Introducing: Culture Identities - Design for Museums, Theaters and Cultural Institutions, edited by Robert Klanten, Anna Sinofzik and Floyd Schulze.

Available on amazon USA and UK.

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Publisher Gestalten writes: Introducing: Culture Identities features outstanding poster campaigns, publications, and cross-platform corporate design for international cultural institutions by both young designers, who are striving to prove themselves creatively, and established studios, who are experimenting with new forms of visual expression. In the book, readers not only hear from designers who are especially active in the cultural field, such as Bureau Mirko Borsche, the New York-based studio 2x4, James Goggin, and Johannes Erler, but also from notables on the client side including MoMA, the Barbican, Van Abbemuseum, and documenta.

With its selection of striking collaborations between innovative designers and visionary cultural institutions, Introducing: Culture Identities presents the field of visual identities for cultural clients as a continuous dialogue that pushes the limit of what is possible creatively.

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Les Graphiquants, Biennale de la Danse Lyon, 2012

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Jürgen Fehrmann, HAU Hebbel am Ufer, 2012

I like a book that influences the way i look at the city i walk through every day. Since reading Introducing: Culture Identities, Design for Museums, Theaters and Cultural Institutions, i've started paying more attention to the design of posters and leaflets advertising the programme of cultural institutions. And even if being more attentive to promotional material isn't exactly my life greatest ambition, there's some great graphic design and typography out there that deserves to be granted more than a distracted glance.

The book features tree main sections. The first one looks at graphic design from the point of view of the cultural institutions. The chapter reveals how some museums or art events select a design studio, integrate them as collaborators and how the internal team welcomes (or not) the proposals of the designers. Only 7 institutions are featured but their relationship with typography and graphic design is analyzed with a depth i wasn't expecting. That first chapter sometimes gave me the feeling that i was taking a peek behind the curtains of institutions such as the Barbican Art Center or Documenta.

The next chapter brings the perspective of the design studios, looking at the relationship they establish with the institutions and how they subtly tweak or break with the identity that cultural institutions have developed over the years. For some designers, a theater or a dance festival is a client like any other. For others, it's a particularly stimulating interlocutor who is receptive to experiments and has developed a similar understanding of creativity.

The last chapter is pure Gestalten: a fast and vast selection of success stories with plenty of images and über efficient descriptions.

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Daniel Josefsohn, Volksbühne, 2012

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Scandinavian Design Lab, The Theatre Republique, 2009

Introducing: Culture Identities, Design for Museums, Theaters and Cultural Institutions is a book that should inspire and inform anyone interested in graphic design and typography. It should also entertain anyone interested in uncovering yet another layer of their urban environment and in discovering some of the strategies that culture is using to sell itself to the public.

The only negative comment is a geographical one. Apart from a couple of exceptions, most of the design studios and institutions are based in either Europe or the US. I wouldn't have minded seeing some works from countries such as China, New Zealand, Mexico or South Africa.

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Helmo, Pronomade(s), 2011

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Helmo, Pronomade(s), 2010

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Cobbenhagen Hendriksen, Nederlands Instituut voor Mediakunst / NIMk. Corporate Identity, 2007-2012

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Côme de Bouchony and Vincent de Hoÿm, Fête de la musique, 2009

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DERRIERELACOLLINE, Deftig Barock, Kunsthaus Zürich, 2012

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75B, International Film Festival Rotterdam Campaign 39th edition, Old Luxor Theatre, 2010

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75B, International Film Festival Rotterdam Campaign 40th edition Poster, 2011

And now for the views inside the book:

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Image from the book Introducing: Culture Identities, Copyright Gestalten 2013

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Image from the book Introducing: Culture Identities, Copyright Gestalten 2013

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Image from the book Introducing: Culture Identities, Copyright Gestalten 2013

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Image from the book Introducing: Culture Identities, Copyright Gestalten 2013

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Image from the book Introducing: Culture Identities, Copyright Gestalten 2013

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Image from the book Introducing: Culture Identities, Copyright Gestalten 2013

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On January 31, 2010 a life-size statue of Ronald Mc Donald was abducted from a McDonald's fast food joint in central Helsinki. The kidnapping took place in broad day light as the video below demonstrates:


How Ronald was kidnapped (more on The Free Ronald's channel

A few days after, the kidnappers, a group of health-food activists called the Food Liberation Army, uploaded a video message on YouTube threatening to 'decapitate' Ronald if the hamburger corporation failed to answer questions about the quality of its food and its work ethics. The only unequivocal the FLA received was a stern warning that the company "does not negotiate with criminals." So poor Ronald was guillotined. Only that it was only a copy of the stolen figurine that lost its head. The 'original' one remained intact.

Somehow, the Finnish police managed to discover the identity of one of the food activists: artist Jani Leinonen. They raided his home, seized mobile phones and computers, threw him in jail for thirty hours and heroically freed Ronald the "hostage".

It wasn't the first time Leinonen's artworks engaged with food products, satirizing and dismantling their symbols and marketing strategies but this action proved too much for the authorities and the fast food chain. As Leinonen explained in an interview "I thought I was just stealing a store decoration, but I must have done something much worse."

I discovered Jani Leinonen's work at the Venice Biennale back in 2009. The cardboard signs he had bought from beggars across the world were framed and gracing the dining room of the Danish and Nordic Pavilions curated by Elmgreen & Dragset. He had actually bought these signs from people asking for charity and i still remember vividly how uneasy their presence at the swanky art event made me feel.

