October 20, 2003
Vienna, Austria is not Niketown

For the past month, residents of the Austrian capital city of Vienna have noticed a large contraption erected in the center of Karlsplatz, one of the city's historic plazas. Translucent but sturdy, and appearing to have originated from the mind of Stanley Kubrick's set designer, the two-story structure was prominently billed as the Nike Infobox, a "high-tech multipurpose container acting as display stand, open office, and lounge." In addition to featuring two Nike-clad staffers inside and being prominently adorned with the familiar "Swoosh" logo, information was printed on the structure's sides that proclaimed, "Nikeplatz (formerly Karlsplatz): This square will soon be called NikePlatz", as well as including an instructional phone number and URL, www.nikeground.com, presumably so that interested (or more likely, highly concerned) citizens could gather more information about the mysterious co-opting of the city's history and public space.

And what did they learn? "Nike is introducing its legendary brand into squares, streets, parks and boulevards: Nikesquare, Nikestreet, Piazzanike, Plazanike or Nikestrasse will appear in major world capitals over the coming years!" Furthermore, curious onlookers were promised, the square would soon feature a giant 36- by 18-meter monumental Nike Swoosh, coated in "special steel covered with a revolutionary red resin made from recycled sneaker soles."

It was as though public spaces such as New York's Columbus Circle or Union Square had been literalized as "Niketown, USA". Unsurprisingly, Viennese citizens were in an uproar, and began to voice their concerns to local and national media outlets. Reporters did their homework, and, as it turns out, neither Nike nor the city of Vienna had sanctioned this venture. The city assured its residents, "Following World War II, street names cannot be modified, unless they look very similar to others". Hmm, I wonder what World War II has to do with that decision?

On October 10th, a press release announced that this had been a very elaborate hoax conceived by members of the European net-art trope 0100101110101101.ORG (and yes, you can bet that spelling was double- and triple-checked) and executed with the assistance of Public Netbase, a Viennese cultural arts council. The artists' intended purpose was to "directly intervene into urban and media space, to bring up the issues of symbolic domination in public space by private interests. We see Nike Ground as a statement for the artistic freedom to manipulate the symbols of everyday life."

Four days later, Nike (I mean, the real Nike, you know, of "Air Jordan" and "Bo Knows" fame, and not this fictitious Nike that bombards public spaces with marketing imagery) filed for an injunction requesting that the project immediately remove any references to its copyrighted material and desist from engaging in any and all Nike-related activity, lest the artists be fined 78,000 Euros.

The issue appears to be currently unresolved, but the artists, meanwhile, have insisted that the project will remain in its present state for at least another month. That's assuming that it can withstand the legal challenge; does this meet the legal definition of "satire", or is this merely an issue of "defamation of character"? Was Warhol harming the Campbell's Soup franchise in the 1960s with his pop-art releases, or was he indirectly providing them with more free advertising? And is it wrong to laugh at this as a really funny bit of some of the most elaborate form of performance art ever?

Most importantly, what sort of shoes shall we wear to the trial?

Hell, I never thought I'd say this, but even Kenneth Cole is beginning to look pretty good now.

Posted in a Grave fashion.

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