Advertising Culture

[Winter 2006-2007]

by Jacques Doyon

It is not surprising that the world of advertising has become an object of investigation and aesthetic appropriation for contemporary artists. Advertising has an important place in Western culture. It is omnipresent in the urban environment, and it literally inundates the communications media, in which it rivals news, entertainment, and culture. Advertising has developed in parallel with networks of circulation, and it has been imposed on all high-traffic areas, modulated into every tone from the most aggressive to the subliminal.

Long devoted simply to promotion of a product and brand, the advertising sphere has recently been transformed into a true branding culture by making associations with sets of values, lifestyles, and attitudes promoted as cultural models essentially defined by consumption. In the triumphant post-communist era, in which the citizen has become a consumer, the instrumentalization of values and lifestyles performed by branding represents a challenge to humanist culture. Having always fed at the table of culture and artistic creation, the sphere of advertising is now trying to subordinate them.

Now, logos are more than simply the condensed images of corporations. They mark out a territory. The terrain for this conquest is no longer only that of axes of circulation and media networks, but also that of culture. Perhaps the clearest illustration of this widespread intention is the application of a corporation’s, or a donor’s, name to an event or an art institution. And this “branding” logic now contaminates even governmental institutions and educational establishments.

Advertising is based on a rhetoric of the image and of discourse that Doyon/Rivest and Mike Yuhasz appropriate in their work. Doyon/Rivest uses the modes of the advertising image to promote a “firm” and a brand that refers to nothing but its artistic production, which make advertising modes and market studies their object of investigation and designation. Neither critical nor apologetic, Doyon/Rivest in the end does nothing but show that corporate values and modes of operations have become an integral and predominant part of today’s culture. Mike Yuhasz uses simulation as his means. The Web site of his fictional company reproduces corporate rhetoric in order to disparage it. One must dig deep into the site to realize that it is an art project. Yuhasz pushes his simulation so far as to play the role of CEO at investment tradeshows, attempting to attract a public perhaps already distrustful of the rhetoric of the huge corporations.

The corporate and advertising spheres also occupy the space strategically, and, in doing so, they shape it. The topographic work of German photographer Frank Breuer brings this to the fore by highlighting the architecture of distribution warehouses and structures for displaying logos of large companies. Such a collection of artefacts of the present time manifests a state of affairs that we no longer perceive except from the corner of our eye: the salience of a purely functional architecture that shapes our environment in relation to issues that have nothing to do with culture in its common sense, while being a strong vector within it. The logo claims to be the logos.