Andrea Stultiens – Copy Right: Evaluating an exhibition and a strand of research about photographs through pictures

Copy Right,

From March 9th till 24th 2017 an exhibition titled ‘Copy Right’ was on display on the ground floor of Minerva Art Academy, Praediniussingel. The exhibition is related to the research strand on the use of photographs as tool in artistic practices; PRICCAPractice (Photographic Research in Cross-disciplinary and Cross-cultural Artistic Practices). In this evaluation I will position the elective course to which the exhibition was related within the route PRICCAPractice has taken as a research strand that is primarily based on doing things with photographs and (only) secondarily on thinking about what was and can be done. This route is formed by educational activities, exhibitions and events in which different practitioners, and occasionally theorists, meet to discuss their experiences.

Over the past four years PRICCAPractice has organised several exhibitions and meetings. Each one of them presented works by guests, alumni, lecturers and student, around a shared topic. Each of these exhibitions was related to an event in which this shared topic was discussed. In most cases the exhibition was related to one of the semester long elective courses that are known as ‘Off Courses’.

In the elective courses formulated by PRICCAPractice two focusses have emerged. The first focus is on the medium, material and the production of photographs as a craft with specificities that relate to other artistic media, materials and crafts. For this focus a sequence of courses with the overal title ‘Myth Busters’ has been developed. Copy Right is the third part of this sequence. The second focus is on the photographic picture as an opportunity to share goals, views and moments in the most literal sense of the word, and build on them in culturally diverse groups towards artistic outcomes.

These courses, events and exhibitions are considered to be part of a mode of knowledge generation that anthropologist Tim Ingold types as ‘correspondence’. Ingold distinguishes this notion of correspondence from the notion of exchange:

“The implication of the prefix inter-, in ‘interaction’, is that the interacting parties are closed to one another, as if they could only be connected through some kind of bridling operation. Any such operation is inherently detemporalising, cutting across the paths of movement and becoming rather than joining along with them. In correspondence, by contrast, point are set in motion to describe lines that wrap around one another like melodies in counterpoint.” (Ingold, 2012, Making, p107)

With this in mind I will now go back towards the elective course named ‘Myth Busters – Copy Right’ and some of the results presented in the exhibition related to it. I will first explain the general set up of the Myth Busters courses, and then place of Copy Right in it.

Myth Busters – , research through copying and responding

The initial Myth Busters course was a response to a frustration voiced by the colleagues who run the photography workshop at Minerva Art Academy. Students did not develop enough technical skill, they felt, because it is not asked from them or suggestd to them. The ease with which photographic pictures are made, combined with a lack of insight into the making of photographs as a craft form a solid ground that is not easily turned over. But with ‘Myth Busters’ I hope to contribute to an awareness of it.

The Discovery Channel t.v. show Myth Busters “aims to uncover the truth behind popular myths and legends by mixing scientific method with gleeful curiosity and plain old-fashioned ingenuity to create a signature style of experimentation.” In the Myth Busters courses we do not aim to uncover a truth, but to find our own truth with regards to aspects of photographic pictures in relation to a set of pictures that have in one way or another been mythologized.

The initial course was taught by technical specialist Jelle de Groot and me. It took the photographic art works that are included in art history classics Janson’s History of Art and Honour and Fleming’s The Visual Arts, A History. Students chose one of the works and were tasked to research it in three ways.

– through desktop research, reading about the artwork, its maker, the time and context in which it was made and whether and how its reception changed over time.
– by remaking, or rather copying the artwork. This is of course usually not possible, but based on the desktop research and discussions students chose an aspect of the photograph to copy. A strong emphasis was on the use of the technology used by the artist, which for many students led to their first or second use of negative film or, for instance a Hasselblad 6×6 or 4x5inch large format camera.
– by responding to the original art work. The technique, material, and aesthetics were open, but the student had to be able to explain her or his choices.

An report of these different steps and their outcome had to be written and was part of the evaluation of the course work.

While students were initially not necessarily enthusiastic about having to ‘copy’ an existing picture, at least half of the group eventually thought of their ‘copy’ as the most successful work produced. Meanwhile discussions about the legal aspect of copy rights and an exhibition of Dutch artist Rob Scholte led to the suggestion by René Alberts, also technical specialist in the photography workshop, to pay attention to this aspect of the photographic picture. Since the at the time ongoing discussions and Scholte’s work dealt with transformations and translations from photograph to painting we (assisted by Frank Lisser, colleague in the Fine Art department) decided that this would be a good opportunity to enter the contact zone in which photography and painting as modes of ‘copying’ meet and to question them. This of course also meant that special emphasis would be placed on the ‘copying’ of a chosen picture and its implications. Myth Busters – Copy Right was taught by alumni Hylke Zikken (who is specialised in photography) and Michiel Westbeek (who is a painter) and me. During the first classes we established a modest data base in which we shared pictures that we considered to be part of interesting strings of copying. The picture of choice could be at the beginning of such a string, as ‘an original’. But it could also be a picture that itself was already a copy but had reached an iconic status. The main question asked was ‘when is a copy a good copy’? Students formulated answers their answers along an axis with two far ends. I would formulate the answer on one end as ‘a copy is a good copy when it responds to formal aspects of an original in such a way that it makes us aware of its presence beyond its mythical status.’ An example of this approach would be second year design student Marissa Bloupot. She chose René Margritte’s ‘Son of Man’ as her source and responded to the painting in photographic imagery that brings surrealism into absurdity and back. She made the exhibition poster based on her ‘copy’, and in the exhibition simply showed three green apples and an animation in which the head of ‘the son’ was replaced by many consumption items, including a green apple. With this animation Marissa’s work reaches out to the other end of the axis where the answer to the question of the good copy would be ‘a copy is a good copy if it uses an iconic image to question and bring awareness to social issues touching upon representation.’ Here I want to make mention of Sophia Dimova. Dimova worked from William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s The Birth of Venus. She wanted to question gender roles and representations and asked people two pose as a Venus, leading to a rich set of documentation including photographs, video and sound recordings.

While this was not part of the question the cross media copying; from painting to photograph, from photograph to painting, was part of almost all the strategies the students chose. Painting turned out to be a good ‘method’ to ‘see’ a photograph, or become aware of what it showed, and vice versa.

As far as the Myth Busters courses are concerned – Copy Right has thus opened up new routes of myths to bust, particularly with regards to photographic pictures in relation to other technologies, materials, and media used for depiction.
Exhibition documentation to the left of this text, from top to bottom:

– Can Denrem; photograph for painting “Ulak”, 2016/2017 on light box
– Sophia Dimova; Venus
– Cor Groenenberg (painting): “Fire”. And Indrany Kuik (video): after The Girl with the pearl earring
– Marissa Bloupot: after Son of Man
– Alice Turrell: after Alex Soth
– Marieke Schmaal: after “The Making of Lunch Atop A Skyscraper”
– René Alberts (photos): selection from ongoing series “ReMIX” and Mo van der Linden (details of paintings and photograph): Starry Night
– Martijn Schuppers: Wall House Window / (adjusted as site specific work for Copy Right)
– Frank Lisser: viewbox, painting and print from ongoing series “windows”
– Mirjam Offringa: after Victory Boogie Woogie
– Olphaert den Otter: Painting “Hotel Sudan”, 2017, and reproduction of painting “Slumforest, 2012” from ongoing series “Homemade”
– Detail of installation selected works (original and reproduction) from Olphaert den Otter’s ongoing “Homemade” series, and Henk Wildschut’s series “Shelter”

Academie Minerva, 28 maart 2017