Becoming Nike? the Fake Behind the Swoosh
A flashy red box, resembling a container but of superior design, rests on the edge of a desolate traffic island dividing Vienna's Karlsplatz square. On its rounded glass windows, next to the Nike logo, a poster says "nikeplatz (formerly Karlsplatz)". On the back of the box, dots on a map indicate the locations of future Nike squares in other cities. And that's not all: Inside the boxes presentation room, an athletic man offers information on what seems to be Nike's most recent marketing coup. There is a display presenting the nikeground.com web site, as well as a sketch of the 36 times 18 meters tall steel Swoosh monument (the logo Nike founder Phil Knight bought from a marketing student for 35 dollars in 1971), both illustrating the vast dimensions of the project. The boxes cutting-edge interior also features glittering footballs from the Manchester United series, and a model of the popular Nike shoe "ID". According Nike's philosophy, ID can be co-designed by the customer, allowing him/her to feel one with Nike. Together with the Italian artists' group 0100101110101101.ORG, the Vienna-based media institution Public Netbase took up this philosophy and launched the fake “nikeground” project, a statement against the privatization of public space. The announced re-naming of Karlsplatz square – home to major cultural sites such as the Secession, Adolf Loos' "Café Museum", and the Karlskirche – would have amounted to dedicating the square to Nike, with the Nike sculpture marking it as a corporate product.
Responding to fake press releases, the Viennese popular press drummed outrage until, finally, the Austrian Nike press service made it clear that Nike was not the originator of this hoax, and proceeded to litigate against Public Netbase. On 14 October, the activist group received a claim for damages amounting to 78,000 Euros. However, with a court ruling in favor of the protection of the freedom of art, Nike’s efforts to have this art project banned proved futile.
Unlike in previous works by 0100101110101101.ORG, the Karlsplatz action quickly lost suspense once the plot was resolved. This is because what was asserted in the action has long been a reality in other places. In fact, while the Nikeground action was in progress, the new Volkswagen Golf model was advertised by replacing the name "Wolfsburg" (where Volkswagen are manufactured) by "Golfsburg", both at the city's railway station and on its official web site. Moreover, Nike had for several years been appropriating public space by establishing temporary theme zones targeting a young audience. This strategy, appropriately termed "Corporate Situationism" by Tom Holert, has long become an everyday routine of clever marketing divisions. Another question that arises is how the Vienna project relates to international "anti-Nike" campaigns attacking the corporation's public image. Groups involved in these campaigns have been active in the US since 1996, and in Europe since 1999. At that time, Europe's first Niketown opened at Berlin Charlottenburg, using the slogan "Don't let your city use you – use your city" – a line that subsequently was appropriated by "Reclaim the Streets" initiatives. This was also the time when Naomi Klein's bestseller "No Logo" was published in German.
Within sight of the fake Nike box, Public Netbase had set up the combat tent known from previous actions at the Museumsquartier, propagating the slogan "Reclaim the Net" in order to demand support for an independent media landscape in Austria, and in particular for the survival of the independent broadcaster Radio Orange and of Public Netbase. Taking this into consideration, it seems likely that both the subject of Nikeplatz and its location were factored in as key components of the game.