This is what we think?

Art Life Aug 19, 2008 No Comments

The Art Life receives emails from corporations wanting a bit of art world magic to rub off on their grubby products. We’ll get some pr about an “exhibition” of “artists” in a “gallery” that invariably turns out to be an expanded “advertisement” using “designers” in a “shop front” or it’s a fake blog that’s really just an exercise in astroturfing or an “art competition” that’s nothing more than attempt to build a “brand”. We can’t think why so many pr hacks imagine The Art Life can do anything for them, or that we’re not wise to their shenanigans, but they do… Perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised to receive an email and a comment from a group calling itself Mind Heist that appeared at first to be some sort of interventionist art work by a an anonymous art group. The mail asked:

“It seemed to be fair game as Martin Creed’s new work No. 850, just screamed out jungle gym for the entrepreneurial video collective known only as mindheist. Does such infantile work deserve such a similar response? Please let us know what you think? [sic]”

Martin Creed, the celebrated UK conceptualist, has been staging Work No. 850 at the Tate Britain. The work is provocative and simple. A runner, dressed in sporting gear, runs the length of the Tate Britain’s main exhibition hall. After a pause, the runner runs back. Repeat. From July 1 until November 16, every day, from opening to close. Back and forth. The Tate’s website explains the work like this:

Work No. 850 centres on a simple idea: that a person will run as fast as they can every thirty seconds through the gallery. Each run is followed by an equivalent pause, like a musical rest, during which the grand Neoclassical gallery is empty. This work celebrates physicality and the human spirit. Creed has instructed the runners to sprint as if their lives depended on it. Bringing together people from different backgrounds from all over London, Work No. 850 presents the beauty of human movement in its purest form, a recurring yet infinitely variable line drawn between two points.”

So, our curiosity piqued, we took a look at Mind Heist’s YouTube video:

Imagine our disappointment to discover that, far from being an artistically motivated intervention, the whole thing is nothing more than an ad for Puma. If it weren’t so tragically shit and hopelessly unfunny we might have ignored it, but there was something about the way Mind Heist positioned itself that we found intensely annoying, dumb and arrogant.

We decided to do a little bit of research on Puma. Sure, they’re a multinational company that produces its shoes in China and you could always make the argument that Puma are doing business with an authoritarian regime simply because it’s cheaper than paying employees in Western Europe. But that kind of contradiction – liberal Western sporting lifestyle meets old school Mao – is something everyone has to get used to since just about everyone is doing business there. And hey, who cares about human rights anyway?

Well, apparently Puma do. The company boasts a progressive business philosophy that they’re proud to trumpet on their web site:

  • PUMA respects and upholds the laws and legal requirements in all countries where it operates
  • PUMA and its employees must not engage in any activities leading to conflicts of interest or unjustified personal benefits
  • PUMA believes all people have the right to freedom from discrimination.
  • PUMA maintains an equal opportunity hiring policy and expects its employees and partners in their daily work and actions to uphold ethical behaviour and respect for human rights.
  • PUMA does not tolerate any forms of violence or abuse and will seek opportunities for conflict resolution

They also proudly promote their anti-child labour stance and their respect for the rights of workers to collectively bargain. So, yay for Puma, and their enlightened business philosophy.

It’s just a pity that the same sort of respect isn’t given to artists. If you could have been bothered to have to watched Mind Heist’s video all the way through, you would have seen one of the guerrilla marketer’s being told off by a gallery guard for endangering the runner. Perhaps it doesn’t really matter that the runner might have been injured but on the other hand these are athletes taking part in the Creed work, not artists pretending to be runners, but people who rely on their ability to perform to make a living.

This action by Mind Heist is in direct violation of one of Puma’s points in its Code of Conduct that assures us that they’re dedicated to a work safe environment.

Mind Heist has also contravened another of Puma’s lofty goals, namely its “social affairs” mission statement:

“Social Accountability means that PUMA stands for its responsibility to all our stakeholders including direct and indirect employees, shareholders and consumers. PUMA seeks an active dialogue with these stakeholders and interest groups such as non governmental organisations, academia and others…”

In their defence, we might just assume that by “academia” they mean researchers keeping watch on Puma’s business relationship with repressive third world regimes. But in the context of their guerrilla marketing agencies such as Mind Heist and their actions in Tate Britain, “academia” may also equally mean the art world. So much for social accountability.

Ironically, Puma also claim that they do not discriminate regardless of “race, creed, age, sex, social origin, political views, sexual orientation, or position.” Except if you’re Martin Creed that is.

We don’t having anything in particular against Puma, we’re just sad their advertising agency thought it necessary to sub contract their ad work out to the Mind Hiest wankers. Perhaps Puma might do the principled thing and have the video pulled from You Tube, the guys from Mind Hiest sacked and the suit from the agency disciplined. We can dream.

The Art Life

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