When brand and culture collide: Adidas X Marina Abramović

Work Relation 2014 - A film by Marina Abramović, in collaboration with adidas_00001

We ought to be excited when we saw this video. Commissioned by Adidas, designed to be coincide with the World Cup season, it featured an artistic interpretation of the brand’s ongoing “All In or Nothing” proposition. It’s the perfect example of brands creating cultural properties in the world of branded content.

Entitled “Work Relation”, the three-minute film captured the first ever re-staging of the iconic 1970s performance of the same title by Abramović and her partner at the time Ulay. In the statement from Adidas, they described it as a performance that “focuses on commitment, teamwork and the strength found in togetherness – reimagined through the lens of the 2014 FIFA World Cup”.

As part of the World Cup themed content, it was not the usual celebrity fuelled spot, nor did it deliver yet another manifesto type of script. It was actually a surprise in many levels. The collaboration is one – not a lot of artists are willing to let commercial brand take such a big part in their original piece of art. Timeliness is another – Marina Abramović is currently staging a premiere of her new durational performance at the Serpentine Gallery London.

Yet there is a certain kind of uneasiness about the film.

Perhaps it is the unnecessary placement of the product in the performance.

Perhaps it is the deliberateness of the set up. (In the reenacted piece, eleven performers reference the total members of a football team.)

Perhaps it is the over rationalization – or over simplification – of the idea of teamwork.

Work Relation 2014 - A film by Marina Abramović, in collaboration with adidas_00012

The “human chain” passing the stone by hand was described to be “the most efficient method”. “The chain has the most endurance. The chain stays forever.” says Marina in the voice over. We all know that the human chain is, in fact, not exactly teamwork, nor can it be called collaboration. It depicts the most primitive form of assembly line work. Each person in the human chain has the identical skill, not complementing each other. They might collectively accomplish a “task”, but they will never be able to innovate.

In the video, the eleven performers were recruited from “varying walks of life” and probably have never trained with each other before. That is a fundamental key element in any collaboration, and is not being represented in the piece.

In a true collaboration, differences between partners mean that one plus one will always equal more than two.

Teamwork is often chaotic and messy. And it may not always last. But it is the most enjoyable, and the only way to be creative.

If we choose to be rational, we can analyse it forever. But debates, discussions and active engagement from the consumers are what brands really want nowadays, especially if brands want to become cultural properties of the world. In one of the interviews of Marina Abramović in the book “Live Art and Performance” (published in 2004), she pointed out the need to “elevate” the public in order for them to experience art:

“…They (the public) have to make this radical step of not being an observer anymore, or a passive thing, but being participants. It’s essential, they have to be creative to finish the work.”

May be that’s what the best content should be – being open-ended, let the consumers interpret it themselves and own a piece of it. May be that’s the point.

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