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A smart artist makes the machine do the work

Cornelia Sollfrank

German artist Cornelia Sollfrank’s career has been linked to hacking, conceptual art, cyberfeminism and net.art. Since the nineties, she examines the digital cultural techniques of copying and the machine-supported production in order to question the traditional models of authorship through methods like appropriation, repetition or plagiarism.

An example that seems significant is her project net.art generator. This is a computer program which collects and recombines material from the Internet to create a new website or a new image. The program requires the user to enter a title which then functions as the search keyword, and to enter a name as the author. The resulting images and websites are stored online an archived from where they can be downloaded. Since 1999, when Sollfrank launched her first version, five different versions of the “machine” had been realized in collaboration with different programmers.

Few artists have explored the Western concept of originality as Cornelia Sollfrank. She has been working in the last few years contributing with irony and humor to the topical discussion of authorship. Her work means a constant challenge that culminate in a conflict with intellectual property and copyright assumptions and the complex rules and regulations governing laws related to them. Her appropriation strategy undoubtedly reflects that the question of authenticity appears obsolete in the present-day remix culture, as Sabine Himmelsbach (artistic director at Edith-Russ-Site for Media Art) pointed out in the preface…

It has often been suggested that art is simply there and not subject to any rules, especially “good” art. This vehement negation of an existence of rules for art is what makes it necessary for me to seek out these rules and visualize them with artistic means. Repetition is an obvious choice, because it directly causes the disruption of the mechanisms important to the art system. And sometimes it is not even necessary to repeat, but simply appropriate what has been repeated by others. Cornelia Sollfrank, 2008.

Expanded Original, is the recently-published catalog on the occasion of her exhibition Original and other fakes from January 24 to April, 19, 2009 at the Edith Russ Site for Media Art in the german city of Oldenburg. This book documents this exhibition and includes essays by Sabine Himmelsbach, Javob Lillemose, Rahel Puffert, Gerald Raunig, Silke Wenk.

In Original and other fakes exhibition, the viewer was surprised by the presentation of  classical paintings and sculptures, located in the top floor of this media art institution. All them were loaned by Oldenburg museums and the visitors were invited to go through the different spaces of the gallery, as if those spaces were spaces for discussion for the aesthetic, medial and juristic conditions under which these works were copied, reproduced and distributed by Cornelia’s proposal.

Disscusing about the idea of the devaluation of originality, the artist, in a continuation of the MuseumShop project begun in 2007, showed a video for understanding the professional reproductions standard procedure -the marking of copyrighted digital images with a logo or “watermark” thus making them unusable for other purpouses-, carried out by a museum photographer. Furthermore, there is a “Contract Space” which offered to the viewers the possibility of reading a number of contracts that define the conditions at which the reproductions can be feed into the commercial cycle. Finally, the central component is the Web Shop of the stock photography agency created by Sollfrank in 2007, where the contents are offered for sale. Whoever wants to see or own their works without the “watermark” must pay for it, as it is adviced in the catalog text.

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As Jacob  Lillemose pointed out in this publication, Sollfrank’ net.art generator has become one of the most complex and intriguing “escape attempts” from the cultural logic of authorship to come out of contemporary art. However, Sollfrank goes beyond “The Death of the Author” declared by Roland Barthes in 1967. Furthermore, Sollfrank’s work is directly related to Walter Benjamin’s concept of “similar” which are the things that exist in numerous specimen, the opposite to the unique or what Benjamin calls the “maximal unique” elevated in the auratic area of the art works.

Lillemose  analyses another Sollfrank’s exhibition called This is not by me.  The leitmotiv of this project is the art of another artist, Andy Warhol and his flower prints. Warhol’s prints are based on an appropriated photograph of another artist, Patricia Caulfield, and it is not a coincidence that Sollfrank chose this art work for developing and expanding the matter further; changing an image production with an industrial age machine as Warhol did with Amiga computer, but using a networked machine without any centre of control, not paying attention to the debate of originality and genious.

