If counterfeit products are zombies, uncovering the reality of global supply chains, trademarks and logos are animating spirits that bring them to life. While traveling in India between 2011 and 2018, the artist and photographer Nick Sethi identified brand and bootleg culture as “a gauge of India’s changing relationship to the west.” His images explore “how information moves from one place to another and gets lost or mutates along the way.”
An uncanny disjuncture occurs when brands appear out of place: on kitchen utensils by “Blackberry” or a grey sports blouson by “McDonalds”. Long before Supreme began demonstrating the elasticity of its brand using the copy-paste logic of the Internet, the manufacturers and traders at Shanghai’s Nanjing Market (closed since 2016) or Nehru Place and Gaffar Market in Delhi were testing the same principles IRL.
“Physically, things are constructed to the point of temporary usability, and usually not much further, so the process can be much more fluid,” says Sethi. “If the manufacturers see a certain style of clothing being worn and a different brand’s logo becoming popular, why not merge the two?”
In this market, retired iterations like the Apple rainbow logo never die, while mutations become desirable in their own right, multiplying in a sort of semiotic Darwinism. “The wildest part is we’re seeing it go full circle. Companies whose products are being knocked off look to this immediate, street-level culture to inform the direction of their brand”.
At their inception, logos and trademarks established a legal framework aimed at guaranteeing authorship, but the law can no longer keep pace.
When that framework drops away, as it does in Nick Sethi’s photographs, we see how products might behave without us watching.