The Ephemerality of IRL: An Interview with Rob Walker

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Shawn Wolfe, Vending Machineries, 2001

"Tell me about yourself, and you might mention where you're from, the music you prefer, perhaps a favorite writer or filmmaker or artist, possibly even the sports teams you root for. But I doubt you'll mention brands or products. That would seem shallow, right? There's just something illegitimate about openly admitting that brands and products can function as cultural material, relevant to identity and expression. It's as if we would prefer this weren't true..." — Rob Walker, Exhibition Essay, As Real As It Gets, 2012.

Journalist and author Rob Walker has a long history of projects that look at the intersection of designed objects and consumer behavior. Formerly of the Times Magazine "Consumed" column and currently found at Design Observer, Walker coined the term "murketing" in his 2008 book, Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are, to describe the blurred strategy between marketing and entertainment used to sell products without the associations of an overt branding campaign. Walker's current project swings to the other side of the spectrum, examining brands so compelling they don't need physical manifestations: he has curated "As Real As It Gets" at New York's Apexart about imaginary brands and fictional products.  I talked to Walker over email about some of the questions the exhibition raises about our complicated relationship with things.

The show, in many ways, seems like a continuation or synthesis of your own speculative design projects with your different tumbleblogs. The majority of your own practice exists exclusively in the virtual sphere, for example your recent Significant Objects project with Joshua Glenn, where thrift store detritus was listed on eBay along with fictive narratives of their history in order to demonstrate the subjectivity of value (and ...

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