jen Hui Bon Hoa on 26 Jul 2000 21:23:56 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] Re: <.nettime> Terror in Tune Town - part 2

On the (ab)uses of IP:

The anthropologist akil gupta discusses the abuse of IP in the context 
of indian farmers: a crop traditionally used by these indigenous 
farmers was patented by a multinational, from whenceforth the farmers 
were forced to pay the corporation royalties whenever they used the 
crop. The capitalist moral of the story is: wise up, indigenous 
farmers, get with the program. Markets, social darwinianism and capital 
win. Impoverished indian folk, you lose. If we develop laws that you 
really don’t have any means by which to know about, that’s too bad. 

My question: Is the formula really ‘patent or be patented’? Could your 
work really be copyrighted by someone else? Perhaps this is why ted 
byfield copyrights his texts (is that right, ted?). This is why I would 
consider copyrighting my own production. 

Even if I leave my work uncopyrighted and I manage to escape this sort 
of wholesale appropriation (well, there would be no commercial 
incentive to take away the rights to my work: I have seen nothing to 
show that it is particularly lucrative, ahem), I still want to be able 
to monitor how my work is used. I do not want it to be appropriated by 
and for causes to which I am personally in ideological opposition. 
Walter Benjamin’s response to this would be: make your art explicitly 
political to avoid fascist assimilation (cf "art in the age of 
mechanical reproduction"). Does this mean: ‘stick to journalistic, 
representational art’ or perhaps ‘try to revive socialist realism’? The 
case for applying Benjamin’s logic to abstract art is flicked off with 
the example of Leni Riefenstahl’s usage of Constructivist images as a 
reference point in characterising the masses for Nazi propaganda. An 
instance of this closer to home occurred a few weeks ago when my mother 
used one of my photographs for the cover of a hymnal published by her 
organisation. How can you make explicit politics inhere in a piece of 
abstract art? 

An artist could circulate texts that frame her images in such a way as 
to limit the possibilities of assimiliation into the dominant order. 
This possibility again is interesting and, again, not untheorised 
terrain. The question here is: if, as an artist, you want to push the 
viewer into some sort of a critical engagement with your work and the 
questions posed therein — ultimately to force the unseating of the 
dominant order as a natural order of things that is a necessary prior 
move to formulating a radical oppositional politics – you probably do 
not want to allow your work to be stereotyped or to fit too easily and 
harmlessly into an existent category. Take Barbara Kruger. Her art is 
plastered with fuck you’s to keepers of the bourgeois order, in 
particular the bourgeois sexual order. That did not stop her work from 
being commodified. She was typecast as an angry feminist and anyone 
looking at her work recognised it as being angry and feminist and an 
original Barbara Kruger worth tens of thousands of dollars. No critical 
engagement necessary.  In contrast, Art&Language (conceptual art 
collective based in Britain, started in the late ‘60s) avoided 
theorising their own work as political by claiming that political work 
is by neccessity univocal – as it is in Kruger’s – and then asserting, 
in opposition, their own interest in formal complexity. The definition 
of the political here is obviously limited (and I find it difficult to 
agree with) but the function of the move is clear: by defining away the 
political in the context of their work, they avoided the stereotyping. 
They disabled the possibility of an easy labelling on the part of the 

All this does not answer at all definitively the question of how to 
avoid one’s art from appropriation by the dominant order. It is a 
question that perennially bugs me when I come to theorise or distribute 
my own artistic production.  Any ideas?


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