Critiquing capitalism is tricky business. As “the system” pushes itself into every space and “marketizes” every phenomenon, even benign social interventions like public libraries and bike lanes seem radical. An entire adult generation has grown up knowing nothing except triumphal capitalism, with no idea what alternatives “really look like.” Today, looking beyond capitalism’s boundaries has become nigh impossible, and it may be said that any critique arising from within an advanced capitalist society necessarily operates on that society’s terms. We are capitalism’s creatures, or, to put it another way, we are in the deep, deep shit.
Against this unhappy context, articule is proud to host Corporate Creativity Workshops for Art, an exhibition by Desearch Repartment (DR). DR travels broadly, satirically along the highways, byways and intertubes of neoliberal capitalism, a multi-media rabbit-hole project exploring the building blocks and broom closets of capitalism’s mediated, medicated culture. Video and PowerPoint shows invite us to embrace fictive yet disturbingly believable products—K2O: Kool-Aid–infused tea (“Hydrate your emotions!”)—while bombarding us with slick, corporate-style stock images and meaningless didactic text promoting truncated commodifications of Western science and Eastern spirituality (“Quantum.” “Nourish.” “You, too, can learn to say yes!”).
Central to DR’s practice is its critique of the art world, its stars and institutions; for indeed, the disasters of our time find their peculiar reflection in the art milieu. DR proposes hybrid, dystopian synergies, like one scenario wherein the Marina Abramovic Institute and the Guantanamo Bay detention centre join forces, paving the way for future collaborations between art spaces and prisons. In this new pseudo-egalitarian paradigm, art and work are comingled as slavery, so we can all enjoy the right to work for free. In this spirit, Desearch Repartment offers gallery visitors the chance to work for free themselves, taking part in prototype-building workshops and then sporting their creations in selfies snapped against a convenient step-and-repeat banner.
Another DR hybrid of art and capitalism aligns Starbuck’s “Third Place” campaign with artist Francis Alÿs’s performance The Green Line. In the latter project, the artist traversed the 1967 “Green Line” separating Jerusalem’s Palestinian and Israeli zones while carrying a pin-holed can of green paint, demarcating the Green Line with an actual green line. DR’s hybrid project uses Google Maps to locate all the Starbuck’s outlets in a given area (disappointingly, Google won’t show you the one at Guantanamo Bay—a state secret, perhaps) and then walk the resulting green line, tracing its length with coffee poured from Starbuck’s carry-out coffee boxes.
DR puts the Starbuck’s theme through multiple iterations; in another, performance artists Yess and The’A feed one another, bird-style, passing Starbuck’s coffee mouth to mouth—a “caffeine fountain.” Things come apart, as uniforms (patient smocks?) are tossed aside, and the artists roll about naked in the spillage, imprinting sheets of art paper laid about the floor with coffee designs—a process of capitalist value-creation.
The practice of desearch ventures beyond merely lamenting Che’s commodified image. It embraces established capitalist strategies—advertising, PR, branding—reappropriating their components and redeploying them in ways that seem more capitalist than capitalism itself. In a way, desearch is critique through anti-critique, deconstruction of capitalism via radical, absurdist accommodation. Desearch is darkly funny, recalling Kafka’s delight in his characters’ futile struggles against the farcical dystopias he throws at them. Behind the clench-toothed smile, DR is not a nihilist project, but neither is it particularly optimistic. Emerging from Leviathan’s belly, capitalism triumphant—where we are the characters in Kafka’s books—desearch is a critical Frankenstein monster, sutured together from the beast-flesh.
Nothing lasts forever, but by the time capital’s day is done, everyone alive today will likely be gone. If capitalism is our sci-fi post-apocalyptic scenario, desearch may be our survival toolkit—our funny-looking gasmask. If you make wearing it a habit, the poisonous air won’t kill you—and, so long as others also wear the masks, there may be just enough laughter to hold despair at bay. If radical change is a distant prospect, then survival today is critical.