To appropriate is to set aside for a particular purpose. To appropriate is to take. Petty theft. Seizure. Possession. Allocation. Apportionment. Assignation.
The appropriation artist takes then announces to the world that she has taken. Or not.
This excerpt from Michalis Pilcher’s “Statements on Appropriation” (2009): is indicative of the attitude that accompanies the methodical implications of being an appropriation artist: “[appropriation art is] re-vision, re-evaluation, variation, version, interpretation, imitation, proximation, supplement, increment, improvisation, prequel… pastiche, paraphrase, parody, forgery, homage, mimicry, travesty, shanzhai, echo, allusion, intertextuality and karaoke.”
Appropriation art takes a (usually) recognizable object, text or image and recontextualizes it. In the new context, the associations that the reader/viewer has with the appropriated object are subverted, and he or she is forced to reexamine his/her relationship to it. Therefore appropriated art is often political, satirical and/or ironic.
Many consider Marcel Duchamp the Conceptual Godfather of appropriation art. His readymades, for example, recontextualize everyday objects. Fountain and Bicycle Wheel are his most famous examples of bringing the “ordinary” into the sacred space of art. His L.H.O.O.Q. is an irreverent appropriation of da Vinci’s famous work.
In the late 1950s and 1960s, the pop art movement began to take hold in Britain and the United States. Pop art appropriated imagery from popular culture in such a way as to question established notions of the artist’s role in culture, particularly in relation to advertising, commercialism and a culture of mass production. Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s soup cans are a perfect example of an artist appropriating a culturally iconic image and altering its presence in the field of distribution.
Today, a number of artists employ appropriation in their work including Sherrie Levine, Cindy Sherman, Damian Hirst, Jeff Koons, Deborah Kass, and Christian Marclay. Recently, digital artists such as Cory Arcangel have been appropriating imagery from the video games and Internet.
Writers also appropriate preexisting text and recontextualize it in their literature. Kathy Acker famously, in her words, “plagiarized” sections of her books, including Blood and Guts in High School. And today, a number of writers appropriate existing text in order to shed new light on their content or to question our ideas about reading and writing. Kenneth Goldsmith and Vanessa Place are two poets who practice “unoriginal writing.”
An Exercise in Appropriation:
Go online and find a digital image of a famous work of art. Appropriate it (in this case, download it on to your hard drive). Integrate the image into a new Web page and give the image / artwork a new title that you make up and that conceptually recontextualizes the work in an “original way.” Do this with a series of appropriated images of famous artworks downloaded from the Web. Once you have a set of ten newly appropriated images and have given them all “original titles,” group them together into an online exhibition. Come up with a clever title for your show that creates even more context for all of the appropriated images as a select group that you have chosen to exhibit.
Now, begin searching the Web for essays, quotes, phrases and other insights into the art of appropriation. Pay attention to how art critics and historians manipulate language to create a useful context for whatever argument they are making. They too are actively remixing, although they may not think of their critical writing practice this way. No matter. The point is to appropriate their writing style (i.e. their professional art-speak) and to create a very poignant short essay about your new exhibition of appropriated art. Attribute the final result to a pseudonymous person, for example, “Clarissa Pierce, Professor of Art and Art History at the Free School for Social Media and author of ‘Only the Best Artists Steal: A Concise History of the Canon as an Artificially Constructed Academic Object.'”
Once you have the remixed essay aligned with the online exhibition of appropriated artwork, then write a press release that appropriates the language of museum or gallery PR for your own show. There are many examples or “tutor-texts” for you to look at and borrow from. You will want to quote the pseudonymous author of the essay (“Clarissa Pierce”) for specific PR effects. Send this appropriated and manipulated press release to various online art lists and magazines.
Questions for the discussion:
1) How does it feel to steal someone else’s work? Are you comfortable with appropriating the work of others and how would you feel if you found out someone had appropriated a work of yours?
2) In remixthebook, Amerika discusses the work of artist Kathy Acker. Amerika writes that Acker took issue with the terms appropriation and creativity and that she suggested these concepts are bound by a patriarchal perspective of what it means “to make.” What is the relationship between making, appropriating, creativity, and gender? Is there an implicit feminist style or methodology that one can assign to acts of “making”? What would be the feminist alternative to “appropriation” or “creativity”? Explain.
3) Appropriating work under copyright is considered a criminal activity. Yet everyone (or nearly everyone) on the Internet samples data without ever thinking about it. Did you know that your computer automatically caches Internet images on to your hard drive as you surf the web. If you go to a Web site with a copyrighted photographic image, this image will be cached on your hard drive. Is this too stealing, even if unintentionally?
4) Thinking through issues of copyright, address the following questions:
a) What are the advantages of an “open source” and/or “open content” approach to remix culture in general, and consumer culture at large? Do we really need a “free culture” or is it in our best interests to restrict rights? Consult the international free culture student movement at freeculture.org
b) Does the idea of copyright and intellectual property become more obsolete in digital/networking culture? Must the effort to protect intellectual property be valiantly fought in cyberspace as in other (more material) spaces? Why or why not?
c) What about an artist’s labor? Where is the balance in protecting ones “original” creative output versus opening up the collective’s creative output imagined by some as freely accessible source material for active reconfiguration?
d) Give an example of a work of visual or media art that you personally value where the artist(s) were clearly remixing / postproducing / reconfiguring source material from other visible sources. Was the final result for the betterment of culture in general? At what risk/cost?
e) Give an example of how you recently sampled and remixed source material from the general culture into something that you felt was an original form of expression (not including what you have created for this class)