Johanna Blakley

Media | Entertainment | Fashion

Archive for July, 2010

Remake Redo Remode

I can’t believe I missed this “live audience draping” event at the Fringe Festival (at the “Beauty is Pain Boutique,” natch.)

I especially like the bit at the bottom: DONATIONS WILL BRING PREFERENTIAL DRAPING

Wangechi Mutu @ The Hammer

The Hammer Museum has an interesting show up now called “Out of the Box,” which features Jacob Samuel’s limited-edition art books. Each book is a collaboration between Samuel and a wide range of artists, from performance artists Meredith Monk and Marina Abramavic (who seems to be everywhere right now) to old California staples Ed Ruscha and John Baldesarri. The work I found most arresting was by Wangechi Mutu, a Kenyan artist whose work always stops me in my tracks. Known for her striking collages, she showed up at Samuel’s place with a bunch of fashion and porn magazines. Her work makes you wonder whether there’s a big difference between the two.

Tattoo Artists vs Christian Audigier

In my TED.com talk about the lack of copyright protection in the fashion industry, I talked a little bit about tattoo artists. The two-dimensional designs that they create are protected in the same way that any drawing or painting is protected. However, it’s been a standard practice in the industry to ignore those protections and to share, reuse, remix and refashion designs made by other artists. Apparently it wasn’t considered cool to ask The Man to protect your property: in fact, like most fashion designers, I suspect that tattoo artists aspired to be copied — their fame and their prestige depended upon it. Just like the fashion industry, it’s a reputation-based industry where the originator of a design is respected, revered . . .  and, if the work resonates with people, it’s inevitably knocked-off. That’s how powerful design memes penetrate the collective consciousness. And when your work ends up indelibly printed on another person’s body, that’s a pretty clear testament to the desirability of your work and the deep commitment of your fanbase.

Some might argue that the level of design innovation in the tattoo industry should have suffered when artists decided not to exercise copyright protection over their work. After all, without ownership there is no incentive to innovate, and so lazy artists would only steal one another’s designs and the artform would wither. However, I would argue that the tattoo industry has become a  thriving subculture (which is hardly “sub” anymore) precisely because they allowed a tight-knit reputation-based remix culture to blossom and flourish. The work of several tattoo artists is now worth a fortune and it’s migrated well beyond the tattoo parlor. Like grafitti artists, tattoo artists have found that there is a strong demand for their street credibility among advertisers and marketers who are desperate to align the products they’re promoting with the distinctive look and feel of an “authentic,” noncommercial subculture.

Enter Christian Audigier.

Audigier has worked with tattoo artists for years, commissioning work from them and reproducing their designs on an ever broader slate of consumer goods and apparel. Long Beach-based Buckley Crispin is the latest tattoo artist to sue Audigier for copyright infringement. Crispin claims he had sold some designs to Audigier for some specific uses, but he certainly never intended for his iconic work to end up on dog clothing.

This case is fascinating to me, of course, because both the fashion industry and the tattoo industry function as “low-IP” industries, where a robust remix culture dominates. I guess it shouldn’t be so surprising that a copyright battle has emerged where these two creative industries have intersected. While it’s cool in the tattoo industry to let your work be remixed by other artists, I’m guessing Crispin’s artistic community doesn’t think he’s an ass for suing Audigier, who is decidedly not part of that community. Crispin’s suit is about big money (potentially 100s of millions of dollars, according to the Daily Journal), but it’s also  about reputation: managing reputation is serious business for a tattoo artist who’s work loses its authority when it’s slapped on doggie do-dads. While fashion designers have no copyright protection to fall back on, they must be strategic about the incorporation of anyone else’s work into their own. Audigier, it seems, has pushed his licensing empire too far, alienating the artists who define his own line.

And without a signature style, a designer’s got nothing.

Interior Decorating . . . Bowerbird Style

I don’t know about you, but I would be mightily impressed by a guy who completely redecorates his home for a date with me. Turns out that male bowerbirds have wicked interior design skills, using soda cans, colorful plastic bags, CDs and all manner of flora and fauna to decorate their bachelor pads. (According to National Geographic, garlands of glistening caterpillar feces are quite appealing to the ladies).

The photos are pretty shocking: some of the detailed compositions (which can include towers up to seven feet high) look like they were made by human children with an eye for composition and color. Some blue-eyed birds only use blue objects to decorate their bowers (are they doing it because it sets off their eyes?) and others use mashed up plants to “paint” the bower interior, giving it a little visual pizzazz. But that’s not all! It turns out that the pulpy paint is also pretty tasty – female bowerbirds snack on it while the bachelor sings and dances for her.

This just gets better and better.

For those of you who are contemptuous of design (it’s just an unnecessary frill, right?) and think of it as a uniquely human folly, please consider the lesson of the bowerbird: humans aren’t the only ones who consider “life” and “style” in the same breath.

Who owns a tweet?

Jeff Pulver’s 140 Characters conference, which is devoted to all things Twitter, is around the corner and so I was thinking about some of the better panels I saw at last year’s conference in Hollywood. One that has stuck with me was about copyright issues on Twitter. Here’s an excerpt from a blog I wrote about it:

The “Public Policy & Law” panel was one of the better ones (in my mind) because of the potential copyright issues surrounding the viral dissemination of tweets. Being “retweeted” is the gold-standard on Twitter, if your aim is to broadcast your idea to the broadest possible audience. But a copyright lawyer might argue that a tweet is a complete work, eligible for copyright protection, which endows the creator of the tweet the power to determine the distribution of her work. The lawyers on this panel suggested that about 90% of tweets are ineligible for copyright protection because they simply reiterate facts (which can never be copyrighted) – but what about the other ten percent? Aren’t those the tweets that are most worth re-tweeting? And who decides just how original an expression a tweet must be in order to be protected?

The issue of judging the degree of originality necessary in order to claim protection for a “new” work is one of the key stumbling blocks in the way of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, who are trying – once again!! – to secure copyright protection for “original” fashion designs. Listening to judges and expert witnesses argue about whether a cocktail dress is truly original or not might be a great source of entertainment, but it’s probably not the best way to utilize our overburdened justice system.

Zeitgeist in a Hall of Mirrors

Ron Geiger, a good friend of mine who is a copywriter watched my TED.com talk about the lack of copyright protection in the fashion industry and he suggested I take a closer look at the advertising industry. Here’s what he said:

Trademarks are running amok as brands try to own common phrases. (“You’re fired!”)  For the most part, though, it’s still very much the wild west — everybody copies everybody — for better or worse.  Maybe that’s why writers are called “copywriters.”

I haven’t seen anybody talk about advertising in this vein. Like fashion, advertising both fuels and feeds off the zeitgeist. A culture of copying is essential for both because the establishment and dissemination of a trend (which has a pretty clear commercial dimension) are dependent upon repetition and reiteration. Here was his response:

Exactly.  It’s like the zeitgeist in a hall of mirrors.  Each brand trying to reflect the trend that will capture their target’s attention.  Repeating what they want to hear, but in a way that seems fresh.  It’s never ending… fortunately.  Because it pays my bills!

(You da bomb, Ron!)

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