This is my project proposal for a 2012-13 Rhizome artist commission. I’m going to sell my name to a corporation for three months. They will take over all of my public interactions both online and irl. Kenyatta will become a product. I will not exist.
The American Supreme Court and some politicians have declared that corporations should be treated as persons. So what happens when a person voluntary assigns their personhood to a corporation? Can it be used to raise awareness of the issue of corporate personhood and create spectacle in the process?
Kenyatta Cheese (creator of Know Your Meme, an artist, an activist, and a person) will sell the exclusive use of his name to a corporation for a period of three months. That corporation will assume both the real world and online identity of ‘Kenyatta Cheese’, reimagining his personhood as a brand with the help of ethnographers, lawyers, focus groups, public relations departments, a creative agency, and friends and acquaintances. During this period, Kenyatta (the person) will not be able to use his name except in the case of emergencies and air travel.
In order to develop Kenyatta Cheese (the product), the corporation will conduct research and development, mining his personal life, online profiles, and browser data for uniquely identifying information. The corporation will hire his friends and family to “be” Kenyatta Cheese at public events, speaking engagements (technology and media conferences), and social gatherings, interacting with people based on their own ideas of how they think Kenyatta Cheese would behave.
These public interactions will be documented through hidden video and interviews will be conducted to capture the thoughts and feelings of the Kenyatta Cheese “betas”. People who interact with these betas will be given a business card directing them to complete a customer service survey online.
This documentation will serve as the basis of standard operating procedures for being Kenyatta Cheese, brand guidelines, and a marketing and media buying plan. The corporation will then hire social media “gurus” to take over and run all instances of Kenyatta Cheese online including Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and a personal website. Strangers will be hired off of Craigslist to represent the brand at public events in cities around the world (complete with afro wig and business cards). Like the research beforehand, the interactions of these Craigslist hires will be documented and they will be interviewed.
The three month project will culminate in the compilation of a dozen or so interview videos, the creation of the corporate and product documents, the capture of company interactions in social media, and hopefully two public panels: one at SXSW (or similar conference) exploring the topic of personal identity and marketing featuring 4-5 “Kenyattas” and a second panel at the New Museum exploring the topic of identity through the stories of several Kenyatta’s, artists working on similar issues, and representatives from each of the companies involved in creating Kenyatta Co.
Possible Kenyattas will include but not be limited to author Baratunde Thurston, technologist Anil Dash, artist Kevin Slavin, writers Nick Bilton and Clive Thompson, entrepreneurs Nora Abousteit, Know Your Meme co-creators Jamie Wilkinson and Elspeth Rountree, performers Mike Rugnetta and Patrick Davison, actress Michelle Krusiec, sociologist Tricia Wang, and Kenyatta’s mom.