Nothing Nearly Happens: Proclub and the Subvertisers
DUST ON YOUR WILL-SCALES / NEVERENDING SEMICIRCLE
Someone call Jenny Holzer — here’s something the Lululemon corporation recently submitted an actual trademark application for:
STRESS IS RELATED TO 99% OF ALL ILLNESS DO NOT USE CLEANING CHEMICALS ON YOUR KITCHEN SURFACES. SOMEONE WILL INEVITABLY MAKE A SANDWICH ON YOUR COUNTER. WHAT YOU DO TO THE EARTH YOU DO TO YOURSELF COMMUNICATION IS COMPLICATED EACH FAMILY HAS SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT DEFINITIONS OF EVERY WORD AN AGREEMENT IS AN AGREEMENT ONLY IF EACH PARTY KNOWS THE CONDITIONS FOR SATISFACTION AND A TIME SET FOR SATISFACTION TO OCCUR LOVE LIFE IS FULL OF SETBACKS SUCCESS IS DETERMINED BY HOW YOU HANDLE SETBACKS SUNSCREEN ABSORBED INTO THE SKIN MIGHT BE WORSE FOR YOU THAN SUNSHINE. GET THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF SUNSHINE. LISTEN LISTEN LISTEN THEN ASK STRATEGIC QUESTIONS DO ONE THING A DAY THAT SCARES YOU VISUALIZE YOUR EVENTUAL DEMISE. IT CAN HAVE AN AMAZING EFFECT ON HOW YOU LIVE IN THIS MOMENT CREATIVITY IS MAXIMIZED WHEN YOU ARE LIVING IN THE MOMENT EFFECTIVENESS IS PREDICATED BY REPLACING THE WORDS “WISH”, “SHOULD” AND “TRY” WITH “I WILL” SALT + HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP + BUTTER = EARLY DEATH NATURE WANTS US TO BE MEDIOCRE BECAUSE WE HAVE A GREATER CHANCE TO SURVIVE AND REPRODUCE. MEDIOCRITY IS AS CLOSE TO THE BOTTOM AS IT IS TO THE TOP, AND WILL GIVE YOU A LOUSY LIFE. DON’T TRUST THAT AN OLD AGE PENSION WILL BE SUFFICIENT YOUR OUTLOOK ON LIFE IS A DIRECT REFLECTION OF HOW MUCH YOU LIKE YOURSELF DRINK FRESH WATER AND AS MUCH WATER AS YOU CAN. FRESH WATER FLUSHES TOXINS FROM YOUR BODY AND KEEPS YOUR BRAIN SHARP. THE CONSCIOUS BRAIN CAN ONLY HOLD ONE THOUGHT AT A TIME CHOOSE A POSITIVE THOUGHT THAT WHICH MATTES MOST SHOULD NEVER GIVE WAY TO THAT WHICH MATTERS THE LEAST A DAILY HIT OF ATHLETIC-INDUCED ENDORPHINS GIVES YOU THE POWER TO MAKE BETTER DECISIONS, HELPS YOU BE AT PEACE WITH YOURSELF, AND OFFSETS STRESS HAPPINESS THE PURSUIT OF IS THE SOURCE OF ALL UNHAPPINESS FRIENDS ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN MONEY WRITE DOWN TWO PERSONAL, TWO BUSINESS AND TWO HEALTH GOALS FOR THE NEXT 1, 5 AND 10 YEARS. DO THIS FOUR TIMES A YEAR. GOAL SETTING TRIGGERS YOUR SUBCONSCIOUS COMPUTER. LIVE NEAR THE OCEAN AND INHALE THE PURE SALT AIR THAT FLOWS OVER THE WATER (VANCOUVER WILL DO NICELY) OBSERVE A PLANT BEFORE AND AFTER WATERING AND RELATE THESE BENEFITS TO YOUR BODY AND BRAIN THE WORLD MOVES AT SUCH A RAPID RATE THAT WAITING TO IMPLEMENT CHANGES WILL LEAVE YOU TWO STEPS BEHIND. DO IT NOW, DO IT NOW, DO IT NOW! BREATH DEEPLY AND APPRECIATE LIVING IN THE MOMENT COULD BE THE MEANING OF LIFE. PRACTICE YOGA SO YOU CAN REMAIN ACTIVE IN PHYSICAL SPORTS AS YOU AGE JEALOUSY WORKS THE OPPOSITE WAY YOU WANT IT TO HAVE YOU WOKEN UP TWO DAYS IN A ROW UNINSPIRED? CHANGE YOUR LIFE! THIS IS NOT YOUR PRACTICE LIFE. THIS IS ALL THERE IS THE PERFECT TOMBSTONE WOULD READ: ‘ALL USED UP’ CHILDREN ARE THE ORGASM OF LIFE. JUST LIKE YOU DID NOT KNOW WHAT AN ORGASM WAS BEFORE YOU HAD ONE, YOU WON’T KNOW HOW GREAT CHILDREN ARE UNTIL YOU HAVE THEM. 10-15 REAL FRIENDS ALLOWS FOR REAL RELATIONSHIPS SWEAT ONCE A DAY TO REGENERATE YOUR SKIN DANCE, SING, FLOSS AND TRAVEL
I don’t know about you, but I feel pretty well dominated after reading this.
