Nous avons été quelques-uns à être choqués par l’action en justice de Kader Attia contre les rappeurs Dosseh et Nekfeu pour plagiat : ceux-ci, dans un clip vidéo (qu’on peut encore voir ici) ont vêtu leurs choristes et eux-mêmes de couvertures de survie, qui peuvent rappeler cette pièce de Kader Attia ; ils ont aussi filmé ce bâtiment de Ricardo Bofil, qui n’a rien dit, mais certains ont pensé que Cyprien Gaillard aurait aussi pu y voir un plagiat. Les artistes ont réagi ici. Comme je tentais de formuler moi-même mon indignation contre cette accusation, j’ai reçu ce texte de Kendell Geers qui présente fort bien la position éthique à laquelle j’adhère. Je n’ai malheureusement pas le temps de le traduire, et je l’ai très légèrement édité, vu sa longueur : Les emphases sont de mon fait.
[8 décembre : traduction en français ici]
Open letter to Kader Attia
NOW IS THE WINTER OF OUR DISCONTENT !
It has been a full decade since we first met on the exhibition “Take a Walk on the Wild Side,” curated by Jérôme Sans at de Pury & Luxembourg in Zurich. So much has changed since then and I would like to congratulate you on your success and rise through the art system.
Was it Voltaire who first said that with great power comes great responsibility?
I feel it important to step up to this podium now in protest against your injunction that demands Dosseh and Nekfeu remove a video clip from the internet on the grounds of plagiarism. I feel it important that I speak up with regards a subject very close to my heart, as well as my art. I feel it important to defend artists in an age when profit seems to be the only measure of morality
Since 1988 I have developed a body of work and a language around the very subject of plagiarism, taking my cue from Lautréamont, the French poet born in Uruguay, who said “Plagiarism is necessary. Progress implies it. It holds tight an author’s phrase, uses his expressions, eliminates a false idea, and replaces it with just the right idea.” His revolutionary text Poésies was the Holy Water that baptised the Surrealists, a text written between the lines of words plagiarised from other authors. I have always wondered if Paul Gauguin was inspired by Lautréamont when he said that “Art is either plagiarism or revolution,” but there can be no doubt who inspired Guy Debord when he wrote his revolutionary book the “Society of the Spectacle” in 1967. He said that “Ideas improve. The meaning of words participates in the improvement. Plagiarism is necessary. Progress implies it. It embraces an author’s phrase, makes use of his expressions, erases a false idea, and replaces it with the right idea.”
I have on many occasions used the works of other artists and writers, cutting them up and slicing them in with “Minutes to Go,” like William Burroughs, Brian Gysin, Gregory Corso and the South African Sinclair Beiles. Their Cut Up concept was itself lifted from Tristan Tzara and has since evolved into what might be read as the spiritual core of Rap, Hip Hop, urban culture and the corner stone of Pop Art and Post Modernism.
If I were you, I would take it as a huge compliment that young French artists have decided to Cut your work Up into their online video. It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Plagiarism is not theft and in the context of Dosseh and Nekfeu, I would be flattered if I were you.
The point that you are making with regard the rights of artist is very important and needs to be said again “… as visual artists, we must defend ourselves against the non-consensual uses of our works. …. Everyone is plundering us, whether it’s advertising or the cultural industry.”
If there is any industry that should be protested against, it is our own, the art business. Sadly art, and artists, are no longer judged by vision, integrity, contribution to history or even aesthetics. No, we are judged only by price, sales and market ranking. As artists grow ever more powerful and their bank balances swell, there are few who dare speak out in defense of our craft because we all know that would be to bite the hand that feeds. We have become the flotsam and jetsam in a stream of economics that instrumentalises every one of us without respect.
You are right to declare that “Every artist, whether musician, plastic artist or other, must defend the integrity and respect of his work” and it is in this defense that I now feel compelled to stand up in defense of our rights to be artists, yours, mine as well as that of Dosseh and Nekfeu.
One artist’s plagiarism is another’s sampling and yet another’s Appropriation Art and today we may even call it reblogging, retweeting or even sharing. What was once Avant Guard is now Zombie Conceptualism. As the news of your charges spread, I have been contacted by numerous artists calling me to defend my own work by accusing you of double standards.
Would you have the books of Burroughs, Debord and Lautréamont also removed from the library shelves? Would you also empty out the museums of every work by Richard Prince, Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons and Sherrie Levine?
What would you say in your own defense against the very charges of plagiarism that some artists might also claim? [Kendell Geers has supplied me with some examples, four of them I show here] It could be argued for instance that you have lifted more than a few pages from my catalogue. You must recall the retrospective that opened at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Newcastle the very same night as your exhibition Dreams opened there on the 21 September 2007. Given the proximity between some of your works and my own, the insecure artist might cry plagiarism, but I am flattered by your references, in the way that Braque and Picasso exchanged ideas and contested their Avant Guards.
Your enemy today is not Dosseh and Nekfeu, nor is it advertising or the cultural industry. NO, your enemy is my enemy, as we live in an age when ignorance blossoms. Grant your fellow artists the right to quote, sample, pay homage and express themselves as artists.
We are already living in the Darkest of Ages once again, but it’s only going to get darker. Using the words of Dosseh et Nekfeu, let’s name this age “Putain d’époque” and let them sing out loud their protest ! ! ! Why are you so threatened by this video to have it censored?
Your enemy today is not Dosseh and Nekfeu. Your enemy is my enemy, the same enemy of every human being who believes in changing the present for a better future. The true enemy of every artist in the world today are the armies and legions of Big Brother who will soon persecute individualism and independent thinking as « thoughtcrime,” the censor boards of freedom, expression and liberty. It will not be long before we are all going to be censored and all our work removed from the internet simply for being artists who think outside of the borders. Today, more than ever, artists should stick together in solidarity, stand up against the Big Brothers of Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen, stand tall in protest and make our voices of dissent known collectively as one.
Drop the plagiarism claim and allow other artists the right to sing their anthem, their protest to our times, “Putain d’époque” ! ! ! !
In the words of Lautréamont, “I replace melancholy by courage, doubt by certainty, despair by hope, malice by good, complaints by duty, scepticism by faith, sophisms by cool equanimity and pride by modesty.”
“Say it again: ‘Poetry is for everyone.’ Poetry is a place and it is free to all cut up Rimbaud and you are in Rimbaud’s place” William Burroughs
Kendell Geers, 5 December 2016