Picture this: a hi-tech container right in the middle of Karlsplatz, one
of Vienna's historic squares. It's the Nike Infobox: a slick,
demountable, walk-in container, two semi-transparent floors, dynamic
shapes and a red plastic cover. On the outer windows a curious sign
attracts the attention of passersby: "This square will soon be called
Nikeplatz. Come inside to find out more". Over the last month, the plan
to change the square's name has also been advertised on a website:
http://www.nikeground.com, while thousands of brochures were distributed
all over the city.
Inside the Infobox a charming couple of Nike-dressed twins welcomes curious citizens, and explains to them the revolutionary Nike Ground campaign: "Nike is introducing its legendary brand into squares, streets, parks and boulevards: Nikesquare, Nikestreet, Piazzanike, Plazanike or Nikestrasse will appear in major world capitals over the coming years!".
A 3D project displayed in the Infobox gives information about a giant sculpture to be placed in the Karlsplatsz ? or Nikesplatz ? from next year. It is a giant sculpture of Nike's famous logo, a "Swoosh", a 36 meter long by 18 meter high monument supposedly made from "special steel covered with a revolutionary red resin made from recycled sneaker soles".
Not surprisingly, many Viennese are puzzled and concerned at seeing a historic square sold by the City to a multinational without prior consultation. Thus, immediately after the container is assembled and open to the public, handwritten letters and emails begin to jam the inboxes of local and national Austrian newspapers. After a short inquiry, the press uncover that both Nike and the City of Vienna deny any responsibility for Nike Ground. While Nike issues a press release alleging trademark infringement, the City reassures the public by saying that "following World War II street names cannot be modified, unless they look very similar to others".
This almost unbelievable trick is the work of the organization known as 0100101110101101.ORG, and this time it is played on a whole city. Eva Mattes, their spokeswoman, explains: "For this work, we wanted to use the entire city as a stage for a huge urban performance, a sort of theatre show for an unaware audience/cast. We wanted to produce a collective hallucination capable of altering people's perception of the city in this total, immersive way". Thus 0100101110101101.ORG continues its history of works meant to be told instead of being seen; works which pose the problem of an art which is mythopoetic.
The whole performance has been realized in cooperation with Public Netbase, the Vienna netculture institution. Konrad Becker, director of Public Netbase, explains: "It is our duty to directly intervene into urban and media space, to bring up the issues of symbolic domination in public space by private interests. We see Nike Ground as a statement for the artistic freedom to manipulate the symbols of everyday life".
Naturally, not all of the reactions were so enthusiastic. Amongst the letters published in newspapers, one Viennese commented: "It is a scandal that while in the US Nike had to pay 1.5 million dollars for misleading the consumer with false advertising, in Vienna we decide to build a monument to a corporation which is still making a large use of sweatshops". Another one added: "The Viennese schnitzel might not be as fancy but it is surely tastier than their meaningless plastic swoosh".
To assuage people's anger, or simply inform citizens of Nike Ground activities around the world, an infoline has even been set up: 0664-1235555, where a female voice kindly accepts all questions and criticism.
The authors of this surreal performance promise that the Infobox will stay in place for another month. Now that the fake has been revealed, many people wonder whether Nike will try to put an end to the performance. "Why should they? - asks Mattes surprised - we produced the first Nike no-budget advertisement!".
Nike Ground is the latest surreal action by the organization known as 0100101110101101.ORG, a band of media artists who use non conventional communication tactics to obtain the largest visibility with the minimal effort. Past works include staging a hoax involving a completely made-up artist, ripping off the Holy See and spreading a computer virus as a work of art.