With the growth of digital media, issues of copyright have plagued the music industry for well over a decade. Looking beyond popular controversial examples like Napster, it’s been a contentious topic even before file sharing. Decades ago, for example, the hip-hop community embraced sampling, dividing their source artists and music audiences into two camps: those who appreciate the music’s creative reinterpretation, or those who condemn it as stealing.
In the visual arts realm, the word is not “sampling” but “appropriation.” If you paint a naked person standing on a clamshell surrounded by floating zephyrs, it would be hard to convince anyone you had never seen Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” (which is itself based on an ancient Roman sculpture of Venus). You would be appropriating. Or would you be stealing?
Sponsored by the Media Arts Project, local artists and educators Ursula Gullow and Dawn Roe have organized a one-day symposium called “Copy/Right” to discuss the subtleties of this very issue. “When does ‘borrowing’ become ‘stealing?’ Is there such a thing as too much appropriation?” asks press for the event. “Can we claim ownership of our ‘original’ ideas?” On Saturday, Aug.17 at Apothecary in downtown Asheville, the public is invited to discuss these issues, which permeate the practices of all contemporary creative artists.
Roe and Gullow started the discussion early this summer about how to open up this topic to the community. Roe is the curator of the art space known as Window re/production re/presentation (otherwise known as the window of Henco Reprographics downtown), featuring artists who rely on reproduced imagery for their message. Gullow witnesses the concerns of painting from photographs described by her students at A-B Tech. Neither wish to pick a side on the issue, and such is the beauty of the symposium. “It’s not a gathering to learn how to accomplish a specific task,” Roe says. “It’s about creating broader arts conversations in Asheville, strengthening the arts community through dialogue.”
The panel discussion begins at 3 p.m., moderated by Gullow and writer/musician (and Xpress assistant editor) Jaye Bartell. The artists featured on the panel bring various perspectives on the focus of the symposium. Roe represents the concepts behind the exhibiting artists of Window. Anna Jensen’s paintings frequently reference art historical compositions and images. Peter Parpan’s painting and sign-making and Michael Traister’s photography deal with more specific issues of copyright in their commercial aspects. Finally, Dustin Spagnola’s high-profile murals around Asheville employ pre-existing imagery of popular figures such as Marilyn Monroe and George W. Bush.
After the discussion, at 7 p.m., Mechanical Eye Microcinema will show films that specifically deal with appropriation Mechanical Eye is the project of Charlotte Taylor and Lisa Sousa. Their mobile microcinema shows “independent, experimental, avant-garde and documentary films and videos that otherwise may not be shown in Asheville.” They have already worked in collaboration with the BeBe Theatre, the Phil Mechanic Studios and the Asheville Art Museum, showing Super 8 and 16mm films whenever possible, but not excluding digital output.
The film screening includes a question-and-answer session, and also features special guest Mark Hosler of the art collective Negativland. A pertinent addition to the symposium, Negativland formed in 1980 and continues to create music, visual art, video, radio programming, books and live performance all through the use of appropriated imagery and sound. Sued twice for their creations (once involving the band U2), Negativland collaborated with nonprofit media organization Creative Commons in 2004 to form the Creative Commons Sampling license, an alternative to traditional copyrights. Hosler’s career makes his stance transparent: “Pushing the envelope is what any good artist does with their work. Any sort of transformative re-use should be allowed — anything less than the whole, and sometimes … even the whole!”
The backdrop at Apothecary includes an exhibit of contemporary artists dealing with the theme. The work of Jensen and Leigh-Ann Pahapill will be on display, among others. Local artist Severn Eaton will install a portion of his large-scale piece “See What Inspired Me?” named after the local Cliffs High Carolina billboard slogan featuring Tiger Woods. Eaton created his original floor-to-ceiling installation of found billboards and a vacuum-powered interactive sculpture for a show at PUSH Skate Shop in late 2011.
Carrying the symposium’s theme over to Window, this month’s artist, Siebren Versteeg, presents “Own Nothing, Have Everything.” The window piece references the short-lived motto of the dying Napster, while appropriating the company’s logo with a socialist propaganda poster-style of execution.
Taking the place of this month’s Off the Map lecture series hosted by the Media Arts Project, Gullow hopes the symposium will inspire similar events. She stresses that this gathering is for all creatives, not just those using appropriation in their work. “We’re interested in culturally-engrained ideas of creativity — is creativity something that comes from your imagination only? Or can it be taken from pre-existing sources?”
“Copy/Right” will take place Saturday, Aug. 17 at 3 p.m. The film screening will be at 7 p.m. Apothecary is located at 39 S. Market St. in downtown Asheville. Visit www.windowcontemporary.org and www.mechanicaleyemicrocinema.org for more information.