Steve Lambert

wrote a book!!!

Yearly Archives: 2011

Drawings for Three Rooms in Your Home

This is an edition with 20×200/ – and each of the limited edition prints are available starting at $20.

Like the title says, the idea is that you’d hang this series of drawings in various rooms in your home.

Makes a great gift.

Statement about the work

Whenever asked, “How long did it take you to make this?” I always respond, “My whole life up to that moment.” And it’s true.

I never liked the idea that someone could just  buy  my work. I develop ideas forever, then struggle with finding a way to execute them that makes sense, often traversing through several iterations. And then someone writes a check and that’s the end. What?

I work too hard on this stuff. Simply paying for it and hanging it on a wall is too easy. I don’t want anything I do becoming another inanimate object that decorates someone’s home. I want more. I want ramifications!

So I came up with this. This feels more like a real  transaction. Yes, you get to own something I made, but you also accept some responsibility. Put this on your wall and you have to be more honest as a result. It’s more than just an image, it becomes a point of interaction with everyone who comes into your home. It’s simple ink on paper, but wherever it hangs, there’re social implications.

It’s not for everyone.

Links to 20×200

We Have Had Sex In This Room
We Have Had Sex in This Room Also
Yup, This One Too

On Fucking the System

This was written as an introduction to Abbie Hoffman’s pamphlet, Fuck The System for WoodenLeg Press.

On Fucking the System

by Steve Lambert

Before the web, there was a small publisher in Port Townsend, Washington called Loompanics. Curious how to pick locks, or how to dumpster dive? Your rights when stopped by a police officer? How to make your living driving brand new Winnebagos from the factory to the dealer? Get a second drivers license with another identity? 20 years ago I certainly was and Loompanics books held the answers.

Each short description in the Loompanics Annual Catalog made another small fissure in my little reality, allowing it to expand. Sitting in my childhood bedroom in San Mateo, California I discovered opportunities that would frighten any high school guidance counselor. I could imagine having two social security numbers, making free calls at payphones with a mysterious home-made electronic device, finding perfectly good meals in dumpsters, and picking locks for fun.

Here I am today. No, I’m not writing from the back of someone else’s Recreational Vehicle. I’ve never really picked a lock. It’s rarely a direct path from ones influence to their outcome, but those influences aren’t to be discounted. Those influences open doors to paths we never knew existed. They give us choices. They give us a kind of freedom.

Loompanics went out of business in 2005. I’ll bet in large part due to their brand of information being more accessible than ever online. As much as record companies and book publishers cry about the internet putting them out of business, if it was ever true it was for Loompanics. Search now and it’s all there in one form or another, free of charge. Their stock and trade was what early hackers talked about when they declared, “information wants to be free.”

Frankly, Fuck The System is just as outdated. Today the information in this book is much easier to find. Yet somehow Fuck The System remains exciting because all the schemes and plans were captured in one powerful pamphlet. Yes, the addresses and phone numbers in the pages that follow have probably changed. And indeed, it’s simply not advantageous to counterfeit subway tokens anymore. Still, as irrelevant as some of the details are, one can’t help but wonder: can the “drop-out” life be lived? Can one truly hustle their way through? Wait, could one quit their job… in New York City… and everything, everything be ok?

Maybe. Maybe not.

Levitating the Pentagon, running a pig in an election; Abbie Hoffman’s medium of choice was fiction, exaggeration, and myth-making. Some say many of the dollars dropped on the trading floor in his most famous stunt were fakes. Even “George Metesky” the alter-ego attributed as Fuck The System’s author is a fictionalized character.

In our brains we make our own fictions and exaggerations, just less ambitious. Internally we spin personal, mundane mini-myths about a better future — someday, I’ll get out of bed earlier, I’ll start that diet and workout routine, maybe even get a better job. These fantasies have their function, but they can run in circles for years. This is why successful smoking cessation programs begin with a “quit date.” A smoker can long contemplate giving up the habit, but when they decide, “my quit date is the 31st” that abstract idea becomes a plan. This difference is important: things shift when you have a plan. With this pamphlet Hoffman distributed radical plans.

Skeptics can question whether or not Fuck The System is entirely practical. Despite it’s title, it’s not really about “smashing the system” but how to use it. How to live off it’s excess, leverage it. How to hack it. Without the system, none of these things would work. In fact, many don’t realize, it was commissioned by “The System.” While it didn’t turn out exactly how they hoped, The Mayor of New York, John Lindsay, had the pamphlet commissioned through a subterfuge of funding.

