Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Package Yourself

Package Yourself:

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 the expanded rights of
corporations. 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)
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

A logo for The Dreamy Awards by Ed Fornieles
In their 1996
video The B.C. Corporate Story, Bernadette Corporation uses
of the structure and style of internal corporate mission videos while spouts
generic corporate lingo about hard work, analysis, and markets over images of
fashion photography before ultimately showcasing catwalks from BC produced
fashion shows. “Makin’ clothes, man…there’s quite a lot to it,” says the
narrator in a Southern business monotone. BC’s emphasis on fashion, corporate
identity-forming art, emphases the double-bind selfhood as predetermined
individual preference. BC member Antek Walczak remarked to Chris Kraus, “What
are people’s problems with fashion? There’s a blind spot—people think fashion
is uniquely superficial, as if everything else is not.”4
The video ends
with the opening scene from Blade Runner. The invocation of Blade
, which depicts a world in which the Tyrell Corporation manufactures
robots virtually indistinguishable from humans (known as replicants), takes the
place of a traditional video-ending corporate mission statement. The tension of
Blade Runner comes from Harrison Ford’s own inability to know whether
or not he is a replicant. The difference is imperceptible, what’s important is
that the Tyrell Corporation is a company that can create individuals, which is
less a science-fiction speculation than a capitalist reality. Like Ford chasing
the replicants, the battle-line between superficiality and authenticity has
become variable to a degree that makes it negligible.  Instead of fighting
for semantics, it’s preferable to become the Tyrell Corp. If having an identity
is merely an excuse to be absorbed by consumer culture, the only sensible way
to escape that assimilation is to align yourself with the corporate agencies of

From Bruce High Quality Foundation's 2008 Retrospective
Corporation’s 2003 video Get Rid of Yourself is an anti-documentary
featuring footage of the 2001 G-8 riots in Genoa. On their website, Bernadette
Corporation describes the video as “an encounter with emerging, non-instituted
or identity-less forms of protest that refuse the representational politics of
the official Left.” BC’s goal here is to utilize the representational form of
video without closing, halting, and commodifying the event as “something
If corporations
have potential in an aesthetic context, can art have a totally corporate form?
In her essay “Indelible Video,” Chris Kraus compares the strategies of American
Apparel to the strategies of contemporary art: “The company’s merchandising aesthetic
includes the display of amateur-produced art that reprises—like much MFA
art—reprises various landmarks in conceptual art of the past decades…Recruiting
talented young women as both content-advisors and sex partners, [Dov] Charney
creates a paradigm for how life can be lived a different way.”
Kraus goes on, “It could be argued that
entrepreneurial ventures like American Apparel fill the void left by
avant-garde process-art projects of the last century, which are no longer
practical for artists who must maintain their careers … American Apparel
resonates against the economic and psychogeographic state of the culture like a
gigantic work of conceptual art.”5 What makes this argument so compelling is
that a corporation’s status as a for-profit enterprise does nothing to exclude
it from the realm of high art.
As the Bruce
High Quality Foundation mentions on its website, “Only Joseph Beuys and Andy
Warhol compared in their conflation of art with the systems of modern media.”
Yet both of those artists couldn’t escape the grasp of identity: endlessly
psychologized, their strategies for dismissal of the self created an even
greater aura of personhood around the place where the person should have
been destroyed. Warhol tried to get rid of himself using the model of a Hollywood studio. Auteurism injected that model with individuality and personality. He should have looked to IBM.

1. Dan Graham. “The End of Liberalism.” In Rock/Music Writings. New York: Primary Information, 2012. 50-60. 55.
2. Quoted in Chris Kraus' "The Complete Poem/Bernadette Corporation." In Where Art Belongs. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2011. 44-56.
3. Chris Kraus." "Panda Porn." In Video Green. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2004. 159-164. 163.
4. Quoted in Chris Kraus' "The Complete Poem/Bernadette Corporation." In Where Art Belongs. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2011. 44-56.
5. Chris Kraus. "Indelible Video." In Where Art Belongs. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2011. 119-139.

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