This past summer, I had the pleasure of working at the Institute of Network Cultures in Amsterdam on their Out of Ink initiative. The initiative focused on the production of scholarly and theoretical non-fiction work, testing a widening landscape of distribution platforms and questioning how the content and design of a written work translates across print and digital mediums.

One aim of this research was to act as an organized facilitator of DIY practices, to further professionalize them and provide a model for others. In addition, the initiative views publishing as more than communicating and distributing an author’s idea to a public but also as a way to challenge legal, technical and social standards embedded in intellectual property, scholarly communication, and notions of authorship.

This directly relates to the ethos of ‘Everyday Appropriation’. Publishing can be seen as a way to experiment with disruptive revenue models, novel legal tools, and alternate forms of knowledge production. Various smaller publishers are experimenting with such practices including Publication Studio based in Portland, Oregon and Floss Manuals and re.press.

What interests me most about these progressive publishing industries in relation to our project is how they challenge the notion of authorship and blur the lines of authenticity, promoting an open-source, collaborative publishing model. Most of the publishers who are experimenting with these techniques seem to encourage appropriation as a form of personal expression, political activism and artistic display.

The other day I had the opportunity to speak with new media artist, critic, and curator Marisa Olson about appropriation.

In Olson’s work, the internet and appropriation go hand in hand. It is a “simultaneous critique of the internet and contemporary visual culture” [Lost Not Found: The Circulation of Images in Digital Visual Culture by Marisa Olson]. Just as Culture Jammers used the language of advertising in order to critique market forces in their context, Olson’s work criticizes other sources of oppression that comes from popular culture.

Pop culture is a platform for social critique, and even activism. Olson’s American Idol Training Blog is a multifaceted example. In preparation for the show, Marissa created a blog where she shared her training and crowdsourced for advice on song, dress, etc. Although a self proclaimed fan of the show, Olson’s piece critiqued the gender normative stereotypes. The project took on a new meaning with the upcoming  Bush/Kerry presidential election. The same demographic who were participating and voting on American Idol were not participating in government elections. She used the blog to tell readers how to register to vote, and brought voter registration forms to the auditions. “Ultimately, I collected over 10,000 votes in the course of trying to get young people to think about the many ways in which they could use their “voice” ( http://we-make-money-not-art.com/archives/2008/03/how-does-one-become-marisa.php).

Olson notes the influence of the digital media age on the changes of copyright law. Companies have been trying to extend their protection because digital media is somehow different. Since she is also a professor, Olson has more leeway when it comes to appropriating under Fair Use (but this doesn’t mean she hasn’t had videos taken off Youtube).  Although this has been a benefit to Olson and other artists, the distinction between professional and novice is problematic. As she said, some things she makes are art, and sometimes they are not. The goal is to start a certain conversation. Appropriation is the conversation.

Can the internet be considered the ultimate space for participatory creation and conversation? It is an equal playing field? Anyone with access to a computer and internet can easily rip video, image, or sound and remix.

The term appropriation is not limited to the creative realm. While our blog and project are primarily focusing on this area, I think it is important (even briefly) to take a broader look at appropriation and copyright. Many of the artists we talk to embrace appropriation as an important part of their dialogue (whether it is something they have appropriated, or someone appropriating their work). The hope is innovation, a stronger voice, a piece that can reach a greater audience – anything that allows the its  life to continue.

But, when it comes to innovation in products, processes, services, and technologies – things which are more focused on profit, the inventor’s openness to innovation is often non-existent. This is seen in numerous patents that people file for, then sue over when someone infringes on their idea. Instead of having a goal of overall improvement of society, it is the sole drive of monetary gain that slows down innovation.

This post on TED’s blog is a short argument for an “Innovation Renaissance.” It is simple, “the only way to thrive is to innovate.” The post sites a few examples of companies and fields constantly growing and changing despite the lack of patents (Walmart, jazz, and fashion).  Aside from reform of the patent system, there needs to be a change in  mindset. Instead of an Any Rand view of objectivism and acting purely in self interest,  there needs to be a focus on the larger picture of humanity. All of us have seen and/or experienced in someway the hardship of our current economy. While this could be a motivator for innovation,  it also scares people into protecting what they view as assets.

Poster Boy is the is a master of the visual remix. His flicker stream is a constantly growing collection of his smartly funny subway collages that are a perfect mix of street art and culture jamming.  Poster Boy attended art school, but his signature style grew out of boredom while waiting on the platform.  When the self-adhesive posters met his thoughtful slices of a razor, he made a style for himself that no one could ignore.

 

” These days, the language of the Occupy movement is being reappropriated in new ways seemingly every day. CBS ran a radio spot last that invited viewers to “occupy your couch.” On Thanksgiving, people joked online about occupying the dinner table. Now, on Facebook, holiday revelers are inviting friends to “1 percent parties. ”

” Soon there were income calculators (“What Percent Are You?” asked The Wall Street Journal), music playlists (an album of Woody Guthrie covers, promoted as a “soundtrack for the 99 percent”) and cheap lawn signs. And, inevitably, there were ads: a storefront near Union Square peddles “Gifts for the 99 percent.” A trailer for a Showtime television series about management consultants, “House of Lies,” describes the lead characters as “the 1 percent sticking it to the 1 percent.” A Craigslist ad for a three-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn has the come-on “Live Like the 1 Percent!” (in this case, in Boerum Hill). ”

Interesting article by Brian Stelter in the NY Times on the Lexicon of the Occupy Movement and how much of it has been usurped for monetary gain… completely counter to what the movement represents.

 

Seen on the Lower East Side.