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From the series Anything Helps

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Jani Leinonen, Rejected Ideas For Cap'n Crunch Advertisements, 2009

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Jani Leinonen, Coulrophobia, 2009. Photo: Johanna Viljakainen

Thanks to the kind help of James Hudson, i got in touch with Jani Leinonen and bombarded him with questions about the beggars signs, his crazy sexed-up versions of cereal boxes for children, experiments with selling contemporary art works by the bulk as if they were vegetables and of course i was curious about the aftermath of the Ronald affair.

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Kidnapping of Ronald McDonald was reported on Fox News

What happened after the Ronald affair? I read about the whole ordeal with the police and how the fast food decoration eventually went back to the restaurant. Is the police still looking at you suspiciously? Has McDonald's banned you from its restaurants?
But more more generally, do you think that Food Liberation Army brought the right spotlight on your artistic career? Or looking back, do you think you should have handled things differently?

Fortunately I was not banned from McDonald´s restaurants because I do visit them often. I keep telling myself it´s artistic research but I think I am lying even to myself. We just got the final charges via mail a few weeks ago. I and two other FLA members are charged with forgery and fraud, and the trial will be held in June in Helsinki. The prosecutor claims that the repair form of a fictional statue repair company we left at the table at McDonald´s is a forgery. Even more surprisingly he claims we committed a fraud and tried to profit economically by kidnapping Ronald. I am very happy about the chance to make my case in trial. We are planning to invite the best food specialists and art scholars to witness that our action was art and and served a revolutionary purpose.

Of course, there are many things I would have done differently. Then again, there was no way of knowing that, for example, the police would be doing a six man raid at my home just because we took a plastic store decoration. The project happened mostly in the web and media, and the debates it started and the attention it got there, were beyond all my expectations.

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Food Liberation Army: A carpenter crafted the Alvar Aalto style guillotine from traditional Finnish crafts wood birch

How about the Food Liberation Army? Are you planning to do more actions or did the whole army retire?

I created the Food Liberation Army to allow myself to make art both anonymously and without tagging it art immediately. FLA gave people an impression of activism, which I think my art is really close to. My cover was blown when the cops threw me to jail and the press found about it. But before that it was amazing to follow the confusion of people when they had no idea if the kidnapping was the real thing, or a marketing stunt, or art, or what. The most interesting discussions sparkled out of genuine interest in the issues the FLA brought up in the letter of demands. I think FLA will continue its work but I will deny having any part in it.

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Jani Leinonen, From the series All bad that happened to others is now happening to us, 2008. Photo: Jami Saariniemi

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Jani Leinonen, From the series All bad that happened to others is now happening to us, 2008. Photo: Jami Saariniemi

You seem to be fascinated with branding. Is it a coincidence that many of the brands you target are associated with family and children? Have any of the cereals makers ever reacted to the way you subvert their packaging?

I read a study that the most unhealthy food products are the most dazzling by the appearance, and those are of course kid´s products. The first time I used packages in my art I received a threatening letter from a Finnish company called Raisio. I had painted on their age-old Elovena oat meal packages. There´s a girl in a traditional Finnish national costume in the cover and I had painted her in Niqab, or as a call girl, or a suicide terrorist. Their lawyer wrote in the letter they have a right to claim financial compensations because I have damaged their trademark. They dropped the case after getting a lot of bad publicity which was in those days my only weapon against these giant corporations. That was the first time I realized that these colorful and seemingly innocent images are dangerous.

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Liverpool, England, from the series Anything Helps

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Anything Helps, 2009. Installation view at the Venice Biennale

I remember seeing the Beggar Signs at the 2009 Venice Biennale. The website of the project says "The incomes from selling the installation and all the donations will be spend on raising the awareness of globally rising class-differences and poverty through thought-provoking actions." What happened after Venice? Did you sell some of those signs and used the money to set up actions? Was Hunger King one of those actions?

I sold the whole thing and the money has been waiting for a good use in a high interest bank account. If I recall correctly, the selling price was around 14 000 euros, and the buyer was one of the richest men in Switzerland. I started buying the signs from beggars already in 2006 without knowing what to do with them. The first two I bought with something like 5 dollars in San Antonio, Texas. The more I bought the worse my conscience got, and I started increasing the purchase price. The last ones I bought with about 40 euros. it was not until 2009 I realized the money I payed and got from the process was so integral that I had to use it to help these people who created the work.


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Jani Leinonen, Hunger King,

I read on your blog that the Left Alliance party office had asked you if you'd design a poster for the presidential campaign of their candidate. Is that something you could do? Would you be interested in becoming the Shepard Fairey of Finland? Why or why not?

I did do the poster, and he did not make it to the second round. Perhaps it was my fault. We had 8 presidential candidates this year, from 8 different parties. The only regret I have is that I got the most brilliant idea too late. I will save it for the next elections in six years.

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Art Super Market , 2006

I admire your attempts at making and showing art outside of the usual art context: Hunger King, Food Liberation Army and Art Super Market for example. How did the Art's Supermarket work go? Where did you get the idea for it? Which kind of customers did it attract? Why didn't you open it for longer than 3 weeks?

