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Appropriation, Attribution, Mental Contagion… And the Flow


Surrealist and Dadaist Max Ernst considered Mental Contagion as one of the noteworthy elements that occurs when artists collaborate together in rounds of Exquisite Corpse: a recurrence of themes and imagery would permeate across the corpse compositions.

This element of Mental Contagion seems to have enrooted itself within the current folds of art theory and practice. Thanks to the ease of accessible information and imagery for anyone, anywhere, anytime, the speed at which thievery, appropriating, copying, or attributing plays out is rapidly and exponentially increasing.

Let us consider two current art practices that employ mental contagion as their primary modus operandi in the creative process. Both practices yield very different implications in both application, mediation and interpretation of their work.

Artist and practice example number 1: A recent survey of works by Canadian Artist Damian Moppett at the Rennie Collection in Vancouver.

Damian Moppett - Rennie Collection, 2012

Moppett embeds within his practice a range of media and a multitude of direct references to artists and works from modernist, contemporary and historical eras, in fact, he even dives deeper into realms of history, and ancient artworks.

Whilst touring the new exhibition of his work at the Rennie Collection, our exhibition guide suggested that Moppett is greatly invested and interested in the potential for one artist to continue another’s practice, not for the sake of replicating it, like for like, but in order to implement a continuing current dialogue with the past.

My personal observation of Moppett’s work: it feels as though it were a continuation of a period which most artists go through in their formative years. An intense time of exploration of media and endless mimicry of other artist styles and genres. It is as if Moppett became transfixed in this state of exploration like a record stuck on a loop, never to find his own signature. Which has led him to creating his signature out of not having one to call his own. This approach is simultaneously conceptually rich and yet also, incredibly vacuous.

Whether consciously or subconsciously, all artists endlessly reference and find inspiration in other works of art. How this translates into a critical execution of ideas within each artists own praxis, is dependent on whether the practitioner can construct their own relevant and newfangled signifiers out of this old knowledge, collective unconsciousness, and system of reference.

While there is an interesting dialogue going on with the past in Moppett’s work, I struggle to consider it as critical or as relevant as it could be. Even though I take issue with the majority of Moppett’s work, I must admit that I thoroughly enjoyed experiencing his large scale sculptures, and diving into his massive collection of drawings. The fact that I struggle with the relevancy of the work may indicate that perhaps there is something more to be discovered. More research is definitely required….

Artists and practice example number 2: An article titled Attribution Art? by Domenico Quaranta on the lineage and fallout of Eva & Franco Mattes' works.

Eva and Franco Mattes aka 0100101110101101.ORG Stolen Pieces (from Richard Long), 1995-97 Print on Somerset velvet 76.2 x 106.7 cm

Eva and Franco Mattes are a dynamic thieving artist duo. Their practice frequently involves ripping off ideas, re-appropriating famous brands & creating alternative¬† campaigns, producing replicas of other artist’s works, having them exhibited under the other artist’s name, and then afterwards, claiming the ownership of them. Most recently, the pair is showing a collection of pieces of materials that were stolen over a three year period in the late 90’s. The artists accumulated a collection of bits stolen off of classic and contemporary art masterpieces from major museums and gallery collections throughout the world.

Whilst Moppett’s work struggles to find it’s identity and claims this quest as its essence, Mattes’ work takes over anyone and everyone’s identity. Art and ideas are no longer a precious commodity to be preserved, they become part of a collective plethoral ocean through which we all must sail or sink. (An ever prevalent phenomenon of our telecommunicated existence.) It is from this vantage point where critical praxis is occurring. Perhaps Moppett needs to find a way to move his work from the traditional plinth on which it statically and stoically rests, and chuck it into the ocean. It might swim, it might sink, but it is definitely here in the ebb and flow where it will become part of the critical mass.¬†

Mental Contagion Art

In a reverse Warholian twist, one must referentially borrow back from pop-culture and render a grandiose, glossy and most laudatory statement…

In the words of @ANYinfamousTABLOIDtiaraTWITWIT, #MentalContagionArt ‘it’s like so totally epic!’.

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