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26 November 2009

Second place turkey: an apt metaphor for the recorded music industry

Happy Thanksgiving everybody! Today is my favorite of all holidays. If you ignore the whole set of associations with native American genocide it is, quite literally just an occasion to say thanks — a kind of non-denominational, all-inclusive moment of grace.

Even the food is pretty good.

Which brings me to the picture of Stud Turkey, my collaborative entry to Todo Mundo‘s annual turkey-shaped Jell-O® Mold competition. (Todo Mundo is David Byrne‘s independent record label, though the studio also produces his art & book projects.) My co-chief (who deserves most of the credit) & I (who does not) won second prize for this chocolate panna cotta concoction, infused with cheap bourbon & covered in powdered chocolate and those edible silver ball things that one used to find on cupcakes more often before mercury poisoning. In handing over our award it was described as “A cogent commentary on the current state of the music industry.” Our only thought was that it looked like leather jacket that an Eagles fan from Albuquerque might wear for a night out.

We happened to think even more of our non-placing entry, Gilty Pleasure, a bacon infused panna cotta turkey covered in gold leaf. In the judging, it was referred to as the Damien Hirst of turkeys which, while accurate, goes to show the need to control your own context. We thought of it more as part two of a diptych about 80s rock’n’roll. (Gold records, et. al.)

You can read more on the non-blog of Todo Mundo’s art director Danielle Spencer or the coverage on The New Yorker‘s blog — including details on the awe-inspiring first prize winner, a burger-shaped entry by David Hunter. He definitely got my vote.


Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis  

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28 April 2009

Artisanal vs. Industrial in Artistic Industries


Last week I jested a bit about my new life as a businessperson. It’s healthy, occasionally, to poke fun at a mode of thinking that too often focuses on big wins & lowest common-denominator strategies. (i.e. People love them some big f**king flashy business cards.)

However, business can also be a powerful way of understanding the world in a cross-disciplinary way. An artistic mindset demands extreme focus; a business consciousness demands constant appraisal of conditions in the wider sphere. Last night, for example, I was struck by this passage from The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan’s excellent book about the realities of food production in the modern societies:

    Drawing on the theories of Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter, [Allan] Nation had distinguished between industrial and artisanal enterprises to demonstrate why attempts to blend the two modes seldom succeed. Industrial farmers are in the business of selling commodities, he explained, a business where the only viable competitive strategy is to be the least-cost producer… In a commodity business a producer must sell every more cheaply and grow ever bigger or be crushed by a competitor who does.

    Nation contrasted the industrial model with its polar opposite, what he calls “artisanal production,” where the competitive strategy is based on selling something special rather than being the least-cost producer of a commodity. Stressing that “productivity and profits are two entirely different concepts,” Nation suggests that even a small producer can be profitable so long as he’s selling an exceptional product and keeping his expenses down. Yet this artisanal model works only so long as it doesn’t attempt to imitate the industrial model in any respect. Read more »

Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis  

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