The story behind the name

A few years ago, my friend Carrie and I were discussing a collaborative project. As our project developed, the discussion turned to how we might sign the piece—with our names or an official sounding name? It turned out we were both intrigued by those artists who use a name other than their own.

We contemplated what that might mean and came to the conclusion that a name that makes it sound like you are part of an entity gives you immediate credibility and marketability but most of all it can create an aura of intrigue. Heightening the viewer’s curiosity is always a good thing. For example, who is Office Supplies Incorporated and what do they do? This entity  has nothing to do with office supplies. Office Supplies Incorporated simply consists of a Vancouver street poster artist whose work can be seen around town. The artist has chosen a moniker for a specific set of artistic activities, strengthening his identity within the creative community while also remaining somewhat in disguise (although if you google the name, the artist clearly divulges his name–I’m not sure if this was so right from the beginning).

Entity names provide credibility, intrigue, disguise but also can create an image larger than real life. Imagine mail artist Ray Johnson, the one man behind The New York School of Correspondance. Johnson operated the so called ‘school’ out of his home, probably in pyjamas half of the time, perhaps other times drinking scotch…who knows. But the question that surfaces for me is whether Johnson received recognition for his mail art activities in part because they were conducted under an entity name? The Whitney Museum of American Art later organized an exhibition showcasing Johnson’s correspondence and using his entity name as the title. How much influence did his entity name have?

Entity names function as containers for ideas. Yet another example is The N.E. Thing Co. This registered corporation was made up of husband and wife team Iain and Ingrid Baxter and it was “a vehicle through which to investigate artistic, domestic, and corporate systems in relation to everyday life.”

I am intrigued by the assumptions that we make when we hear an official name as it relates to artistic activities and the misconceptions we conjure, and how it affects our attitudes or behaviour. For this reason, I created a moniker for a number of my projects—The Prohibitive Genus Collective. I came up with the name through a brainstorming session and liked the possibility of puzzlement or intrigue that this name could create.

The projects contained under The Prohibitive Genus Collective, all have a public component to them: installed in public spaces or performed in public spaces.