Ad Trees/Urban Nature

Artist: Grupo BijaRi
Location: São Paulo, Brazil
Year: 2008
Researcher: Peter M Morales

In 2007 in response to excessive visual pollution, the city of Sáo Paulo instituted a new policy that came to be known as the "Clean City" law. The policy eliminated the display of any publicity logos and advertisement on billboards throughout the city. As the logos and ads were removed billboard infrastructure was abandoned wen ad firms went bankrupt. These structures created an opportunity for enterprising artists and urban designers. Brazil's Grupo BijaRi and Dominican born/Dutch architect José Subero conceived the project known as Urban Nature in 2008.

Urban Nature proposed the appropriation of these abandoned structures to install vertical gardens, also known as Ad Trees, and thus creating green zones, Urban Nature. As the collaborative team saw it, a dialogue could thus take place around the intersection of culture and the environment, and the use of marketing systems and techniques to "market," as it were —Urban Nature, could be explored. The project sought to promote a healthy, sustainable urban environment by appropriating the systems and techniques of the very entities responsible for urban pollution in the first place. Corporations where encouraged to sponsor Ad Trees, and even to use the structures to provide free WiFi —a change in the way these corporations promoted themselves.

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Although the newly formed green zones through the Urban Nature project originally represented only 3-7% of the metropolitan region, the principal objective was to create a visual discourse that promotes the idea that a city once known for its plethora of ads can be revitalized as a green city and that there is continuity in pursuit of a cleaner, greener and healthier urban environment beyond the initial effects of the "Clean City" law.

José Subero and Grupo BijaRi collaborated in the idea and execution of the project. Funding support in part came from the Prince Claus Fund, the Netherlands.

The artwork is visually powerful in that it simultaneously uses and subverts conventional marketing systems to promote an environment, a greener one, that is the antithesis of these very systems. It is also powerful in that the highly visible living plants incorporated into the structures are viable and do serve to physically change the environment. This projects and many others that come out of the "Clean City" initiative in São Paulo create a dynamic forward looking cultural environment that promotes and inspires other social agents to take on the challenge of transforming the environment to one that is healthier for us, the flora, the fauna and the planet.

I believe the project has succeeded in termso of the artist's intention in that it has inspired many others to come up with ways of growing vertical gardens, ambulant gardens, the idea of what a garden is or could be has been exploded by this initial idea.

It should be considered because of its clear, simple yet profound visual and practical approach to creating an aesthetic experience that can change the way the public thinks and acts around the issue of the environment.

All copyright belongs to Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University.

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