Kirby Ferguson’s Everything is a Remix was a well done video, although it didn’t present anything particularly new to me. Works of art rarely appear to be really original. That’s a positive thing, I think, because having influences and showing influences connects artistic works to broader traditions, and gives them context and adds to their meaning. But “inspired by” can cross the line to “ripping off,” and them lawyers get involved and the environment moves from creative to destructive.
Intellectual property protection is important, of course, but I think fair use is even more important. It takes both of them to drive progress. Unfortunately there’s no money behind fair use, so the lawmakers and judges don’t value it.
Our global society complicates the problem further. Ferguson, like many others, points to Disney as being behind the change in copyright terms, but international treaties were a driving force. The extension that kept Mickey out of the public domain for a few more years brought US law in line with European rules. This troubles me because I’ve found through international discussion groups that the idea of educational fair use is a US concept. Should we let the most restrictive rules prevail? The trend seems to be pointing that way.
On the advice of my sister-in-law, I watched Waste Land, a documentary about artist Vik Muniz. He went to a landfill in Rio de Janerio did a project on the people who comb through the garbage for recyclables. He got to know them, took photographic portraits of them, then hired the portrait subjects to work as studio assistants remaking the portraits as large scale collages of recyclable materials salvaged from the dump – remixing on several levels. The movie shows something about the transformative power of art. The people gained a whole new level of pride in their work and in themselves.
The last night I found Exit through the Gift Shop on Netflix. I clicked on it because it said it was a Banksy film, thinking it was about Banksy. Instead it was a documentary by Banksy about a guy who tried to make a film about Banksy. The guy is Thierry Guetta, a demented Frenchman living in LA who filmed street artists at work. He goes on to emulate them with his own graffiti, finally putting on a mammoth exhibition of his work – work which he hired other people to create – which drew thousands of people and made him a millionaire. I thought: Only in LA could such a fraud be perpetrated so brazenly and succeed. But today I found out that he’s had continued success with exhibitions in NYC and London, so apparently the art collector world is full of people with more money than taste.
It was a fortuitous coincidence that I happened to watch the three on consecutive evenings. Everything we make builds on earlier experiences. Everything we do is situated in traditions. The detritus of our culture can be used to make something new and powerful. The whole world can be a gift shop.