The company’s idea is that all of this language (which together constitutes a single intellectual-property unit) is then squeezed into blocks and human body-like shapes for visual ads. I can imagine it now: life as shadowplay of outlines of bodies stuffed with haranguingly positive tough-love bromide fiats.
A UC school put up similar ads on BART a few years ago. An outline of a businessperson is filled with, on the face of it, common-sensibly decent language which taken in its sum turns unnerving: there is no space in you; your body is a wall of words.
What is this wall hiding, what is it protecting? Who is building it? And is it more or less terrible that these questions may have the same answer?
JUST HOW MANY NAILS CAN THIS COFFIN HANDLE?
I loathe advertisements of all kinds and feel physical revulsion when they represent actual persons. The most soul-corrodingly manipulative and heartless one I can remember was Chevron’s with its whole “AIDS is going to lose” campaign; the ads were just those words in front of photographs of people dressed in ways Americans would inevitably read as not-American. Two women of color in cotton robes and headscarves stare out at you. It is the weaponized gaze of the other, set at the service of people well-off enough to be emotionally available for a multinational fossil-fuel patriarchy’s claim to selflessly promoting human welfare.
Yeah. And isn’t mistrust of advertising a sublimated form of mistrust of the rich, who are pretty much wrong about everything always?
In this sense advertising can help us see the modern city more clearly as the snow globe of greed and hatred that it truly is.
And with clearer seeing comes a preparedness to respond.
CUT UP FOR KEEPS, YOUR HEART AT YOUR FEET, ASLEEP ON THE DIVING BOARD
For about ten years I’ve been writing absurdist, anti-social sloganese as a way of processing and making useful my aversions to marketing, especially to forms of promotion of art and literature.
An intentionally bland and passé sub-Dadaist concern called Proclub hustled into print soon after a trilogy of things happened to me in college: I started listening to The Fall, discovered in myself a drastic fury towards the stock American state of cynically insipid endless-campaign electioneering (precisely because it hinders actual politics), and heard Jack Palance’s fabulous line in Godard’s Contempt: “Whenever I hear the word culture, I get out my checkbook.”
Here’s some Proclub. Most of these were written during the tail end of the GW Bush years.
That last one probably tells you all you need to know.
One concrete social achievement of this ridiculous project is that it created, seemingly out of thin air, a new sense of humor which spread fast (at least through Lawrence!) and prompted lots of new work from my friends and I, and a constant exchange of ideas. It was the essence of a meme, in the antediluvian sense.
2007 was Peak Proclub; it’s been a slow inexorable crawl into regional history ever since.
AIRBRUSHED TO WITHIN AN INCH OF EXISTENCE
ITS KNOW-HOW TESSELLATING OFF INTO SPIRITUAL PARAPHRASE
Soon enough I started merging the kind of poetry I wanted to write with all this eccentric menace well past its half-life. I started making visual art with torqued sloganese in handscript, experimenting with digital processing and collage, and publishing a lot of it in The Louder the Room the Darker the Screen (Timeless, Infinite Light, 2015).
Fortunately, my work following this project seems more suited to a highway median or public mall than to a book. Here’s some of it.
AND A PEACE FELL UPON THE MEDIA
My friend Nick Bergwell took another path through Proclub and towards the world, to New York and the Public Ad Campaign.
Founded by Jordan Seiler, the Public Ad Campaign targets “advertising’s aggressive abuse of our shared public spaces and its direct ideological opposition to a truly public discourse” by replacing outdoor street advertisements with delusion-reducing language and images. For example:
Part of the key to its effectiveness is how proper the works appear qua advertisements, including how expertly the frames/casings are unlocked and re-locked. And since people expect virtually anything on the streets of NYC, these things can stay up for a surprising while. Here’s one that Nick made, with a line from my poem “Hell is Now Love”, for a bus stop in Brooklyn:
I like to think of this piece as one in a lineage of meditative city-disappearing artworks such as Max Neuhaus’ sound installation under Times Square, humming since 1977:
AS THE PETRI DISH SHATTERS OVER US
Public Ad Campaign is a member of Subvertisers International, a consortium of groups creatively derive-ing if not outright dismantling and destroying the advertising in their midsts. Treating those chintzy, humdrum print advertisements in the commuter station or along kiosks on sidewalks as if they were the last scraps of available surface left on earth, Subvertisers do a kind of reverse psycho-archaeology: the work imparts a sense that this is what you’d find if you dug deep enough into advertising’s crust, though the superimposition is technically (if not spiritually) the other way around. Sous les pavés, la plage!, as we know; and/or, to word-substitute a personal favorite article of faith: When the commodity arises, Proclub does not begin; when the commodity fades away, Proclub does not cease.
