"Stare. It is the only way to educate your eye, and more. Stare, pry,listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long." - Walker Evans

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Scientists envy artists, but monkeys aredifferent(?)
You Call ThatArt?
Will the Internet rival holography as an artmedium?
Cocksucker Blues at Robert Franks[sic] House
Mick Jagger finally talks (but not much)
Ladies and Gentlemen: England'sMost Famous Censor
Rock and role
Fair Use
Chris Grigg, Mark Hosler, Don Joyce, Richard Lyonsand David Will claim the right to create with mirrors
The Birth ofPhotography
Dr. Science sets the record straight

. . .



I'm sure that Anya Hulbert, the organizer of a day onThe Art and Science of Vision at the BritishAssociation's 1995 Annual Festival of Science never intendedto mislead anyone. In practice, though, the real theme ofthe day seemed to be "Artist Envy."

Here's an example. Professor Richard Gregory from theUniversity of Bristol began the day by asking The Question:"Does it demote art to attribute optical effects [suchas those produced from Bridget Riley's work] to sciencerather than more lofty sources? I'm not going to try toanswer."

He wouldn't but I will: Yes, absolutely.

Now let's put on our lab coats and examine that anecdote.I am an artist with only a minimal understanding of sciencein general and the scientific method in particular.Nevertheless I can give a definitive answer to a complexquestion without giving any proof, citing any precedents, etcetera. Just as something is art because I say it's art, anaesthetic truth is an aesthetic truth because I say so.

You might say I'm wrong. You might be right. But thatdoesn't matter, because art is about ideas and opinions, notprovable facts. And thus is it any wonder men and women whospend their entire lives attempting to prove things arejealous of artists? Tom Stoppard said it best: "What is anartist? For every thousand people there's nine hundred doingthe work, ninety doing well, nine doing good, and one luckybastard who's the artist."

Artist envy was repeated frequently by other speakers.Patrick Cavanagh from Harvard interrupted his facinatingpresentation on The Art of Perceiving Contour withthe observation that "These are things all artists know, butthat we scientists have to work out." And artist sittingnext to me appeared bored during a presentation by DoctorAndrew Parker from Oxford University. My friend responded toDr. Parson's diagrams that a subject is illuminated byindirect as well as direct light by jotting "Reflected lightilluminates shadows! What a concept!" (In fairness, itshould be noted that Dr. Parson went on to cite the exampleof 19th century photographer Fox Talbot's use of reflectorsas a precedent.)

Although the scientists seemed jealous of artists'license to say "It is thus because I say it is thus," thereverse was not true. Professor Heinrich Bülthoff fromthe Max-Planck-Institute for Biological Cybernetics inTübingen, Germany gave an interesting talk aboutRecognition and Navigation in Virtual Realities.Toexamine how humans perceive three-dimensional space,graduate students were asked to identify shapes on acomputer monitor. The same experiment was repeated onmonkeys, who reportedly were more perceptive than thehumans. Professor Bülthoff introduced yet anotherspiffy three-dimensional graph by mentioning almost inpassing that his colleagues at Baylor University then "didsomething they couldn't do with graduate students; theyattached electrodes directly to the monkeys' brains."

This apparent "fact" left many of the artists confused.Why can scientists attach electrodes to monkeys andnot graduate students? Did the coauthor of some of theresearch, Shimon Edelman from the Weizmann Institute inIsrael feel as comfortable with performing scienceexperiments on living sentient beings? And anyway, hadn'tvivisection been widely discredited as a tool ofpsychological inquiry?

Artist envy aside, there are times when it'sintellectually easier to be a scientist. That's true becauseI'm an artist and I said so.

. . .

YouCall That Art?

Paul C. d'Charmmér

You're at the entrance to an art gallery. It doesn't looklike a gallery entrance, though; it looks like a few zillionother Internet sites circa autumn 1995. It looks like acomputer monitor. That's life; your curator is playing withthe cards science and industry have dealt.

The initial incarnation of e.missive [an early onlinegallery, now closed] didn't include any art work.Instead, this site featured a short essay asking questionsabout the relationship between the arts and technology,especially the relevance of the Internet to artists. Willnew distribution channels reach new audiences? Does theInternet represent freedom from censorship? Does theInternet offer new opportunities for collaborations? Willthe Internet result in a new history of art? Is the Interneta new art medium?

