It was once common to assume that artists avoid participating in the corporate world—presuming that the art world is separated from the rest, with utopian and improbable ideals. However, the dividing line between an artist and a businessperson has never been that clear, and it's only becoming more complicated. Creativity used to be seen as something unique to artists and designers, but recently—with the “new economy” and a restructured labor market—creativity is considered necessary, an essential attribute for survival in the capitalist world. In other words, creativity became a “must-have” for almost everyone. New York-based artist Andrew Norman Wilson explores precisely the blurriness of boundaries between artistic and corporate production. He says: “Corporate bodies are infiltrating our personal, professional, and civil lives to the point where it’s difficult to discern what isn’t ‘corporate’ today.”
When I think of those coal miners trapped in a mine, there may be empathy. But my empathy would probably be towards the flashlight batteries of the coal miners if there happens to be a selection on my part. Or my empathy would perhaps be towards the trapped air around those coal miners. There would be me watching through the eyes of the flashlight cell the utter hopelessness of those unfortunate miners as my last chemicals struggled to glow the faint bulb so that I didn't leave them dying in darkness. As the air around them, I would try to find a way to let myself squeeze every bit of oxygen I have to allow the doomed lungs to breathe, for I am responsible for their doom. And while I found myself trapped, I would smell the burning rice being cooked with neglect in an earthen pot. industrial heat shrink wrap, vinyl, Herman Miller office chair, Starcom MediaVest Group, 2015
Wilson’s works consider issues of labor as both their subject and their medium. One of his earliest projects, made during his MFA studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, is Virtual Assistance (2009-11), which documents his use of a personal assistant outsourcing service in India. However, instead of asking his assistant to do work for him, he reversed the situation asking the assistant to assign him with tasks. During that same time, a video-production company contracted Wilson to work at Google where he created a video titled Workers Leaving the Googleplex (2009-11). There he documented the different hierarchy of workers entering and exiting a variety of buildings at the Googleplex in California.
Guided Meditation, van, video, Starcom MediaVest Group, 2015
Most recently, Wilson was the first artist-in-residence at In Real Life (IRL)–a surprising endeavor hosted at Starcom MediaVest Group (SMG) in the Leo Burnett Building in Chicago, Illinois. Starcom MediaVest Group is large media specialist agency headquartered in Chicago with additional offices all over the world. In Chicago, SMG created a large contemporary art program, now in its second year, curated by Ben Foch and Chelsea Culp of New Capital in collaboration with SMG's employee led #nextARTnow initiative. Thirty company employees volunteer to help organize the art program and give tours to anyone interested in seeing the exhibitions on display. Rotating exhibitions exploring SMG culture happen three times a year on the building’s 11th floor, where the current two-part exhibition, Belonging & The New Tribalism, opened last month. Artists-in-residency will develop the focus of their project with employee partnerships, culminating in installations and interventions throughout the building
Wilson was the first invited artist for this residence initiative. He worked during six weeks, in his office/studio on the 32nd floor where he created in situ installations. Wilson also used other spaces of the building such as waiting areas, phone rooms, hallways, cubicle offices, parking garage, etc. His main installation is located on the 9th floor reception area where he collaborated with Brussels-based artist Nick Bastis. Some of the works in this room where previously exhibited at a show in Fluxia, Milan titled Material Uncertainty.
Motivational Posters, raw steel, iron fitting, 3-d printed hardware, video, rubber crutch tips, vinyl blinds with typewriter ink, acrylic corporate award, rare earth magnets, Starcom MediaVest Group, 2015
In earlier projects Wilson experimented with an “an institutional critique” strategy, a more journalistic point of view; his recent works, however, employ a more therapeutical approach. In his own words: “I wanted to produce a space for feelings instead of a space for information or transactions.” With an interest on the viewer’s experience, exploring the reception of light and sound, Wilson addresses the uncertainty we sometimes feel when it comes to technology. He recalls the first thing that caught his attention about the SMG office building: collective statements about the company, printed on big vinyl with bold fonts and displayed on the hallways and offices walls. The signs read, “Create,” “Inspire,” “Team Work,” shown together with images of people high-fiving, for example. According to Wilson this design-trend in corporate architecture is also therapeutic art.
Group Therapy, melted patio lounge chairs, raw steel, iron fitting, 3-d printed hardware, carpet, video, lamp, rubber crutch tips, Starcom MediaVest Group, 2015
The works in the 9th floor installation address a certain mental instability and personal subjectivity. One of the pieces, Group Therapy (2014), consists of pool lounge chairs conjoined at the armrests so that when two people lounge on them, they face each other. Steel pipes, rusted from exposure to months of winter, demarcate the area. Next to the chairs there is a vertical monitor playing an episode of The Uncertainty Seminars, featuring two chow dogs that claim to have started a schizo-analytic group. By giving the dogs that role, Wilson and Bastis tell us there shouldn’t be a hierarchical role between dog and human subjectivity: we are all on the same plane. Other videos from The Uncertainty Seminars series are also on display here. They imitate guided meditations that one can find online, combining self-help seminar aesthetics with corporate PowerPoint presentation stylings.
Table of Contents, reception desk, industrial heat shrink wrap, video, computer, raw steel, iron fitting, 3-d printed hardware, projector,
Helix Aspera Snails, rubber crutch tips, Starcom MediaVest Group, 2015
Scott (collaboration with Nick Bastis). Helix Aspersa snail, work station, Starcom MediaVest Group, 2015
In Table of Contents, Wilson in fact presents contents on the table. He wrapped a reception desk with white industrial heat shrink wrap (the same one that is used to cover boats in Chicago during the winter) and projected a “Table of Contents” presentation on it. He placed an employee computer, a “Spot the Dog” book, and multiple Helix Aspersa snails on the table. Especially with the snails, Wilson desired to bring attention to different relationships we (humans) may have with time and consciousness. Snails do not need to perform in order to survive; they just survive with smallest amount of sustenance and material. Snails shut down for months, they hibernate, they are asexual—and they signify for Wilson and Bastis a form of “radically different consciousness.”
Table of Contents, Starcom MediaVest Group, 2015
Mobile Mosquito City, utility cart, mosquito netting, mosquito larvae, mosquitos, water, lambskin condom, pig blood, orchid plant, Salerno butter cookies, glass, industrial heat shrink wrap, vinyl, CGI print outs, Starcom MediaVest Group, 2015
During his residency Wilson rented an apartment right across the river from the offices in the Marina City. Besides the convenience factor, Wilson wanted to live a fiction, a different life where he would live in a tower and work in a tower. He wanted to be in the Loop (downtown Chicago) 24/7, imagining the business world and spending his time in a sterile environment. It was a way to get in the mindset, adopting unusual routines and rituals. Although not considered a performance, his stay at the Marina was an essential part of his work.
Andrew Norman Wilson was an ideal inaugural candidate for this residency. In creating spaces for Starcom MediaVest’s employees that feel slightly off, exploring the ambiguous corporate entity in a science fictional manner, Wilson shifted his practice to make art that is more “therapeutic.” Corporate workers are hungry for that “something else”—Wilson’s psychological perspective desires to bring that “something” to their world.
 Starcom MediaVest Group is large global brand communications groups that encompasses an integrated network of human experience strategists, investment specialists, content creators and digital experts.
(Image at top: Andrew Norman Wilson, Cubicle, Starcom MediaVest Group, 2015. All images: Courtesy of the artist)