Steve Lambert, a conceptual artist, plans to add his own twist to one type of software that blots out commercial messages. His add-on will replace the display ads — which are usually papered over with blank windows — with curator-picked artwork from contemporary artists.
On a recent afternoon, Mr. Lambert demonstrated a test version of AddArt at the Chelsea studios of Eyebeam, a nonprofit arts and technology center where he has a fellowship. Mr. Lambert opened the Fox News Web site on his computer, and both the banner ad at the top of the page and a rectangular ad on the bottom were replaced with a bald eagle illustration. (He is using stock art rather than original work at this point, which can be downloaded from www.addart.eyebeam.org.)
Mr. Lambert, 30, said he and Evan Harper, an artist, are not starting from scratch, but rather were modifying the program Adblock Plus. “ Why reinvent the wheel when you can insert a gear and make it run backwards?” said Mr. Lambert.
There are a couple things that strike me about this project. Obviously, this isn’t an optimal platform for showing “work”, but it does create an amazing opportunity for satire in places where an opportunity might not otherwise exist. So it isn’t going to compete with the traditional gallery, but like most net art, that isn’t the goal. I think the real power of this is the ability to change the way ads show up on particular sites. The stars and stripes demo is a good example of this, turning the Fox News home page into a Colbert-esqe satire. It reminds me a bit of the Evil Google Logo greasemonkey script.
The biggest hurdle with this type of project is not getting artists to create work for it, because a handful of people can do a lot. The tough part is building an audience to actually use and enjoy it. While viewing more art on the web is a great idea, there might need to be more to it than just a few replaced banner ads here and there. What incentive do users have to use it? For practical purposes, this should really become an option within AdBlock Plus, since that software has an established userbase that is already hostile to ads and may be receptive to something else.
I’m also a skeptical because in some ways the Aat is just as distracting, if not more, than the advertising it is replacing. It is just a different take on what spyware is already doing… replacing ads with those of competitors. This software is just a bit more up front, and the competitors have more of an altruistic intent.
Finally, it is just a little laugh worthy that the NYT reported on a piece of software that could potentially deprive them of ad revenue. That is the name of the game on the web, though, and maybe someone in the NYT gets it.
Also, check out The Anti-Advertising Agency. They’ve done some pretty interesting projects, AddArt is just one getting press treatment right now.