Art and Activism with flyingleaps

We speak to Adrian Burnham about flyposting’s role in creating social or political change.

Adrian is the founder of flyingleaps, a street display and online platform for socio-politically engaged artists.

With a career spanning from street level to academia, Adrian worked as a commercial flyposter in the 80s and 90s and spent 10 years leading courses and lecturing on art and design at Hackney Community College.


At MAKEMORE, flyingleaps will run a series of informal poster-making workshops exploring the multifaceted world of visual protest.


What would you say are the visual conversations echoing around London?


There are many visual conversations taking place in the urban environment, from solo, enigmatic comments or appeals to multiple voices contributing to movements, like , Subvertisers International who coordinate international poster interventions against outdoor advertising and the negative effects of neoliberalism on society and  planet.

I’m biased, of course, but I loved Magda Archer’s anti-Brexit posters for flyingleaps. Her work manages to delight visually but also scream frustration at something she sees as wrong or unjust. In a totally different way, photographer Simon Roberts’ Between the Acts, 2018, a vertiginous image of a young girl peering over the edge of the White Cliffs of Dover paired with an apt Virginia Woolf quote, commented on Brexit in a pointed but poetic way.

We are constantly bombarded with messages from  advertising, coaxed and cordoned by civic signs and boundaries; the architecture of the city itself imposes limits on people’s access and agency. Adroit works by artists and visual activists across numerous media and almost all forms of urban intervention can expose and counter corporate malfeasance that government can’t.

It can address the psychological effects of contemporary living, and it can do this in various voices. It’s great there’s such a range of work appearing in the streets ¾ some disturb and affront, while others delight and are more thoughtfully provocative. There are others that manage to make you laugh and, at the same time, question or raise a social or political issue that needs challenging.


How do socio-politically engaged art and visual activism speak to social justice, and how does the current Maker Movement play into it?


While it’s debatable whether flyposted oppositional art / visual activism has any direct effect in bringing about social or political change, what it can do at its best is feed into the public’s disposition, through humor, strong imagery and its relatively speedy production and distribution. It can help both inform and propel opinion through its capacity to occupy anomalous spaces in the urban environment and initiate social media interest

I think a central tenet of the Maker Movement is a dissatisfaction with top-down economics, top-down government, and being corralled and exploited by consumer society interests. Makers want to have more say in fashioning the world around them, and it’s that proactive DIY attitude that chimes with the approach taken by many artists and visual activists whose practice involves siting works in the urban environment.

The Maker Movement and art / visual activist interventionists are both, of course, very broad fields. Makers comprise computer hackers, designers, artisans, etc … Significant contributions to visual activism and art in urban sites can be as diverse as Dr. D’s street signs that point out social inequality to the mysterious, beautiful wall paintings of Milu Correch that evoke mystery and wonder. I like that both making and activism can accommodate such a wide range of innovative, socially engaged and committed individuals and together they form a community of sorts. There are differences of opinion, of course, but that’s good too.


What role does flyposting have in the digital age of viral social media content?


Material interventions on the street have the potential to reach diverse publics, whereas social media can often preach to the converted. Critical voices accessing places of visibility ¾ sidestepping mainstream, official modes of communication ¾ both widens and enlivens debate.

Of course, when a street poster so deftly skewers political rhetoric ¾ as in Jeremy Deller’s Strong And Stable My Arse poster ¾ and is photographed and circulated by a wide variety of spotters, you have an ideal combination of IRL physical protest and viral posting online.  


How does art at the street level help shape urban identities?


It’s an expression of identity, and if it engages a passerby, then I suppose it might affect and inspire. There’s a huge range of ‘art on the street’: from the super-sized neo-muralism ¾ which, it’s been argued, is allied with corporate interest and gentrification ¾ to the brilliantly blunt work of thatlazyedwin who painted on an LA art district wall: ‘IT’S NOT GANG GRAFFITI, IT’S JUST HERE TO RAISE YOUR RENT.’   


Why did you launch flyingleaps, and what will flyingleaps be offering at MAKEMORE?


I suppose flyingleaps brings together various aspects of my working life. I was a commercial flyposter for eight years in the 80s and 90s but also undertook a lot of paste-up art projects. Later I ran an art foundation course in Hackney. So when that was closed in 2015, I decided to try and combine flyposting and my interest in art. It was launched on the day of the EU referendum, 23rd June 2016, with a work by the art/activist duo kennardphillipps.

All flyingleaps participating artists have a keen socio-political conscience, although this is expressed more or less overtly in the posters. I didn’t want the project to be an exercise in just prettifying the urban environment, the work has to say something. And since the launch two years ago, we’ve averaged an artist’s poster a month.


Included in your festival ticket,  flyingleaps is running a series of informal poster-making workshops exploring the multifaceted world of visual protest. Encouraging festival-goers to work with elements of Dada collage, constructivist arrangement of shape and color, cut ‘n’ paste, stencil art, etc.