Media piracy, intellectual property, artistic originality

Constantino Tejero reviews the exhibition "This is not by me" in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, 27 Novermber 2006


THE QUESTION OF originality has bedeviled artists and intellectuals for centuries. Some still cautiously contextualize it while others altogether dismiss the idea as a non-issue.


At this time when artists can readily whip artworks out of readymades and found materials, creating something out of nothing, as it were—to raise one’s hackles over originality would seem naive, if not altogether silly.


Several decades ago, artists like Warhol and Chagall pioneered in appropriating readymades, objets trouvés and found images and calling them their own without apology, but, in fact, managing to turn the resultant pieces into pricey cultural bric-à-brac. The postmodernists are just blithely pursuing the practice.


It is in this light that Goethe-Institut Manila is presenting the recent works of Cornelia Sollfrank in the exhibit “This Is Not by Me,” until Nov. 30 in Mag:net Gallery at Agcor Building, 335 Katipunan Ave., Loyola Heights, Quezon City.


Sollfrank is a media, performance and installation artist from Hamburg. She is a founder of the cyberfeminist group Old Boys Network.


In this exhibit, she is turning the table on Andy Warhol. A notorious practitioner of appropriation, Warhol extensively used materials from the media and advertising by mechanically reproducing commercial products and celebrity images in silkscreens, smooth paintings and facsimiles. Now it is his turn for his works to be appropriated.


The exhibition note relates Sollfrank’s artistic process: “In 1996, she created Internet artworks using ‘net art generator,’ a program that automatically creates artworks from artifacts from the Net. Since then, her work has dealt primarily with questions of intellectual property and artistic freedom... Her incorporation of found material had actually prevented an exhibition of her work in Switzerland, because the curator was afraid of the legal ramifications of her use of material from Warhol’s work.”


An example is her series of images appropriating Warhol’s famous flowers. This may look digitalized and more glaring in its neon intensity than the “original” but it can never be denied that it is a copy. Sollfrank, at least, has made the disavowal, if only wryly, that this work is “not by me.”


The exhibit is curated by Tilman Baumgärtel, a visiting professor at the University of the Philippines Film Institute. It includes a video interview with Warhol conducted by Sollfrank, in which the two artists discuss questions of intellectual property.


Also held at the UP CMC Auditorium in relation to the show was “Asian Edition: A Conference on Media Piracy and Intellectual Property in Southeast Asia.”


The information sheet explains the core of the informed discussion: “Music, movie and software piracy is one of the most prominent media issues of the digital age. In the Philippines, it has started a whole underground economy, and seems to change the way movies and other media products are distributed and consumed... Instead of portraying piracy exclusively as a crime against artists and distributors, the workshop-conference looks at piracy as a social, cultural and economic phenomenon.”


Both conference and exhibit address those issues spawned in the age of digital reproduction, specifically the question of artistic freedom—something our artists need to understand before they lay their paws on other people’s works.


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