Friday, November 18, 2011

The Anxiety of Everything

I've written about the 'problem' with accessibility to masses of images before but it reared it's head again today. We often have these moments where we see something that is so close to the bone of another creatives work that it makes you wince. This has been widely discussed in the past with the idea of motif 'ownership' being raised. That is to say, who 'owns' a particular object. Does Man Ray 'own' toilets? Does Emin 'own' beds? Does Hirst 'own' sharks? Does Weston 'own' capsicums? Does Mapplethorpe 'own' flowers and male genitals? The list could go on and on.

A few years ago I started (but - again - abandoned) a series called 'whispers'. Two of the prints were finalised, with one being shown at an award in 2009. Otherwise the series never migrated out from the cupboard and only stayed as digital sketches.

Today I noticed that a Canadian artist is essentially doing the same idea much more successfully. I don't claim it as a necessarily original idea and I'm sure if I scratched a bit deeper around the traps I could find much older examples of the same idea.

Nonetheless, the awareness is both frustrating creatively (now the work will most definitely be abandoned) and personally.

Plagiarism (and the perception thereof) is a big issue especially when you factor in attribution, referencing and mass media to the equation. That is, is it legitimate to reference/copy work provided it's attributed? What when the work is a background element? What when it's not attributed and knowledge is 'assumed'? Recent examples include Sam Leach at the 2010 Wynn Prize as well as the winner of the portrait prize at the 2011 Cossack Art Awards.

In 2008, a street artist - Cartrain - used Hirst's diamond skull as a small element in a series of work. Damien Hirst contacted the Design and Artists Copyright Society (DACS) demanding action be taken over the works. On the advice of his gallery, Cartrain handed over the artworks to DACS and forfeited the £200 he had made. The same artist later stole a series of pencils from a Hirst show at the Tate, held them 'hostage' demanding the return of his works. He even used the pencils to sign his own work.

Hirst himself has had his fair share of legal scrapes on multiple occasions. Most famously for his giant anatomy doll but also for multiple works by John Le Kay. Funnily enough when I first saw the Hirst skull, I immediately thought of Arthur C. Clarke's show - the titles including one of the images of our generation.

You can find hundreds and hundreds of similar examples easily online. Is ignorance a valid argument any more? Is awareness ultimately stifling, especially if you have to establish the originality of an idea prior to actually 'doing' something?

As a side note, 'Whispers' was unsuccessfully proposed as an exhibition in Perth a few years ago.

More reading:
"When does similar become too similar"
"Who owns cooling towers?"

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