Provocative ‘burning flag’ poster in London part of global ad takeover

24 Mar 2017

Brandalism was one of 13 international subvertising groups and art collectives to take part in #SubvertTheCity – the Subvertisers International week of action between 22nd – 25th March, a project designed to take creative actions against advertising. As part of that action, on Wedsnesday 22nd March, we installed the burning flag design by artist Oliver Ressler, which has caused considerable response and outrage from mainstream media, including Metro , Daily MailCNN  and The Telegraph.

It was one of over 70 different artworks that were produced, most of which bore positive messages around “imagining an alternative” to the dominance of commercial messaging in our cities as artists around the world shared visions of a world beyond consumerism.

The poster was installed on the same afternoon as the attack took place and was designed and printed weeks in advance. A journalist was with the installation team because of plans to cover this subvertising action for a national newspaper. The installer who placed the poster had a number of different designs and couldn’t have known it would cause offence in this way.

The installer said:

“I’d been travelling on public transport all afternoon and was only vaguely aware of what had happened at Westminster. I didn’t know what the design was until I pulled it out of the cardboard tube it was in and at the time I didn’t make any connection with the Wesminster incident..”

The installation of the burning flag was in no way intended to be a response to the tragic events of that afternoon. Instead, the poster was intended to be a comment on democracy and nationalism.

The artist behind the artwork Oliver Ressler states:

“The burning flag is a still image from a film project entitled ‘What is Democracy?’ that discusses the contested notion of “democracy”, which is misused for the maintenance of order by those in power; while at the same time acknowledging that ‘democracy’ still represents an ideal hundreds of million people in the global south desperately want to achieve.There is no excuse for terrorist attacks such as the recent one on Westminster Bridge. But the fact that the simple act of burning a printed textile causes such an upheaval can be seen as an indication for the weakness of the system of representative democracy that in times when people are not being represented by politicians any more, it even seems more dependent on such empty signifiers such as a flag.”

Bill Posters from Brandalism said:

“We apologise for any offence caused to the victims of the attack in central london and the wider public. The artwork was installed on Wednesday without detailed knowledge of what had happened in London. The artwork is a controversial one anyway, as it deals with the idea of the nation state and democracy. We understand the depth of feeling attached to symbols such as the union flag at this moment in time; however the reasons behind the artist’s expression are valid and we support their art.”

Some of the other artworks that were installed as part of the #SubvertTheCity action are below. These works show the role of play in our cities, try and get the passer-by to imagine cities built on hope, highlight the links between us and the environment, and imagine futures in which advertising does not promote unhealthy foods to children.



Artist: Subvertisers International (Public Statement), London



Artist: Open Window, London



Artist: Robert Montgomery (UK), London



Artist: Escif (ESP), London



Artist: Hyuro (ARG), London



Artist: KennardPhillips (UK), London



Artist: LilyMixe (UK), London