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'DELETE!' Artists cover ads, create discourse



Published: Fri, June 17, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



For two weeks, all of the ads on a popular shopping street in Vienna have been covered by yellow fabric.

By SUSANNA LOOF

ASSOCIATED PRESS

VIENNA, Austria -- The Starbucks signs are covered by bright, canary yellow fabric and plastic. So are the placards outside a soup restaurant, a jewelry shop, a bank and all other businesses on a stretch of a popular Vienna shopping street.

The coverings are part of a two-week art project dubbed "Delete!" -- created by artists Christoph Steinbrener and Rainer Dempf to spark public debate about just how much advertising society can take.

"It's an art project that tries to illustrate the state of affairs," Steinbrener said in an interview. "How much must there really be? What proportions does it have?"

Dempf and Steinbrener argue there's too much advertising in Vienna, where billboards line many streets and where scaffolding -- even on historic buildings such as the famed St. Stephen's Cathedral -- often is covered by oversized ads. Giant rolls of hay serve as stands for advertising signs on fields near highways leading to the city.

"You can't see the landscape anymore. It hurts the eyes," Steinbrener said.

Still, the artists did not set out to just conceal the ads -- they want to create awareness about them.

"It was important to us to have a bright, highlighting color. Not black or white ... that would have made the signs disappear," Steinbrener said. "Aside from the visual impact, we wanted to create a discourse about the environment in the public space, and that's happening now."

Appealing to the bottom line

As the two sought sponsors for the project, they were met by skepticism. City officials, who often sponsor art in public places, simply did not believe that the artists could get business owners to agree to have their signs covered up even temporarily.

But Dempf and Steinbrener succeeded, using economic arguments. They said the project would spark curiosity, attracting more shoppers to Neubaugasse, which intersects with Mariahilfe Strasse, one of Vienna's busiest shopping districts.

"Had we used just artistic arguments, we would never have succeeded," Steinbrener said.

Their arguments were so convincing that the Chamber of Commerce became the main contributor to the project's $245,000 budget, Steinbrener said.

Josef Koppensteiner, president of the street's merchant's group, said most shop owners were happy to participate. "The customers get a better overview of the shops and get an incentive to really look closely at the street's offerings. ... We hope this will stir up a buying frenzy," he said.

Sparking debate

One week into the project, which ends June 20, some of the yellow surfaces had graffiti such as "I need consumer information!!" scrawled on them. Steinbrener welcomed the writings, saying they were a signs of "group dynamism."

Shoppers on the street gazed at the yellow with amused bewilderment. Karin Mueller, a 29-year-old tourist from Zurich, Switzerland, said she found the coverings "very conspicuous and interesting."




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