|Saatchi & Someone History|
My real name is David Collins. I am a visual artist living in Yorkshire in the North of England. When I found myself drawn to altering billboard posters in the early 1990's I wanted to make it clear that they were all done by the same person or group, rather than a random outbreak of graphic graffiti. I chose the name Saatchi & Someone to refer to the symbiotic relationship between my work and the artefacts of mainstream advertising on which I depended. The name had the useful by-product of inferring the existence of a collective of billboard interventionists rather than an individual who might be more easily tracked down and stopped.
One evening in Autumn 1990 I was driving out of Bradford when I saw a new Benetton billboard. It showed two young women wrapped in a blanket holding a small child between them, they all stared directly out of the image in what could be seen as a confident and defiant manner. My immediate interpretation of the image was that these were two lesbians holding up their child, challenging the viewer to dispute their right to be a family. For an image open to this interpretation to appear at that time was very significant, as it coincided with the Tory government's introduction of Clause 28 the infamous legislation which outlawed the presentation of gay relationships and 'pretend' families within UK schools. Initially the image brought a smile to my face and I carried on driving, feeling pleased that such a potentially subversive image was on prominent display throughout the UK.
Later that evening I mentioned the image to a friend and began to speculate on whether it would be possible to make my reading of the poster explicit to other viewers. The notion of replacing the 'United Colours of Benetton' text with 'Lesbian Mother are Everywhere' popped into my head a as a fully formed idea (just like all the best ideas tend to). My friend responded very positively and she also offered to act as look-out, so the plan was set.
The next evening I drove to the site of the billboard with a chair (to stand on) and a tape measure. I spent the next few hours Letrasetting the text and making a crisp graphic version of the lesbian symbol. I enlarged them on a photocopier choosing red for the colour of the text box from the options of black, red and blue. At about midnight I met my friend and we returned to the site. I was very nervous about doing the deed but also surprised how quickly and easily I pasted up the new text.
The next morning I took photos and enjoyed watching people looking at the poster from cars and buses. I returned at about 5pm to find my intervention half ripped-off. This was no great surprise and whilst a bit disappointing I was very pleased that thousands of people had seen what appeared to be part of a national advertising campaign promoting gay families and parenting.
I had no immediate thoughts of making more billboard interventions - at least not for 24 hours. The next day I drove past the 'Lesbian Mothers' billboard, looked over to see whether more of the addition had been removed (none had) then burst out laughing when I noticed the new poster on the next-door billboard. It was an ad promoting voter registration including an image of a disenfranchised voter attempting to make his views heard. His powerlessness was symbolised by a BLANK white speech bubble. I simply couldn't let this opportunity go by. So the next evening I bought a light-weight extendable ladder, added 'and I'm still not paying my POLL TAX' to the speech bubble and Saatchi & Someone was born. The name itself came along a few days later and from the third intervention onwards I always included the Saatchi & Someone logo - generally within a paint splash but occasionally worked into the design of the poster. Unfortunately the logo doesn't appear in several of the photos as I often added it the following evening to minimise the amount of time I spent 'in the act' at any one time. I worried that if I were caught by the police whilst pasting up the logo I might never get a chance to take photos of the main intervention.
Why did I do it?
My exact motivations were different with each image but my central concern was to encourage viewers to question the role of advertising within their own lives and as a larger cultural force in society. I hoped that some people would look at my altered billboards, think they were the real thing and possibly wonder who was behind a hugely expensive national campaign for a non-commercial point of view. As an extension of this I hoped that when they saw the same billboard un-altered they would realise that there was in fact no national campaign and possibly question who's opinions and messages are given a prominent public voice and which aren't.
There were some interventions which were motivated by a desire to 'answer-back' to the message of a poster, such as 'Sexist Crap/Gossard' but in general I used those posters which would allow me to make seamless alterations - often I would spot a poster, the layout of which would allow a seamless intervention, then spend several days considering a range of alternative additions and alterations before choosing the one I found most interesting.
For the first few interventions I used Letraset for the typography and moved onto using an Apple Mac computer later on. I enlarged the type using a photocopier then spray-mounted A3 sections together onto larger sheets of lining paper. These were then attached to the posters with wallpaper paste. I generally measured-up the areas I intended to change early in the morning, made the additions that evening, then pasted them up at about midnight. I didn't use a lookout after the first intervention other than for the GULF WAR poster, which took about 45 minutes to do and was sighted on a major intersection.
How long did they last?
Most alterations remained un-touched for the life of the poster - generally around four weeks. The exceptions were 'Lesbian Mothers' as mentioned before; one intervention which was removed early the following morning by a billboard-paster-upper before I could even photograph it - I arrived to find him tearing it off and can't even remember what it or the original poster said; also 'GULF WAR', the only intervention which appeared to result in an immediate official response - within 24 hours the whole poster had been pasted over with a new version of the original.
Why did I stop?
In essence I ran out of challenges. After 'Get a Job' and 'After The Match,' I felt I had gone as far as I could realistically go with creating seamless interventions. The GULF WAR - where I had been forced to include hand painted text due to size - had also brought me up against the limits of what I could achieve in a graphic style. So I carried on looking for a 'next' intervention but never saw something I thought I could do well and which I also felt personally motivated to do.
Also my work was developing into new areas of public art and intervention which gave me far more control over what, and how, I could communicate. So after about 18 months Saatchi & Someone came to an end.