We're excited to check out our friend Rob Walker's latest endeavor, an exhibition at non-profit NYC gallery Apex Art. As Real As It Gets is an 'exploration of "imaginary brands and fictional products,' it includes works (including new commissions) by Shawn Wolfe, Conrad Bakker, Dana Wyse, Kelli Anderson, Beach Packaging Design, Ryan Watkins-Hughes, Steven M. Johnson, and the U.S. Government Accountability Office, among others." The longtime culture/design critic is perhaps best known as a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, and Walker has continued to explore consumer culture with the penetrating insight of a modern anthropologist and sometime design observer since he penned "Buying In." This summer saw the publication of "Significant Objects," an anthology of stories from a project of the same name; As Real As It Gets is also an exercise in creating meaning, except with the opposite approach: starting with a fiction to arrive at a final product.
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...
The underlying discomfort is something I've noted over many years spent writing about brands and products. One reader comment clarifies the dilemma. In a column about products and companies that exist only in the fictional worlds of books and movies, I categorized such things as "imaginary brands." Harrumph to that, this reader replied: All brands are imaginary.
I saw his point, but he'd missed mine. The ambiguity in the relationship between our selves and the brand-soaked world we navigate is exactly what's worth taking seriously, not waving away. When such consideration is filtered through an open and unpredictable mind, anything seems possible (even the wildly implausible). Willfully imaginary brands and products can be considered as a medium, expressive of joy, fear, humor, unease, ambivalence—very real stuff, in other words.
Clockwise from top left: Shawn Wolfe - "Gross National Products Presents" (detail); The Marianas - Installation view of "Montalvo Historical Fabrications & Souvenirs"; Conrad Bakker - "UNTITLED PRODUCT DISTRIBUTION NETWORK"; Ryan Watkins-Hughes - Installation view of Shopdropping Project
The works in the diverse group exhibition—handpicked by Walker—collectively address this issue, from culturejamming projects such as 'product displacement' and 'shopdropping' to what Bruce Sterling deemed 'design fiction.' "Taken together, this collection of imaginary brands and fictional products is not about brands and products at all. In this show, the marketplace is the medium."
The exhibition opens at the Tribeca gallery tomorrow evening, Thursday, November 15, with two performances during the run of the show: a "Speculative Sound Performance" by Disquiet Junto collective on Tuesday, November 27, and a MakerBot demo with artist Shawn Wolfe, who will be reissuing his functionless "RemoverInstaller" for one night only. (For more on Walker, Imprint Culture Lab recently interviewed him on the occasion of the exhibition.)
As Real As It Gets
Organized by Rob Walker
291 Church Street
New York, NY 10013
November 16 – December 22, 2012
Opening Reception: Thursday, November 15, 6–8PM