My quick answers are yes, yes and no, yes, maybe, andyes. I arrived at the last answer almost by accident.

I began looking for interesting Internet art using thenormal curatorial practice: I asked my friends what theywere doing. Unfortunately, their work seemed to be amicrocosm of What's Wrong with the Internet.

Some pieces were poorly designed, with graphics too largeto be seen on my relatively small 640 pixel wide monitor.Others were elegantly designed, but for a medium other thanthe Internet. For example, I visited a site related to aphotographic exhibition marking the fiftieth anniversary ofthe nuclear bombing of Nagasaki. It felt fittingly somberand subdued ... or at least some of it did. Sincethe large images took too long to s-l-o-w-l-y trickle ontothe screen, I gave up waiting after the first two images.The site was yet another failed attempt to do a slide showover a narrow bandwidth Internet connection. A lot of oldideas don't work very well in this new medium in its presentcrude state.

In addition to the limitations of the 1995 version of theInternet, some sites were just poorly programmed in keepingwith the all too common Internet practice of publishing worktoday and proofing it later. (Maybe.)

Several artists incorporated Internet features in theirwork. A few used uninspiring variations on the surrealists'exquisite corpse. The most common implementation of"interactive art" was to provide an option for visitors toleave their comments.

In Jenny Holzer's piece Please Change Beliefsviewers could fill out a survey indicating which of herstatements they agreed with. Thus a visitor could, with acalculator, discover that almost eight times as many peopleagreed that "A single event can have infinitely manyinterpretations" than agreed with the statement that "Peoplewho don't work with their hands are parasites."

In addition, visitors to the site could also write theirown beliefs in the Internet equivalent of a guestbook. Thesecomments ran the gamut from clever variations on Holzer'sclever variations to schoolboy graffiti, e.g., "286'S AREOBSOLETE PENTIUMS RULE." Reviewing the survey and readingthe comments were as compelling as reading a public opinionpoll or leafing through the comments in an old-fashionedanalog guest book.


After reviewing some of the best art on the Internet, Istarted to conclude that the Internet was an art medium inthe same way walking is an art medium. Although a fewtenacious individuals can make the medium of walking work,it seemed like Internet art would become as widely used as,say, the hologram.

I kept wandering throughout the Internet looking forbrilliant art work, but without much notable success. I kepthoping to find some art sites as enjoyable as some of theother sites I enjoyed visiting. Just as I was giving up,though, I had a revelation: art on the Internet is differentthan other media. At the same time I was criticizing artistsfor not using the Internet as a new medium, I washypocritically looking for art that looked and felt like thecontemporary art I'd grown to love.

It took me a long time to recognize art on the Internetfor two reasons: it didn't look like art and often wasn'tcalled art. Had some of my favorite sites been labeled as"Internet installation art" or "Internet performance art" Iprobably would have experienced my modest epiphanysooner.

One of my favorite "pieces" is The Useless Pages.Although the site's de facto curator doesn't call it art, itcertainly feels that way. Oscar Wilde opined that "All artis quite useless;" this is a rare case where the reverse istrue.

Most artists earn my admiration from their overall bodiesof work instead of a few heroic "masterpieces." Similarly,the Internet sites I enjoy are greater than the sum of theircomponents. Barton's Den of Iniquity is such a site. Thecreator never called it art, but it certainly felt that way.As Mojo Nixon said, "It's just a matter of inflicting yourown personality on the material."

Spoonman also exemplifies the aesthetic of persona asart. Spoonman's best work is just being Spoonman, an acthe's successfully pulled off on the Internet.

Seven by Nine Squares, with its PostmodernDissertation Generator and Death Mauses MeatPieces is one of the few art sites I visited that calleditself an art site and delivered the goods.

The fifth site included I've included is The Burning Man.This isn't an art piece per se, but rather more conventionaldocumentation of art in a variety of non-Internet media. Isuppose this really shouldn't be here in that e.missive issupposed to be "art that uses the Internet as an artmedium," but what's the use of being a curator if you can'tbreak your own rules? If you don't like the cards you'redealt, burn 'em.

. . .