What is made available to revolutionary imagination in the act of dwelling in public space during its disappearance?
In response to McLuhan’s famous dictum one must still ask: “Yes, but what’s the message?” Subvertising imparts a need to know this.
MIGHT NEVER BE PERFECTLY CLEAR THOUGH THERE’S LIGHT ENOUGH TO SET THE EARTH IN FLAMES
An analogy: When Claude Monet began losing his vision he took up a palette of extremely bright and bold colors so that he could see what he was doing. This produced some very moving paintings. They give the impression that the artist created them in order to be able to perceive the very world that they ostensibly depict. To hazard a general observation: life sometimes creates art before it creates itself.
For the Subvertisers, a similar perceptual knot obtains. The paradox of amping up the presence of the very things that must be destroyed in order to destroy them is part of the message; as Guy Debord wrote in 1957, “We must no longer lead an external opposition based only on the future development of issues close to us, but seize hold of modern culture in order to use it for our own ends.”
In an age defined by commodity media’s expanding dominion over inner life, picture yourself going outside and seeing this…
…and being grateful for the reminder that, well, form is emptiness.
There are things about the world that only dust in sunlight can explain.
DAY DESCRIBES ITSELF INTO A CAN WHOSE ATTACHED TWINE ENDS NO ONE KNOWS WHERE
NO SOURCE TO PARADISE
COME BACK YOU ARE RELEASED
Everything feeds; and everything will be given back eventually, given away, lost, forgotten. So I’m releasing the following language for anyone to use, in any combinations, dimensions and materials, provided it is put outdoors and/or is somehow in or adjacent to what we may persist in calling “public space,” with or without crediting me:
THE MIND IS A BACK-UP STORAGE DEVICE THAT INTERACTS WIRELESSLY WITH YOUR OTHER DEVICES
INCITES ONE’S INNARDS TO COLLUDE UPON INSTALL
A THIN SHRAPNEL MIST BURNT BUT RELUCTANT TO MELT
NO ONE SEES THE PAST COMING
NOTE THE SPINNING WHEEL NOTE THE WHIRLPOOL’S GRIMY FROTH
WOKE UP READY TO CLOSE A LAPTOP
IN STALWART MIDSTEP
IN PERIPHERAL FORWARDNESS
I DIED ON MY WAY DOWN THE LIST OF WHAT TO KEEP
SUMMER LIGHT LIKE CAUTION TAPE
YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THIS
THE PROBLEM WITH DESIRE IS WE DON’T DESIRE ENOUGH
THE BODY MAY BE ANYONE
EYESORE AND HEADSET
MELEE OF PURE FADE
WITH A USE FOR WHAT WE DON’T KNOW HOW TO DO
WHILE HISTORY TAUNTS THE BLANKS AFLAME
AS SOLVENCY REACHES THE REAL IN AMBIENT KNOTS
SKY BLUE LIKE A WET KNIFE
AND THE LIMITED KEPT COMING
TRICKLE-DOWN DUALISM CURDLED INTO MAWKISH ERSATZ CHIAROSCURO
REALLY EXISTING CAPITALISM WHEREIN EVERYTHING DESCRIBABLE VANISHES
THE RATING RINGS ITS GEAR FOR ALL YOUR ZEALOTRY
INCISED ON THE HEAD OF A NEEDLE
TIME MOVING FROM RIGHT TO LEFT ACROSS THESE DEPRECIATED TRANCE PLURALS BALLED INTO LOZENGES OF DUMB-ENOUGH CAVITY PLUMAGE
THEN FED TO THE AMBIENCE
REALLY LIVING IN THE HEART’S CHROME-AND-STUCCO WILDERNESS AND NEVER MOWN DOWN INTO THE DONE
AND ALL THE TROUBLE I HAVE WASTED LIMNS MY FINGERPRINT HEAD
THERE’S ELSEWHERE ENOUGH TO KILL A DISCIPLINE
THE WORLD LOADS INTO A CATARACT DAZE LICKING ITS WATCH THROUGH THE JUMPCUT YCLEPT COMPUTE
VANITY AND NEGLIGENCE
THERE’S MORE AND THAT’S ALL
STATIC IS READY