I show art outside its usual context because art has a reputation problem. When people realize a certain object or event is art, their attitude changes. To most people art is this weird, all-allowing, bourgeoise peculiarity. That´s why I spend a lot of time hiding the art from my projects. Hunger King, FLA, Art Supermarket, they were all made they way it took people long to realize they were art. Or perhaps they never did. People react so much stronger when they perceive things as real, as something they cannot put in a box right away.

I also think the job of an artist is to make prototypes, create ideas that change the rules of how people think things are. It´s not our job to take these prototypes to mass production. Art Supermarket was a test of an idea. We opened it just to make a point, not to start a profitable business. I don't have the patience to start doing the real work of running the daily tasks of running a supermarket. I was fun to see it work for 3 weeks, that people did come into a supermarket that sold art like sausages and actually bought works. The place looked so real some people actually came shopping food.

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Riiko Sakkinen, Beijing Roast Duck Rights, 2010

Finally, could you tell us about other Finnish artists whose work you admire?

My all time favorite artist happens to be Finnish: Riiko Sakkinen.

Thanks Jani!

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Rome, from the series Anything Helps

I received two emails yesterday asking me for suggestions of exhibitions to see in Venice. Aside from the Architecture Biennale of course.

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The obvious tip would be to send everyone to see the collection of François Pinault at Palazzo Grassi. But there's a small and charming exhibition about to close at the gallery of the Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa on Piazza San Marco: Graphic Design from Japan - 100 Posters 2001-2010.

Some of the most impressive works eluded my google image searches. Thankfully, Kazumasa Nagai's "Life" series didn't.

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I couldn't find anything about this cheerful "Hiroshima appeals 2010" by Keisuke Nagatomo (design), Seitaro Kuroda (illustration) and Shinzo Higurashi + Seitaro Kuroda (copy). So all you'll get will be details from the original posters:

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If the many billboards glued on and around Piazza San Marco haven't exhausted your patience for advertising, then head to the Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa. Graphic Design from Japan - 100 Posters 2001-2010 remains open until 20 October 2010.

And now for something completely different...

0aridiculouscovertu9.jpgThe Medium is the Message and 50 other Ridiculous Advertising Rules (Amazon USA and UK) and from the same series, Never Leave the House Naked and 50 other Ridiculous Fashion Rules (Amazon UK and USA).

The first book in this series, published by BIS Publishers and authored by Anneloes van Gaalen, was dedicated to design, another one is about advertising rules and finally there's the one that got most of my attention, Never Leave the House Naked and 50 other Ridiculous Fashion Rules.

The series tackles the list of precepts that have conditioned the worlds of fashion, advertising and design for decades. Are these rules precious guidelines, sources of inspiration or are they instead tyrannic dogmas that need to be bended or broken altogether?

Rules tend to have a life of their own: over time their meaning changes or the rule is adopted by a whole new group of followers. Take, for instance, the classic "Form Follows Function." It started out life as an architecture guideline but has crept its way into other creative fields. This evolution is reflected in this book by the chronologically placed quotes that accompany each rule and that are courtesy of designers, architects, fashion designers, typographers and other creatives. All rules are also accompanied by an image that either negates or supports the rule. Our aim is not to list all the rules that you need to adhere to. Nor do we take sides in the whole rules debate.

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A view inside the book

The book about fashion was the one i was most eager to read. It's hard to ignore fashion. The discipline has after all permeated many aspects of contemporary culture. Last year only, Valentino: The Last Emperor made the shortlist for Hollywood's Academy Award's best documentary category. Another documentary released in 2009, The September Issue, follows Anna Wintour as she and her team were piecing together the 2007 September issue of Vogue Magazine. Plus, there's that movie Coco before Chanel. Museums and galleries now routinely open shows dedicated to fashion designers or to the much-debated relationship between art and fashion. The Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam will be closing in the next few days The Art of Fashion (see report part 1 and part 2) which investigates the borders between fashion and art. I've now stopped counting the number of books or exhibition catalogs written about the parallels that exist between fashion and architecture. I won't even get you on fashion and technology or fashion and hacking or activism.

Talking from a more personal perspective, i'd add that the fashion world seems to have more sympathy and respect for bloggers than contemporary art. But that's another story. The truth is I love fashion because i'm vain. At least in Winter time. Summer never fails to anger and deride me with its stupid shapes and pastel shades. Rumour has it that the ghastly '90s are back this summer with bum bags, neon colours, kitten heels and cycling shorts.

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Ridiculous Fashion Rule # 28 Blue and green should never be seen. Illustration and photo by Lizzy Peters

But what about Never Leave the House Naked? Well, given its subject i'll start with its appearance. The book is neatly designed. Small format, great graphics and plenty of illustrations commissioned to talented young graphic designers. There are 51 rules, each of them exemplified by quotes from famous fashion designers or writers with a marked interest in fashion. The quotes either sharply confirm the rule or contradict them with wit and conviction leading you to believe that there is no rule. What remains, however, is the pleasure to discuss, question or embrace these rules. Nothing should ever be taken for granted in the world of fashion (or design, art and advertising.)

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Ridiculous Fashion Rule # 28 A designer is only as good as the star who wears her clothes. Illustration by: Chris Ede

Here are some of my favourite quotes:

"Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society." Mark Twain.
"I'm a great believer in copying; there has never been an age in which people have so little respect for the past." Vivienne Westwood.

