Last summer Artbash, a New Zealand art blog, had a posting
about the similarity between Rama Port's "Pull" (2007) and Mona Hatoum's "Pull" (1995). Hatoum version is on top and Port's second.
My comment on the posting was this:
The reactions of the various parties (artist, director, academic) has a "circle the wagons" defensive feel. I don't think it's reasonable to expect even an art-educated person to catch the reference and it is pretty standard for artists to include "after X" when referencing even much more well-known and seminal works (e.g., Sherrie Levine's "Fountain after Marcel Duchamp"). Since Port has already renamed the work once (from "Hair Pull" to "Pull"), it seems reasonable for her to rename it again, acknowledging the borrowing.
This next thought comes with the caveat that I haven't seen either work in person, so I may be off base.
One thing that strikes me is that Hatoum's piece is richer in terms of content [what appears to be a monitor is Hatoum herself, so unbeknownst to the gallery-goer, pulling the braid actually pulls Hatoum's hair]. If Hatoum was the artist doing the appropriating, I would think, "Hmm... well she has really taken it to another level with the performative aspect and the exploration of simulation vs. reality." Port's version doesn't seem to add anything, but rather lessen it and not take it anywhere new.
So imagine my surprise when I was flipping through the Tinguely Museum
's catalog for "Bewegliche Teile: Formen des Kinetischen" ("Moving Parts: Forms of the Kinetic") and I came across Günther Uecker
's "Sandspirale" (1970). It has a very striking similarity to Hatoum's "+ and -" (1994). Uecker sculpture is on top and Hatoum's second (you can click on the images to see a larger version).
Hatoum's "+ and -" is a gallery-sized version of her tabletop "Self-Erasing Drawing" (1979). Hatoum and Uecker are both well enough known artists that I'm sure I'm not the first to notice this, so there's probably nothing amiss. I am curious, though, what is the relationship between the two artworks. Does Hatoum acknowledge Uecker's influence on her sculpture? Have they ever discussed it? Does she recall seeing "Sandspirale" before creating "+ and -"?
The sculptures have their differences... Uecker's chains cause more organic and meandering lines, whereas Hatoum's sculpture includes the concept of endless erasing. Still, the similarities are more striking than the differences.
My position on originality is that it's over-rated... anything worth doing is worth doing more than once. If an idea is so fragile it loses its specialness upon being explored more than once, then it really is just a shallow novelty. That being said, I'd be pretty uncomfortable if I were the maker of "+ and -." At the very least, I'd want to acknowledge Uecker in the title (unless there's some understanding with him to the contrary) and would seriously consider scrapping my version altogether simply to avoid the appearance of plagiarism.
Labels: Hatoum, kinetic, originality, Uecker