Erik Schubert – How to Win Friends and Influence People

Artist: Erik Schubert
Title: How to Win Friends and Influence People
Publisher: Lavalette
Year: 2013

At its heart, commerce traffics in desire and need. Manufactured or genuine, the product or need is often secondary to the dance – the seductive allure offered by the seller. Promises are made, promises are kept, and promises are broken. Borrowing its title from Dale Carnegie’s best-selling self-help manual, Erik Schubert’s How to Win Friends and Influence People is a fractured and messy look at the resilient visual grammar of a fading business world – equal parts broken sales pitch and sleight of hand.

Drawing loose associative links between subjects like cryptic prototype drawings, interiors, photographed documents, still lifes or mildly obscene ASCII drawings, Schubert’s work not only mines the detritus of his father’s career as a salesman, but also explores the artefacts of corporate promise. Antiquated objects, like an old motivational cassette tape, are treated as relics, and old emails are parsed for advice. Convention halls are scrutinised and excavated. Highlighting ripped carpets, light-bleached props and cheerfully incongruent display signs, Schubert reveals a bygone era that never ended. Taken together, the disparate elements of Schubert’s work feel like an intentionally misguided séance. Half-dead ghosts of commerce past are summoned and probed – their genial promise still present despite their fading veneer.

While Schubert’s subject seems like an easy target at first, designed to confirm our worst stereotypes of the hollow core of corporate sloganeering, or the sad sack salesmanship of Willy Loman, the work also points to the ways in which the aspirational language of corporate America permeates our lives – informing each hope and desire. Idiosyncratic and tightly focused, Schubert’s How to Win Friends and Influence People looks at a world and language that refuses to die, that lurks in briefcases, in cavernous conference halls, in hopeful diagrams and inspirational notes, promising us more and more.