St. Lawrence University
Sarah Churbuck, St. Lawrence University Class of 2015, with assistance from Catherine Tedford
November 28, 2015


In The Tate Guide to Modern Art Terms, Simon Wilson and Jessica Lack define appropriation in an art context as “the taking over, into a work of art, of a real object or even an existing work of art.”  The Museum of Modern Art further outlines appropriation in art as “the intentional borrowing, copying, and alteration of preexisting images and objects.”

Culture jamming can be defined in several different ways.  In Culture Jamming: Ads Under Attack, Naomi Klein describes it as the “practice of parodying ads and hijacking billboards to drastically alter their messages.”  She also summarizes the work of Mark Dery, author of Culture Jamming: Hacking, Slashing and Sniping in the Empire of Signs, by stating “culture jamming is anything, essentially, that mixes art, media, parody, and the outsider stance.”  Likewise, in Culture Jamming and Meme-based Communication, the University of Washington’s Center for Communication and Civic Engagement defines culture jamming as “an intriguing form of political communication that has emerged in response to the commercial isolation of public life,” and that “practitioners of culture jamming argue that culture, politics, and social values have been bent by saturated commercial environments, from corporate logos on sports facilities, to television content designed solely to deliver targeted audiences to producers and sponsors.”

My online exhibit includes twelve stickers that revolve around the themes of appropriation and culture jamming.  Several stickers appropriate or present culture jams of pricey, high-end designer brands and expensive liquor, such as Louis Vuitton and Absolut.  Other stickers reference logos of internationally recognized musical performers, cartoons, food brands, and fast food chains, including Hello Kitty, Perrier, and Burger King.  

The cultural, political, and social messages behind many artists’ work are often obvious, while other culture jams may require more information about the artists’ beliefs or intentions.  The well-known red and white Coca-Cola logo script has been modified by one artist into Coca-Colanization, for example, in order to comment upon the predatory nature of the soft drink company and the globalization of American culture.  A Hatch Kingdom sticker plays off of the popular chocolate candy bar “Snickers” by morphing the spelling of “Snickers” into “Stickers” on the candy bar label in order to attract passersby and to advertise the German-based sticker museum.

In comparison, a series of four different colored cans of spray paint appropriate the logos of posh drinks and Chanel perfume.  The creator of this series is an anonymous New York City-based street artist called DEATH NYC, which is an abbreviation of “Don’t Easily Abandon The Hope.”  The artist states that she “tries to ridicule the mainstream media by making fun of popular images.”  The tag “DEATH IS FREE” is written on all four cans, which can lead viewers to misinterpret its meaning by not knowing what the abbreviation stands for.  DEATH NYC is an example of how the specific meaning behind a culture jam isn’t always clear without knowing the background of the artist’s intended cultural, political, or social values.

Additional artists in the online exhibit include Roger Peet from the United States and Hello Fitti from Germany.  The exhibit is still under construction (April 2016).