BRANDS – CONCEPT/AFFECT/MODULARITY – Salts
A new chapter of the online investigation on the role of brands, logos and consumer goods in contemporary aesthetics, by American artist Kari Altmann, has been launched recently. Continuing the discourse initiated with Soft Brand Abstracts: Closer than ever before (also appeared in the issue n.31 of NERO), this new online contribution is titled Soft Brand Abstracts: World Exposé 2012-2014-ongoing and has been commissioned and presented within the context of the exhibition Brands – Concept/Affect/Modularity, curated by Melanie Bühler at Salts, Switzerland.
Brands, consumer goods, and logos play an important role in the work of artists interested in internet culture. These artists comment on and celebrate the surfaces, visual regimes and aesthetic potentials of branded goods and work with the glossy shininess of brands, turn consumer goods into sculptures and rework, assemble and collect images of branded goods. BRANDS – CONCEPT/AFFECT/MODULARITY looks at this fascination and investigates the visual alliance between online culture and brands. It departs from the notion that images of branded commodities are powerful and attractive to work with because they express the most valuable characteristics of online image-sharing culture: they are instantly recognizable on a global scale, they implicate social relations, and they have affective qualities.
Like digital images, brands can exist in different, potentially infinite versions. They are reproduced through modularity, much in the same way as digital content evolves and gains popularity through modulation and adaptation. Their evolution is dependent on gaining visual capital, by being spread, liked and adapted. Like visual organisms they build a structure of references that is embedded in the DNA of the currently actual version of the image of the brand/good. Within this process, affect plays a key role as a relational force through which brands circulate and nestle themselves in our collective unconscious.
With the rise of the internet the context for art – its currents and networks – has changed. The circulation of images has intensified: categories and labels proliferate in the flattening and accelerating streams and feeds of Facebook and Tumblr, where images accumulate visual capital through shares and likes, regardless where the images are from, who has made them and for what purpose. As David Joselit writes “The emerging image is a dynamic form that arises out of circulation. As such, it is located on a spectrum between the absolute stasis of native site specificity on one hand, and the absolute freedom of neoliberal markets on the other.” This raises the question whether images of branded goods are so powerful for artists to work with because the neoliberal market strategies are already embedded in them. By building on the corporate images, which are carefully crafted to be successful on the market, artists are thus arguably intensifying the value of their own visual capital.
BRANDS – CONCEPT/AFFECT/MODULARITY investigates the parameters of this slippery terrain, with works that oscillate between adaptation and identification, celebration and perversion of branded imagery. Exhibited in the stasis of the exhibition space while building on the visual capital of branded goods, these objects and images manage to frieze, intensify, critique, and pay homage to the commercial cosmos they have departed from. If contemporary art is, as Hito Steyerl recently wrote “squarely placed in the neoliberal thick of things” this exhibition highlights and questions this position by examining how the visual language of our contemporary entrepreneurial consumer society impacts art making.
Metahaven’s “Silk Road: Nomadic Chess” can be seen as the backdrop of the exhibition. An extract of the work, which consists of 112 leather tiles in total, is shown in the space. In the form of a chess game, “Silk Road: Nomadic Chess” maps the internet’s political environment by visualizing and materializing its power relations as a set of ‘moves’ between various actors and players. This monumental visualization of the online environment sets the stage and the context for the exhibition.
In her online contribution “Soft Brand Abstracts”, Altmann investigates how brands mutate and shape their appearance. Much like visual organisms, they adapt and respond to changes and create new meanings and relations. By looking at brands, Altmann explores the status of the digital image and traces the evolution of visual content in today’s image culture. Her image essay “Soft Brand Abstracts: World Exposé” is part of this larger project. It specifically focuses on the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai, looking at the branding strategies employed in the context of national representation.
The second work shown as part of the exhibition is an iteration of her project entitled “Ttoshibaa: 10,000 Impressions”, a visual feed on which she has been working since 2009, aggregating, accumulating, re-purposing and re-branding images. The coherence of this image archive is purposefully inexplicit – a meme that builds on a very personal image sensibility rather than a branding strategy that reveals itself as a clear concept. It thus complicates the legibility of memes and image feeds and questions the often overly present branding strategies used within the art world.
