Good Advice I Found Online

Jimmy Coyote as artist-in-residence at Fulton Market’s 5x5 Residency

Previously on LOST: I have infiltrated a demographic that has colonized/bastardized the institution of art in the name of capitalism. It is basically “a yuppie” but we prefer to call ourselves creatives. We are so creative! We make money from our creativity! We buy exotic salads we cannot afford! We accept the 1.7x surge charge because we have to get to our private club where it always smells so good!

Mostly on the basis of a weak argument involving the word “artist” as its fulcrum, I convinced a fancy restaurant to let me build a cubicle in the middle of their main lounge. The restaurant, located in the west loop, is important by technicality and that technicality is location. It is within walking distance of The Girl & The Goat and Au Cheval, two restaurants in Chicago that are famous for no one ever having been but being exclusively suggested to out-of-towners (or maybe it’s just me and everyone has been because everyone really likes waiting in line to eat food.) By existing next to something important, this restaurant, and also everyone you know that lives near Lula Café, is absorbing some kind of significance by proximity. As if being close to these things make us part 
of — nay! — key to something bigger. Also this restaurant’s west loop location attracts a certain crowd that becomes particularly relevant to my cubicle.

The restaurant is quite big and in fact boasts a lot of art.[1] There is a lot of distressed wood and loose fabrics and old suitcases and brass and speckled dishes and shit. All of the things you need for an expensive cool restaurant. It costs a lot of money to look poor & aloof and to dine at places that look old & worn. The west loop is sort of like Chicago’s version of Marie Antoinette’s peasant hamlet at Versailles. Everything is unrelentingly charming but in a gritty sort of way.

[1] Paintings. Paintings of women and cartoons and super heroes and also those abstract ones that Jerry Saltz has condemned vehemently.

I arrive on Monday morning to meet the gentlemen from Craigslist delivering my cubicle. It cost $500 dollars which is the average going rate for this particular used Internet good and it’s surprisingly a pretty saturated market. Joe and someone Joe would probably refer to as his “buddy,” drop off the heaps of metal and wood and cubicle guts in the middle of the restaurant. There are probably a thousand thick rectangles in the pile on the floor and they are all gray. I try to think of a game plan but this is like trying to figure out where to start with a puzzle whose every piece is square and gray and weighs 50 pounds. So I call Joe up again and I ask him if there is any way in hell he would come back and put it all together for me. He tells me he has in fact been waiting outside for me to call to do exactly that. I cannot be offended in this moment because of the undeniable truth in the ridiculousness of me thinking I would be able to assemble an 8ft x 7ft cubicle alone. I brought one hammer. Joe and buddy come in with power tools. He puts the thing together in a half hour and damn does it look so ugly in that restaurant.

Later that night I began building my “art” inside the cubicle. The piece is an installation titled GOOD ADVICE I FOUND ONLINE (2016, PowerpPoint, life hacks, synergetic management strategies, inkjet, yes I got your memo, creativity, dedication to the firm, casual Fridays, copy paper, office supplies, lumbar support). It is essentially a map of web content: screen shots, stock images, listacles, comments, “ads,” etc. It looks like one of those serial killer FBI maps with all the string and maps and a pyramid of suspects. But instead of something that people made up on TV, every piece of evidence is real content I found online. The content is essentially imperative in tone, as the piece is primarily about how user generated content mimics corporate content mimics user generated content and, as a result, your entire user experience online is all secretly advertising and shopping and ultimately absurd.

The intricate web starts with a stock image picture of a white business man verbally accosting his flip phone, and from there spreads to demonstrate the effects of this man and his work on three terminals: people, art, and tools. The meat and thus majority of the piece exists in “tools” but the others deserve explanation as well.

The “people” part winds its way through other business-y stock images and break room water coolers and home water coolers. At its end rests the result of two business stock images representing strategy and teamwork (one is a business man making a chess move the other is a man shaking hands with another man). There is a string coming from these two images leading to an image of a young boy being carried through a mess of ropes by his peers in what seems to be some kind of strategic teamwork exercise for children outside. So they are prepared. For business.

The “art” part is the smallest and the most obviously dumb and misguided attempts by corporations to create regular people things. It is composed of several sand sculptures of brands and an ice sculpture of a logo consisting of a hand holding a globe at a corporate gala. Not included are probably a lot of other ice sculptures, balloon sculptures, and regular terrible sculptures on corporate campuses. And pictures of eagles and stuff. I will not belabor the point.

The “tools” section begins to get at the uncanny and incredibly devious tactics used by corporations and their advertisers to deliver. It immediately branches into two sections, web and non-web. The non-web is a single item: a picture of a chart on a large dry-erase board (as a seasoned leadership conference debutant, I can immediately recognize it as either the result of a group of people asked to draw out “teamwork” or some other vague abstract word important to “business,” or the result of a group of people asked to visually represent their own “role” or “personality type” that was discovered after some personal survey or another i.e. Meyers Briggs).

