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The sidewalk
in Stop motion

How the floor changed in three years?

Between 2017 and 2018, every time I walked from my residence to Huangqu’s subway station, I could not avoid looking at the small advertising notices stuck on the sidewalk, wondering what they could mean. Even though most of these 10x5 centimetres unusual cards show images of young women in their underwear, there were many others with short texts that did not seem well accepted either. In adjoining streets, they were often covered by grey and white paint or they were totally removed by street cleaners, who were equipped with floor scrapers to carry out this repetitive burden. Egged on by curiosity, I figured out that there were two main categories of messages.

 

The first messages offered call girls services based on the age, social status and physical attributes of their workers, which were said to be young students and sexy mature women. Although there were different pimps competing with each other, the sexually stimulating aesthetic of these advertising notices was mostly identical. For instance, they used a yellow background to highlight the phone number; they accentuated short messages such as ‘all kind of services’ or ‘home service’; and they displayed photographs of young Asian women posing in interior rooms or in natural environments. Conversely, differences could be found among the models’ expressions and way of dressing as well as in the changing layouts of the notices when they show one instead of two or three photographs. As regards to the second category of messages, they were less obvious to a foreign eye due to a lack of images. Their authors claimed to be able to make fake stamps, to falsify certificates and bills as well as the track record of any bank account. These services were usually written in red, blue and black notices or, in some cases, they were painted on floors and walls.

Such curious findings on that street’s floor were not surprising when considering the huge amount of professional and amateur advertising methods that one may find in Beijing. But these particular notices presented illegal services that were gathered in serious numbers in the most unexpected places, distorting slightly the area’s aesthetic. I thus decided to analyse one third of my street’s length, which is one hundred forty-eight metres long and four metres wide or, in other terms, six hundred fifty-seven footsteps long and fourteen footsteps wide by considering that thirty-five of my footsteps are equal to ten metres walking with each foot one behind the other. In that small perimeter, I counted a hundred seventy-eight notices on sex and a hundred ninety-three notices on faking documents, for a total of three hundred seventy-two advertising notices stuck on the floor, on the 14th of February 2018. At times, advertisers showed an unfair competition by sticking their message above those of others, although it is probably not surprising inasmuch as they already violate number of articles in the Advertisement Law of the People’s Republic of China. Further, those not being removed by street cleaners were disappearing due to passive alterations, the rain, car wheels and others, making the newer ones much more visible. With these different degrees of visibility, attentive neighbours could observe that these advertising notices were continually renewed in busier streets and at the different entrances of their communities, wondering what the authorities may do to condemn such transgressive actions.

Three years later, the small notices stuck on the floor of the researched street as well as most of the others nearby have completely disappeared. The floors are grey as they should have always been and that has been the case for more than two years now. Actions were taken at some point, and the impressive number of three hundred seventy-two advertising notices stuck on the floor of the researched street will not be seen again in that proportions. It is through a first two-minute stop motion video that this short study was made visual to make an account of the endless emergence of notices while walking along that street. The comparison with the second video taken three years later is stunning as one can see the same floor being totally cleaned from these notices. In this short research, stop motion as a method is simple and effective in depicting the sidewalk step-by-step, frame by frame. In the process, I had to take one picture at the time, look at my foot, move it, and take another picture, and this for more than six hundred times for almost an hour in a street that is usually wandered at normal speed in less than five minutes. My shoes were only a reference and a measure as, one after the other, they would allow to make a more precise stop motion to clearly show the number of notices on the floor. Footsteps weren’t realistic to avoid being too fast in the outcome, in which one picture for every five frames was required. The distances were not the same in the first and second video with 657 steps against 621 steps respectively, being impossible to walk all straight long with cars parked in the middle of the sidewalk.

At last, I would say that the first times I saw these illegal notices I was amused by the images, then intrigued and that's when the research started, to later be worried about the amount of visual pollution through advertising in this city, in places such as the lift or the sidewalk. I would often think ‘walls are already taken to advertise, but now floors, what a strange way to proceed in public spaces. What if children see these unfortunate women almost naked?’, which was contradictory with another feeling I had of seeing these small illegal ads positively in the way they were producing an alternative aesthetics in the urban sphere, creating imperfection, spontaneity, absurdity, dirtiness, reminding the various uses of the streets by people, far from the idyllic wish of an incredibly clean sidewalk where dogs would not dare to poop. Beyond these anecdotical feelings, the comparison of realities in a three years interval reveals that these small notices have disappeared, but prostitution and falsification services are undoubtedly remaining active, although less visible. Visual communication often seeks perfectness worldwide, when commercially or politically oriented, but the reality behind a banal sidewalk or a nation’s square is more complex and messier than one would like it to be.   

Posted: July 8th, 2021

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