Pierre Lumineau’s work “Assets” shows the portraits of three of the most powerful internet companies’ CEOs: Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo; Jack Ma, founder and chairman of Alibaba, China’s biggest online auction house; and Larry Page, co-founder and CEO of Google – depicting three of the most influential people who have ever lived. Introducing the faces of the CEOs as an interface with these companies, “Assets” provides an image that differs from the branding strategies the companies have chosen to represent themselves with. A poem that is part of the work develops a narrative around these figures by taking clues from the highly stylized business lingo used in their speeches and mixing it with fictional elements. Similar to the images, this results in a tension that oscillates between the personal and the corporate, the individual and the generic. This is further emphasized by what the artist calls a “dilettante use of the English language” the poem is written in.
Florian Auer’s work relates the branding strategy of the German media company Sky to a sculptural work of the artist. The company’s logo is conceptualized in a way that it adapts its visual identity to the background it relates to. The artist asked Sky’s marketing branch to apply this to one of his sculptural works, thereby branding and internalizing his sculpture into the Sky cosmos.
Anne de Vries, Pamela Rosenkranz and David Jablonowski are each represented with works that redirect the affective intensity of branded consumer goods by relating them to a new set of materials and hence add a different set of associations.
In Anne de Vries’ work, running shoes (Nike Air Tuned) seem to have liquefied, multiplied and subsequently solidified into sculptures. These sculptures estrange and at the same time intensify the visual impact of the surface of this consumer product. Moreover, the work highlights the ease with which images are translated in different material aggregations in our current material and visual culture.
Pamela Rosenkranz’s work “I almost forgot that ASICS means Anima Sana in Corpore Sano” consists of a pair of ASICS sneakers, filled with skin-colored silicone. Placed in the room as if they have just been left behind, they relate to and question the interface between product and body, marketing and health, technology and evolution.
David Jablonowski’s sculptures materialize how knowledge is produced in our digital society. By layering and arranging both signifying objects as well the support structures these objects depend on, they draw attention to the materiality of complex informational nodes. With “Powerslave, Revolution Main (Signature Series)”, a pair of Vans become the centerpiece of an assemblage of objects, dissecting the Western view on the Arabic world.
 David Joselit, After Art, 2012.
 Hito Steyerl, Politics of Art: Contemporary Art and the Transition to Post-Democracy, published by e-flux, 2010.
 David Joselit, After Art, (2012). Übersetzt von: The emerging image is a dynamic form that arises out of circulation. As such, it is located on a spectrum between the absolute stasis of native site specificity on one hand, and the absolute freedom of neoliberal markets on the other.
 Hito Steyerl, Politics of Art: Contemporary Art and the Transition to Post-Democracy, published by e-flux, 2010.
The American artist Kari Altmann was born 1983 in Dallas, TX, and currently works in New York. She received her BFS at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Her work often hybridizes multiple kinds of imaging systems and microcultures into mutant art directions or “rebrands”. Amongst others, she is the founder of the research network “R-U-In?S”. This project, like much of her work, moves fluidly between material instances, identities, and contexts, and calls upon its larger community of content in every iteration of its display. Her personal website acts as a site of production, tracking and continually re-organizing her content through tags and memes. Recent exhibitions include “Soft Mobility Abstracts”, New Museum, New York and “Art Post-Internet”, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing. She has done projects for and with Art Dubai, The Goethe-Institut, Rhizome, The Hirshhorn Museum, Gentili Apri, Dis Magazine, Nero Magazine, and many more.
Florian Auer, born 1984 in Augsburg, Germany studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich and at Städelschule in Frankfurt and lives and works in Berlin. He is represented by Galerie Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler in Berlin. Recent solo exhibitions include “Casino noir”, S.M.A.K., Ghent; “Believe in Better”, NAK Neuer Aachener Kunstverein, Aachen; and “Babies Are Born At Night”, Cell Project Space, London. He has participated in exhibitions at Lothringer 13, Munich; Westphälischer Kunstverein, Münster; EXO, Paris; and Andratx, Plama de Mallorca, among others.
