Is it possible to author something created by another?
See Duchamp’s Fountain.
And various other examples…
At the risk of coming off a little churlish, the possibility of authoring something created by another seems so obvious that this strikes me as something of a moot point. Not only is it possible, but the idea of authoring something created by another seems so commonplace it hardly crosses my mind to question whether it might be done or not. It seems ever since there has been art, the artist has been busy with finding, incorporating, framing, reframing, claiming, renaming and generally delighting him/herself either in collaboration or independently with ideas and material, effectively with ‘work’ created by other people or even by forces of nature. This is in essence a creative act. Perhaps ever since Duchamp the art world has been explicitly conscious of this facet of the artistic endeavour, and even more so in a post-modern period obsessed with intertextuality, in-jokes and irony. Clearly this, along with Barthes’ Death of the Author, has to some minds problematised the notion of the author as sole, heroic source and craftsman of a unique art object, a romantic idea which still lingers in the public imagination and still rankles many artists. The typical leading question resulting from such a line of thought goes something like: if Damien Hirst didn’t actually draw his own dots, is he somehow less of an author of his work? Answer: no. I would add to that answer in this particular context of you asking me, a fellow artist, to write about this topic: no, obviously. I add the ‘obviously’ as I would assume that between us we can take for granted this point of view of what it is to be an artist and what it is to make or create, that in reimagining the work of another one makes a creative act, makes art. Whether one does it well is another question…
If I automatically take it for granted that we share the assumption that it is possible to author something created by another, why then do you ask me? It feels like something of a needless question. But perhaps taking anything for granted is dangerous in the field of art making. Perhaps I am then invited to elaborate on why or how it is I/we can take this for granted, which seems to send me towards the realms of art history or theory I feel ill-qualified to attempt to negotiate in writing to you. It might be more fruitful to read a book than read my underdeveloped musings on this. I also, frankly, feel rather unenthusiastic about writing something like that. As a maker myself I am not so much questioning whether it is possible to author something created by another, but how it might be possible and what the implications of such an undertaking might be.
This then opens up a cluster of further questions, some of which I’ll list below. However I think it is worth pointing out that for me, these questions only really become interesting when we begin to look at a particular scenario or a particular project, which I can’t do here since I don’t know more than some very cursory details about what you are doing. So in fact me writing this response is maybe a way of you opening out your very particular concerns to a more general thought pool, but since I am not fond of thinking in generalisations I find my mind reaching after what the particular concerns of your project are in my writing. In this way together we make a loop of opening and closing the ideas. It makes me wonder how useful the general might be when embroiled in a very particular artistic process… I digress…
So assuming ‘yes’ to your original question, I was prompted to ask the following questions, which I propose to you to ask yourselves or to give back to me or to someone else, if you like. There are probably many others, but these are what I could think of today.
If one authors something created by another:
What, if any, are the author’s responsibilities towards the ‘original’ maker?
Should credit be given and if so, how?
What is at the stake if the ‘original’ maker is dead, alive and still using the material, aware or unaware of his/her work being (re)used, colluding in the new work?
Does it matter that the audience know that parts of the work have originated elsewhere?
What happens if the ‘original’ material is already present in an artistic milieu? What if it is already famous? What if it is now considered art for the first time? How might it cross borders of genre, context, language?
Do you use the material or existing work faithfully, ironically, with ignorance, with hatred with arrogance, with love?
Who owns a work like this? At what point, if ever, does someone else’s work become your work?
Did the ‘original’ maker also make use of someone else’s work, are there layers of labour?
How does the work borrowed or referenced sit in a new context? What does a new frame add or take away?
Why do use this work?
Is there a sense of guilt, naughtiness, excitement, pleasure in using or incorporating someone else’s work?
Amy is a London based dancer and choreographer.
Some-THING Out of Isadora Duncan – YouTube Part
Use the score below to make a solo, maximum five minutes, no need for preparation. Film it and upload it on YouTube. Save it as Some-THING Out of Isadora Duncan 1, the next solo as 2, etc.
Pass these instructions on (forward this mail), and by doing so you are asking a friend/colleague to redo your solo or to make another solo starting from the score. Friend YouTube, save, pass it on. Find another if he/she does not want to do it.
Please send a link with your response to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also mail me with questions.
Here is what you have to do, make the solo a responding to all of the following three tasks
1. Stretch the drawing by Antoine Bourdelle back into duration
2. Imitate the arms, hands, and fingers of Isadora Duncan according to this quote:
“I used to notice its leaves (a palmtree) trembling in the early morning breeze, and from them I created in my dance that light fluttering of the arms, hands, and fingers which has been so much abused by my imitators…”
Excerpt from Isadora Duncan, My Life
3. Imagine this comment is about your solo after you have done it, try to make sure it could be the case:
”Miss Duncan’s dancing has a singular charm and impressiveness of its own. It is dance and pantomime at once, and it shifts freely across the impalpable line that divides the two.”
Excerpt from an article on Isadora Duncan at the Metropolitan Opera. New York Times, Saturday, Nov. 7, 1908
Under your video, please answer at least one of the following questions:
Who is authoring the solo/soli?
If possible, why would one/you be the author of a solo for a score one/you did not write?
Why would one/you be the author of a solo that has already been made and performed by another?
Does this exercise question authorship? If not, please make an example of an exercise that does, or link to/describe a work that does.
Are there details or specific instances where the YouTube videos of a solo/the soli (imaginary or real) raise any of the above questions in a particular way, how, please give examples?
Why are we/some artists questioning authorship?
If you where to raise a question rather than answer any of the above, what would it be?
Karen Lambæk is a performance and maker working across Europe. Gillie and Karen made DOUBLE ACT together last year.
Gillie and Sara will do Karen’s task soon!
My intuitive and quick response for your question:
Credits: Jenni Kivelä / www.jennikivela.com
Maija is a choreographer and performer based in Helsinki.
I wanted to record something a bit pure and particular to illustrate my specific thinking around this question.
My response relates to the arena of ensemble improvisation and the osmotic, mimetic and opportunistic relationships and behaviours that occur in cooperative live composition.
Here’s quite a large group performance that makes me think of this.
Flora is a freelance dance artist, actor and writer currently resident at The Albert, Queen’s Park, alongside fellow Hiru Dance members.
Chosen by Gillie
Marquez&Zangs happened to post this great video on the day we were uploading the responses above. Serendipity!