Augmented Reality App Turns Subway Ads Into Art

September 12, 2014 | Marina Galperina

New York commuters are bombarded with advertisements. Capitalizing on this bland, visual onslaught, the freshly launched NO AD app is hijacking ads all over the subway system with alternative imagery, turning them into a sprawling, augmented reality exhibition space. This month, it’s loosely themed around street art and anti-advertising. In the near future, they’ll be collaborating with art and photography institutions. And that’s just the beginning.

Artist, activist and long time anti-advertising campaigner Jordan Seiler collaborated with Jowy Romano of the Subway Art Blog on the big swap. The app works without an internet connection. Just point the phone camera at an ad. Up to 100 of them have been integrated into the app andwill trigger a replacement image of an artwork submitted by one of 50 artists in the current roster. On this morning’s commute, we spotted dozens, including ELLE (interviewed here), Icy and Sot, Poster Boy, Stikman, Ron English and this jarring little ditty by Jon Burgerman.

noad_jon burgerman

Does Jordan Seiler want outdoor and public advertising banned? “Yes,” he tells ANIMAL. “But if that is too extreme for you, I would suggest we drastically curb the amount of advertising we are forced to consume in public. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that over consumption of advertising is bad for our personal behavior and health, as well as our environment. Along with that, individuals see no return benefit from the proliferation of ads, and cities see extremely small amounts of the profits taken away by mega corporations like CBS outdoor and Van Wagner. Its a lose-lose situation for the average citizen if you just take a minute to think about it.”

Contrary to popular belief, municipalities are not raking in cash from this commercial onslaught, Seiler insists. “This is a common misconception perpetrated by the industry and municipalities themselves,” he explains. “The MTA makes less than 1% of its operating budget from advertising and it is littered from top to bottom in signage. Considering that profits are made by selling the public’s eyeballs to advertisers, we should see a much greater return on our labor. Instead we just get fat, depressed, and then we blow our savings on useless shit.”

noad_icy and sot

So far, they’ve heard mostly positive feedback, though graffiti legend COST (interviewed here) voiced a different opinion: “Do it for real – say no to a digital make believe art installation.” Without getting into tenuous, ephemeral debates of what is “for real” anyway, Romano considered this criticism.

“I will say that with NO AD, we are not trying to discourage physical ad takeovers and other illegal art in the subway,” he says. “In fact, if an ad has altered past a certain point, or has enough graffiti on it, NO AD will not work on it. As far as we are concerned this is a feature, not a glitch.”

noad dr d

Right now, the app displays street artists, photographers, and friends of Re+Public. Jowy Romano, who manages app development projects for his day job, is currently working on a month of subway-themed art. Part of his work with NO AD is investigating and logging: “I catalog all the ads which involves riding the subway a couple hours a week to photograph new ads that went up.” Optimally, the app is updated once a week to load new artwork and its triggers. It’s always changing, and more art is being added as we speak.

“I will let you in on a little secret,” Romano tells us. “We’ve included a couple easter eggs to give people a small glimpse of other things we can do with NO AD. One involves Keith Haring and his famous subway drawings and the other is a film clip.” NO AD will expand beyond two-dimensional and still images and partner with art institutions and other independent curators to determine the content.

Seiler looks even further ahead. “When we are all wearing heads up displays and augmenting the ads away is hands free,” he says, “I want people to make the choice to omit the ads in favor of something better.” (Images: ANIMALNewYork)