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ART NO MORE - EXTRACTS
(_) Maybe it's worth investigating The Fifth International Festival of Plagiarism. Organised by Transmission's William Clark and the prolific London based writer of texts, Stewart Home, it brings together a loose association of artists whose work is in some way participatory and proudly unoriginal.
Home is a veteran of previous Festivals, a number of exhibitions, including 1987's Desire In Ruins at the Transmission, and is one of the key figures in expressing the role of plagiarism in art.
Art itself, he argues, is chained to bourgeois values which shackle us all, not only by promoting the tastes and ideals of the dominant culture, but directly upholding capitalism by doing so. The claims for some art to be a vehicle for social change are therefore bogus, since the perception of art and artists and the structures of the art world will inevitably support the status quo.
Plagiarists oppose art's elitism, the praise heaped upon artists in direct proportion to their incomprehensibility to the general public and the process by which works of art become commodities to be dealt with like stocks and shares. Central among their concerns is the elitist myth (popular among artists themselves) of the artist as a genius with unique insights.
To draw attention to what art has become, the plagiarist group PRAXIS has called for an Art Strike, basically a withdrawal of labour like any other industrial action. The idea was first proposed by Gustav Metzger, who in 1974 called for artists to cease producing, selling or discussing their work between the years 1977-80. Despite Metzger's lack of impact, the plagiarists are calling for another three-year Art Strike beginning in 1990.
Metzger's vision was of galleries and art magazines folding and artists, unable to stop creating, being coerced into camps where their work would be destroyed as it was produced. The PRAXIS idea of the strike is less ambitious, and focused on the role of the artist and how he or she engages with the surrounding culture. It's crucial to their view to disrupt the myth of 'the artist as someone who has these uncontrollable creative urges, and to show that you can stop and start at will.' But a great deal of its meaning, according to one of Home's pamphlets, 'lies not in its feasibility but in the possibilities it opens up for intensifying the class war.
And where does the art of plagiarism feature in this? Liberally borrowing from the writings of Roland Barthes, it emphasises the productive role that the audience has to play, 'Rather than passively receiving a work, they recreate it when they read a book or look at a picture,' explains Stewart Home. 'In the pure sense it's not plagiarism at all because that would entail taking ideas and claiming them as your own. It's a polemical use of the word to focus attention on the problems in the area. We're drawing attention to the fact that we're using other peoples' ideas.
"The Festival of Plagiarism is partly just to show a lot of the things that are going on around the world and also to deal with the whole issue of copyright laws, which seem a little ridiculous in the light of all the machinery we've got right now. Videos, xerox machines it's actually impossible to enforce the laws that are there. So it's making a point about that, and obviously ownership in relation to that. Also it's interesting that the idea of the ownership of ideas is quite a recent phenomenon, since the 18th century.
With every succeeding plagiarism a new layer of meaning is added. This, says Home, makes it a highly creative process. And anyone can do it. That it subverts accepted notions of artistic value, linked in this society with ethics about labour time and production makes it a worthy snub of capitalist dogma, or at least that's the idea. But to the observer, what is really the difference between a plagiarist event and one of the avant-garde works they rail against for being 'tainted by the avant- garde fraction of the bourgeoisie?'
'It's problematic, but art is basically what the bourgeoisie say is art, and although I can control what I do now, I can't control what happens to it in twenty years time, and it might well be considered art in twenty years time. The point is not to claim any universal validity for what we're doing, and not to assume that people should be interested in what we're doing which is the basis of most funding for the arts and the basis of any justification for it, the idea that it has a humanising function. Whereas, we say, this is just what we want to do and we happen to be interested in this, there are no grand claims for it, or claims that it has some kind of deep significance and therefore ought to interest people. (...)
Alastair Mabbott, The List No. 99, Edinburgh 26/7/89
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