I have recently visited newly opened Fondazione Prada at Milan, Italy. Architect Rem Koolhas did a marvelous job of giving a flow to the disjointed space of a former industrial distillery, a flow that manages to link intimate and monumental flawlessly. We’ve spent hours wandering around and discovering the links of the past and the future to our present. I was especially flattered by the fact that the central exhibition that opened the space is dedicated to studying the questions of copying in the context of the classic sculpture, entitled Serial Classic. This was not because it spoke to my identity built in part through the classical education I received, but because of its overlap with the field of my recent research.
When I decided to select sculpture as the main topic of my Abundance article I did this for a few reasons that overlap with the topic of this excellent exhibition. Firstly, I gave a nod to sculpture being at the same time one of the oldest forms of human expression and to being the one most determined by its sheer material nature. This of course was interesting for me as I wished to demonstrate that even the most material of our forms of expressions is dematerializing and becoming intangible when human creativity starts using digital means of expression. While this aspect of my thinking was not followed by the curators of the exhibition, the question of what is really an original was explored to a much greater depth. The very fact that we perceive white marble sculptures as classic period originals, while the actual originals were mostly colorfully painted in an attempt to be as realistic as possible, demonstrates clearly how skewed is our notion of what an original is. I have explored the consequences of digital on the question what is a copy, especially what is a copy in digital environment, to quite some depth and have hopefully shown that the distinction between a copy and an original becomes completely blurred. It is blurred not only in the sense that a digital copy is in fact identical to the original, but also that an original work of art becomes actually traceable to its artistic influences as a kind of an aggregate copy of earlier originals/copies. This is just because the nature of human creativity is such that it relies on existing in building the new, a fact especially visible against the digital background. Finally, although the exhibition goes into a great detail in exploring the techniques of classic and subsequent copying, and addresses even the social context of such serial copying, it stops short of exploring the artistic and social consequences of multiplication which I attempted in my article. I am still exploring the exhibition catalog at this point and will revert to this post once I draw my conclusions on its full scope.
Accidentally, an art historian friend of mine sent me a link to the article from the Vulture site about Richard Prince, an artist who decided to appropriate other creative individuals’ work of art only to see his art bein appropriated by others: “The crew of Internet-friendly alternative models is selling the same prints as Prince, but for $90 instead of Gagosian’s $90,000. They’re perfect replicas of replicas, since all Prince did to alter the photos was leave creepy comments through Instagram’s social network. “I’m just bummed that his art is out of reach for people like me and the people portrayed in the art he is selling,” model Missy posted on the site. This aesthetic conundrum — which reproduction is real? — has touched off a viral controversy over who owns art and the profit made from appropriation.”
In closing, I wish to make a remark of the title of my Abundance article. Its full name is: Abundance of Sources – the true meaning of the terms copy and original; semantic changes in art and copyright terminology in digital environment and change of the role of law in digital societies. Since it was published, I’ve discovered that not all of its readers got right the meaning of the words “Abundance” and “Source” in the title. Although I intentionally did not push the literal meaning of those words in the first plan, neither did I wish to make them so opaque that I need to explain them explicitly. Now I feel that the moment has arrived I need to reveal explicitly the meaning of the title for the record. Well, abundance is a literal translation of the Latin word copia, a precursor of the English word “copy”. Got it? Then you can guess that source refers to the “origin”, from which the word original is derived. By choosing the unintuitive translations of the words copy and original I wished to remind the readers that we are today quite far removed from understanding of the semantic roots of the copyright terminology, and that we almost never pay attention to the content of the terminology we are using in everyday life. At the moments when, in light of the tremendous social and technological changes, we need to re-examine the most basic concepts of our legal order we might benefit from the approach I am proposing. Last but not least, Abundance of Sources also serves to remind us that knowledge-based human creativity is an infinite resource that is vastly underused and still not properly understood by most societies, even the advanced ones. Being one of the best distributed resources available to mankind, IP protected knowledge-based creativity has a potential of increasing social justice if used properly. To achieve such use we need to rethink the basic concepts of the tools we are using to protect the fruit of creative endeavors. My contribution is the story on the true meaning of the words copy and original and I am grateful to the authors of the Serial/Portable Classic exhibition for turning the attention to this subject.