Saturday, February 8, 2014

Have Artists Who Use Fabricators Lost Their Mojo?
Opinion Piece on Art

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

We have already dealt with the distinction between mimicry and appropriation. Mimicry of another artistic work is a great learning tool but hardly constitutes original art, whereas appropriation is a transformative process - digesting someone else's artwork and regurgitating it in order to deliver an artwork with an entirely transformed and original act of engagement.

An example of an appropriated artwork is Marcel Duchamp’s painting - Mona Lisa (L.H.O.O.Q.) - which of course was appropriated from Leonardo Da Vinci's painting - Mona Lisa.

DuChamp's Mona Lisa (L.H.O.O.Q.)

On the other hand, an example of a mimicked artwork, I would contend as an artist and art critic, was Sam Leach's painting - “Proposal for a Landscape Cosmos” - which won the 2010 Wynne Prize for the "Best" Australian Landscape and which mimicked Adam Pynacker’s 1668 painting - “Boatmen moored on a lakeshore”. The latter painting was based on an Italian landscape which makes it difficult to reconcile how Leach could win a prize for the 2010 "Best" Australian landscape.

Adam Pynacker’s 1668 painting, “Boatmen moored on a lakeshore”. It was an Italian landscape that he had painted.

Sam Leach's painting, “Proposal For A Landscape Cosmos”. It won the 2010 Wynne Prize for "Best" Australian landscape. Note: Spot the differences between the two - the Australian landscape never looked so Italian. Newcastle Art Gallery (Australia) has now acquired Sam Leach's version of Pynacker's painting.

For further comments on the distinction between mimicry and appropriation, please see my previous post - Appropriation or Mimicry.

Today's post explores a further subtle shift in terms of what artists do or rather don't do. That is, artists who employ fabricators in order to birth their artwork may in fact confuse or distort who owns the critical component of the artwork namely, its originality - the artist, the fabricator or a mixture of both.

This is an opinion piece on art in order to generate a conscious awareness that artists need to address when employing fabricators. Some would argue that if they do use fabricators they are at risk of losing their mojo (i.e. their magical charm or spell or aura that surrounds the artwork as being entirely theirs).


Historical Context
Using fabricators to birth artworks into reality is a time honored tradition. Sculptors use fabricators all the time. A further example is illustrated by Marc Chagall who was already 35 years old when he started with printmaking techniques. At that time he lived in Berlin (Germany) with his wife Bella and his daughter Ida. He created woodcuts, etchings and a total of 24 lithographs. These early prints were drawn by the artist on paper and transformed into lithographs by a professional printer. At that time Chagall - like so many other famous artists - did not yet have the necessary knowledge nor skill to master the technical printing process himself.

Chagall's print - Apparition at the Circus.

What is not in doubt was that Chagall had created the concept of all of his prints and that the print houses slavishly reproduced his work. The fabricators (in this case the printing houses) did not add nor detract one iota from Chagall's original artistic intention.

Some wearable artists have used fabricators to manufacture their apparel. For example, it has become the modern trend to design a scarf, go to India or China and have their scarf completely manufactured in those countries according to the artist's design. That is, allowing these workers to cut the cloth, dye the cloth, stitch the cloth, create surface embellishments on the cloth and then sell it as the artist's wearable art, without giving credit to the manufactured process. The thinking here is that the article was paid for and so the fabricator was rewarded sufficiently and did not deserve the extra recognition by being acknowledged on the fabric tag.

Now fabricating artist's concepts is big business. For example, K&M machine fabricators claim that their "...unique Sculpture Fabricating Division is a nationally recognized resource for artists working with large-scale metal designs. From the artist's design, K&M fabricates, transports and installs contemporary artworks for architects, art museums, corporations, colleges and universities, hospitals, libraries, state agencies and city governments. We also provide consultation and quotations for those seeking to purchase or commission outdoor sculptures."

One of K&M sculptured artworks - artist(s) not credited.

Nevertheless, using a fabricator can cause problems. Patricia Piccinini is an Australian artist who works with fabricators in order to produce some of her artworks. Sam Jinks was the sculptor responsible for the fabrication of her silicone creature pieces from 2001-2006.

Patricia Piccinini, Mother (2005).
Fabricator: Sam Jinks.

Truck Babies was modeled by Paul Kuchera but since 2001 Robin Fischer, Scott Seedsman and John Kral have sculpted and painted her fiberglass automotive works.

Patricia Piccinini, Truck Babies at Berlin.
Fabricator: Paul Kuchera.

Dennis Daniel has done extensive computer modeling and animation for her since 1997. Full credits for her work can be found on her website and in her catalogs. She now works with Sydney-based special effects firm MEG.

She is well aware how her artworks are brought into life. She has addressed her dilemma as follows:

"This discussion has lead me a long way from the technology role that technology plays in my work. That is appropriate, as I do not like to isolate any particular element of my work as more important than another. Certainly technology is a critical aspect of my practice, on both a formal and conceptual level, but I do not like to think its defines my work. Rather, ideas define my work and technology transforms those ideas into a lived experience".

Artists generally are loose in defining roles that fabricators play in their work. It is not unusual (unlike Piccinini) for artists not to give credit to their fabricators since they believe that the process of "making" the artwork into a reality is a trivial process when compared to the conceptualization of it. This point of view is not helpful, since it is not factual - the artwork was made by someone or something!