"Art produces ugly things, which frequently become more beautiful with time. Fashion, on the other hand, produces beautiful things, which always become ugly with time." Jean Cocteau.

"Women dress alike all over the world: they dress to be annoying to other women." Elsa Schiaparelli.

I also read The Medium is the Message and 50 other Ridiculous Advertising Rules which was obviously great fun and thought-provoking but because the ad world has never quite managed to get my pulse racing as fast as a pair of electric blue low boots does, i'll leave you with a couple of illustrations:

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Ridiculous Advertising Rule # 34 If you can't fix it, feature it! Illustration by: KesselsKramer and Ridiculous Advertising Rule # 32 A good jingle does it every time. Illustration by: DTM_Inc

and a view inside this facetious little book:

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A few months ago, i bought a lovely baby blue summer dress with the face of Karl Marx printed all over it. I was made slightly uncomfortable by the irony of acting like a victim of capitalism in the face of and to the detriment of the father of anti-capitalism. I also had the feeling that, somewhere, a bunch of cynical and astute artists were making fun of me. Because that's exactly what happened. The provocative brand has a slogan 'Be Like Us, Be Different', and a shop, located at the time in an art exhibition room, right inside LABoral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial in Gijon. Gallery visitors could buy jeans carrying the MARX® logo, boys short-sleeve shirts with the same pattern as the said blue dress and some very expensive MARX® shoes. The shop has now moved to another museum, the CAAM in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain.

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The artists/company who designed and market the dress are Berlin-based art collective PSJM, made up of Pablo San José and Cynthia Viera. PSJM acts as an trademark of happening art addressing issues of the artwork in the market, communication with consumers, or function as an artistic quality, using communication resources borrowed from capitalism of the spectacle to underscore the paradoxes produced by its unbridled development.

Having googled the name of the artists i found a series of interviews, statement texts and essays so interesting that i immediately thought that it would be foolish of me to stop my enthusiasm at the cuteness of a blue dress. Hence this interview (the original version of PSJM's answers is in spanish, i pasted it at the bottom of this post):

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PSJM is made of artist Pablo San José and management graduate Cynthia Viera. Excuse the banality of my prejudice but how can people with such a different background manage to dialog? What brought you together? Did Cynthia's mindset and knowledge influence Pablo's artistic practice and view of the contemporary art landscape? And vice-versa, have Cynthia's management skills been "affected" by her collaboration with an artist?

In reality we do not have such different backgrounds. At some point during his artistic career, Pablo worked for some years as a creative for a big corporation of the advertisement sector, creating campaigns and brand images for international companies. In 1998, and in parallel to his work in publicity, Pablo decided that his artistic signature would become a brand. He was interested by the promotion processes of artistic brands and its parallelism with other commercial brands. He then started a work that continues today, a project that builds itself with each work realized. "The artist is the brand, the work is the product" became the slogan of the PSJM brand. In 2003, Cynthia, a graduate in Direction of International Commerce and Marketing, and until then working as the Head of Marketing Services for a major telecommunication company, joined the project. With her arrival, the theoretical objectives to work under the same structures as a company and to legally establish the team as a commercial brand became reality. We work as a team in which the point of view of each of us affects without a doubt the work of the other one. However, we both use the same language. Pablo doesn't correspond to the typical romantic idea of the artist more than Cynthia fits the usual profile of an executive who puts the quest for maximum benefits above social or aesthetic commitments.

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Photo: © LABoral - Author Marcos Morilla

One of the striking elements of the MARX® brand is the price. All the garments, be they jeans or dress, carry the same price tag (220,40 euros), while the one and only shoe available costs way more than most people could afford. What were the motivations behind the price tags?

While the main objective of marketing is to satisfy the client in exchange of economic benefits, we use marketing as a critical tool that enables us to provide consumers with an aesthetic or intellectual gratification. We use the "4 Ps" of the Marketing Mix (Product, Price, Promotion and Placement) to interweave a strategy of meaning where each of these
"Ps" is regarded as a creative opportunity, as a poetic license. This way, the product constitute the artwork, the price constitutes the artwork the promotion is in itself an artwork and the distribution (placement) is also part and parcel of the artwork. We like to call 'Marketing experimental' this process of experimentation of a representational kind.

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With MARX® we have used once again the price as a poetic license and vehicle of meaning. The fact that garments exhibited have a high price tag creates some kind of reflective impotence in the mind of the visitor who has finally the opportunity to act as a consumer in the museum space but is inhibited by the aspect of the aspect of exclusivity of the goods. In any case and in order to keep the work alive and continue creating meanings and mixing reality and fiction, and because the next exhibition of the garments will be at the CAAM in July, they will be on sale. Let's see what happens.

I don't know if you've read about the fight that the daughter of Che Guevara is putting to protect her father's image.

0aaslavesslalce.jpgHow did you deal with the thought that some people might come up and criticize you for using Marx' figure in a way that they consider to "be an affront to his dignity"? And did you at any moment think that you'd encounter a censorship similar to the one you experienced with one of your previous works, Project Asia?

The experimental aspect of our projects involves a certain dose of uncertainty once we are launching the work. Even if you try to direct the work towards a certain meaning you never know the kind of reaction you're going to encounter. All along our career we had to face anything from censorships from brands, complains from right-wing to passionate critiques, either negative or favorable.