CocksuckerBlues at Robert Franks [sic] House

Mick Jagger

The Royal Mounties knocked on Roberts front door, armedwith seven different search warrants.

. . .

Ladiesand Gentlemen: England's Most Famous Censor


Mick Jagger's 14 words on the Robert Frank film don'ttell us much about why he commanded an army of lawyers tobury Cocksucker Blues, the 1972 film he originallycommissioned Frank to make. On the other hand, 14 words maybe the most the most England's most famous censor has saidabout the 90 minute film in the last two decades. (We'restill investigating.)

The heavy-handed approach worked. The only way--or atleast, the only legal way--to see CocksuckerBlues is to have Robert Frank present it personally. InJagger's defense, it can be argued that his Draconian actionhas at least kept a reclusive artist in circulation: Frankis legally obligated to show up at his well-earnedretrospectives.

If you came here to examine another facet of the RollingStones' thinly gilded façade, stick around. Inaddition to featuring writing by much more interestingmusicians such as the members of Negativland, there'll be anessay about Robert Frank and the world's greatest rock androle corporation in a future edition of Stare.

. . .



As Duchamp pointed out many decades ago, the act ofselection can be a form of inspiration as original andsignificant as any other. Throughout our various massmediums, we now find many artists who work by "selecting"existing cultural material to collage with, to create with,and to comment with. In general, this continues to be adirection that both "serious" and "popular" arts like. Butis it theft? Do artists, for profit or not, have the rightto freely "sample" from an already "created" electronicenvironment that surrounds them for use in their ownwork?

The psychology of art has always favored fragmentary"theft" in a way which does not engender a loss to theowner. In fact, most artists speak freely about the amountof stuff they have stolen at one time or another. In therealm of ideas, techniques, styles, etc. most artists knowthat stealing (or call it "being influenced" if you want tosound legitimate) is not only OK, but desirable and evencrucial to creative evolution. This proven route to progresshas prevailed among artists since art began and will not bedenied. To creators, it is simply obvious in their ownexperience.

Now some will say there is a big difference betweenstealing ideas, techniques, and styles which are not easilycopyrighted, and stealing actual material, which is easilycopyrighted. However, aside from the copyright deterrencefactor which now prevails throughout our law-bound artindustries, we can find nothing intrinsically wrong withartists deciding to incorporate existing art "samples" intotheir own work. The fact that we have economically motivatedlaws against it does not necessarily make it an undesirableartistic move. In fact, this kind of theft has awell-respected tradition in the arts extending back to theIndustrial Revolution.

In the early years of this century, Cubists began toattach found materials such as product packaging andphotographs to their paintings. This now seems an obviousand perfectly natural desire to embody or transform existingthings into their own work as a form of dialogue with theirmaterial environment. And that "material" environment beganto grow in strange new ways. Appropriation in the arts hasnow spanned the entire century, crossing mediumisticboundaries, and constantly expanding in emotional relevancefrom beginning to end regardless of the rise and fall of"style fronts." It flowered through collage, Dada's foundobjects and concept of "detournement," and peaked in thevisual arts at mid-century with Pop Art's appropriation ofmass culture icons and mass media imagery. Now, at the endof this century, it is in music where we find appropriationraging anew as a major creative method and legalcontroversy.

We think it's about time that the obvious aestheticvalidity of appropriation begins to be raised in oppositionto the assumed preeminence of copyright laws prohibiting thefree reuse of cultural material. Has it occurred to anyonethat the private ownership of mass culture is a bit of acontradiction in terms?

Artists have always perceived the environment around themas both inspiration to act and as raw material to mold andremold. However, this particular century has presented uswith a new kind of influence in the human environment. Weare now all immersed in an ever-growing mediaenvironment--an environment just as real and just asaffecting as the natural one from which it somehow sprang.Today we are surrounded by canned ideas, images, music, andtext. My television set recently told me that 70 to 80percent of our population now gets most of their informationabout the world from their television sets. Most of ouropinions are no longer born out of our own experience. Theyare received opinions. Large increments of our daily sensoryinput are not focused on the physical reality around us, buton the media that saturates it. As artists, we find this newelectrified environment irresistibly worthy of comment,criticism, and manipulation.

