Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sam Mell Summary of Readings, Week 15

Klein – No Logo: Introduction

In the introduction to No Logo, Naomi Klein provides a brief history of the emergence of brand name marketing.  She pinpoints the rise of brand promotion in our economy to an important shift in the theory of corporate management.  Simply put, the transformation into a marketing economy was brought about by the idea that “successful corporations must primarily produce brands, as opposed to products.”  It turns out that companies can do without the cost and complexity of manufacturing their own goods.  The obvious solution is to focus on the primary concern, to pitch the product to consumers.

Klein outlines the transformation of goods from local production to industrial mass-production, out of which brands emerged.  Mechanization necessitated branding by homogenizing mass-produced goods and products, as familiarity of brand names also came to advocate for the quality of products that were otherwise anonymously produced and packaged.  Brands came to epitomize the values that manufacturers wished to project into their products.  Companies realized that brand names carried enormous cultural capital in themselves, and this justified a steady rise in advertising spending.  However, there was a crisis in the 90s when premium brands began to lose business to their bargain equivalents.  It seemed that in times of economic hardship, people cared more about the product itself, which could be easily duplicated by no-name companies, than its brand name.

This is the situation out of which rose contemporary marketing.  Companies like Nike, Apple, and Starbucks are built exclusively around branding.  Every aspect of their corporate structure serves a set of cultural values geared toward selling their brand name.  Branding allowed companies to drive up prices and diversify their range of products.  In this model “the product always takes a back seat to the real product, the brand.”  Today, most brands will describe themselves as “not a product but a way of life, an attitude, a set of values, a look, an idea.”  Successful corporations today are marketing-oriented in nature, not production oriented.  This is a dramatic shift from the industrial economy critiqued by Marx, since the commodity is no longer the central concern.  The contemporary focus on marketing is more akin to DeBord’s spectacle.

Klein – “Patriarchy gets funky” from No Logo, chapter 5

Here, Klein focuses on the ways in which corporate marketing swallowed up the political controversy surrounding media representation of racial, sexual, and social identity.  She sets the scene in the late 80s, a time at which the politics of social equality were focused on media representation of minorities and alternative identities.  At first, the media and authority figures reacted strongly against accusations of political incorrectness.

However, corporations drew on issues of diversity and identity politics, seeing them as the key to a multitude of market niches, demographics waiting to be represented.  Nike sold racial awareness, MAC sold gender fluidity, etc.  Political radicals who had formerly thought they were instigating social revolution found that their ideas had only fueled the prevailing system.

Klein concludes that companies were able to accommodate cultural differences while remaining internally coherent by homogenizing the world’s needs and desires.  Enter the age of the global corporation.

Claire Bishop – Relational Aesthetics and Antagonism

In this article, Bishop criticizes artists whose work is based on interactivity with the viewer.  A prominent proponent of the movement, Nicolas Bourriaud, lays out a new realm of aesthetics that encompasses real human interaction (on the part of the viewer) and the social realities that it represents.  Bishop focuses on the artists Rirkrit Tiravanija and Liam Gillick, both of whom set up installations whose primary purpose is to outline a distinct social interaction between viewers.

While interactive work is novel in that it replaces detached opticality with intersubjective relations, Bourriaud’s analysis is inadequate in that it does not address this phenomenon with any distinct set of standards that would equip it with aesthetic value.  Bishop introduces the idea that democratic social structures are based on antagonisms that are never quite resolved.  Antagonism is the result of collisions between incomplete identities, which necessarily characterize the subject under Lacan’s definition.

Relational aesthetic judgments must be formulated with respect to the according realities of social interaction.  Bishop discusses two artists, Santiago Sierra and Thomas Hirschhorn, whose work highlights social antagonisms without resolving them via ‘microtopias,’ superficial notions of community evoked by the aforementioned artists.  Art that assuages reality by glossing over social divisions with shallow notions of community is dangerously akin to entertainment.  Even in the sphere of interactive performance and installation art, the goal remains to mirror and thus reveal deep, ubiquitous realities.
Here is a link to a project, the "Conflict Kitchen", that includes a "communicative situational" context that blurs social and art practice.  This project is testimony to Eco seeing art as reflection to a fragmented condition, opposed to Bourriard's, seeing art as the production of the conditions.

"Corporate Performance Art"

Naomi Klein's No Logo addresses the issues of corporate structure in regards to the development of brand identities and their rise to power. This reading raises a lot of interesting points but one of particular interest to me was mention of "corporate performance art." (Klein, 4*) In never ending attempts to expand their horizons, brands have infiltrated almost every facet of daily life; from envelopes to takeout containers no surface is safe from iconic imagery and often overt ad campaigns. Now this poison is seeping into the art world. But what exactly does this entail? Brands have been incorporated into artistic expressions for the last century, but primarily in a mocking, thought provoking nature that often reflects the problems of corporate entities.  So what does “corporate performance art” look like specifically? What role does the artist play in developing brand image? Would this role enable the artist with any real power or would they act merely as a figure head for a corporate entity? Would that not commodify the art object even further? In proposing corporate performance art, Klein uses the Pink Mattel Neighborhood as an example of artistic expression fused with corporate branding. Another project that comes to mind is NBC’s Artist in Residence program which featured Bon Jovi as its first corporately commissioned artists, performing on practically every NBC series during a two month stretch. (See attached article) Although Bon Jovi may be an kitsch interpretation of art (at least in my opinion), does this foreshadow a deeper integration of corporate agenda into the realm of fine art?

Please Post any related examples!!! (I know there are better ones than Bon Jovi…)

*the page numbers referred to here reflect a printed version of an online draft. These numbers are then subject to change dependent upon reproduction type...

"1984" Mac

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Thesis Generation Exercise

Here is the worksheet for the thesis-opposition generation exercise I have mentioned in seminar a few times in the past. It is usually pretty helpful, or at any rate provocative.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Lady Gaga

Has anybody posted comments on any of these provocations in advance of our screening of Velvet Goldmine? C'mon people! Okay, perhaps this late addition will fuck with your heads a little...

Marilyn Manson

New Romantics

Derek Jarman

Sun Ra


James Bidgood

Jack Smith

David Bowie

Maria Montez

Kenneth Anger

Marlene Dietrich