Lights off! – The Shape Shifting square of Piccadilly Circus


When talking about billboards and advertisement is impossible not to think of places like Piccadilly Circus (Also called “the mini time square of Europe”) where tourists all over the globe come to see the gigantic LED billboards and be amazed by the mesmerizing vibes. Tying to JP latest CTS about empty billboards, from this month throughout all 2017 the giant billboards that have lit up London’s Piccadilly Circus for more than 100 years have been switched off for renovation.

The six famous screens, which have long been a tourist attraction in the capital, are to be replaced by a single, large curved screen. Vasiliki Arvaniti, Portfolio Manager at Land Securities, which has owned the Lights since the Seventies, said: “This is a huge day for Piccadilly Lights and though it will be a strange feeling to see them go dark, we’re incredibly excited about their future” continues Arvaniti. Will this renovation affect tourism in London? Will this change affects the way tourists will relate to one of the most iconic sightseeing in the UK capital?

To answer the last question, it is necessary to talk about the ongoing changings this gigantic LED billboard has always gone through. Since the late 30’s, this square has always been linked to advertisement and product placement. As WWII started, Piccadilly’s lights went off and they were switched back on in 1949. During the early 50’s the first animated billboards started showing up until they started adopting video billboard back in the 1970’s. No major changes occurred since the 90’s, years where a slight billboard renovation came into place. Since then things did not change much, until now.

As we can see Piccadilly Circus went through different changings over the last fifty years or so, this year renovation is just part of an ongoing enhancement process of one of the top sightseeing in the capital. Go forward London.


1937: Piccadilly Circus at night on New Years Day


March 1949: The Piccadilly Circus lights were switched back on in 1949 having been off since the Second World War started


January 1959: Piccadilly Circus is shrouded in fog in the late 1950s, with adverts for Bovril, Schweppes and Coca-Cola visible


November 1998: Land Securities, which owns the site, was given permission to perform the overhaul by Westminster Council


July 2006: The normally-lit neon signs are seen switched off at Piccadilly Circus after a power cut hit part of Central London


November 2014: A familiar scene in Central London of Piccadilly Circus – and heavy rain sweeping over the area

Recuperation – A lack of ideas?


First CTS of term 2 was about Détournement and Recuperation and how this two topics relates to advertisement and art in general. Both were conceptualized by the Situationist International, an international organization of social revolutionaries made up of avant-garde artist rebelling towards a society they didn’t agree with. Both are very significant topics to dive in, but I will choose to case study a rather significant aspect about recuperation.

Speaking of recuperation means giving entirely new meaning to something. It could be an advertisement or a painting; it does not matter as long as the newly produced piace of work will have a complete new meaning or a “parodistic” mean to it, almost mocking the original piece of work. The most famous artist that made recuperation a lifetime signature was Marcel Duchamp, with his famous “Fountain”, a recuperation of a porcelain urinal, that became a proper art masterpiece thanks to its controversial nature.

My question now is: can recuperation be seen as fair? Is it fair to use an already existing idea or object and “make it your own” even if the meaning is completely (or partially) changed? As Tim showed us this morning, many brands have been using this Recuperation process as a way of displaying new ideas through already existing concepts. One of the best examples showed was the Honda Cog advert from 2003 that used exactly the same concept of an already existing Fischli and Weiss’ video from 1987. Even if Honda’s final result was great an maybe even better than the original one, personally I think we are almost talking of an act of plagiarism. Like Honda, many other have been using the recuperation process.

Creativity is endless and anyone can pinch from it, recuperation should not be an excuse to lack of ideas or poor imagination.

On the other hand, the recuperation act could also be seen as a way of expanding the meaning of the original work or even reconsider the original meaning of it.