Custom Culture

by Giampaolo Bianconi

Brand Innovations for Ubiquitous Authorship



“Brand Innovations for Ubiquitos Authorship” focuses on the rise of customizable print-on-demand products as aided by the internet. A sampling of the impressive roster of more than sixty artists includes Parker Ito, Daniel Temkin, Lauren Christiansen, and Jayson Musson. Artie Vierkant, who organized the show at Madison Avenue’s Higher Pictures gallery, explained some of the thinking behind the exhibition:

I always thought of these services as a very interesting sign of where we’re headed in consumer space. The Internet has helped make one-to-many content empires stumble and niches to become stronger, and consumer goods are now no exception. The idea is that we’ve moved past mass production and into something like custom/craft/artisinal production on a massive scale; production for each individual amongst the mass. It’s easy to get wrapped into that idea–particularly if you watch something like Zazzle’s ‘About Us’ video, which hits you with a combined rhetoric of liberation-through-self-expression and environmental-consciousness–even if in practice Internet-ordered custom items are often a cheap and mass-produced object marked with an image emblazoned by an expensive printer.

All objects were shipped directly to the gallery and opened on site with little to no prior knowledge of how the artists had chosen to customize their products. Videos of this unboxing process, like the one above, can be seen on the show’s Youtube page. Vierkant stressed that by sending all products to Higher Pictures, artists in foreign countries avoided high shipping costs that could have barred even small objects from being included in the show. Vierkant added that not every artist had chosen to work with the suggested on-demand services: Borna Sammak, for example, contributed a limited edition jacket made by Buron, based on one of the artist’s designs. “This kind of alternative take on the premise of the show is, I think, fitting, since Borna is still presenting a standard object that has been transformed by changing the surface layer–like putting a skin over a 3D model,” said Vierkant.

By utilizing a new version of the readymade in the gallery, the show traces the boundaries of 21st century consumer capital and its unique difference from its 20th century counterparts. These objects, which revel in their ability to indivualize generic products, illuminate new ideologies of branding and identity, where the consumer pays not merely for an item but for a feeling of control and a certain delineation of the self.


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