This is not by me flower images exhibition was complemented with several videos of Sollfrank  presenting her work to four different lawyers, asking them to comment on it. And finally, a video entitled “I don’t know” (1968/2006) that is a staged interview with Andy Warhol for which Sollfrank used parts of old interviews with the artist and combined them with new shots. His responses to Sollfrank’s questions about how he understand copyright and property are mostly “yes”, “not” or “I don’t know”. She asks him if he would accept the reworkings of his images by the net.art generator and he answered affirmative. Those videos extend the challenge to the level of a philosophical, a legal and an aesthetic discourse.

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Sollfrank has another interesting work that involves the generative art with the generator, Female Extension. This project resulted from a fake registration of almost 300 women in a net.art competition called Extension sponsored by Galerie der Gegenwart, in Hamburg, all made by Sollfrank. She invented profiles for all those women artist and the machine did the artistic works of all them. The cultural institution announced its satisfaction for the high number of women who submitted their works in the contest. Nonetheless the three winners were men. Was at that moment when Cornelia make public that she was responsible for all the registrations and her work became an absolute scandal.

In a later interview, Sollfrank claimed that she did it because I thought it was silly that a museum would stage a Net art competition. For me, Net art has nothing to do with museums and galleries and their operations, their juries and prizes, because it goes against the nature of Net art. Net art is simply on the Net; so there’s no reason for a museum or for a jury that decides what the best Net art is.

The final essay of this book, signed by the artist and entitled “Early influences, late consequences or: why machines did it for me” is the final “acting out” of Cornelia, because after an exact reading of the text, you  are not sure  about the structure  and truthfullness of the text and you will be tempted to wonder about its real authorship. Possibly you read a word game resulted from another art generator. Or not?

Review of Expanded ORIGINAL. Cornelia Sollfrank, 2009

Ed. / Hrsg. Sabine Himmelsbach
for the Edith-Ruß-Haus für Medienkunst

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Trama Virtual (TV):

This is a Brazilian net label founded in 2004 as part of Trama, one of the largest recording studios in Brazil. Trama Virtual is a web-based distributor for independent musicians. Trama Virtual allows free music downloads and pays artists directly through advertising revenue from different sponsors that change every two or three months; Ray- Ban Sunglasses, Banco Real or Sol Brazilian beer are some of them. Trama Virtual has uploaded more than 35,000 songs by 14,000 Brazilian artists. Its database is one of the biggest about Brazilian music. The web has around 150.000 downloads of songs or videos every month. The interesting thing is how they have created a business model that makes everyone win: users, artists, and sponsors. Every month the sponsor total sum is divided among the most popular artists who have been downloaded. The total amount of money earned by sponsorship and the download numbers are showed on the website permanently. The new model for music business is a good idea in order to pay the creators of the cultural product. It is not a great deal because the amount paid to them is not so much, but is a good option for independent musicians for distributing their works.

Techno Brega:

This Brazilian network brings together Brega-style DJs and musicians who perform at parties and weekly concerts to finance their operations. They distribute their music to make their network known and give street vendors the rights to sell their personalized CDs. At a mere US$1.50, the CDs are highly affordable by the local population, thus providing greater access to the music at a grassroots level. For independents, they enjoy widespread popularity. Techno Brega reflects the philosophy of Brazil’s Ex-Minister of Culture, Gilberto Gil, who supports new policies that have made copyright more flexible, such as the Creative Commons, a free tool for licensing intellectual property. Since Techno Brega does not have a Website, the network has not been able to expand further.

Tecno Brega and its alternative business model has emerged in the city of Belem in Brazil. This parallel music industry has been active for years and has achieved great success. Several hundred new Tecno Brega records are produced and released every year by local artists, with both the production and distribution-taking place outside of the mainstream music industry. The tecno brega model is simple: the music lies outside the realm of traditional copyright and is used as a method of marketing events. Every weekend the “sound system” parties attract thousands of people to the outskirts of Belem to listen to the Tecno Brega “sound system” weekly parties. The parties are advertised by the distribution of the music itself. The numbers are incomplete, but the Belem scene alone brings in yearly revenues of several million US dollars.

