A Philosophy of Stickers
Or: The Surrealist Way part III.
In part II. of The Surrealist Way, I focused specifically on the value of slow communication. In part III., I would like to focus on one specific item of surreal communication: stickers! When you think about the object, the sticker is a popular convention that constructs an important bridge between philosophical concepts and artistic expression. Stickers are collaborative, random, public, intimate. They behave like collages, and they emit presence and commitment.
A sticker is both literally, and figuratively collaborative. Literally it is collaborative because of its adhesiveness that makes it stick to surfaces; it requires the interaction and collaboration of materials. Additionally, a sticker creates a collaboration between the person who decides to stick a sticker on to a lamppost, or a toilet door, or any random object/part of the world and the object/place itself. On top of its other existential purposes the physical space now becomes a habitat for that particular sticker.
More figuratively, the sticker creates indirect and random collaborations between the people that initiate the sticker's existence in the world and all the subsequent perceivers of it. The person who intentionally places a sticker in the world, looks at the world through a specific lens, a lens that will be accessed once again, when a stranger encounters that very same sticker in that same position at some other point in time. Creating a kind of bond or perceptual collaboration.
In that way, by sticking a sticker in a random corner in the world, you are creating a surreal juxtaposition of contexts for strangers to discover. The sticker is an invitation to interact with strangers. Then what is the different between a poster and a sticker? I would argue the latter is more intimate. A poster is trying to get as much attention as possible. It is loud and large and temporary.
Whereas, a sticker is more intimate and secretive. A sticker likes to stay hidden. It likes to be left (for most of its existence) undiscovered, it communicates slowly and only reveals itself to people, who are noticing the minutiae of their surroundings. This intimacy and secrecy contribute to its long-term survival in the world. A poster is meant to be interchangeable; it is not meant to stay in one spot for too long. A sticker on the other hand is permanent. At least as permanent as things can be. It is difficult to remove a sticker from a wall, without it leaving some kind of defiant trace. So, when a sticker disappears, it disappears slowly, like wall paint: it decays, organically. Even in its disappearance, it is telling a story.
In the book The Language of Surrealism, Peter Stockwell outlines the principal features and characteristics of Surrealist writing. He argues that surrealist writing places a strong emphasis on juxtaposition. What is a sticker if not the physical, literal juxtaposition of materials, and a metaphorical juxtaposition through its ability to carry different contexts into different, random places. On top of that he argues that the collage is an ‘inherently’ surreal medium because it is entirely comprised of juxtaposition. The word ‘collage’ just means ‘gluing’. A sticker’s most important component is the fact that it utilises glue; it glues itself onto space and thereby creates a collage.
If surrealism is the act of utilising juxtaposition to elicit the feeling of surreality and the collage is the act of creating visual juxtaposition on paper, then a sticker is an interactive collage in our very real lives.
Stickers collagify our world and can turn our experience of trivial moments into very surreal overlaps of realities.
A couple months ago, the band of someone I know started putting up stickers everywhere around Glasgow. Every time, I’d be surprised by one of their orange stickers, it would feel like he was actually there. The association I created between the sticker and this person, coupled with the surprise of encountering this particular association in disparate parts of the city, during disparate parts of my life, produced a very surreal feeling of presence and even consolation in moments of his absence. These moments were surreal because the sensation of presence was so out of proportion in relation to the minute object that conjured them up. I was surprised at how an ordinary occurrence, such as a sticker on a wall could create such an emotional response. What I felt was the strange juxtaposition of contexts.
Moreover, it was like the sticker, in its stickiness, conveyed an act of commitment of presence. When people stick stickers on to their computers, phones, suitcases, or cars, these are all very visible commitments, public to the world. In a sense they are almost a kind of tattoo. When perceived by others, they convey information about that person without any direct interactions having to take place.
Ultimately, a sticker is a bridge, it unifies and mergers two distinct entities. Whether on a physical/tangible level (by means of the surface, location, and time frame it emerges in the world). Or on an intangible level, through the presence it carries and commits to and through the messages it sends out. Stickers build bridges between the real and the surreal. They overcome boundaries between strangers and can elicit presence in absence. What more could a surrealist ask for?
A sticker is the most surreal piece of art you can make right now. Go do it, leave traces in the world, breadcrumbs of creativity for others to find, enjoy and marvel about.
COLLAGE and COLLABORATIVE = may not have the same etymological origin, but they are nonetheless phonetically and visually connected, which I find quite intriguing.
“Collage began as a collaborative method, but was taken up by a range of other visual artists for their own purposes. It was initially devised as a means of closing the gap between art and reality by borrowing objects themselves.” – Peter Stockwell