Package Yourself

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At a time when so many Americans are disgusted with the personhood of corporations, it's surprising that more persons don't move to secure their expanded rights. Dan Graham notes, “Jasper Johns was the first American artist to fully understand that the newly subjectivized advertising icon and the gestures of Abstract Expressionist painting—which struggled against the cultural domination of this new form—were virtually identical.”1 The place of the (white male) individual and his potential for transcendence had already merged with corporate strategy. Warhol began operations at his Factory in 1962, and by 1966 Foucault proclaimed that man “would be erased, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea.” In 1978, the band Devo told The SoHo Weekly News that they’d decided to “mimic those who get the greatest rewards out of the business and become a corporation."

According to Bernadette Corporation, “Mock incorporation is quick and easy … no registration fees, simply choose a name (i.e. Booty Corporation, Bourgeois Corporation, Buns Corporation) and spend a lot of time together. Ideas will come later.” Bernadette Corporation was founded in 1994 as "the perfect alibi for not having to fix an identity."2 Similarly, the Bruce High Quality Foundation employs a post-individual aesthetic while using the language of a endowed institution as opposed to a corporation. Yet the post-individual kernel is clearer in the Foundation’s mission, which presents itself as the arbiter of the estate and legacy of “the late social sculptor” Bruce High Quality. The Foundation is founded on the negation of an already fictional identity. The Icelandic Love Corporation, based in Reykjavik, adopts the title of a corporation without jettisoning their identities.

Corporate art practice challenges stale narratives of contemporary art, which resuscitate themes and tropes of 20th century conceptualism. By claiming the featureless corporation as the active artmaker, BC and other similar façades maneuver around cliché and retreat from the individual artist-archetype: a character to be media-narrativized into a pop-psychological explanation of their noble craftsmanship or pathology of resistance.

Bernadette Corporation's The Complete Poem installation at Greene Naftali (2009)

Corporations, much like contemporary art, have a unique relationship with the iterable. In an essay discussing the irony of the corporate sponsors of the San Diego Zoo, critic and writer Chris Kraus explains, “Like contemporary art, corporate linguistics seeks to eliminate the dreary mechanics of cause and effect. Shit happens. People demand.”3 Corporate language rests on clichés that are instantly understood. Phil Spector reportedly wondered, “Is it dumb enough?” while listening to “Da Doo Ron Ron.” The question that defined popular music has as much bearing on contemporary art: unencumbered by the boring (Kraus’ “dreary mechanics”), only that which is instantly understood remains. That which is dumb enough.

The artist Ed Fornieles, whose work includes the trend-forecasting agency Recreational Data and the management training company Coaxiom, indicated to me that part of what he likes about working with corporate aesthetics is the power of boring corporate cliché both in language and imagery. “Corporations have their own logic,” Fornieles told me. “It doesn’t always have to be about me.” In a sense, engaging with corporate style makes transparent a generic corporate aesthetic—visible in promotional materials, architecture, offices, commercials— which is both recognizable and unfixed. What’s appealing about something so blandly real is its ability to blend into the fabric of reality without the risk of a unique stake or identity...

 

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Required Reading

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This rich pamphlet grew out of The Internet as Playground and Factory, a conference organized at The New School and held in November 2009. In this seventh pamphlet in the Situated Technologies Pamphlets Series, Trebor Scholz and Laura Y. Liu reflect on the relationship between labor and technology in urban space, where communication, attention, and physical movement generate financial value for a small number of private stakeholders. Online and off, Internet users are increasingly wielded as a resource for economic amelioration, for private capture, and the channels of communication are becoming increasingly inscrutable. The Internet has become a simple-to-join, anyone-can-play system where the sites and practices of work and play, as well as production and reproduction, are increasingly unnoticeable.

Norbert Wiener warned that the role of new technology under capitalism would intensify the exploitation of workers. For Michel Foucault, institutions used technologies of power to control individual bodies. In her essay “Free Labor” (1999), Tiziana Terranova described what constitutes “voluntarily given, unwaged, enjoyed and exploited, free labor on the Net.” Along these lines, Liu and Scholz ask: How does the intertwining of labor and play complicate our understanding of exploitation and “the urban”?

This pamphlet aims to understand “the urban” through the lens of digital and not-digital work in terms of those less visible sites and forms of work such as homework, care work, interactivity on social networking sites, life energy spent contributing to corporate crowd sourcing projects, and other unpaid work. While we are discussing the shift of labor markets to the Internet, the authors contend that traditional sweatshop economies continue to structure the urban environment.

The pages of this pamphlet unfold between a film still from Alex Rivera’s Sleep Dealer on the front cover and an image by Lewis Hine on the back. Set in the near ...

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