The one thing that no art movement. however revolutionary. can avoid is being assimilated into the mainstream. Revolt into Style is the unshakeable rule. When Malcolm McLaren (who always claimed that he had steered the Sex Pistols by ideas he‘d picked up from the Parisian Situationists in the Sixties). looks out from a podium on the lecture circuit he sees rows upon rows of fresh-faced sheeplike kids pathetically eager to be told the tried-and-trusted methods of rebellion from a man old enough to be their father.
Ifeven the confrontational texts of the Situationists can be assimilated into high culture. and their artefacts (meaningless outside the context of the time) rendered impotent behind glass at the l(‘A. then the idea ofart as something dangerous and subversive is dead. Today‘s foetus earrings. if that‘s not too extreme an example. will tomorrow be selling perfume. Can there be away to escape that cycle‘.’
Maybe it‘s worth investigating The Fifth International Festival of Plagiarism. Organised by 'I‘ransmission‘s William Clark and the prolific. London-based writer of texts. Stewart Home. it brings together a loose association of artists whose work is in some way participatory and proudly unoriginal.
Home is a veteran of previous Festivals. a number ofexhibitions. including 1987‘s Desire in Ruins at the 'I‘ransmission. and is one of the key figures in expressing the role of plagiarism in art.
Art itself. he argues. is chained to bourgeois values which shackle us all. not only by promoting the tastes and ideals of the dominant culture. but directly upholding capitalism by doing so. The claims for some art to be a vehicle for social change are therefore bogus. since the perception of art and artists and the structures of the art world will inevitably support the status quo.
The plagiarists oppose art‘s elitism. the praise heaped upon artists in direct proportion to their incomprehensibility to the general public and the process by which works of art become commodities to be dealt with like stocks and shares. (‘entral among their concerns is the elitist myth (popular among artists themselves) of the artist as a genius with unique insights. for. as the plagiarist line goes. "I‘o call one person an artist is to deny another the equal gift ofvision‘.
()ne way of making a stand against this has been the use ofmultiple identities like ‘Karen Eliot‘. a name adopted by around 100 individuals who have carried out creative acts under the name. but ofcourse received no personal recognition for their work.
To draw attention to what art has become. the plagiarist group
PRAXIS has called for an Art Strike. basically a withdrawal of labour like any other industrial action. The idea was first proposed by ( iustav Metzger. who in 1974 called for artists to cease producing. sellingor discussing their work
10'l'he List 281uly— lllAugust 1989
Artists have always borrowed ideas from others. The Festival of Plagiarism suggests that those who don’t bother covering their tracks are the most creative ofall. Alastair Mabbott rips off everyone in sight.
between the years 1977—80. Despite Metzger‘s lack of impact. the plagiarists are calling for another three-year Art Strike. beginning in 1990.
Metzger‘s vision was ofgalleries and art magazines folding. and artists. unable to stop creating. being coerced into camps where their work would be destroyed as it was produced. The PRAXIS idea of the strike is less ambitious. and focused on the role of the artist and how he or she engages with the surrounding culture. It‘s crucial to their view to disrupt the myth of ‘the artist as someone who has these uncontrollable creative urges. and to show that you can stop and start at will.‘ But a great deal ofits meaning. according to one of Home‘s pamphlets. ‘lies not in its feasibility but in the possibilities it opens up for intensifying the class war‘.
And where does the art of plagiarism feature in this? Liberally borrowing from the writings of Roland Barthes. it emphasises the productive role that the audience has to play. ‘Rather than passively receiving a work. they recreate it when they read a work or look at a picture.‘ explains Stewart Home. ‘In the pure sense it‘s not plagiarism at all. because that would entail taking ideas and claiming them as your own. It‘s a polemical use of the word to focus attention on the problems in that area. We‘re drawing attention to the fact that we‘re using other ideas.
‘The Festival of Plagiarism is partly just to show a lot of the things that are going on around the world. and also to deal with the whole issue of copyright laws. which seem a little ridiculous in the light ofall the machinery we‘ve got right now. Videos. xerox machines— it‘s actually impossible to enforce the laws that are there. So it‘s making a point about that. and obviously ownership in relation to that. Also. it‘s interesting that the idea of ownership of ideas is quite a recent
phenomenon. since the 18th century.‘
With every succeeding plagiarism a new layer of meaning is added. This. says Home. makes it a highly creative process. And anyone can do it. That it subverts accepted notions of artistic value. linked in this society with ethics of labour time and production. makes it a worthy snub ofcapitalist dogma. or at least that‘s the idea. But to the observer. what is really the difference between a plagiarist event and one of the avant-garde works they rail against for being ‘tainted by the avant-garde fraction of the bourgeois"?
‘It‘s problematic. but art is basically what the bourgeoisie says is art. and although I can control what I do now I can‘t control what happens to it in twenty years‘ time. and it might well be considered art in twenty years‘ time. The point is not to claim any universal validity for what we‘re doing. and not to assume that people should be interested in what we‘re doing — which is the basis ofmost funding for the arts and the basis ofany justification for it. the basis that it has a humanising
Detail lrom Delacroix theme by Jamie Reid
function. Whereas. we say. this is just what we want to do and we happen to be interested in this. there are no grand claims for it. or claims that it has some kind of deep significance and therefore ought to interest people.‘
The week of events encompasses demonstrations of art-by-xerox by Jamie Reid. the originator of the Sex Pistols graphics. a video installation by the eerie Temple of Psychic Youth. recreations of pieces by nihilists and Fluxus (a 1960s‘ group with a hit-and-miss approach to ‘democratic‘ art). diverse sound and video works and much in the way of spontaneous events. One major advantage of this year‘s Festival over the last one in London is that it is centred in the Transmission Gallery. except for a showing of the film
' Decoder by the German director
Maeke. which takes place at the Goethe Institute. All the events are aimed in their various ways at an audience ready to participate rather than gawp. and be prepared to change their ideas about how art fits into their lives.
With the Festival of Plagiarism being such a broad church it‘s not surprising to find William (‘lark of the Transmission Gallery (the man who has done much of the donkey-work to bring the event up here). finding a case for art as something more than a capitalist tool than the hard-line Home. who explains: ‘lt‘s not 1()() per cent theoretically coherent. There are definite differences between how I approach it and how Billy approaches it. I‘d be much more critical about the idea of any art at all. Billy has a vitalist approach to culture and life in general. He thinks there‘s a spiritual element to art. which I thoroughly disagree with.‘
‘Stewart lives in London.‘ comments Clark. ‘so his opinions are bound to be different from mine. Every gallery in London has an audience which is middle to upper class. I think that a greater proportion ofpeople who come to galleries in Glasgow are more working class. There‘s more unemployment here. and the city has a long labour history.
‘Because I did painting at art school I know there‘s a lot ofpeople doing something worthwhile. Painting is a viable thing. it‘s what painting has become that‘s questionablc.‘
Despite the differences in the ranks. there‘s more than a kernel of truth in the plagiarists‘ claims. The acid test. though. will be the kind of resonance the Festival of Plagiarism has among its visitors. who. while seeing — and maybe agreeing with ~ the point. will probably welcome the chance to slip home at the end of the
day and fall back into the security offered by their cherished artefacts ofcapitalism.
The Festival of Plagiarism runs front Friday 4—Fritlay 11 at the Transmission Gallery, 28 King Street. Glasgow, except for the film Decoder, which will be shown at the Goethe Institute on Thurs I 0. All events are free.