For example, with the public intervention that took the shape of a promotional campaign for the MARX® brand in Gijón, we were expecting some forms of violent reaction to the association of the name of the father of communism with the aesthetic of fashion, especially if we take into account the revolutionary tradition of Asturias. But to our surprise the public is so used to the absurdity of the paradoxical messages emerging from the market that the work got totally diluted into the reality.

On the other hand, in this case, it would be difficult for any brand to censor us, as Adidas did with the Asia Project. The first conceptual and practical step of the MARX® project consisted in registering the brand MARX®, and it is this action which really supports the main axis of the artwork, the rest can only be seen as its natural development.

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Photo: © LABoral - Author Marcos Morilla

The MARX® project was accompanied with a promotional campaign in the streets of Gijon. The promo posters looked like any other posters designed by mainstream fashion brand. The general public, whether they wanted it or not, was thus in direct contact with your project. How much do you value their look and reaction to your work? Do you give it more credit and importance than you would give to an art critic or to anyone familiar with artistic discourses?

0loascocooreai.jpgFor us it is crucial that our proposals should not remain exclusively at the reach of the cultural elite. The commitment to open up our discourse to a broader public is at the basis of our work, we strive to create pieces which have two levels of lectures and try to unite experimentation and communication. We call this difficult operation " the dilemma of Mayakovsky", as it was a theme that kept the Russian poet awake at night. To achieve this we use the media and the strategies of mass culture. The broad public understands perfectly its language and this provides us with a space for experimenting while generating various meanings. However, we also have the objective of placing our proposals inside the theoretical discourse of contemporary art, all our projects involve a text which we write ourselves and which constitutes and additional element of the art piece. Our work can be situated between reality and the art institution, both spheres are important to us.

You obviously don't share Takashi Murakami's bulldozer and very mercantile approach. However, MARX® and other projects of yours evoke (to me at least and under certain aspects) the Japanese artist's exploration of the merging between consumer goods and artwork, art fetishism, the demythification of the concept of art work as a one-off, etc. Am i writing a total heresy or do you somehow see some similarities between his approach and yours?

Who are the other artists you feel close to?

There are indeed many aspects in Murakami's work which makes us feel quite close to his line of work but also many others which sets us apart from it. The ones that connect us to his way of producing art are the ones that you enumerated. Those that distance us from Murakami are his lack of critique and his ideological positioning regarding the establishment. Murakami follows the trail of Warhol and Koons, but he doesn't go further, let's say that it's a development of apolitical Pop. Murakami's main concern is to make money. His is a very nationalist position, and we find that totally outdated and dangerously conservative. However, our peculiarity is that we combine spheres which seem to be antagonistic and shortcircuit meanings. Our vision of artistic production, organized in the same way as a company where the creator is presented as professional with a defined social function, follows the tracks of thinkers such as Proudhon or Benjamin, who reject the figure of the 'artist as a genius' and propose the one of the 'artist as a worker', a position that the Russian Productivists made their best to put into practice all the while enjoying the support from the Party. Just as Modernity gave way to postmodernity and production lost its importance in the favour of consumption, the company became brand. This conversion of the company into brand recovered in a sense the mythologico-symbolical value of genius to give way to an apparently paradoxical artist-brand which behaviour is strategically planned, scientifically programmed. On the one hand the elitist and godlike figure of the romantic artist is de-mythified. On the other hand, a new myth is created, and this time it is coldly designed under the rules of marketing applied to the world of art. The paradox, the blending of antagonist and irreconcilable forces constantly underpins the way we make art.

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Consumer Demonstration, Mural Installation, 2007

We don't really find any artist whose line of work corresponds to ours, but if we had to give a couple of names it would be the Spanish group Democracia and the artistic corporation Etoy. We admire their work a lot.

Many of your works have a very strong provocative element to them which makes them very appealing for the media. How much is the "shock tactic" important in your practice?

Our work owes much to the Dadaist and Constructivist tradition and to its commitment to merge art with life. Today, reality is built by the media and if we want to be involved in reality we have to step into the media.

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Nudist Zone, FIB-Art '05, Intervention on the beach of Benicassim, August 2005

Any upcoming project you could share with us?

We are currently working on two projects which will be presented in 2009, in various galleries and institutions. Unfortunately we cannot reveal their content as we are still at the creative and production stage, but we can tell you that in one of the projects we will be using a traditional technique: painting. Our subject focuses on merchandise and painting is still the number one merchandise in the world of art.

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The MARX® shop at LABoral has now closed. If people want to buy one of those shirts and jeans, is there any other gallery (or shop?) they should turn to?

The MARX® project was produced by LABoral in collaboration with CAAM (Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderno) in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Canary Islands. That's where they will travel from July to October. We are also working on its international distribution, but it is still to early to reveal the name of the possible spaces.

Thanks Cynthia and Pablo!

The MARX® exhibition is running though October 12, 2008 at the CAAM in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, Spain.

Spanish version of the interview:

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Image Marcos Morilla, courtesy of LABoral Centro de Arte

PSJM is made of artist Pablo San José and management graduate Cynthia Viera. Excuse the banality of my prejudice but how can people with such a different background manage to dialog? What brought you together? Did Cynthia's mindset and knowledge influence Pablo's artistic practice and view of the contemporary art landscape? And vice-versa, have Cynthia's management skills been "affected" by her collaboration with an artist?

