Students enrolled in a graduate seminar in Design Theory and Criticism have created a guerilla art installment in Martha Van Rensselaer Hall that aims to provide commentary and ignite conversation around the effects of brands on interior spaces. To be taken down on Friday, anyone who walks into the bathrooms on the first floor of MVR will be greeted by life-sized print outs of male Abercrombie and Fitch models as they sit on the john and lather soap onto their hands near the sink. Entitled “Interior Brand Insidious Pathology,” this installment is the finale for a course wherein the nature and consequences of brands has been investigated, with respect to our private spaces and our society in general.
The art installation aims to draw attention to the overuse of branding by pasting images often seen in Abercrombie and Fitch stores onto bathroom stalls and walls, thus surprising the unsuspecting viewer with a common brand that is out of its usual context. The exposure of the brand’s power, in positive or negative ways, is controversial and is the entire point: Make people think about branding, and let them talk about it with their friends and colleagues. As a class, the design students have agreed upon a manifesto that informs the installation, which is held up for discussion by the viewers. The manifesto includes points such as branding is out of control and excessive, branding negatively affects space visually and branding in a private space is inappropriate and intrusive, having a negative effect on the brand itself. Whether or not you agree with these opinions can only be determined by going to MVR and viewing the installation with your own eyes. Indeed, branding may be an inevitable aspect of our modern society, but speaking up and challenging that notion is our right.
When asked for their reactions, students and faculty expressed widely varying thoughts on the power of the installation, but almost all agreed that it was surprising. Many also thought that the pictures of half-naked Abercrombie models complete with jutting six-packs were awkward in the bathrooms. Max Kasak ’11 went further and said that his thoughts on the photographs were place-based, and that in the bathroom, the Abercrombie and Fitch advertisements seemed dirty, and made the room a “place of sex.” These observations relate directly to the final point of the class’ branding manifesto
Most students immediately recognized the pictures as Abercrombie and Fitch advertisements, and this knowledge created associations between the pictures and the company itself. One girl said that she did not mind the pictures but that some of her friends dislike Abercrombie and Fitch because of their alleged use of child labor. For her friends, the installment would have provided a more negative reaction through association. More students described the pictures as random, hilarious and confusing.
However, other students and a faculty member described their reactions neutrally, saying that it was either no big deal, that they have an open mind about these kinds of things or that they did not even see the six foot sprawling male model without a face right above their heads. One student said that she did not really pay much attention to the installation because she is so used to different text and print stimuli floating or pinned up onto bulletin boards around campus. For people who surf social media websites like Facebook, the pictures in the bathrooms of MVR may seem like an advertisement for a guest speaker on campus or a literary magazine. To this student, a random picture would only catch her eye if it somehow applied directly to her.