Expanding The Factory: contemporary art and the corporate ideal, continued

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Designs on our lives

Matthew Darbyshire

For British artist Matthew Darbyshire, the stealthy assimilation of art and design into the aspirational marketing mix suggests a very different state of banality.

It's a world in which the feelgood factor has become so design-dependent that we are just as likely to find single-stem flower vases in burger chains as swanky hotels; Arne Jacobsen egg chairs (or their budget equivalents) in countless foyers; and every new office or apartment block boasts the likes of a water feature, landscaped courtyard and cappuccino lounge for residents / employees (delete as applicable).

Darbyshire first attracted widespread attention with his 2008 show 'Blades House' (below), its title taken from the name of a social housing project near the the exhibition space.

With significant percentages of the UK's council accommodation now privately owned, Darbyshire's construction of a layout mimicking one of the estate's small apartments was representationally tenanted by "... a fictitious, urban middle-class professional in his mid-30s".

All the likely appurtenances of a design-conscious, upwardly mobile male (in shades of slightly less likely CMYK colour) were carefully included in Darbyshire's 'show flat', from a tangerine iPod and Muji bed, to branded streetwear and framed prints by Murakami, Patrick Caulfield and Michael Craig-Martin.

Matthew Darbyshire, 'Blades House'

The domestic province of a swish city dweller? Yes, but as Darbyshire strives to point out, tastes which might once have been easily defined are increasingly ubiquitous: similar interiors exist throughout the UK and, indeed, much of the developed world.

What's more, such trappings have become the de facto language of branding exercises from Government to private enterprise; a situation reflected in the artist's installations of funky fixtures gleaned from hospitals, libraries, schools and shopping centres.

If, as Tobias Madison suggests, the strategies of marketing can be requisitioned and adapted by the artist, Darbyshire, in his practice, suggests that this is already a worn-out exercise.

With aspirational living - centred around the language of art and design - so avidly co-opted by consumer and corporation alike, culture has become diluted to a point of near non-specificity, a mere, box-ticking reflex action.

Matthew Darbyshire

The factories feeding our fantasies have simply gone into overdrive, the sub-text beneath Warhol's acute understanding of human desire at the car crash point he explicitly built into his ouevre.

For Darbyshire, documentation and subtle parody - such as his take on the designer workplace uniform (page top and left), or mock architectural plans for cutting edge, gated developments comprising every modern convenience from mixed-faith chaplaincies to boutique gym - are sufficient comment.

The essentially egocentric province of upward mobility is increasingly proscriptive, with opportunities for genuine social interaction and diversity replaced by homogeneity and illusions of well-being - despite what the dreammakers would have us believe.


Maintaining the fantasy: branding and the Magic Kingdom

Pilvi Takala

Finnish artist Pilvi Takala's interventions set out to investigate behaviour in different settings and circumstances; often, in the process, exposing the power structures underlying social convention or organisations themselves.

Her acclaimed work 'The Real Snow White' neatly reveals the extraordinary measures taken by the Walt Disney Company to protect the integrity of their various brands - in this case, the perceived character of Snow White herself.

The Disney experience, while clearly dealing in fantasy and make-believe, is, of course, closely related to the aspirational marketing endeavours already discussed.

All are premised on selling a dream; tapping directly into our desires rather than needs.

In Disney's case, the closely guarded vision of a living cartoon heroine - the 'genuine' Snow White - is paradoxically upheld by making her seem as un-human as possible.

For this reason, a convincingly-costumed Takala quickly arouses the attention of security at the Disneyland Paris entrance gates.

Taken to one side, she is told that "There is a real Snow White in the Park [] Only the real Snow White can dress like this, you cannot do it."

Explaining that she may do "bad things", another guard goes on to list Snow White's requisite attributes: she needs to be a certain height; must never eat or drink in public; and has to write signatures in a specific style.

Maintaining a pose of disconcerted ingenuousness, Takala counters, "I thought the real Snow White was a drawing".

Each of these artists tackle the realities of today's consumer-driven society in different ways, but all are in a sense parasitical, attaching themselves to the underbelly of commerce in acts of apparent complicity while secretly drawing blood.

If you can't beat them, join them: it's a refrain worthy of the catchiest advertising slogans, but sometimes, it seems, you can actually do both.

Pilvi Takala

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