En realidad no tenemos backgrounds tan diferentes. En una etapa de su carrera artística Pablo trabajó bastantes años como creativo publicitario en una gran multinacional del sector creando anuncios e imagen de marca para empresas internacionales. Paralelamente a su labor como creativo publicitario, en 1998 Pablo decidió que su firma artística se convertiría en marca. Le interesaban los procesos de promoción de las firmas artísticas y su paralelismo con el resto de firmas comerciales y comenzó un trabajo que aún continúa, un proyecto que se construye con cada obra realizada. "El artista es la marca, la obra es el producto" pasó a ser el slogan de la marca PSJM. En 2003 Cynthia, licenciada en Dirección de Comercio Internacional y Marketing, y hasta esa fecha Responsable de Servicios de Marketing de una gran compañía de telecomunicaciones, se incorpora al proyecto haciendo realidad las intenciones teóricas de trabajar bajo las estructuras propias de la empresa y formalizar legalmente el equipo como una marca comercial. Desarrollamos un trabajo en equipo donde los puntos de vista de uno afectan sin lugar a dudas al trabajo del otro, pero ambos utilizamos el mismo lenguaje. Ni Pablo se corresponde con la imagen típica del artista romántico, ni Cynthia encaja con el perfil típico de una ejecutiva que persiga el máximo beneficio por encima de compromisos sociales o estéticos.

One of the striking element of the MARX® brand is the price. All the garments, be they jeans or dress, carry the same price tag (220,40 euros), while the one and only shoe available costs way more than most people could afford. What were the motivations behind the price tags?

Mientras que el marketing consiste en proporcionar satisfacción al cliente obteniendo un beneficio económico a cambio de ello como principal objetivo, nosotros utilizamos el marketing como una herramienta crítica que pueda proporcionar una satisfacción estética o intelectual al consumidor. Las "4 Ps" del Marketing Mix (product, price, promotion y placement) nos sirven para entretejer una estrategia de significación en la que cada una de estas "Ps" es tomada como una oportunidad creativa, cada "P" es utilizada como licencia poética. De este modo el producto constituye obra, el precio constituye obra, la promoción se presenta como obra y la distribución (placement) es también una parte integrante de la obra. Nos gusta llamar Marketing experimental a este proceso de experimentación de índole representacional.

Con MARX® una vez más hemos utilizado el precio como licencia poética y vehículo de significación, el hecho de que las prendas que se exhiben tengan un precio alto, crea una cierta sensación de impotencia reflexiva en el espectador, que por fin puede consumir en un museo pero se ve coartado por el carácter exclusivo de la mercancía. En todo caso y para mantener la pieza viva, seguir creando significado y entremezclando la realidad con la ficción, ya que la exposición en el CAAM comienza en julio, se harán rebajas. Veremos qué pasa.

I don't know if you've read about the fight that the daughter of Che Guevara is putting to protect her father's image.

How did you deal with the thought that some people might come up and criticize you for using Marx' figure in a way that they consider to "be an affront to his dignity"? And did you at any moment think that you'd encounter a censorship similar to the one you experienced with your Asia project?

El carácter experimental de nuestros proyectos conlleva también una cierta incertidumbre una vez que "lanzas" la obra, aunque intentes dirigirla hacia una significación determinada nunca sabes con qué tipo de reacción te vas a encontrar. A o largo de nuestra carrera hemos tenido desde censuras de marcas, pasando por quejas de vecinos derechistas a críticas fervorosas, tanto negativas como favorables. Por ejemplo, con la intervención pública en forma de campaña publicitaria de MARX® en Gijón, a priori esperábamos algún tipo de reacción violenta al ver asociado el nombre del padre del comunismo con la estética de la moda, tanto más si tenemos en cuenta la tradición revolucionaria de Asturias, pero para nuestra sorpresa el público ya está tan acostumbrado al absurdo de los mensajes paradójicos del mercado que la pieza se diluyó en la realidad al completo. Por otro lado, en este caso difícilmente una marca nos puede censurar, como sucedió con Adidas en Proyecto Asia, ya que el primer paso conceptual y práctico del proyecto MARX® consistió en registrar la marca MARX®, y es realmente esta acción lo que supone el eje primordial de la obra, el resto únicamente puede ser visto como su desarrollo natural.

The MARX® project was accompanied by a promotional campaign in the streets of Gijon. The promo posters looked like any other posters designed by mainstream fashion brand. The general public, whether they wanted it or not, was thus in direct contact with your project. How much do you value their look and reaction to your work? Do you give it more credit and importance than you would give to an art critic or to anyone familiar with artistic discourses?

Para nosotros es primordial que nuestras propuestas no se queden exclusivamente en el terreno de la elite cultural, en la base de nuestro trabajo subyace el empeño de ampliar el discurso a un público más amplio, nos afanamos en crear obras con dos niveles de lectura intentando hermanar experimentación y comunicación. A esta difícil empresa la llamamos "el dilema de Maiakovski", ya que este tema le quitaba el sueño al poeta ruso. Para conseguir esto nos servimos de los medios y estrategias de la cultura de masas, el público medio comprende este lenguaje a la perfección y nos brinda un campo con el que poder experimentar generando significados distintos. Sin embargo también tenemos como objetivo instalar nuestras propuestas en el seno del discurso teórico del arte contemporáneo, todos nuestros proyectos incluyen un texto redactado por nosotros que consideramos un elemento más de la obra total. Ciertamente nuestro trabajo se mueve entre la realidad y la institución arte, ambas esferas son importantes para nosotros.

