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K-HOLE CONVERSE ART PRIZE

2015’s most influential art collective on how to get noticed

Art / trend agency K-Hole gave the world its most Googled fashion word: #Normcore. So what do they have to say about art going viral?

Artist collective K-HOLE break the mould. Working outside the gallery space and flirting with big business, they ride the line between commercial venture and creative collab. “Everyone has a little bit of anxiety that we might be pranking them,” they told us. Responsible for a series of trend forecasting PDFs, K-HOLE made Normcore go viral and defined youth as an attitude not a number. They tap into the contemporary moment and getting noticed is what they do best.

When invited to participate in the New Museum Triennial, K-HOLE weren’t satisfied with producing an object for display. Instead they created the ad campaign for the exhibition itself, inventing a sticker of a cartoon prescription pill as the heart of their marketing effort – a reference to that gnawing FOMO that fuels the contemporary art scene. We talk to K-HOLE about trend forecasting and why it is that Normcore went viral.

How did Normcore become the most Googled fashion trend of 2014?

K-HOLE: Part of it was because there is an inherent tension within the word Normcore. The idea of being obsessive about being normal scrambled people’s brains when they tried to understand it. It tunes into this idea called paradessence – which is an internal branding term for something that satisfies two contradictory desires – like how coffee is supposed to both wake you up and calm you down. Part of the reason Normcore exploded is because it had this funny paradoxical way of explaining the way consumers were relating to fashion by trying to both fit in and be individualistic. That clicked for a lot of people.

Why do you tune into consumer culture?

K-HOLE: In the present moment a big portion of what people consume is created by large multi-national brands. For us initially coming out of art school we wondered why people weren’t talking about this sphere that seemed to inform so much creative production. We wanted to be more holistic about the inputs and outputs of what registered as culture. Everyone is a consumer, it doesn’t matter if you’re a corporate marketing officer or enrolled in campus, you’re navigating a lot of brands. We just try and interrogate the things that we’re buying, eating, drinking and consuming.

How do you go about forecasting trends?

K-HOLE: It’s an observational, qualitative methodology. We basically go out into the world and see what makes us feel weird. Then we try to figure out why it makes us feel weird and dig around in those different phenomenons and see if there’s something there which is unresolved or unarticulated that culture is working around. But the framework for how we forecast things is pretty ambiguous. We struggle to keep it that way. We try to bring the more far-reaching, speculative, personal perspective to what we think of those trends.

“Everyone has a little bit of anxiety that we might be pranking them, that it might all be one really big performance piece that we’re doing” –K–Hole 

Are you a business or an art collective?

K-HOLE: We function as an agency but we don’t use any of the traditional agency methodologies so we have just always engaged with trends on a personal basis. Businesses typically think of us as artists and art organisations are skeptical that we may be a business. Everyone has a little bit of anxiety that we might be pranking them, that it might all be one really big performance piece that we’re doing. It’s both good and bad. It means people are more comfortable letting us do weirder things but unfortunately everyone presumes the money is coming from somewhere else.

As artists in the New Museum Triennial you crossed the divide.

K-HOLE: Yes, we were commissioned artists for the New Museum Triennial and they asked us what we would like to do so we decided we wanted to do the press campaign for the exhibition. It meant we had to work through the back-end museum bureaucracy that most artists don’t have to deal with because we were operating at an institutional level. We designed a series of shareable stickers and a series of funny post-rational statements to make a viral advertising campaign. We made the stickers available to download within this app called Line.

Why did you design pills for that campaign?

K-HOLE: We came up with the idea for the pill as a metaphor for the way that people feel about these large-scale art events in general. There’s a huge deal of anxiety that surrounds art events – about who’s involved, who isn’t involved. There’s a certain art historical element to them – a naming of what’s relevant at a particular moment that people perceive and get really freaked out by even though the design of any event of this scale is beholden to all sorts of invisible variables. An exhibition as big as the New Museum Triennial feels like such a statement that it really makes people feel quite nervous.

What’s next for you?

K-HOLE: We’ve been really busy working on our next pdf report which will soft launch in the summer. I can’t tell you what it’s about quite yet but keep an eye out for it on our website.