The web part begins with PowerPoints and how these are a tool for communicating information, specifically directives and suggestions. The map then moves away from the PowerPoint and the suggestive tools take the form first of articles and then simply bullet points in an article and then finally: the listacle! I hope you know what a listacle is because Microsoft Word dictionary does not recognize it. A listacle is what a Buzzfeed article is. So the first branch off “listacle” is just regular people content i.e. What Harry Potter Character Are You, or anything about Drake, or whatever. The other main section coming off “listacle” is “sponsored content” and now we have arrived at the raison d’etre of the installation.

“Sponsored content” branches off into “life hacks,” “op-ed,” and “news.” These branch off into what is mostly those weird ads (“ads”) that say Eat This Never Diet Again, 22 Friends You Know Are Definitely Dead, Secret Billionaire Brain Pill, What The Government Doesn’t Want You To Know About BLAH, etc. These then branch off into “top trending” items (i.e. “Jesus Christ”), news stories that aren’t news (or are they: Ariana Grande Apologies for Her America-Hating Donut Licking), other stuff, and then finally into native advertising specifically found on Facebook. This all ends with the very furthest most point being a string connecting to a screen shot of the notification “Cecilia has invited you to her online 3d Mascara Party” which is some sort of online Tupperware party.

The entire map is sprinkled with comments and there is a specific part featuring only reviews. Every dead end is an absurdity: “What kind of Sandwich Am I” sponsored by Subway, a wad of hundred dollar bills being used as a door stopper with a red circle painted over it, Top Trending Searches: girls trapper hats, a screenshot of an “article” from a website where the actual content is only two sentences and takes up maybe 5% of the page.

The cubicle web demonstrates the eradication of boundaries between advertising and news, personal stories, op-ed, advice. Its dead ends demonstrate the complete absurdity that content spirals into when these boundaries do not exist. In a world that has completely imploded into the system of capitalism and consumption, every dead end must always be absurd because people will do pretty much anything to sell you stuff. You are not allowed to have experiences outside of the lifestyles being sold to you (whether you know they are being sold to you or not).

The first concern this raises is that of the credibility of “traditional values” and the credibility of the common voice of the Internet. Corporations are interested in perpetuating “traditional values” and preserving hegemony because a queer world, a world in which people live according to values of their choosing and are not shamed for them, is not a world in which mass target audiences exist to sell to. Thus the democratization of the web is interested in interpreting “every man created equal” as “every man created the same.” Corporate content poses as “your friend” who knows & uses memes but the point of view and its message does not ultimately exist to benefit you, or even neutrally engage with you.

Lev Manovich writes in The Practice of Every Day (Media) Life:

“Given that a significant percentage of user generated content follows the templates and conventions set up by the professional entertainment industry or directly reuses professionally produced content, does this mean that people’s identities and imaginations are now even more firmly colonized by commercial media?” (page 321)

I think we can probably answer the question with a ‘yes’ but I think the first concern we should address is the end result of this content template mimicking. It all seems to result in a nonsensical feedback loop. The amount of content available to consume allows little opportunity for depth and multilayered insight. And if that content being consumed is in fact corporate content that consists of chewed up, recycled user-generated content — comments and reactions and interpretations of comments and reactions and interpretations — then the now-mature digital age is and will be, for the most part, impersonal (corporate or otherwise) nonsense, perpetually being looped back into itself thus generating information that is either inherently meaningless or has lost its tether to any original significance upon creation.

Democracy and the democratization of the web lie at the heart of this loop. With the spread of (at least the idea of) democracy throughout the world via globalization and the Internet, it is only natural that the Internet itself has undergone democratization. It is a seemingly flat landscape in which everybody is allowed to participate. Everybody is allowed to share his or her comments and feedback, critical or not. In a world before such a platform, one may have consumed some kind of content (news, art, article, essay, story, etc.) and maybe have generated some thought or feedback, in general most likely not critical or credible enough to be published by the ~proper authorities.~ Said thought may have been kept to oneself or shared out loud in passing. Today all of these thoughts and feedback are shared instantaneously and without criteria. This feedback is then available for others to consume and feed back into, and on and on. An endless loop of nonsense and non-critical dialogue is being swallowed and spit back out. The endless perpetuation leaves no time for critical digestion of content; there is only surface-level interpretation and feedback. Fully substantiated and in-depth content is scarce. Most “posts” require prerequisite familiarity with a kind of information delivery structure to understand what the hell is going on in the content. Add to this that many “posts” are actually advertisements and sponsored content and we have full blown simulacrum.