But who cares? Who cares if Fuck The System wasn’t wholly comprehensive, or might not work, or was paid for by the mayor? Who cares if the real George Metesky wasn’t a hero but simply a lunatic. That was Hoffman’s way — and it’s more fun. Did trading truly grind to a halt when Hoffman and his cohorts threw real (and fake) dollar bills off the balcony? More importantly, why does it matter?

Perhaps with this book Hoffman was crafting another legend. Perhaps this pamphlet’s role is more vision than reality. That has value. The legend has value. The value in the pages of Fuck The System was placing a practical step between contemplation and action. Inspiration, even false, is also not to be discounted. False hopes are so powerful they’re able to keep “The System” alive. But it can work the other way too. These dreams get people believing, “Other people are doing this. It is possible to make it work. There is a choice. There is another way.” In that way, Fuck The System becomes as much “how to” as it is “what could be.”

So can the “drop-out” life be lived? Can one hustle their way through? Could one quit their job in New York City and everything be ok? Is it all a myth?

Maybe not. Maybe.

Most importantly, what kind of fissures are created in our reality when looking at our lives and asking those questions? What door is Abbie Hoffman opening? What choices are we given?

Steve Lambert
December 2011

“Political Expressionism” and Other Fallacies of Political Art

Speaking with Stephen Duncombe at Carnegie Mellon University

"Political Expressionism" and Other Fallacies of Political Art

Stephen Duncombe and Steve Lambert are directors of the new Center for Artistic Activism.

Stephen Duncombe  is an Associate Professor at the Gallatin School and the Department of Media, Culture and Communications of New York, where he teaches the history and politics of media.
Steve Lambert  was a Senior Fellow at New York’s Eyebeam Center for Art and Technology from 2006-2010, developed and leads workshops for Creative Capital Foundation, and is faculty at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Many artists want to create work that has a social impact. Unfortunately most artists don’t learn how to do this. Drawing upon their own artistic and activist practice, their ongoing research project interviewing activist artists, and drawing from contemporary examples, Duncombe and Lambert will lay out common fallacies held by the “political artist.” They still believe, however, that thinking, acting, and creating artistically is essential for effective activism, and   will present strategies for sidestepping common pitfalls of political art-making and lessons in making political art work.

Sponsor: Center for the Arts in Society
Co-Sponsors: School of Art; Dean’s Office, College of Fine Arts


For this project I was invited to create 8 second videos that would appear among advertising on a giant screen in Toronto. Working on a giant screen that distributes advertising presented some ethical challenges — I’ve been vocal about being against these kinds of screens in public spaces. But what an opportunity! So I tried to figure out how, in 8 seconds, I could get people to stop looking at the ads.

Each of the videos begins with the words “CLOSE YOUR EYES” and then a short statement:


The piece earnestly asks people to stop looking, pull back, see a larger picture, and imagine impossible things. While it’s absurd to ask for such things on a giant billboard in the middle of the city, I ask anyway. It’s awkward and out of place, and perhaps a chuckle relieves some anxiety, but the idea lingers and the request remains: “will you close your eyes and imagine?”

Yonge and Edward, just north of Dundas Square
Toronto, Canada
Runs from November 5-13

Read more at Art for Commuters. Part of NATURE Curated by Sharon Switzer for McLuhan100’s Then/Now/Next: International Conference and DEW Line Festival.

Thanks Joe Merrell for the motion graphics work!

This Space Available – Documentary Trailer and Clips

“I have never seen such a god damn group of selfish, eager hogs”

—President Lyndon Johnson on the Billboard Industry

Over a year ago I interviewed for this documentary about visual pollution. In my research as an artist over the past 12 years I have learned more than most would ever care to about public space, graffiti laws, the advertising industry, and the ugly underside of marketing. I haven’t seen this film yet, but I’m glad to see the message making it’s way out with voices from within and without the industry.

It premieres at IFC Center in New York next week on November 5th.