You obviously don't share Takashi Murakami' bulldozer and very mercantile approach. However, MARX® and other projects of yours evoke (to me at least and under certain aspects) the Japanese artist's exploration of the merging between consumer goods and artwork, art fetishism, the demythification of the concept of art work as a one-off, etc. Am i writing a total heresy or do you somehow see some similarities between his approach and yours?

Who are the other artists you feel close to?

Efectivamente hay muchos aspectos de la obra de Murakami que nos acercan a su línea de trabajo y muchos otros que nos separan de él. Los que nos vinculan a su modo de producir arte tú misma los has expuesto. Lo que nos distancia de Murakami es su falta de crítica y su posicionamiento ideológico cercano al stablishment. Murakami sigue la estela de Warhol y Koons, pero no va más allá, digamos que es un desarrollo del Pop apolítico. A Murakami le interesa hacer dinero como principal objetivo. Él tiene además un fuerte posicionamiento nacionalista, algo que a nosotros nos resulta totalmente desfasado y peligrosamente conservador. Sin embargo nuestra singularidad es que combinamos mundos aparentemente irreconciliables para crear cortocircuitos de sentido. Nuestra visión de la producción artística organizada al modo de una empresa, en la que el creador aparece como un profesional con una función social definida, sigue la estela trazada por pensadores como Proudhon o Benjamin, que rechazan la figura del artista-genio y proponen aquella otra del artista-obrero, postura que también los productivistas rusos se encargaron de llevar a la práctica mientras gozaron del apoyo del aparato del Partido. Sin embargo, del mismo modo que la modernidad dejó paso a la postmodernidad y la producción cedió su importancia al consumo, la empresa devino marca. Con lo que esta conversión de la empresa en marca recupera de algún modo el valor mitológico-simbólico del genio para configurar un aparentemente contradictorio artista-marca cuyo comportamiento es estratégicamente planificado, científicamente programado. Así que mientras por un lado se desmitifica la imagen elitista y endiosada del artista romántico, por otro se genera un nuevo mito, esta vez fríamente diseñado bajo los presupuestos de la mercadotecnia aplicada al mundo del arte. Lo paradójico, la conjunción de fuerzas opuestas e irreconciliables sobrevuela constantemente nuestro modo de hacer arte.

Realmente no encontramos ningún artista que coincida con esta línea de trabajo, pero si tuviéramos que apuntar un par de nombres serían el grupo español Democracia y la corporación artística Etoy. El trabajo de ambos grupos nos interesa y nos produce una gran admiración.

Many of your works have a very strong provocative element to them which makes them very appealing for the media. How much is the "shock tactic" important in your practice?

Nuestro trabajo está en deuda con la tradición dadaista y constructivista y su compromiso de fundir arte y vida. Hoy la realidad la construyen los medios de comunicación, si queremos intervenir en la realidad debemos introducirnos en los medios.

Any upcoming project you could share with us?

Estamos ahora preparando dos proyectos que se presentarán en el 2009, en diferentes galerías e instituciones. Por desgracia no podemos desvelar su contenido ya que aún nos encontramos en proceso de creación y producción, pero sí te podemos adelantar que en uno de ellos se utilizará la técnica tradicional de pintura. Nuestro discurso está centrado en la mercancía y la pintura sigue siendo la mercancía reina en el mundo del arte.

The MARX® shop at LABoral has now closed. If people want to buy one of those shirts and jeans, is there any other gallery (or shop?) they should turn to?

El proyecto MARX® ha sido producido por la LABoral en colaboración con el CAAM (Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderno) de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria en la Isla Canarias. Allí viajará en julio y permanecerá hasta octubre. También estamos trabajando en su difusión internacional aunque aún es pronto para adelantar el nombre de los posibles espacios.

10 days ago, i was in Ghent for the festival The Game is Up! at the Vooruit. Artists who study the relationship between art and consumerism were invited to perform, and present their work to explore this year's theme: Art for Sale.

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Vending machines, installed all around Vooruit magnificent 1913 building, were packed with surprise objects made by the artists who participated to the exhibition: t-shirts, 5 euro banknotes inside blank envelopes, badges, crazy eyeglasses to see what is happening behind your back, etc.

Eva De Groote had invited me to moderate a couple of Fricties Salons. That's how i finally got to have dinner with one of my heroes, Heath Bunting, saw a performance of Reverend Billy from the Church of Stop Shopping, had drinks and a lot of laughs with the smart and hilarious Christophe Bruno and the guy who resuscitated net.art Carlos Katastrofky. Definitely one of the most exciting events of this year for me (so far). Bliss-a-lujah!

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Photo indymedia

On Saturday March 8, i was walking on a cloud telling myself what a lucky person i was to present a FrictiesSalon with the masked and magnificent guys of the Billboard Liberation Front.

Not that it has been a piece of cake. How do you introduce people who should not be introduced? Who have to keep their identity secret in order to be able to keep on doing their own activities? All i could find in the press were stories about the CIA or Mafia like secrecy that surrounds them and implies that "Spouses and friends do not know that the members are in the organization."