The goal is not for artists to make money on conventional CD sales. Instead, the price charged works exclusively as an incentive for the local vendors to sell the CDs and in effect market the tecno brega parties. The artists thus make money through innovative business models related to the sound system parties. One such example consists of artists recording their live concert sets at the parties in real time and then selling the recordings at the conclusion of the event. This enables the audience to go home with a souvenir of the concert they have just attended. Another technique utilized by the artists is to acknowledge the presence of various people and neighborhoods in the course of the live presentations. Hearing such acknowledgment is greatly valuable to the audience– naturally people want to hear a “shout out” to them, their friends, or their neighborhood. As a result, thousands of people buy copies of the live CDs to have a permanent memoir of this form of homage.

TvLata in TecnoTrecos

Tecno Trecos was an art and technology exhibition that ocurred in Brazília during the Art and Technology Week in June, 2007. TVLATA project was showed from its analogical point of view. Daniel Miracle, from Neokinok Tv, presented an analogical process for building an experimental television, using the cameras made of tin and cans that the students and teachers from the project had created.

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Etienne Delacroix (click and you see his internet platform for collaborative research called The Next Layer), presented a project  related to electronic devices made of electronic rubbish.

Mariana Manhaes, a brazilian artist who gives voice and movement to our daily objects at home. She does it by building some odd machines made with electronic circuits, wires, movement mechanisms and small TVs, through which the cups and teapots speak and come to our world.

Experimental television relates to the history of technological development and inventions related to the different ways of television from its origins to the present. The experimental television allows us to investigate many levels and into different fields (arts, sociology, journalism, politics, education, technology, etc). It also examines new audiovisual formats and strategies linked to artistic creation that can be applied to the television media.

It creates contents with its own operating system and uses creativity and experimentation to develop both, the contents and the ways in which they occur. Thus, experimental television investigates other languages and formats, while analyses the present and the future of conventional television.

This kind of pilot structure television must respond to a permanent processing of change, both in conceptual and the technological level. This type of platform produces and broadcasts its own contents through radio channels that can be received by a conventional television. The spread can also be done via Internet through a webcast in order to be received by multiple computers.

The experimental television is based on creativity, innovation and experimentation through multidisciplinary activities, the use of video equipment and the possibilities of interactivity with the audience, etc. The difference between a Experimental TV  and a conventional television is that the first is not part of corporations that base its criteria on commercial interests.

Neokinok Tv collective works since 1998 in this field reflecting about media and tv technical creation for contributing to this transformation described in the preceding paragraphs.

The following video shows how the coordinator of Neokinok Tv, Daniel Miracle, explain to some kids, how is possible to have your own television limited to a small space of a suitcase. As if it was a child’s play…

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TVLATA is an educational and creative experience in the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) for Development field, created in 2007 for young people who belong to a brazilian civil society organization called Bagunçaço. The project is located in Alagados, a suburb of Salvador de Bahía city, in the Northeast of the country. This experimental television project has been developed by Neokinok.Tv, an audiovisual-experimental and artistic collective settled in Barcelona, Spain.

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The idea of the project came up in 2006 while I was working for the Spanish Agency of Cooperation for Development (AECID), the institution that put the project in motion and gave to them the economic support.

From that moment on, the objective is to implement an experimental television platform whose digital contents – texts, images, music and videos- are all made by the students with the assistance and supervision of their teachers and trainers. In the TvLata Laboratory, students use new media technologies and Web 2.0 resources to create their own audiovisual television programs. As well, they have their own blogs to post information and a radio for showing their musical recordings. One of the most interesting achievements has been taught  them how to make a streaming on line program, that allow them to make live programs too. We did not pay attention to their lack of knowledge or skills in order to motivate them all to enrol the project. They designed the logo, they have intensively participated in the process of designing the web and they choose the contents of the television.

Since the beginning of the project, the main intention was to offer them (involved in an entertaining and easy environment) a digital culture formation in order to contribute to their knowledge about the power of the civil society in the new media, the main differences between traditional and new media or subjects like “what it means to have a voice in the world wide web for expressing themselves”.

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