Sabine Himmelsbach
This publication is being published on the occasion of the exhibition Cornelia Sollfrank – Originals and other Fakes, which was on show from January 24 to April 19, 2009 at the Edith Russ Site for Media Art. Cornelia Sollfrank held a grant at the Edith Russ Site in 2008. During her one-month stay, she worked on her new project Déjà Vu: First Plagiarism Detection Software for Fine Arts and received one of the media art grants awarded by the Stiftung Niedersachsen for its realization. Aside from researching the subject of plagiarism, she devoted her time in Oldenburg to preparing for her solo exhibition dealing with the topical significance of original and imitation as well as the complex rules and regulations governing copyright law.

The question concerning original and copy is a theme that runs like a golden thread through Cornelia Sollfrank’s oeuvre. The artist has examined the digital cultural techniques of copying and recycling since the mid-nineteen nineties. Aside from her interest in new models of authorship and machine-supported aesthetic production, her current works are devoted to copyright matters, dealing with this theme in the exhibition based on the exploitation of picture rights.
Loans from the State Museum for Art and Cultural History, the Horst Janssen Museum and the Municipal Museum Oldenburg formed the artistic basis of her online stock photography agency that sells photographic reproductions of the exhibited artworks. The steps required to produce the illustrations and to acquire the rights are elucidated in the exhibition.
The viewer is surprised by the presentation of “old masters” on the top floor of the Edith Russ Site, which is quite unusual in our house. The exhibition space is adorned with sculpture, paintings and prints from Oldenburg museums. The colorfully painted wall pieces serve here to quote typical museum presentations and its context shift in a house devoted to media art. The presentation of the image data bank’s holdings follows on the lower level. The illustrations of the works exhibited on the top floor are fitted with the over-sized logo of Sollfrank’s agency with which the artist clearly claims to ownership to the rights for them as well as ironically pointing to a common practice among stock photograph agencies to prevent the illegal use of these images. Aside from the sale of photographs of the exhibited works, the artist portrays the steps she had to take to be able to offer the works for sale in her data bank. Contracts with lenders and copyright holders provide insights into the complex rules and regulations regarding copyrights and their exploitation. The lengthy process required to photographically reproduce museum artworks is documented in a video depicting the museum’s photographer Christoph Irrgang at work.
The exhibition concept goes back a presentation entitled MuseumShop realized by Sollfrank at the Märkisches Museum Witten in 2007. This concept was expanded in Oldenburg and the stock photograph agency’s data bank was enlarged to include a representative selection of works from Oldenburg. It therefore also contains portraits of Oldenburg benefactors as well as regional animal and landscape painting.
The question of authorship is examined finally in the exhibition with a collage on the subject of plagiarism that offers a view of the work in progress Déjà Vu dealing with the detection of imitations in the visual arts which the artist is working on in conjunction with her grant. The artist has already presented first possibilities in this exhibition. In collaboration with the Fraunhofer Institute for Secure Information Technology (SIT), Sollfrank was able to develop the ImageMark software, a watermark designed to protect digital and analog images and graphics used on the photographic reproductions of the exhibited works. The interesting thing about this procedure is not only the verification of digital images’ originality, but also the aesthetic results that can be produced by means of this program.
With her plagiarism detection software, Sollfrank promises a technique that will offer digital art a new possibility to differentiate between original and imitation. Mark Getty, the founder of the Getty Images stock photography agency called intellectual property in the information society the oil of the twenty first century. In the age of “cut and paste,” enormous financial and organizational resources are being expended in the attempt to safeguard against the illegal use of original contents caused by ability to make digital copies using these computer commands. At the same time, the Internet serves as an inexhaustible source of digital material as well as an extremely effective distribution medium. By claiming that she can clearly identify imitations, Sollfrank makes a further contribution to the topical discussion of copyright and authorship. With humor and irony, she seemingly takes the side of the preservers in order to yet again emerge as the master of the deceptive game concerning original and copy in her works, in which the recycling of existing material is inherent. Her appropriation strategy unmistakably shows that the question of authenticity appears obsolete in the present-day remix culture.

The catalog documents the works shown in the exhibition Originals and other Fakes and offers a survey of Cornelia Sollfrank’s previous oeuvre. Aside from the comprehensive descriptions of the works, theoretical reflections classify the works in an art historical context. The essay by the philosopher Gerald Raunig lays the theoretical foundations for an understanding of the mechanical production methods in Sollfrank’s work by comparing the technical machine with physical and organizational processes. The art historian Rahel Puffert deals with the strategies of collective production as well as the forums and networked action and work platforms founded the by artist. The phenomenon of multiple authorship is the focus of the contribution by Jakob Lillemose. The cultural theoretician concentrates particularly on operating in global networks as well as the artist’s plea to the users of her software to become active themselves and to participate in the processes of shared and networked authorship. In a conversation with the artist, the art historian Silke Wenk delves deeper into the aspect of repetition in Sollfrank’s work. This ties into the artist’s current group of works in which Sollfrank reenacts and recontextualizes feminist actions and performances from the nineteen seventies. In a brief autobiographical statement, Sollfrank herself comments on her defining influences – but after an exact reading the text, one might be tempted to wonder about the text’s real authorship.

I wish to thank all those who participated in making this comprehensive catalog a reality. My gratitude goes to the Stiftung Niedersachsen for making the grant program possible, over the course of which three new pieces can be realized every year. I particularly wish to thank Dominic Freiherr von König for the support and commitment he has shown to our institution, Joachim Werren, general secretary of the foundation, and Julia Hiller, the foundation’s project manager. I extend cordial thanks to the Stiftung Kunstfonds, the state of Lower Saxony, and the Kulturstiftung der Öffentlichen Versicherungen Oldenburg for their generous support of the exhibition and the accompanying publication. I also wish to express my gratitude to my colleagues from the museums and collections in Oldenburg for their tremendous support and willingness to lend objects from their institutions. And my very special thanks naturally go to Cornelia Sollfrank, who accompanied the exhibition and the production of the catalog with much personal dedication.

Sabine Himmelsbach
Artistic Director of the Edith Russ Site for Media Art