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"Improving outdoor advertising since 1977" is the catchphrase of the Billboard Liberation Front. The idea is simple: by making small adjustments to billboards, the BLF creates ironic and often highly critical street marketing campaigns. By changing just a few or sometimes only one letters, they turn upside down the clean and seemingly well-controlled facade of an entire company.

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Photo by Gina Gayle for the SF gate

BLF has several sets of presentations. They could have gone for the "terrorist" version but given the theme of the festival, they chose the "corporate" one.

First, we were given a tour of the Fundamentals of the organization, its clients and the opportunities.

They started their actions 30 years ago. At the time, there was no internet, no mobile phone, no blogs, etc. It was also a time when advertisement communication just went one way. Consumers received it and didn't have anyway to hit back through blogs or forums. There has been dozens of members over the years, some have gone, others have arrived more recently.

Client portfolio

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In 77 a "bunch of freaks" in San Francisco called the San Francisco Suicide Club had vowed to live each day like it was the last one. 27 of them (including ten members wearing gorilla suits) were blindfolded and taken up to a roof. They were faced with two Max Factor billboard and some paint. Unfortunately they were a bit drunk, a bit conspicuous because of the gorilla suits and they started arguing about what should be done with the billboard. Some neighbour called the police and SF Suicide Club learned the message the hard way: be prepared, don't get drunk, don't wear stupid suits.

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1980. Marlbore instead of Marlboro. It was the first time that the prank was interpreted as a real message from the tobacco company while in fact BLF wanted to comment on the lack of originality of the billboard.

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1989. Kant, probably done by a student intern. "Actually it was probably a European intern as no one in the U.S. has ever heard of Kant."

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1994. an ad for the the Hillsdale Mall. Very straighforward operation, all they had to do was turn a couple of lights off and just keep the central letters: LSD.

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Only a few months after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, one of the most devastating man-made environmental disasters ever to occur at sea which occured in Alaska in 1989, the BLF turned HITS HAPPEN -- NEW X-100 into SHIT HAPPENS -- NEW EXXON

Then they became more ambitious:

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1997. Alteration of a Levi's billboard overlooking a major highway. BLF issued a press release in which they introduced Charles Manson, a figure who didn't need any introduction, as the new corporate spokesman of the jeans' company. This historic collaboration between two of most potent iconic forces of the 1960's taps into a frothy zeitgeist of manipulative nostalgia.

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1996. Am I dead yet? Technically more elaborate as they had to sub-contract an electrician and a neon guy.

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1989. The "Think Different" campaign of Apple became "Think desillusioned". The company had appropriated the image of famous dead guys or exiled ones like the Dalai Lama. Bulletins are the biggest and the most expensive.

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The clients this time were technology companies, with a sector focus on the "dot-coms". Large-format warning labels were added to the billboards, in the style of a standard computer error message, bearing the bold copy: "FATAL ERROR - Invalid Stock Value Abort/Retry/Fail".
Ironically the stock market crashed right after this action.

A billboard manipulation can take from a few hours to a few weeks for the most ambitious actions.

Much effort is deployed to make sure that the members of BLF never get arrested. Very few members of BLF climb onto the billboards themselves. Down there on ground level, other members keep an eye on the street, communicating with walkie talkies and checking if they are not getting too much attention from, say, the police. Ground crews posing as drunks, French TV crew, beautiful babes, couples about to engage in a heated argument to divert attention from the billboard in case anything turns wrong.

Even before the improvement action takes place there is a careful preparation. The area surrounding the billboard is mapped, looking for the best ways of quick escape, ideal positions for ground crews, etc.

BLF has to go more and more tech-savvy, just like the industry does. Today you get talking billboards, talks of billboards in space, billboards activated by motion sensors, etc.

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In 2005, they collaborated with artist Ron English for their first animatronic billboard alteration. The background is an original 12' x 22' painting by English. At the foreground the animatronic of Ronald McDonald feeding a fat kid his daily dose of Big Macs. The improvement took place in broad day light at a busy cross road in San Francisco while 15 persons where on the ground, dressed up like McDonald and acting crazy.

Some of the key rules of their billboard improvement actions:

- Make alterations that will make people smile not something that will make them angry,
- Less is more. The best improvements are those that require only to alter a single letter to change the whole meaning of the campaign.
- Expose what is hidden. Some advertisers are too shy about what they really mean, BLF will help them make their message clearer. Case in point: the 2005 improvement of Johnny Walker where "Drink responsibly" became "Drink yourself blind".

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- Send the press some media releases to better disseminate the action. A modified billboard might remain only one hour in the street before it is removed but its traces remain forever online.
- Document your action with some Before and After images.
- A careful planning is essential: Don't get caught, don't get hurt. The larger the billboard, the higher you'll fall.
- Minimize property damage and respect the sign men. BLF make modification which are easy to remove and always leave some beer or liquor for the men who have to come and clean their "improvements."
- You don't have to be in San Francisco to make and see billboard improvements. Make yours with the help of BLF's The Art & Science of Billboard Improvement guide (PDF).

And just like Rev. Billy did in a local shopping center, BLF made their own billboard improvement in the streets of Ghent.

More images of their actions.

New and improved!
Boingboing tv has recently video documented BLF's latest adventures in the world of "subvertising."

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