Cults, fetishism and focus groups

You spent so long building this thing up from the ground, trying to reconnect and bring other people into your cause…and now you want to destroy it?

Picking up from where we left off in our ZAO world, we were faced with the question of how we wanted to appear to a wider public. ‘ZAOCorp’ seemed to lack a direction, a motive. Why would we want to collect from the environment? Why was it important? We thought the solution would be to fabricate the fictional origin stories that would tie all of our ‘characters’ of the business together and break it open. Expose it for being intent on fighting off some other-wordly force which we could not make public. But why would you want to kill your ZAO?

It was this space of ambiguity between our consumers and the business that had formed the real points of interest during the project. To ground ourselves more thoroughly in being a mediator between this speculative world where object collections and communications met the real world of estrangements had an initial effect of appearing more distant and ambiguous than we would have hoped. Yet, there was room here for developing a coexistence with the real and figuring where our products could sit within real world contexts in order to build more of a coherent language with our public without revealing too much and watering down the content.

But where do you draw the line between cult and corporation?

The development of languages with which to better understand our cause has been an underlying construction material thus far, interweaving between our value system and our audience in a number of forms. We turned our attention to existing examples of persuasive organisations that have constructed their shared narrative with an aim to bringing these techniques to a wider audience.

The Church of Scientology is one such organisation that has adopted a specific set of doctrines surrounding their religion and ways of approaching potential followers. The inclusion of their own glossary in their seminars, along with accompanying literature on raising a family and handling ‘The problems of work’ offered interesting insights into how an organisation such as ours may access a receptive audience while also maintaining a degree of the eerie and unnerving…the sense that there are higher agendas at play.

By lifting some of the consistent themes from this literature, we were able to construct some ‘bullshit’ leaflets of our own, which we intended would provide the framework for our own strange interventions with the public. This was also a useful development in establishing a stronger relationship to ideas of ‘object fetishism’, with a growing understanding that, while we would want to hold back on becoming too ‘cultist’ and alienating ourselves from our audience, some of these documents would be able to play along to a mantra of elevating the collected object to a higher status.

“Seduction…wants the other to change us and us to change the quality of the other to create a unique narrative beyond any sexual narrative…the post-human is the moment of the in-between…”¹

focus_group (13)

It just makes me think I want to see your archives.

As we took a step back from becoming too involved with the language techniques of Scientology, we brought it back to the corporation. The staging of a focus group allowed for feedback on our products and to observe how our peers responded to their sheer abnormalities. In doing so, we wanted to learn what others thought was important about our items. The main question revolved around the motives for collection; does the white, ‘clinical’ nature of the products not make them too precious? and was this part of the act of collecting the environment and making this visible? if this was so, what were we really interested in learning about people from this? Given that the sponge shoes picking up dirt from the environment seemed in direct contradiction to a item like the bags, used primarily for storing and holding onto items deemed to be precious, who were these for?

It was a realisation that while we may have begun with the aim of collecting all aspects of the physical environment, perhaps it was beginning to form more into the obsession of the collected object, the story around it and the act of doing so. In ways, it offers a disconnect from the digital realms we all live within and highlighting an alternative way of living (and so a nod back to the lifestyle brand…). We gave three bags to members of the focus group to collect things of their own for a few days and report back with the items.

“The indifference with which the Earth’s surface has been stripped reflects how groups and individuals…are often anonymous to each other…Appearing completely abstract and neutral, fetishism is the reification of technology into an instrument of negative dialects…”²

And as it stands…how else do we access the public? Our next move is to take this research to Ridley Road Market in Hackney, to engage with an unbiased public and ask for their participation in testing these items for themselves. In doing so, we aim to identify ourselves as a lifestyle brand bringing the intended act of collection to a wider audience, if not for us to learn about them, then for them to learn more about what it is that makes them collect the things they do…and with the inclusion of a # link to our social media, we promise them to ability to reflect on all that they took away from the product testing.

“in the society of individualised consumers…what else besides shopping meets so well the prerequisites of DIY exorcism?”³

  1. MacCormack, P. (2009) ‘Queer Post-Humanism: Cyborgs, animals, monsters, perverts’, from ‘Ashgate Research Companion to Queer Theory’ ed, Noreen Giffney, Michael O’Rourke. pp. 115
  2. ‘Year Zero’, Interior Ministry for Alienist Manifesto’ [blog] available at [accessed: 05/11/2018]
  3. Bauman, Z. (2012) ‘Liquid Modernity’, Polity Press, Cambridge. pp. 82

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