April 8, 2016
SONE was a creative agency that sought to help businesses and consumers reimagine our current economic situation. I directed SONE, and it operated on a contract-to-contract basis with a team of freelance artists and thinkers. Our core function was to serve global markets of communicators in advertising, business, art, and journalism with high quality, pre-trend stock photo and video clips that circulate both on the art market and on the stock media market through sites like Getty Images. These clips are based on the idea that current offerings of stock imagery through those marketplaces typically present a limited scope of activity, situations, and identity stereotypes. SONE sought to create alternative representations of finance and business.
The paragraph above is an excerpt from SONE’s executive summary, shifted into the past tense. It was carefully constructed to make SONE seem like a viable business, though it wasn’t a licensed corporation and basically just consisted of me – a self-employed artist with no business training. While the work from SONE exists on Getty Images, nothing has sold through their marketplace. Additionally, only art institutions with an interest in this specific form of critical art production invested in SONE’s image concepts. The project was only ever written about by arts writers, and I never seemed to have the time or energy to attend events for young entrepreneurs like I wanted to, because I had to work so hard to build the foundation of a compelling brand identity.
The most identifiable effects the project had on my life was to increase my individual prosperity and reputation while connecting me to people who agreed with me. So embedded above and available through the Getty Images link are some SONE «products,» accessed through the online platform of an artist-in-residence program I participated in. And who are you? What would you be able to do with this work if you were to buy it? What is it telling you that you don’t already know? Is this work basically just performing something discursive?
The politicized conceptual art object is designed into existence as a stand-in for a rhetorical argument. A gap exists between the works sitting in the gallery and what the work is «about,» which is informed by all the invisible processes running through the work before during and after its presentation. With SONE I still felt like I was producing content for Google, my former employer. The project involved extensive strategy and logistics, and I realized that to actually make an impact and compete with the thousands of other businesses creating stock imagery, it would mean that SONE wouldn’t be an art project anymore, but rather business as usual.
SONE led me to the realization that if there is any real potential for progressive aims in art, it will come not from a retooling but rather an untooling. This untooling of art is not mutually exclusive to its financialization, and I think it should do more than demonstrate what some theory or journalism could tell a viewer. Things are much more profound than their economic relations, and I believe that transformation happens through art when your perception of things is reorganized, not when you «get» something clever or, even worse, just politically correct and conceptually appropriate.
We can read, write, and stage a thousand critiques of how capitalism is made of dye and corn syrup, but the branding, taste, and overall experience of a package of Skittles are going to be infinitely more powerful than all of those critiques combined. A product is successful due to its formal qualities, and a lot of the critique I see has lost touch with what this could mean. A progressive artistic approach to markets beyond art would be more like Death taking you by the hand at an infinite Sheryl Crow concert and realizing that it’s hard to hold his hand because he’s not only holding that packet of Skittles, but he’s also wearing a Ring Pop.
I technically cannot liquidate SONE’s assets as a legal process because it’s not actually a corporation, and no investors or actual production companies would be interested in buying the company as a whole. But artworks are still financial assets, and I would still like to encourage you or anyone you think might be interested to buy them. I have exclusive rights to all of my SONE work, so I can offer a significant discount compared to what they were sold for in galleries. The transaction will be simple, because I’m just an independent contractor with Bank of America, Deustche Bank, Paypal, and Venmo accounts. Thanks for reading, and I hope you can understand.
Andrew Norman Wilson