YO! Iâ€™m Your C.E.O. With a text by Daniel R. Quiles From September 5 to October 10, 2014 Opening reception: Friday, September 5, 7-9 PM NURTUREart Gallery 56 Bogart St., Brooklyn, NY 11206
by Daniel R. Quiles In the early 1990s, the Hungarian graphic designer Tibor Kalman began contributing to Benetton’s advertising campaigns, ultimately becoming art director of Colors, the company’s own magazine. _1 The ads and magazine incorporated documentary photographs related to dire global problems such as disease, hunger, and wars, turning on its head the notion that the last thing any business wants to remind consumers of is the crisis-ridden real world. Rather than proffering a safe space of desire and fulfillment, here the commodity and even the particular brand itself would be wedded to social consciousness. Benetton’s advertisements at this time used a double truck journalistic format (spread across two pages), assailing magazine readers with unexpected images: bloodstained clothes from a dead Croatian soldier, a baby born with the AIDS virus, umbilical cord still attached, etc. This made for a striking contrast with the “United Colors of Benetton” campaign begun in 1989, which presented multiracial groupings of models, often in amorous couplings. Given that Kalman had a hand in these also, they function like a flipside to the brand’s traumatic imagery: fashion’s vision of a tolerant world. In 1995, the company was sued by its German retailers for a drop in sales, said to be from a boycott against this groundbreaking advertising.
The late 1990s saw a rise in authenticity-based branding inspired in part by critiques of capitalism such as Naomi Klein’s No Logo. _2 One trend in this wave of new products attempted to directly intervene in given social or political problems by either donating a percentage of profits to a cause, or by making the product itself apparently part of the solution, as with “green” household products or “free trade” coffee. A critique of such products is now familiar to us: the commodity in this case provides a discreet unit of do-goodery, a momentary sense of having “done something” about the capitalocene, momentarily alleviating guilt over relative comfort in the global North. This advertising approach has had its most consistent antagonist in Slavoj Žižek, here railing against Starbucks Coffee in particular: What Starbucks enables you to do is to be a consumerist without any bad conscience, because the price for the countermeasure—for fighting consumerism—is already included in the price of a commodity. Like, you pay a little bit more, and you’re not just a consumerist, but you do also your duty towards the environment, the poor, starving people in Africa, and so on and so on. It is, I think, the ultimate form of consumerism. _3 There is an affective difference between the 1990s, as represented by Benetton, and our ar-
guably even more ideological present. If Jade yoga mats or Warby Parker glasses aim to soothe a consumer’s conscience, it might be argued that Benetton answered guilt with castigation, in its images of suffering, or an overload of desire, in the United Colors ads. Benetton hitched its product’s desire to that jolt of the real, to suffering or eros, both “out there” and for the buying subject (the latter being of course ubiquitous in fashion)—something of a Catholic economy. By contrast, contemporary “socially conscious” commodities tend toward “interpassivity”: outsourcing both feeling and action to someone else, so that purchase is not cathexis, but freedom. Yasi Ghanbari’s previous work has examined intersections between subjective experience— that which is increasingly difficult to refer to as “private life”—and sophisticated manipulations of affect in digital culture and advertising. Her project for NURTUREart similarly involves installations of manipulated or intermingled readymades that are calibrated to produce what could be called “generative insufficiency.” Their affirmative, desiring stance toward their appropriated objects is undercut by imperfection, raw need, or the pathetic. A mannequin garbed in “one-for-one” clothes and accessories (meaning that the company in question buys another such product for someone in need) sits before a
slideshow of self-congratulatory publicity. Is this a stand-in for a rather pejorative conception of the gullible consumer, or could the situation be more complicated? The artist has frequently included herself in her work as a sort of character who grapples with questions—how to do something, how to make something, how to get along with someone else. Mundane moments pass; she argues with a boyfriend; she is back to “work,” watching, thinking, curious, desiring, engaged, exasperated. The ideological rub of first-world capitalism is that it pulls levers already inside us. The way up the stairs and out, as it were, must thus traverse the self.
1_Maira Kalman and Ruth A. Peltason, eds., Colors: Issues 1-13: The Tibor Kalman Years (London: Thames & Hudson, 2002). 2_Naomi Klein, No Logo (New York: Picador, 2000). The irony of Klein’s book, originally of a piece with the rise of turn-of-the-century anticapitalist movements and the 1999 Seattle WMO protests, becoming a sort of guide for future advertisers has been noted by many; see http://reason.com/archives/2010/04/27/the-revenge-of-the-brands. 3_Transcription from Sophie Fiennes’ film The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, BFI Films, 2012.
NURTUREart Non-Profit, Inc is a 501(c)3 New York State licensed federally tax-exempt charitable organization founded in 1997 by George J. Robinson. NURTUREart receives support from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, including member item funding from City Council Members Stephen Levin and Diana Reyna, the New York City Department of Education, and the New York State Council on the Arts. NURTUREart is also supported by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, British Council of Northern Ireland, Harold and Colene Brown Foundation, Con Edison, Czech Center New York, Edelman, the Francis Greenburger Charitable Fund of the Jewish Communal Fund, the Golden Rule Foundation, the Joan Mitchell Foundation, the Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation, and the Walentas Family Foundation.
We receive in-kind support from Lagunitas, Societe Perrier, Tekserve, and Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. NURTUREart is grateful for significant past support from the Liebovitz Foundation and the Greenwall Foundation, and to the many generous individuals and businesses whose contributions have supported us throughout our history. Finally, we would like to acknowledge the artists who have contributed works of art to past benefitsâ€”our continued success would be impossible without your generosity.
Brooklyn, NY. August 2014 / Book Design: Marco Antonini and Ido Michaeli / Editing/Copyediting: NURTUREart Non Profit Inc. / All Images, courtesy Yasi Ghanbari 2014.
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Published on Aug 21, 2014
Published in conjunction with Yasi Ghanbari's solo exhibition at NURTUREart, September 5 - October 10, 2014. With an essay by Daniel R. Quil...