‘You can’t use it without my permission … I’m gonna sue your ass!’ shouts Disney’s Little Mermaid with the angry voice of a copyright lawyer in the video Gimme the Mermaid (4:49 min., 2000).
The video by Negativland and Tim Maloney, situated at the exhibition entrance, is only one of more than twenty works included in ‘Anna Kournikova Deleted By Memeright Trusted System: Art in the Age of Intellectual Property’, an exhibition presented by Hartware MedienKunstVerein (HMKV) It is part of Arbeit 2.0 – copyright and creative work in the digital age, one of thirteen projects in Germany funded by the German Federal Cultural Foundation focusing on ‘The Future of Labour.’ In the framework of Arbeit 2.0, HMKV – together with the Berlin-based collaborative partner iRights.info/mikro e.V. – explores the relationships between creative work, intellectual property law, and technology (www.iRights.info).
So how does the changing notion of (creative) work relate to intellectual property? Today we live in a post-industrial society where the goods being produced are no longer material (like steel, coal, etc.), but immaterial. The Ruhr Area, with its vast deindustrialised landscape, paradigmatically stands for this transition from the Industrial Age to the information or knowledge society. However, there is a significant difference: Immaterial goods such as knowledge and information can be reproduced without loss. Therefore, in order to function in a value-added chain, the distribution of these immaterial goods has to be restricted. This is effectuated with the aid of intellectual property (IP) law, namely copyrighting, patenting, and trademarking.
David Rice’s perfidious short story ‘Anna Kournikova Deleted By Memeright Trusted System’ – from which curators Inke Arns and Francis Hunger have borrowed the exhibition title – deals with the concept of intellectual property: In 2065 stars – such as ex-tennis player Anna Kournikova – have their ‘brand’ protected by a satellite-based system that identifies unlicensed look-alikes and eliminates them via a strong laser beam. During a trip to the Pacific Rim, not officially cleared, the ‘real’ Anna Kournikova is identified as an imitation of herself and is consequently eliminated by the system.
The exhibition in the PHOENIX Halle, measuring 2,200 square metres and located on the grounds of the former steelworks Phoenix-West, puts forward the thesis that the increasingly strict application of intellectual property law hampers the development of culture as a whole. It proves increasingly difficult to impart this culture by employing images, logos, or soundbites of this very culture (for instance, sampling in hip hop, which has already been made impossible by aggressive copyright lawyers threatening any use of sampling with legal action).
The artists represented in this exhibition explore the question of art in the age of mechanical reproducibility positioning itself differently in a post-Fordist era permeated with digital networks than in Fordist, analogue times to which Walter Benjamin has referred. Artistic techniques like cut-up, sampling, détournement, appropriation, copying, remixing, plagiarism, and repetition are employed.
Participating artists: Agentur/Kobe Matthys (B), Daniel Garcia Andújar (E), Walter Benjamin (US), Christian von Borries (D), Christophe Bruno (F), Claire Chanel & Scary Sherman (US), Lloyd Dunn (US/CZ), Laurent Fauchere and Antoine Tinguely aka Ramon & Pedro (CH), Fred Fröhlich (D), Nate Harrison (US), John Heartfield (D), Laibach/Novi kolektivizem (SLO), Kembrew McLeod (US), Sebastian Lütgert (D), Monochrom (AT), Negativland and Tim Maloney (US), Der Plan (D), David Rice (US), Ines Schaber (D), Cornelia Sollfrank (D), UBERMORGEN.COM & Alessandro Ludovico & Paolo Cirio (CH/AT/IT), a.o.