The Artvertiser

"The Artvertiser" (2008-) is a software platform for replacing billboard advertisements with art in real-time. This project, by Julian Oliver and Damian Stewart, works by teaching computers to 'recognise' individual advertisements so they can be easily replaced with alternative content, like images and video.

The Artvertiser

Julian Oliver, The Artvertiser

The Artvertiser-project was initiated by Julian Oliver in February 2008 and is developed in collaboration with Damian Stewart.

The Artvertiser considers Puerta del Sol Madrid, Times Square New York, Shibuya Tokyo and other sites dense with advertisements as potential exhibition space. An instrument of conversion and reclamation, The Artvertiser situates the 'read-only', proprietary imagery of our public spaces as a 'read-write' platform for the presentation of non-proprietary, critically engaging content. The Artvertiser is a software platform for replacing billboard advertisements with art in real-time. It works by teaching computers to 'recognise' individual advertisements so they can be easily replaced with alternative content, like images and video. Rather than refering to this as a form of Augmented Reality technology, the artists consider The Artvertiser an example of 'Improved Reality'.

It has appeared in full working form in street exhibitions in Berlin as part of Transmediale 2010 and in Brussels, as part of the Europe wide Media Facades Festival.

The Artvertiser is also a free-software project and runs on Linux and OS X systems.



The Artvertiser software is trained to recognise individual advertisements, each of which become a virtual 'canvas' on which an artist can exhibit images or video when viewed through the hand-held device. After training, when ever the advertisement is exposed to the device, the chosen art will appear instead. It doesn't matter whether the advertisement is on a building, in a magazine or on the side of a vehicle.

If an internet connection is present at the site, the substitution can be immediately documented and published in on line galleries such as Flickr and YouTube, providing an alternative memory of the city.

While offering itself as a new platform for public art, The Artvertiser seeks to highlight the contradiction of public space in the context of what can and cannot be written on the surface of our cities.

By leveraging the internet as a redistribution mechanism, The Artvertiser supposes that an urban site dense with proprietary imagery can be re-purposed as an exhibition space for art and archived as such in turn. Similarly, on-site exhibitions can be held whereby pedestrians are invited to use the looking device to view an exhibition on the buildings around them.

Finally, non-live video can also be used. This enables artists to 'product replace' advertisements in film and video with alternative content and redistribute those movies with friends or using their favourite peer to peer network.

A third method of interception has been theorised by Julian Oliver and Danja Vasiliev, involving realtime Man-In-The-Middle attacks on a wireless computer network and subsequent alteration of streaming video.


Julian Oliver and Damian Stewart on Artvertiser (2010) from V2_ on Vimeo.



Project leader: Julian Oliver
Computer programming: Julian Oliver, Damian Stewart
Binoculars V-1: Julian Oliver, Clara Boj and Diego Diaz

The Artvertiser has received development funding from Intermediae, and is supported by V2_, iMAL, and Matadero, Madrid.


Progess of Software

The software is stable and works quite well. Currently it runs only on The Artvertiser's own digital binoculars and netbooks/laptops with webcams. Developers are invited to download and compile the code while we work on getting packages ready for Linux and OS X. The artists are still working on a port for Android.

The Artvertiser targets three classes of devices: 

Billboard Intercept Unit

This device guarantees high-quality immersive advertisement substitution and is be more performant for AR applications than any hand-held device currently available; equipped with a high-quality wide-angle lens, fast CPU and GPU, powerful wireless adaptor, long battery life and plenty of solid state storage space.


The team is currently working on a port of the software to Google's Android OS, now used on many smartphones worldwide. Following this we will target the Nokia N900 (Maemo 5) and the iPhone. These devices will have support for video and photo substitution modes at low resolutions.

Standard Camera phones

The great bulk of the world's camera phones run the Symbian OS. The artists are drafting up a version of The Artvertiser to provide 'single shot' photo substitution.


The Code

The Artvertiser is a free software project and has been released under the copyright terms of the General Public License v3.0. There will be tangible consequences for those that use this code without abiding the terms of the above license. A lot of work has gone into this project: the artists will take GPL violations very seriously.

The entire project tree exists as a git repository, cloned like so to your local system:

git clone git://repo.or.cz/The-Artvertiser.git

The code should currently build on any modern Linux-based OS with the addition of a couple of dependencies and - thanks to Damian Stweart - should also compile on OS X with the correct prior tweaks in place. See the README file in the top-level directory for more information. 

A special 'mob' user has been set up allowing complete Read/Write access for anyone at all. Once you've cloned the repository as above, just: 

    git checkout mob 

.. to move to the mob branch. It's all yours!

More on: theartvertiser.com


The Artvertiser (diagram)


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