Art, Law and Unstable Corporate Identities

  • Abstract:

    Corporations understand brands to capture the identity of an organisation. Intellectual property laws are used to protect brands in the crucial commercial process of the formation, stabilisation and manipulation of corporate identity. Art has used the tactic of parasitism, which has included the appropriation of intellectual property such as brand images, to challenge the accumulation and exploitation of consumer data in the so-called co-creation of organisational identity, which is now so greatly facilitated by online real-time technologies. In TM Clubcard (1997) Rachel Baker employed direct lifts of supermarket logos to parasite Tesco’s Clubcard, which was the UK’s first supermarket loyalty card scheme. The work associated the supermarket brand with what Baker called a “dysfunctional” database of members. Tesco threatened legal action, which led to Baker re-directing TM Clubcard towards another supermarket: Sainsbury’s. TM Clubcard collected personal details, and together with a claim that the work was deceptive, one of the supermarkets also asserted that it was entitled to this data. The work was brought to an end after a warning from Sainsbury’s lawyers that legal proceedings would be issued. Baker explicitly situated the appropriation of the supermarkets’ brands by TM Clubcard in the context of Duchamp’s ready-mades. The implications for the construction of identity of TM Clubcard and other such works may be engaged with through the performative after Derrida. A stark opposition of art with the law is too simplistic. Art is able to open an engagement with the violence of the law as exemplified in the ways it structures and forecloses the ways that identities may be created and perpetuated. This violence is intertwined with the law’s claims to being ahistorical and acontextual. Art invites inventive encounters with the contingencies and constraints of the legal system(s) by which it is both threatened and enabled.