Original versus copy today? Who is still really concerned about that in the light of a culture in which copying and (sometimes unthinking) reproduction of sources have almost become standard practice? A culture in which automatically reproducing and spreading any initial material at all has in a certain sense become a fundamental state of affairs. In any event, the now irreversible technological basis for this causes difficulties for culture industry firms. Alongside this, a nexus of problems that cannot readily be shaken off is emerging in widespread instances of plagiarism and indeed illegal copying. But is the art of the present genuinely profoundly affected by all of this? Decades after the advent of Postmodern discourse and Appropriation Art, is it still possible to talk meaningfully and insightfully about authenticity and reproduction, about originality and quotation? Hasn’t the “culture of the copy” long become an essential fundament for all production and reception? A basis whose details can be tweaked but certainly not on a large scale that could constitute a style as such.
Erstwhile avant-garde methods to blur the borderline between original and copy seem to have grown obsolete now that lossless duplication of data material is possible at the flick of a switch. Omnipresent copying techniques in a whole host of different forms – under the heading “copy & paste” – confirm that this phenomenon has become fully established as an artistic practice and within everyday culture. And yet a latent unease remains: if everything can be copied and reproduced at will, which parameters can be used to determine the value of a specific work, particularly one that is successful? Which criteria allow us to differentiate more precisely in this world of adoption and citation, of appropriation and reworking? The question is broader still: as the modes of functioning and the logic shaping omnipresent copying processes frequently remain concealed and indeed are growing increasingly immaterial, a considerable challenge also arises for every kind of artistic methodology. Picking up on this, the question is how one can determine the precise process that distinguishes today’s copying and appropriation from earlier practices of Appropriation, Found-Footage and Remix Art?
The originalcopy issue addresses all these topics, integrating themes relating to more recent procedures and options rooted in digital technology. This issue came into being in cooperation with the eponymous research project, which is supported by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) and based at the University of Applied Arts, Vienna; we would like here to thank the project initiators, Michael Kargl and Franz Thalmair, for this productive cooperation. This springerin issue of necessity depicts only an excerpt from the broader project context, which inter alia also encompassed three exhibitions in Innsbruck, Vienna and Brussels; only cursory glimpses of these shows can be provided here, through the selected artistic works presented.
Franz Thalmair’s programmatic piece considers how the previously value-laden distinction between original and copy is increasingly beginning to disappear in the context of research-based working methods. He concentrates in particular on the question of how these changes are inscribed into artistic production processes, also beyond the frame of digital contexts, presenting a recent series of works by Mark Leckey by way of example. This approach, as is also demonstrated by the artist pieces created specifically for this issue by Lisa Rastl and Michael Kargl, concentrates on the tension between the purported immateriality of digital technologies and their material forms of manifestation. It is only in their concrete assumption of form that these manifestations enable us to recognise that the works in question are more about staging oscillation, shuttling back and forth between the purported original and the copy, than about a simple procedure of transposition from one pole to another.
Bettina Funcke extends the discourse on practices of appropriation beyond the current highly controversial debate in the USA on cultural expropriation and illicit borrowings. Funcke explains to what extent the previously emancipatory impetus underlying a diverse range of appropriation practices is currently experiencing a thoroughgoing backlash, running the risk that it will tip over into the exact opposite in the light of increasingly rigid identity policy perspectives. This kind of hardening of attitudes, albeit on a different level, has long been par for the course in debates on literary transpositions and modes of quotation. Annette Gilbert’s piece recapitulates a number of recent cases, for example concerning Michel Houellebecq and Helene Hegemann, which suggest that a distinction should be drawn between artistic and ethical legitimacy. Verbatim (often uncredited) citations have long arisen, Gilbert concludes, as a consequence of a more general copying culture that has become established more generally – which however does not signify that one should tacitly flout source-referencing and intertexts.
Gabriele Jutz examines the more precise methodology of artistic “remediation” – drawing on a media-specific set piece in another medium. In the light of the question of how cinema is possible with means that extend beyond the filmic, she engages in detail with processes of “retrograde”, in other words, retrospective, mediation. Jutz enquires on the basis of selected examples how a younger medium can already be inherent in an older medium, or, over and above any material specificity, be “subsumed” within it, almost inverting the arrow of time?
All the pieces in this issue seek to present the seemingly rigid dichotomy between original and copy for re-negotiation from a post-digital perspective. The focus of attention – and methodological objective – concerns the probably lingering problem of the extent to which “original copies” are conceivable, with both poles of the conceptual pair cathartically destabilised.
The main section of issue 2/2018 was financially supported by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF): AR348–G24 (originalcopy).