After their satirical World Trade Organization website was mistaken for the real thing, founders Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno found themselves invited to do a presentation at an actual, serious, clueless WTO event. And so, in the great spirit of American capitalism, they put on nice suits and a can-do attitude and went. There, to a conference room full of bigwigs, they presented a revolutionary new gold lamé jumpsuit employers could provide their office drones to enhance productivity. Terrifyingly, much of the room took it seriously, even when Bichlbaum whipped out a giant inflatable gold phallus with an eye-level computer screen.
They have since posed as McDonald's executives convincing a roomful of business students of the merits of recycling cheeseburgers; pitched a "human stewardry" plan (slavery) at a different WTO conference; and much more. Their illustrious, world-spanning pranks and stunts get chronicled at TBA's KEEP IT SLICK, the first major exhibit to feature the Yes Men exclusively. I touched base with Astria Suparak, exhibit curator and director of the Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon, to get the lowdown.
MERCURY: How did you get involved with the Yes Men and this exhibit?
ASTRIA SUPARAK: The Yes Men are among the loudest, most effective activists/artists of our time, reaching countless people through websites, television broadcasts, magazines, and newspapers. Yet, after talking with them, I found out they had never had a solo show. I've been a fan of their work for years, including their pre-Yes Men work as RTMark [the Yes Men-founded online activist collective/registered corporation] and the Barbie Liberation Organization in the '90s [the Yes Men's first prank, for which they switched the voice boxes in talking G.I. Joe and Barbie dolls, then returned the toys to the toy store]. Their work has been consistently critical and relevant, and truly absurd.
How did you select the clips, costumes, posters, and other materials that comprise the exhibit?
We rummaged through the Yes Men's basement and office, which was a long, dirty task. For the exhibition we re-gilded the skeleton mascot of the Dow Chemical Acceptable Risk project (which helps corporations determine how many deaths are acceptable for a profit). We also made more Vivoleum candles (formulated by ExxonMobil to create fuel out of environmental disaster victims). For this exhibition, you can walk into a re-creation of their past exploits, glimpse into an apocalyptic future, browse through the Yes Men's personal office items, and orate along to the absurd PowerPoints they've presented at business conferences. I wanted to sidestep the dry, archival, you-just-missed-it retrospective approach.