The Bubble Project

Ji Lee has printed over 50 000 stickers shaped like speech-bubbles since 2002.

First Published in

"They're left blank, inviting passersby to fill them in. I then photograph and archive the results. I have about 1 000 archived pictures," he says.

Lee has called his venture the Bubble Project. It provides a platform for people "to speak their minds about any subject, without censorship. It transforms a one-way communication into an open dialogue. Our public spaces are returned back to the public, carving out a clearing within the media bombardment for self-expression. The writings are infinitely diverse in their subject matters. Some of them are political and social commentaries, some are jokes about sex and drugs, some of them are personal messages, to mention a few re-occurring themes. The designer (and a mentor) Stefan Sagmeister wrote an interesting insight about the Bubble Project in a book called Area: 'Everybody wins with this project: The advertiser gets more people to look at its (now personalised) posters, the public finally gets a chance to talk back to the advertisers, and the rest of us are able to enjoy these little jolts of joy by seeing and reading the transformed poster. And how much more interesting they become.' I also find that the writings many times speak the truth.

"I carry the stickers in my bag all the time, so I can place them whenever I see a poster. I usually place them on the posters on the bus stops, telephone booths, wall postings and subway ads. It takes some courage each time I place a sticker because I'm doing something illegal. It's considered vandalism after all. There's also a thrill that comes with doing something I'm not suppose to do. Many people have come to talk to me when they see me placing these bubble stickers. Many times they say, 'Ahhh… It's you who's been putting these stickers all over the city!' Another common comment is, 'So, what are you going to write on it?' Then I say, 'Nothing. It's there for you. What are you going to write on it?' Some people just stare at it seeming very puzzled. And some just give me that smile that says: 'That's cool. And I'll keep it secret.' For the most part, people have shown a lot of support. They really seem to like it. But I've landed in trouble with the authority a few times. I have received three police fines in the process, which is not that bad considering I've been doing this for years. Each fine can range anywhere from $25 to $75, depending on the mood of the officer. I've heard about stories of graffiti artists getting arrested and going to jail for a day when they get caught. So I'm glad to pay the fines. The police officers are just doing their job, so I'm always cooperative and I always promise I'll never do it again."

"Some of the bubbles are displayed in my website: So, please enjoy them. Right now I am in the process of publishing a book called Talk Back showing the best of the collection."

Watch the Talk with Thomas Heatherwick