinners or the preferred water and acrylic-type house paint. Pressurize the extinguisher secretly at a petrol station; watch the pressure gauge to know when to stop.

Use this spray gun to deface billboard ads. Do not attempt to cover the whole sign but make the most of your paint. clean the extinguisher out after each use or it will clog up. When using the anarcho-sprayer, be sure to wear grubby clothes or overalls, since you'll occasionally get splattered yourself. keep your hair pulled under a hat to keep out paint. A dark wide-brimmed hat can provide splay protection.

At your earliest opportunity, check your skin, hair and clothes to make sure that there is no incriminating paint on your person. Keep a small can of paint thinners ( or water, depending on the type of paint used) and rags on hand just in case.

"A Commando of young Argentine Communists made a breakthrough in the realm of pirate broadcasting: the first pirating of an electronic billboard advertisement! Armed with revolvers, five young men burst into the offices of the Argentine electronic billboard company yesterday and forced the operators to broadcast Communist propaganda in the heart of downtown Buenos Aires." - Paris-Presse, 10-1-63

If you're caught, you might get your collar felt under the graffiti, flyposting or straight vandalism laws - these are outlined in our Flyposting guide

urban75 note/disclaimer: This article was mailed to us anonymously and is reproduced for information purposes only. It is not meant to be taken seriously and is purely for entertainment. We love adverts.

Human Billboards photo feature
History of Human Billboards in London

More info:
Flyposting guide
arrest bustcard
your rights on arrest
Police complaints

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