The Bubble Project

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The Bubble Project

Presentation by Karynn Ikeda

Frustrated by the growing invasion of advertising into public space, artist Ji Lee set out to hijack ads by sticking comic book-like speech bubbles to ads around New York City. In 2005, he printed and placed 20,000 of these bubbled stickers in an artistic intervention known as the [Bubble Project. Placed near faces to appear as if the subject were speaking, the bubbles were intentionally left blank so that any passerby could fill in the bubble. Then Lee returned several weeks later to photograph the results...

Mark Dery defines culture jamming as "introduc[ing] noise into the signal as it passes from transmitter to receiver, encouraging idiosyncratic, unintended interpretations." The Bubble Project falls under culture jamming by disrupting the corporate message of the advertisement, often leaving the viewer with an entirely different message than the one intended by ad. The ad is effectively "hijacked" by the Bubble Project to produce a public, rather than corporate, message.

The Bubble Project effectively uses "blank space" to disrupt the advertisements in which the bubbles are placed. The blank bubble transforms the advertisement from a finished product to an incomplete narrative: the mere placement of the bubble creates a subject out of an anonymous face or figure and gives the subject the opportunity to speak. Left blank, the bubble implies that the character in the image has something to say but is not saying it. Thus the blank space serves as a call to action, a call to complete the narrative: "blank space is the transmission of information whereby the viewer has a an opportunity to become involved as a participant" (Hoffman 330). Viewers of the newly transformed advertisement are led to imagine what the subject might be saying or to take direct action and write in what the subject should be saying.

The disruption of the ad allows for the redistribution of power in the public space. Advertisements dominate the public space, "delivering its official messages at a court where no one else is allowed to speak" (Debord p. 23). In this space, power is maintained by silencing the individual voice. In Lee's description of the Bubble Project, he denounces the one-way communication channel of advertising: "There is an inherent sense of powerlessness when faced with advertising messages, because we, as consumers, are treated as passive recipients. Advertising doesn't ask for our opinion. It doesn't engage us in an exchange. It only screams at us---whether we like it or not." Advertising is a monologue, but the Bubble Project intervenes to create a dialogue, allowing the individual to speak. In speaking, the individual becomes active and breaks through the power structure of advertising. Instead of add screaming at the individual, the individual now screams through the ad.

However, allowing the individual to speak through the ad does not entirely dismantle the power structure. Both the ABC clip and the Bubble Project website emphasize the illegality of the project itself. Public space is still a space under bureaucracy and law. Although the project can subvert this power, this power can still overcome this subversion by arresting bubblers and removing bubbles.
The illegality factor adds another layer of participation to the DIYer who seeks to join this project. Those who print their own stickers and place them on ads are not merely producers, but rebels against this law that would seek to prevent them from placing bubbles in the first place. The act of production and execution becomes a political act.

This political act is spreading virally across the globe. The bubble itself is a benign object and inoffensive on its own, making it easy for people to engage with the act since it does not appear political. As a blank object, it can be easily printed and does not face any language barriers. In its highly accessible form - available to download and print on your home computer - the Bubble Project has spread to other cities and countries worldwide. Multiples sites in several different languages have also popped up offering their own bubbles for download too. Hyperlinks to various groups across Flickr and Facebook connect these side shoots into a neetwork. Besides the bubbles, these groups are also linked by a common manifesto. This structure has allowed the Bubble Project to become a self-organizing global organism.

Presentation file: bubbleproject.pdf

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