Car dealers have them, banks and hotels, supermarkets and fast food chains have them: the employee of the month. Since Homer Simpson happily held his "Employee of the Month" certificate in his hand in the third series of "The Simpsons", awarded to him by Springfield Nuclear Power Plant for his heroic prevention of a major disaster, since then at the latest we know what corporate culture is.
A bunch of flowers and an unobtrusive photo by the entrance to the canteen is no longer enough. On internet sites affirmative statements and some kind of "personality strip" is demanded of the consumers of short-lived fame. Family status, hobbies, budget, nothing remains private. If one is unlucky there will also be executive prose. This could then sound like, ". Knowledge and many years of experience in the profession coupled with the impulse of our young generation to move forwards increases the quality and competitiveness of our company." Or something of the kind.
The Canadian artist, Ken Lum, was born in Canada in 1956 as the son of Chinese immigrants and lives in Vancouver. In his work he is concerned with the question of how people interact. Social conditions, the dynamics of ethnic groupings and the existential conditions of urban co-existence are the themes of a work which firstly involves itself with local conditions to then make generally valid social analyses.
For the poster project "Arbeitswelten" (Worlds of Work) for the Chamber of Labour, Lum goes to work on the feelgood factor of the employee of the month and the format acquires the dimension of a real satire. For the fictive "Schnitzel Company" he posts up the twelve happy winners for one year, all young and happy in nice yellow shirts and red peaked caps. He also has a slogan ready which is absolutely agency-compatible: "Great Schnitzel, Great Company".
The tableau for Vienna is a twelve-part picture series of people of a wide variety of origins, which is particularly recognisable by the imaginatively construed names alongside analogue photographs of cast models. Than Thuy Vu and Erika Chang seem to be authentic schnitzel sellers, one McJob is like another. In cheerful harmony one abides by corporate and marketing strategies. Employees are morally armed with sentences such as, "The competence and commitment of our staff are significant factors on the way to fulfilling our mission," and are encouraged and rewarded with, "What counts is you." The global economic structures of capitalism require personal commitment and mobility, and in exchange an internet handshake may go online in the Google information networks. Warhol's "famous for 15 minutes" no longer applies and it must unfortunately be said that whoever is once in the information flow does not come out again. In this way an earth month can become the hell of eternity.
Photos confronted with text play a decisive role in the work of Ken Lum. Through the juxtaposition of word and image he uses a system which combines the pictorial languages of commercial advertising and everyday aesthetics. "The public nature of the final work," said Ken Lum, "meant that my conception had to take into account the spatial literacy of the public. By this I mean the aggregate of signs and symbols that consume public space and therefore public attention. The work had to resolve the contradiction of acknowledging public familiarity with the structures, codes and messages of publicly sited discursive conveyances as well as provide for an articulation different from corporate culture. In other words, my had to register as art, familiar that it may be to the form of non-art."