The Dilemma
If I gave a water color sketch of an artwork to another artist to paint it on canvas, wouldn't the skill in the paint strokes somehow transform the original sketch? You might say that no one asks an oil painter to do their water color sketches on canvas, but aren't you missing the point? Many artists use fabricator(s) for a whole range of processes including glass sculpture.

Dale Chihuly’s sketch of his Persian Pergola.

Dale Chihuly’s Persian Pergola. Note: He enlisted others in his workshop to create the various glass pieces.

Below is my water color sketch of my ArtCloth work - Winter Bolt - part of my Four Australian Seasons).

Water color rough of Winter Bolt.

Compare it to my finished ArtCloth piece shown below. Note: I decided to remove the wavelets in my final work.

Title: Winter Bolt - Four Australian Seasons.
Technique: Hand painted and heat transferred using disperse dyes on satin.
Size: ca. 1.50 (width) x 2.00 (length) meters.
Held: Artist Collective – not available for purchase.
Note: The cloud wavelets are not present in the finished artwork due to my Zen "no-mind" state directing the artwork instead of me slavishly following the rough. You will note that in my "no-mind" state I have darkened the background of the artwork as the eye descends and thinned out the liquid sun (that is in the form of a bolt), both elements of which I believe indicate - in a more subtle manner - a wintery/watery feel.

Clearly the act of engagement of the ArtCloth piece is significantly different from that of the water color sketch. Hence, the process of using disperse dyes on satin has clearly changed the act of engagement and so the process and who did the process should at least be acknowledged.

What made me aware of this dilemma was when I recently visited a gallery and the curator said that a particular artwork was done by so-and-so and yet when I questioned her it came to pass that a weaving group did the finished artwork, the motifs on it were that of a local aboriginal group and the person who the curator attributed the artwork to, contributed only two words in the centre of the art piece and was the facilitator who brought the group together in order to "collectively" design and do the work. Surely this is stretching credibility to an extreme. At best, the process of how the artwork birthed into being should have been documented in order to give the "collective" a rightful acknowledgement of its creation. I believe this was an inappropriate attribution.

Best Practice
Scientists, musicians and film makers have long demonstrated "best practice" in acknowledging who did what on any finished product. Take musical records for example: the record company prints its label on the record as well as the songwriter(s), the singer(s), the musician(s), the producer(s), the arranger(s) and any other person(s) or group(s) that are relevant for its production. Moreover, musicians are well aware when their creativity is locked in a "collective" (name of the band etc.) A perfect example of this is the musical group - "The Highway Men". They featured in the first instance Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings - each a Country star in their own right but when they came together, it was the "collective" that was the creative motivating force behind their records.

"The Highway Men". They featured, in the first instance, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson.

Similarly with movies - who sits through those rolling credits - but they are there so that everyone associated with the movie is correctly acknowledged. After all, these credits help the various "behind the scene" people to secure future employment.

Such "collectives" in art is not unusual. For example, the "Tin Sheds Poster Collection" was established at the University of Sydney (Australia) during the 1970s by artists working within the Tin Sheds Art Collective, Lucifoil Collective and the EarthWorks Poster Collective. These three poster collectives were associated with the Tin Sheds Art Workshops between 1976 and 1988.

Toni Robertson, Women’s Liberation (1976).
Earthworks Poster Collective.

I believe that the "best" practice - in giving attribution - definitely lies with the Australian Tapestry Workshop. This is how they attribute one of their tapestries.

Typical attribution and information given by the Australian Tapestry Workshop.
Title: The Reception Hall Tapestry (Detailed view of one section of the tapestry).
Designer: Arthur Boyd.
Interpretation: Leonie Bessant.
Weavers: Leonie Bessant, Sue Carstairs, Irene Creedon, Robyn Daw, Owen Hammond, Kate Hutchinson, Pam Joyce, Peta Meredith, Robyn Mountcastle, Joy Smith, Jennifer Sharp, Irja West.
Size: 9.18 x 19.90 meters.

It is clear who has done what, without any equivocation and moreover, they do not assign a weighting to the importance of any role, except in the order of the listing. They leave the "collective" weighting to the eye of the beholder.

The Legal Position
Artist hate being locked into legalities. They want to be free in order to roam a universe of concepts and so see the law as an impost, a straight jacket that they can do without. However, if you are using fabricator(s) to birth your artwork, you should at least keep your original drawings so no one is in doubt that the conceptual artwork was yours. This would help to maintain your copyright over your own ideas and moreover, prove to any doubting Thomas, that the fabrication was a skilled exercise of process in order to birth the concept into reality.

If your artwork always requires fabricator(s) then you might consider going into a legally binding contractual arrangement with your fabricator(s). Your contract should contain clauses that will require:
(i) strict adherence to your concept(s) and any variation to your concept(s) will result in the destruction of the artwork by your hand at no cost to yourself;
(ii) that no other reproduction of your artwork(s) will be allowed without your consent;
(ii) that you and you alone retain complete ownership of the copyright.

We live in a litigious world and surely you would not be surprised that if any of your artworks are of significant value, then others may want to claim a part of it as their own.

I believe you should always attribute your fabricator(s) (even if you paid them) and follow the "best" practice as set by the Australian Tapestry Workshop. After all, if you are so confident that the process of birthing your artwork was immaterial to the overall engagement of it, others will also see the relevance of your point of view but moreover, they will be at least informed about who fabricated it. Everyone will appreciate the generosity of your spirit!

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