Becoming Nike? The Fake Behind the Swoosh



Public Netbase and 0100101110101101.ORG proclaim the first »Nike Square« in the world



Vera Tollmann




Vienna in October 2003: on one of the unloved traffic islands that divide Karlsplatz stands a new, red »infobox«, far superior in design to any normal pre-fab container. On its large, rounded panes of glass are the words »nikeplatz (formerly Karlsplatz)« and the logo of Nike, the sports article manufacturer. At the back, dots on a map announce future »Nike Squares« in other cities. But that’s not all: in the presentation space of the infobox, a sporty-looking character personally provides information about the (supposedly) latest marketing coup of the global corporation. The ambitious project is illustrated by the plan for a 36 x 18 metre-large steel »Swoosh« (the successful logo that company founder Phil Knight bought from a marketing student in 1971 for 35 dollars), as well as by the web site, which is also presented there. Significantly, in the convincing interior of the infobox, there is also a reflective football from the Manchester United Edition, and the popular Nike sports shoe model, »ID«. According to the company’s philosophy, customers can individually influence the design of »ID«, making them feel part of Nike. The Italian artists’ group 0100101110101101.ORG has joined with the Viennese media institution Public Netbase to take a closer look at this philosophy. With the fake action »nikeplatz«, it attempts a critique of the privatisation of public space. For the proclaimed renaming of Karlsplatz, which is surrounded by important cultural sites like the Secession, the Café Museum designed by Adolf Loos, and the Karlskirche, would mean dedicating the square to Nike: declaring it a company product by »signing« it with the planned Nike sculpture.
The Viennese tabloids, which received fake mailings, were incensed, and remained so until the Austrian Nike press office made it clear that it was not behind the action, and sued Public Netbase. On October 14, the media activists received a compensation claim from Nike to the tune of 78,000 euros. But all attempts to get the artistic project banned remained unsuccessful. The freedom of art was sustained for the time being, to the benefit of Public Netbase.

In contrast to earlier works by 0100101110101101.ORG, however, the Karlsplatz action very quickly loses its interest once the role game has been exposed. For, what is only claimed there has long since become reality in other places: at the same time as the »Nikeground« action, for example, the new VW Golf was advertised in its town of manufacture by putting »Golfsburg« on railway station signs and the city’s web site. In addition, for some years Nike has been occupying public space by temporarily putting up »experience zones«, thus winning over a young clientele. This strategy, aptly described by Tom Holert as »corporate situationism«1, has therefore long been part of everyday routine for enterprising marketing departments.

There is also the question of how the Viennese project stands in relation to the international »anti-Nike« campaigns that have damaged the company’s image. Activist groups have been active in the USA since 1996, and since 1999 in Europe as well. During this time, the first Nike town of Europe opened in Berlin’s Charlottenburg district, with a slogan taken over from »Reclaim the Streets« campaigns: »Don’t be used by your city. Use your city yourself.« At the same time, Naomi Klein’s successful number »No Logo« came out in German.

Within view of the fake Nike infobox in Vienna, the Public Netbase had also put up the Camouflage Tent, familiar from actions in the Museum District. Using the slogan »Reclaim the net«, it called for the independent media landscape in Austria to be safeguarded, particularly pleading for the preservation of Radio Orange and the continued existence of Public Netbase. The choice of location and the thematic content of »nikeplatz« may thus well have already been planned in advance as an important part of the game.

1 See »Brainware im Strukturwandel«. Interview with Tom Holert by Krystian Woznicki. In springerin 4/2000




Translation: Timothy Jones