Cultural Hijack: JUMP THE TURNSTILE! :D

by: Isiah Powell Taylor


When concerning stickers, I was unsure at first of the way stickers function within space. Artists such as Banksy are able to easily commandeer public space and instantly pull attention from the everyday cultural landscape. I did not think that I could do the same; however, in the end I think this was and will continue to be a huge success. I know now that stickers function in much similar ways to graffiti. They have the ability to take up space and disrupt the public by forcing it to pay attention and eventually try to get rid of it. The stickers themselves are as simple as the ads they are subverting and I think that is what is most successful. As the simpler the work is the less likely it is to have issues with delivery. The stickers read coherently even to someone who does not know much about the MTA, as long as you have seen the original ad campaign there is no chance you miss the correlations.

The D Train

The project itself was actually pretty frustrating at first at least. Perfecting the sticker layout and their messages was much harder than I first expected. So many different aspects go into creating a successful sticker, and its very easy to construct an unsuccessful sticker. I had to fixate on font, punctuation, grammar, coloring, orientation, centering, printing and much more. All of which taught me to keep things simple: I noticed whenever I tried to complexity the message that I was subverting it would come off as too wordy, or hard to comprehend. Finally I figured everything out and it was time to install.

China Town

Instillation day was very frightening to be honest. I did not know what to expect: would I get stopped? would someone see the stickers and interact badly with them? I had no idea! The first interaction we had was at the Fordham road stop in the Bronx. We put up three three stickers around the turnstile and gave another three to a man we interacted with. He said he “would never pay to get on the train” and that “more messages like mine need to exist in these spaces”. After this point I was coasting on confidence. I knew that if this random man liked it enough to want stickers for himself then any people would like them. Especially people of color living in the Bronx who go through this constant struggle each day. That moment will always stay present in my mind, and the fact that it happened so early in our installation was pivotal in getting me through the rest of it. It became easier the more we put up, as if the stress of getting caught or persecuted in anyway began to extinguish each time I plastered a new sticker on an unsuspecting turnstile. Not only were people paying attention to them, I could see some people gawking at them in surprise and others confessing their support. However, there was not ever an instance in which someone tried to remove them in my presence. I will have to see during my second instillation if some were removed which I am sure is a possibility.

Fordham Road

On another good note, an organization that has been at odds with the MTA contacted me and asked me for some of my stickers to use in their campaign. This makes me feel better about installing for two reasons. First because it provides multiple actors to install with me, whether that be as a group or across the city from me. The more people putting these stickers up at once not only makes it easier to evade police, but also takes the moniker of creator from myself. Therefore, there is a much lower chance of me being singled out for my stickers rather than the MTA/law enforcement looking at this organization instead as the culprit. At first I was skeptical to not directly call them mine, but in truth I think they function better when the fabricator is anonymous (well I guess not so anonymous now…).

Original MTA Ads

When it comes to what went best for me, I would have to say instillation for sure. It was a reaffirmation of the actual impact stickers such as these have, in at least sparking someones memory of past events with the MTA. On Instagram in a single day I see nearly half the stories I Watch being warnings for people to avoid certain stations because of heightened police activity. In a way I see a comparison to these warnings and my stickers. They both serve as a means to keep people mindful of their position within MTAs designated spaces, and not only encourages disobedience, but does it in a way that is quick, fleeting, and plentiful.

Overall, I would have to say that this project has opened up my eyes to what other media I can work with within my practice, and makes me really excited for the future in attempts to make art professionally. Knowing that I have another medium to toy with makes me even ore confident of my ability post graduation. I will be putting up a few hundred more stickers, or I will at least stop the first time I am persecuted for putting them up. Which I have a feeling will take a long time, if I continue to carry myself in the same fashion. I would have to say this hijack was a success, because I saw it touch multiple people, and I only had put up 15 or so. Knowing that, I have a feeling that the more I put up the more they will become a sort of culture of the subway, and that is something I am also very interested in. However, I do not seek fame for them, rather just to know my message was heard is enough for me.