This week’s topic, Remediation, has been possibly the one I’ve most struggled to get my head around since we started this course. Remediation is the refashioning or incorporation of one medium into another medium. The concept introduces and formalises the idea that all art is based, in some way, on a repurposing of something else, something that has gone before.
Other concepts introduced this week, appropriation and remixing, are closely related to the practice of remediation and I would argue exist under its overarching umbrella.
Accepting this idea has a number of interesting and possibly unintended consequences. For example, if what one creates is merely a refashioned view of some preceding thing, then who ‘owns’ that thing? And how can one claim to be solely creatively responsible or the author of something ‘original’?
Jan Verwoert in 2007 argued thus:
‘Who owns a recurring style, a collective symbol or a haunted house? Even if you appropriate them, they can never be entirely your private property. Dead objects can circulate in space and change owners. Things that live throughout time cannot, in any unambiguous sense, pass into anyone’s possession. For this reason they must be approached in a different way. Tactically speaking, the one who seeks to appropriate such temporally layered objects with critical intent – that is with an attitude that differs significantly from the blunt revisionism of neo-(or ‘turbo’-)folkloristic exploitations of the past - must be prepared to relinquish the claim to full possession, loosen the grip on the object and call it forth, invoke it rather than seize it.’ 1
If one completely accepts this premise, then it’s very difficult to argue for strict ownership/authorship of any piece of art by any single person, as we would all be obliged to credit our predecessors whose work has either directly or indirectly contributed to our own. But how far should the obligation to reference, credit and acknowledge our influences extend?
In reflecting on this week’s presentations and the accompanying reading, I’m uncomfortable with the strict differentiation between terms used. The three key terms that were introduced - remediation, appropriation and remixing - to my mind describe a single practice, that of taking something from someone else and using it for your own purposes in your own work.
This could be for a range of reasons, from homage, to pastiche, to mutation into something entirely (on the face of it) unrelated to the original piece. In this way, it’s possible to consider appropriation and remixing as existing on a spectrum, with one end being where the act (remixing) results in something very different from the original piece, while at the other end the output may be more easily ‘traceable’ back to its source (appropriation).
The challenge then comes from acknowledging where one is placed on this spectrum and what obligations this position imposes upon one’s practice. For example, it could be argued that cropping a small corner out of someone else’s photograph to be used in my new work doesn’t require permission or attribution, because of the unidentifiable and relatively small contribution that this segment makes to my work or detracts from the original. On the other hand, printing large screenshots of someone else's work which I subsequently hang and pass off as my own, entirely new work may be sailing a little too close to the remediation wind (see the work of Richard Prince for examples of the latter).
To some degree, where one feels comfortable on the spectrum is a decision for each individual practitioner. I don’t feel that my references are always explicit in my own practice (where indeed I am aware of there being any references!), yet neither am I actively trying to obscure the fact that certain artists or works have been influential in my vision and the way I work.
This week we were all asked the most cutting of questions… ‘what is your original contribution to the conversation in which your images participate?’
Maybe the ultimate answer to all of this lies in accepting that, in this world of ever-proliferating imagery, it’s a nonsense to proclaim any form of originality. If we're all merely ‘reshuffling a basic set of cultural terms’2, then we are liberated from the futility of grasping for the mirage of originality and are free to create and appropriate at will, and the implications be damned!
1. Verwoert, J. (2007) 'Apropos Appropriation: Why stealing images today feels different', Art & Research [Electronic],vol. 1, no. 2, Available at: http://www.artandresearch.org.uk/v1n2/verwoert.html, [Accessed 12 June 2017].
2. ‘Instead they advanced the paradigm of appropriation as a materialist model that describes art production as the gradual re-shuffling of a basic set of cultural terms through their strategical re-use and eventual transformation.’ From Verwoert, 2007.
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