Install this theme
Public Gesture: Pirate Capital
You Are Here

Welcome to a web-based documented research enquiry investigating ideas around Pirate Capital in the context of Public Gesture.

Here I have laid out for you a virtual path to take you through my web-based research enquiry into ideas surrounding specific artists practices with an emphasis on dissemination.

You are reading this online, as opposed to in material form or real-space, so that I might emphasize the potential of the web as an independent presentation and distribution platform. My aim, with this enquiry, is to identify possible research questions as they arise and briefly direct the reader to a starting point from which an engagement with these questions could unfold.

I am acting merely as an organiser and presenter of information that can be seen to hold some degree of critical currency in relation to the notion of Pirate Capital.

It amounts to a very short and subjective curatorial response to the theme set out for the Mavis Public Gesture students exhibiting at the Lab, 2010.

Pirate Capital

Pirate Capital, for the purposes of this exercise, alludes to the unregulated dissemination of intellectual labour. Both in the art market, in an artist’s practice, and online. After accompanying me along a scenic route of enquiry, I will direct you to the virtual capital of Pirate Capital itself, as least, in the context of web-dwelling contemporary art.

We begin in the pages of a newspaper, with a letter penned by a number of well-known Irish Artists and printed in the Irish times. It marks a response to the recent public announcement of Bank of Ireland’s decision to sell its Art Collection. The Artists are angry.

This raises the question of ownership. What degree of control, if any, does an artist retain after a work of art leaves their hands? This is particularly interesting in relation to the sale of art, as the authorship of the work is often an intrinsic element of its value.

In 1971 Seth Siegelaub produced a text (under the supervision of Robert Projansky, lawyer) entitled The Artist’s Reserved Rights Transfer and Sale Agreement. The published document was intended to “remedy some generally acknowledged inequities in the art world, particularly artists’ lack of control over the use of their work and participation in its economics after they no longer own it” (Eichhorn, Maria, The Artist’s Contract, 2009, p.7).

Conceived in the long shadow of Conceptual Art, a movement to which Siegelaub himself was heavily connected, the agreement sought to assert and negotiate the artists right of ownership after a work had been sold. Criticism came from within the art world, with key players such as Jean Leering voicing the opinion that the agreement would inevitably mean a “strengthening of the capitalistic point of view” and result in exacerbating the existing gap between art and public (Eichhorn, p.33). Similarly, Harald Szeemann advised that

The contract is (…) only through its distribution and through its author a work for the so called avant-garde. This means that if its not used by all the local artists all over the world it doesn’t become what you think it should be. (Eichhorn, p.35).

In fact, very few artists went on to employ the terms of the contract, and it became clear that insisting on the use of it was a clear obstacle to sales. Some artists did, however, adopt a similar mechanism for safeguarding rights to their work after sale. A good example of this is Daniel Buren, who produced the Avertissement, an still uses it today.

A notable difference between this and Siegelaub’s contract is an important clause, which allows Buren to relinquish authorship of the work should the buyer fail to comply with the terms outlined in the certificate of sale. Buren states that his primary concern in the creation of the contract was to protect the basic idea of the work rather than to secure financial gain should the work be resold at a higher price.

Using a contractual agreement in the sale of an artwork can allow the artist to exercise more control over the dissemination and display of their work, and for some artists, dissemination and distribution are matters central to their practice. In Mario Garcia Torres “Contract for a never-to-be-seen-by-the-patron Artwork" the work only exists for the patron if the contract is adhered to. This contract emphasizes the level of responsibility and agreement required by all parties; patron, producer and artist, in order for the work to literally be successful.

Control can be a key concern for an artist after a work has left their possession. Daniel Buren is a good example of someone who is absolutely adamant to retain complete artistic control over the display of any of his works. Conversely, some artists invite unexpected outcomes and intentionally produce work which relies on an element of unpredictable audience of public participation.

For example, Dan Rees, for whom the realization of an artwork depends on the actions of other people. In a sense, his ideas are merely the seeds for unpredictable (though somewhat engineered) outcomes.

Seth Price is another contemporary artist whose work deals directly with notions of distribution. Price asks the question “Suppose an artist were to release the work directly into a system that depends on reproduction and distribution for its sustenance, a model that encourages contamination, borrowing, stealing, and horizontal blur?” Here we see precisely how the internet as a platform for the dissemination of contemporary art can come into play.

Discussions of the implications of presenting artistic activity through technological networks and software are a fairly recent endeavor, and are quickly gaining critical ground. In 2005 the Tate held a conference on curating digital media entitled “Curating. Immateriality. Systems.” An overriding concern seemed to be how curatorial control can be exercised within a limitless distribution network, an idea closely connected to perceived notions of Pirate Capital.

and more details can be found online in the form of the following texts

Artists of a younger generation, seem to be embracing new technologies as free systems of distribution for the display and discussion of their work. Two notable artists currently working in this media are Louis Douglas and Brad Troemel. Youthful and energetic, these artists are vehement in their defense of the web as a valuable and legitimate platform for the dissemination of their art and ideas.

Remember 2010 was a web based exhibition which featured the work of Irish artist Eilis McDonald, and has gained notoriety among peers (evident in the subsequent ‘like’ tags and re-blogging of much of the work). In choosing to publish work online, artists do lose a certain amount of control over their work, but it seems to be a forfeit artists willingly make.

Brad Troemel has embraced the collaborative nature of the internet, and the element of anonymity it affords seems to appeal to his style of work. His text FreeArt throws up many interesting questions and provides insight into the nature of his practice.

Indeed his tumblr site The Jogging is based on the ethos of Pirate Capital, and he seems interested in exploring the potential inherent in an open and unlimited sharing of intentionally piratable material.

Cause for thought surely. I wonder now, how the artists who wrote so damningly of Bank of Ireland’s intentions to sell of their art collection, would feel should the bank catalogue and publish said collection on the internet before sale.

It would enable the general public access to view the complete collection, evoking a sense of ownership over it, and quelling calls for a nationalization of the collection. This would surely be an apt Public Gesture should the sale go ahead.

With this exercise my intention has been to open up a possibility for dialog on notions that hinge around the idea of Pirate Capital, and explore the meaning of the term in a manner that embraces the attractions and distractions of the internet as a forum for distribution. Willfully incoherent, and with a propensity for subject-hopping, this project could also be entitled “Booklet for a never-to-be-seen-by-the-public Essay”. But who knows, perhaps I have held your attention long enough for that not to have been the case.

As with all things on the internet, this is not forever, and is hereafter subject to manipulation and change. I intend to continue my research in the various strands I have been drawn to through this unlikely endeavor, and hope to have flagged some interesting starting points for your consideration. Thank you for your time.