David Jablonowski, born 1982 in Bochum, Germany studied at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy and participated in De Ateliers studio program. In his work, Jablonowski examines the surface and the evolution of contemporary communication technologies. Recent solo exhibitions include “Hello Prediction! / Still life with Turkey pie”, Max Wigram Gallery, London; “Prosumer”, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag; “Tools and Orientations”, Baltic Center for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, Newcastle; and “Blue Greens”, Westfälischer Kunstverein Münster.
Born in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1986, Pierre Lumineau graduated from the Zurich University of the Arts with a Bachelor of Arts in Design degree in 2010. Through dilettante usage of mixed modes of expressions, artificial intelligence informs his work. His illustrations appeared in the “Post Internet Survival Guide” 2010 (Revolver Publishing) by Katja Novitskova; on State, an online exhibition platform; and in a volume of poetry, which will be published in September 2014.
Metahaven is a studio for design and research founded by Vinca Kruk (born in Leiden 1980) and Daniel van der Velden (born in Rotterdam 1971) and based in Amsterdam. Metahaven’s work—both commissioned and self-directed—reflects political and social issues in collaboratively conceived graphic design objects and media. Metahaven has published numerous essays such as the three-part “Captives of the Cloud” series on e-flux journal; “Uncorporate Identity” published by Lars Müller in 2010 and co-edited with Marina Vishhmidt; and the e-book “Can Jokes Bring Down Governments?” released by Strelka Press, 2013. Selected exhibitions include “Islands in the Cloud”, MoMA PS1, New York; Gwangju Design Biennale 2011, Gwangju, Korea; “Graphic Design: Now in Production”, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and Manifesta 8, Murcia, Spain.
Pamela Rosenkranz, born 1979 in Sils Maria, Switzerland lives and works in Zürich. Rosenkranz graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts Bern with the Master of Fine Arts in 2004 and studied Comparative Literature at the University of Zurich in 2005. In 2010 she participated at the Independent Residency Program at the Rijksakademie, Amsterdam. Recent solo exhibitions include “Content”, Vault, Berlin; “Feeding, Fleeing, Fighting, Reproduction”, Kunsthalle Basel; and “Untouched by Man”, Kunstverein Braunschweig. Her work was featured in group exhibitions such as “Speculations on Anonymous Materials”, Fridericianum, Kassel and “The Encyclopedic Palace”, 55th International Art Exhibition Venice Biennale, among many others.
Anne De Vries
Born in The Hague, the Netherlands in 1979, Anne de Vries lives and works between Amsterdam and Berlin. De Vries creates new worlds, inspired by new media and our technical culture. He has exhibited throughout Europe and has work held in various collections, including a recent acquisition by the Fotomuseum Winterthur and Foam, Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam. Recently he has participated in “Superficial Hygiene”, De Hallen, Haarlem; “Goods”, MoBY Museum, Bat Yam, Israel; “Still/Life”, Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow; “The Dark Cube”, Palais de Tokyo, Paris, among many others.
Melanie Bühler lives and works in Amsterdam. She is responsible for Lunch Bytes (http://www.lunch-bytes.com/) a platform/discussion series on art and digital culture. She has conceptualized and organized discussions at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC; Art Basel; Foam Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam; the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin; ICA, London; CCA, Glasgow and many more. As a curator, her most recent projects include SURFACE POETRY at Boetzelaer/Nispen Amsterdam (January – February 2014) as well as BRANDS – CONCEPT/AFFECT/MODULARITY at SALTS, Birsfelden (April – Mai 2014).
SALTS – Hauptstrasse 12, CH–4127 Birsfelden/BL
6 April – 21 May, 2014
Opening hours: by appointment (contact: 079 372 81 75 or firstname.lastname@example.org)