The act of appropriating from this media assaultrepresents a kind of liberation from our status as helplesssponges which is so desired by the advertisers who pay forit all. It is a much needed form of self-defense against theone-way, corporate-consolidated media barrage. Appropriationsees media, itself, as a telling source and subject, to becaptured, rearranged, even manipulated, and injected backinto the barrage by those who are subjected to it.Appropriators claim the right to create with mirrors.

Our corporate culture, on the other hand, is determinedto reach the end of this century maintaining itseconomically dependent view that there is something wrongwith all this. However, both perceptually andphilosophically, it remains an uncomfortable wrenching ofcommon sense to deny that when something hits the airwavesit is literally in the public domain. The fact that theowners of culture and its material distribution can claimthis isn't true is a tribute to their ability to restructurecommon sense for maximum profit.

Our cultural evolution is no longer allowed to unfold inthe way that pre-copyright culture always did. True folkmusic, for example, is no longer possible. The original folkprocess of incorporating previous melodies and lyrics intoconstantly evolving songs is impossible when melodies andlyrics are privately owned. We now exist in a society sochoked and inhibited by cultural property and copyrightprotections that the very idea of mass culture is nowprimarily propelled by economic gain and the rewards ofownership. To be sure, when these laws came about there werebootlegging abuses to be dealt with, but the self-servinglaws that resulted have criminalized the whole idea ofmaking one thing out of another.

Our dense, international web of copyright restrictionswas initiated and lobbied through the congresses of theworld, not by anyone who makes art, but by the parasiticmiddle men of culture--the corporate publishing andmanagement entities who saw an opportunity to enhance theirown and their clients' income by exploiting a wonderfullyhuman activity that was proceeding naturally around them asit always had--the reuse of culture. These culturalrepresenters--the lawyers behind the administrators, behindthe agents, behind the artists--have succeeded in miningevery possible peripheral vein of monetary potential intheir art properties. All this is lobbied into law under theguise of upholding the interests of artists in themarketplace, and the U.S. Congress, with no exposure to analternative point of view, always accommodates them.

That being the case, there are two types of appropriationtaking place today: legal and illegal. So, you may ask, ifthis type of work must be done, why can't everyone justfollow the rules and do it the legal way? Negativlandremains on the shady side of existing law because to followit would put us out of business. Here is a personal exampleof how copyright law actually serves to prevent a whollyappropriate creative process which inevitably emerged out ofour reproducing technologies.

In order to appropriate or sample even a few seconds ofalmost anything out there, you are supposed to do twothings: get permission and pay clearance fees. Thepermission aspect becomes an unavoidable roadblock to anyonewho may intend to use the material in a context unflatteringto the performer or work involved. This may happen to beexactly what we want to do. Dead end. Imagine how muchcritical satire would get made if you were required to getprior permission from the subject of your satire?

The payment aspect is an even greater obstacle to use.Negativland is a small group of people dedicated tomaintaining our critical stance by staying out of thecorporate mainstream. We create and manufacture our ownwork, on our own label, on our own meager incomes andborrowed money. Our work is typically packed with foundelements, brief fragments recorded from all media. This goesway beyond one or two, or ten or twenty elements. We can usea hundred different elements on a single record. Each ofthese audio fragments has a different owner and each ofthese owners must be located. This is usually impossiblebecause the fragmentary nature of our long-ago randomcapture from radio or TV does not include the owner's nameand address. If findable, each one of these owners, assumingthey each agree with our usage, must be paid a fee which can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars each. Clearancefees are set, of course, for the lucrative inter-corporatetrade. Even if we were somehow able to afford that, thereare the endless frustrations involved in just trying to getlethargic and unmotivated bureaucracies to get back to you.Thus, both our budget and our release schedule would becompletely out of our own hands. Releases can be delayedliterally for years. As tiny independents, depending on onlyone release at a time, we can't proceed under thoseconditions. In effect, any attempt to be legal would shut usdown.

So OK, we're just small potato heads, working in a waythat wasn't foreseen by the law, and it's just tooproblematical, so why not just work some other way? We areworking this way because it's just plain interesting, andemulating the various well-worn status quos isn't. How manyartistic prerogatives should we be willing to give up inorder to maintain our owner-regulated culture? Thedirections art wants to take may sometimes bedangerous--that's the risk of democracy--but they certainlyshould not be dictated by what business wants to allow. Lookit up in the dictionary: art is not defined as a business!Is it a healthy state of affairs when business attorneys getto lock in the boundaries of experimentation for artists, oris this a recipe for cultural stagnation?