For example, there may be article on the web that generates a discussion in its comment section that completely derails into a lecture on the meaning of “argumentum ad hominem.” There may also be a post shared with genuine enthusiasm on Facebook by an acquaintance titled “14 Reasons You Might Be A Kansas City Hipster” that mimics the form of a Buzzfeed article but was generated by Parisi Coffee, a Kansas City coffee bean roaster, and is showcasing their product. Both of these are examples of what I call content sans coefficient: they are examples of content that have either become completely detached from any original meaning, or content that requires the association of familiar structure to give it digestible significance. The latter is the primary concern of GOOD ADVICE I FOUND ONLINE. Parisi is using a listacle to promote product. All of the information in the listacle is meaningless fluff that exists to pad the product they are advertising. And the fluff is only understood coherently because of our familiarity with the listacle.

Advertisers have assured their place in the feedback loop by recruiting unknowing content zombies. Much like the friend who shares the sponsored listacle, the content zombie will Instagram photos of GrubHub’s pizza wallpaper all over the subway car. They will, through any form of social media, share the brand’s latest effort thus doing all the work for the advertisement. Hell, maybe I am secretly sponsored by GrubHub and am writing all this diatribe-y academia as padding. You cannot completely blame the content zombies. Again, the boundaries between advertising and entertainment and everything in life have faded and those folks down in marketing are making damn sure that you will never see them again. Some pretty hilariously dumb stuff exists because of it.

The installation was received weirdly. I spent the first two days setting it all up: mapping it out on the floor first and then putting it up and connecting items with strings and marker. It took me longer than I thought to map it out because the relationships between each item were truly so ambiguous. It all could have existed as one big blob really. By the third day the installation was complete. People were mostly afraid of it. People are mostly afraid of art in general really. When I explained the piece in way simpler terms than this essay does, some people had never even heard the words native advertising which was dreadfully disconcerting for someone like myself who will never shut the fuck up about it to my friends and loved ones. But who the hell am I.

There was one table of people that requested to speak to the artist (me lol). I told them about my piece and they told me that they worked in marketing and they totally got it and that yes I was right and we are evil and we all went ha ha! together. It was really fun and encouraging, sort of. They then asked me where my piece was located and I told them it was the giant cubicle in the middle of the restaurant and they said oh and that they thought that was the manager or something and I said maybe, if the manager is a psychopath.

That night I also threw a Casual Friday Office Party inside my cubicle and all my friends came and we had a sheet cake from Jewel that said “Happy” and we all laughed because we understood that this is not art (painting) it’s comedy, sort of. And it’s also just real life (online) presented in a cubicle. In a restaurant.

On the fourth day God was depressed. I made some large scale things that said stuff like #1 Hollywood Guy and a blank PowerPoint slide that just said OPEN MIND. Each was about four feet by five feet and comprised of tiled inkjet 8.5x11 sheets of printer paper. Blah blah. Right now I am interested in making art that can be recreated exactly. Pretty much everything can be recreated exactly, at least virtually, whether the original producer likes it or not. Rarity is no longer valuable or particularly relevant today because of the Internet (and also probably because of mass production to mass markets.) I think it is interesting to create work in dialogue with this phenomenon.

And on the fifth day God gave the people what they wanted. I made a painting, a pretty big one. Never painted anything before, people called it “beautiful.” They raised their eyebrows and shrugged their mouths and their shoulders and said “Hm!” It also made it more obvious that the whole cubicle situation was part of the art happening and people were more brave and more eager to read it and follow the content map. People asked me questions about it and I felt warm inside. And also now I am painter.

“Art: My Boyfriend: Beheld: The Beholder: 2: Back to tha hood: The Musical” 2016, acrylic on canvas

I was surprised my outfit didn’t make the fact that art was happening more obvious from the beginning I make work under the name Jimmy Coyote and dress the part during performances. I wear a bright orange male wig (the wig store sells it as “the billionaire wig”), clear brown aviators, a suit jacket & pants, and a black turtleneck for evening occasions (a red button down for regular things, i.e. announcing my candidacy in the presidential race and stuff like that). Jimmy Dresses like this because Jimmy is from Jimmy World, an absurd world analogous to our own. In Jimmy World every person is a business and every business is a person. So, although Jimmy is an artist character from this world, she is essentially a businessman, as is everyone (because of the capitalism thing again, you get the point.)

I was very excited to come in the next day because I planned to wear all white and film myself being interviewed. It was going to be kind of like an Inside The Actor’s Studio vibe except minus James Lipton or any interviewer at all. I was just going to answer questions that I asked myself in my head, continuously and without explanation. However, early Saturday morning I got a text explaining to me kindly and not without sympathy that I will have to destroy and remove my installation by 5pm that day as there is a large corporate dinner party that has reserved and needs the space.

Then my mom, at the end of all of it, recommends that I, the entrepreneur she wishes I was, go around to restaurants in Chicago and pitch to them the idea to do this (art) in their establishment as both entertainment and some kind of marketing ploy to promote my art (business).
parts of this article appeared in jimmy coyote’s