As people who work in the arts or who are simply keen on arts, I’m sure you’ve been asked the question “so… what even counts as art anymore?” When someone asks you that, are stickers stuck to a lamppost, a wall, or to a trashcan something that comes to your mind when trying to think of an answer to the question? Stickers are seen as something trivial, a thing that children like to collect or as that unnecessary piece of branding on a fruit that you’re trying to take a bite out of. The sheer amount of them in the streets makes them more or less invisible to us as well.
What I will say, though, is that we have all come across a sticker that has made us stop and take a longer look at it. Maybe it’s because of the colours used, maybe it’s because of the style or the message – but it made you stop and think “oh, this is interesting!” Similar moments of interruption happen to us in our day-to-day lives. Whether it’s in a gallery, at work, or while browsing YouTube and seeing an interesting video recommendation.
For me, it’s always been the stickers that have a political message behind them. One of my favourites being a red sticker that simply says “Make Racists Afraid Again” (figure 1). It’s also the sticker that first ignited my love for sticker art. Seeing that sticker during the summer of 2015 in central Helsinki was something that I’ll never forget. The day wasn’t anything special but something about that sticker made me feel excited like a little child. It was cool to see a simple political statement in such a public place where anyone could see it.
For others, though, it may as well be more artistic stickers that are made by a specific artist (figure 2). Stickers take on the marketing and branding tools used to sell consumers products, adopt and then subvert those same tools to use them to bring awareness to our contemporary world. Instead of brands, it’s the creator and the ideas presented in the stickers which become the brand and the product being advertised. Of course, some stickers are created to use as a marketing tools by brands, like this sticker which I’m pretty sure was made to promote the Finnish consultancy company Skorpioni (figure 3).
To look at stickers – which create pop-culture while simultaneously referencing it – as art is something that isn’t done all too often. Much like graffiti, they’re seen as too low-brow. How can something so close to humans be considered artistic? I don’t want to see graffiti culture being appropriated or gentrified by cultural institutions, though, but it would be amazing for people to accept graffiti culture, to which stickers belong to. As a form of communication, graffiti does more good than harm, in my opinion. If we’re being real, graffitis and stickers make art and art practices accessible to most.
Stickers’ birth from punk and skateboarding sub-cultures of the 80s and 90s, alongside it being associated with the youth, is probably one of the reasons why they’re considered as nuisance and as vandalism by most. As Shepard Fairey, the creator of the Obey giant, writes in his essay Sticker Art (2003) stickers were “a badge of culture” for him, and I would like to think that they still count as such. As badges of culture, and because of their communicative nature, stickers are something tangible people use to create connections between each other, to recognise one another. Graffitis and stickers are ways in which people can communicate their ideas, morals and ethics to each other and form some sort of a connection to each other. Alongside this, the communities that come from this culture are important, because humans have an innate need to create connections with each other.
As Lady Gaga sang in her 2013 hit-song Applause: “Pop culture was in art / Now, art’s in pop culture in me” pop culture was in art, and now art can be seen in pop culture in the form of stickers. Even Andy Warhol, the “father” of Pop Art, has made stickers for The Velvet Underground’s debut album (figure 4)! On that note, I think my gushing about stickers should come to an end as it’s getting a bit overboard – I hope you get the core message of this blog post. I personally wouldn’t want to see stickers being used in mainstream culture, as that would remove their status as something anti-authoritarian which has its own demographic and culture. Despite that, I still think people should pay more attention to stickers. They’re much more than visual noise and street litter.
Written by Katja Vääränen
Featured image taken in Kumpula, Helsinki