Negativland proposes some possible revisions in ourcopyright laws which would, very briefly, clear allrestrictions from any practice of fragmentary appropriation.In general, we support the broad intent of copyright law.But we would have the protections and payments to artistsand their administrators restricted to the straight-acrossusage of entire works by others, or for any form of usage atall by commercial advertisers. Beyond that, creators wouldbe free to incorporate fragments from the creations ofothers into their own work. As for matters of degree, a"fragment" might be defined as "less than the whole," togive the broadest benefit of the doubt to unpredictability.However, a simple compilation of nearly whole works, ifcontested by the owner, would not pass a crucial test forvalid free appropriation. Namely: whether or not thematerial used is superseded by the new nature of the usage,itself--is the whole more than the sum of its parts? Whenfaced with actual examples, this is usually not difficult toevaluate.

Today, this kind of encouragement for our natural urge toremix culture appears only vaguely within the copyright actunder the "Fair Use" doctrine. The Fair Use statutes areintended to allow for free appropriation in certain cases ofparody or commentary. Currently these provisions areconservatively interpreted and withheld from many"infringers." A huge improvement would occur if the Fair Usesection of existing law was expanded or liberalized to allowany partial usage for any reason. (Again, "the whole isgreater than the sum of its parts" test.) If this occurred,the rest of copyright law might stay pretty much as it is(if that's what we want) and continue to apply in all casesof "whole" theft for commercial gain, e.g. bootleggingentire works. The beauty of the Fair Use Doctrine is that itis the only nod to the possible need for artistic freedomand free speech in the entire copyright law, and it isalready capable of overriding the other restrictions. Courtcases of appropriation which focus on Fair Use and its needto be updated could begin to open up this cultural quagmirethrough legal precedent.

Until some such adjustments occur, modern societies willcontinue to find the corporate stranglehold on cultural"properties" in a stubborn battle with the common sense andnatural inclinations of their user populations.

Please address any comments to:

920 Monument Blvd. MF-1
Concord, CA 94520
Fax (510) 420-0469

. . .

TheBirth of Photography

Dr. Science

It was a rainy spring morning in Paris when GeorgesFotograf unveiled his new machine. His wife Iris was outshopping, but she had already made her contribution. Georgesheld the print of her ample posterior to the light andexamined it closely.

"A perfect likeness!" he exclaimed to his cat Dektol.Quite accidentally Iris had sat on an engraving Georges hadbeen preparing with a new chemical bath. When she got up, anexact image of her had been left on the engraving.

Fotograf was an engraver by trade, but a lazy one, andhad been working on a chemical process that would create aself-engraving engraving.

"But who will pay for pictures of derrieres?" Georgeswondered. A decent, upright man, he could not predict one ofmodern photography's most important and lucrative uses.

Fotograf knew he must take his process one stepfurther.

"I must find a way to make the self engraver operatewithout having to be sat upon. But how?"

Dektol meowed and stared at him with one of her typicalinquisitive stares. The cat's eyes glowed red and that gaveGeorges an idea.

"Of course, a lens instead of a derriere!" The deep redglow in the cat's eyes continued to hold him in theirhypnotic grip. "And a parallax infrared autofocussystem!"

It was all coming easy now. Within a few hours Fotografhad put together the worlds first autofocus, auto filmadvance, auto rewind camera. His wife returned from hershopping trip and Georges began to take pictures of her at afrantic rate.

It took him a few weeks to develop the pictures, becausehe had to invent both the developing and printing processes.Fortunately, he had been doing some engraving in hisgreenhouse and had accidentally spilled many gardeningchemicals into a vat of engraving paper. Serendipitously,the paper became sensitive to light.

Fotograf had the bad fortune to have his pictures foundby the police during a routine inspection. The hundreds ofpictures of his wife's derriere so outraged both judge andjury that they sentenced the unlucky engraver to life inprison.

Georges Fotograf died penniless and insane in prison,acknowledged only by his wife Iris and his cat Dektol as thefather of modern photography.

. . .
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