About the “This Space Available” Film

“Billboards and commercial messages dominate the public space like never before. Can we reverse this visual pollution? This Space Available looks at diverse activists from the worlds of advertising, street art, and politics. Influenced by the writing of Marc Gobé ( Emotional Branding ), his daughter Gwenaelle directs with tremendous verve in her depiction of New Yorkers and others around the world who want to reclaim the integrity of their cities against an onslaught of visual pollution.”




Steve Lambert talking about an illegal billboard

Jordan Seiler organizing the whitewashing of illegal ads

Jordan Seiler

This Space Available Documentary Premiers Nov 5

This Space AvailableI did an interview for the film, “This Space Available: The Grassroots Movement Against Visual Pollution” and it’s premiering at IFC Center in New York next month. Jordan Seiler of Public Ad Campaign is also in the film.

This Space Available

A documentary film directed by
Gwenaelle Gobe
Executive Producer: Marc Gobe/Emotional Branding
World Premiere at IFC Center/ New York
Saturday November 5th Time: 7:00 PM
Tuesday November 8th Time: 1:15 PM


Billboards and commercial messages dominate the public space like never before. But is a movement taking shape to reverse this trend?

In This Space Available, filmmaker Gwenaëlle Gobé says yes. Influenced by the writing of her father, Marc Gobé (Emotional Branding), this new director brings energy and urgency to stories of people around the world fighting to reclaim their public spaces from visual pollution.
From 240 hours of film, 160 interviews and visits to 11 countries on five continents, This Space Available charts a fascinating variety of struggles against unchecked advertising and suggests that more than aesthetics is at stake. If Jacques Attali once called noise pollution an act of violence, is visual pollution also such an act? Should we also consider, as one Mumbai resident says, “which classes of society can write their messages on the city and which classes of society are marginalized?”
Gobé offers a canny generational analysis of visual pollution, laying blame not just with the advertising juggernaut but also an entire generation of Baby Boomers, whose consumption-based culture has implicated them in the environmental fallout. She argues that it’s her generation, left to do the cleaning up, that is now leading the fight back.But the filmmaker also recognizes the history and politics behind this fight. Turning to such legislation as the Highway Beautification Act of 1965, Gobé shows how the enforcement of this landmark law, designed to regulate outdoor advertising on America’s roadways, has steadily eroded. And today, public space activist Jordan Seiler faces harsh penalties for covering illegal outdoor ads with art, while officials turn a blind eye to illegally erected billboards.

Still, the film strikes a hopeful tone. A standout interview features Gilberto Kassab, the popular mayor of Sao Paulo, who threw a stone into the quiet pond of the billboard industry by successfully banning outdoor media in his city — the eighth largest in the world. The move is not without precedent: Houston’s 1980 billboard ban was also a deliberate tactic to improve its flagging image, economic competitiveness, and quality of life.

In the end, This Space Available challenges audiences to recognize that aesthetics and beauty go hand in hand with responsibility. Gobé asks why brands continue to ally themselves with an industry that cuts down trees, hogs energy, and spends its profits in courts and statehouse lobbies, especially while younger consumers push for improved corporate citizenship? And is everyone equally to blame for enabling the spread of visual pollution, while other humble individuals show that it’s possible to reverse it?

The film navigates these issues without promoting a universal solution. Gobé instead weaves together stories reflecting diverse local responses to an increasingly global condition. This Space Available compels audiences to consider these stories long after the film ends, or at least to remember them each time we speed by a billboard.

Art Toronto & Texas Contemporary Art Fair

Charlie James Gallery has been out on the road showing selected pieces at art fairs across the country. This month there are two to note and there will be some surprises at each.

The Texas Contemporary Art Fair

Houston, Texas. Charlie James Gallery is Booth: 803

October 20 through October 23

Art Toronto

(I’ll be featured at this one)

Toronto International Art Fair site

October 27 – October 31st

Improving OccupyBoston Signs with Josh Luke

Josh Luke (pro sign painter of Best Dressed Signs) and I headed over to Occupy Boston to help improve their signs. What was there was signs you’d make quickly if you had a sharpie and a piece of cardboard. What we left were a few handmade, red, white and blue beauties.

We tried to remake signs that identified tents like “Legal,” “Info,” “Media,” the free market, and others. Then Josh and I made a giant reminder to “Have Fun” before we finished.

We did this casually and took photos with our cell phones. Most of these photos are of Josh’s work because I was so stunned by his skills I actually forgot to take pictures of my own.

Read some other thoughts on the PSFK blog.

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