Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Sincerest Form of Flattery?

The Summer of Scandals continues.

It looks pretty clear that Singaporean artist Lynn Lu's work "X" was directly influenced by the performance by Jason Mortara titled "Memories Revisited." In each, the artist writes something on toilet paper (Mortara in ink, Lu in apple juice) before exposing it to a candle flame (Mortara to burn it directly, Lu to expose the text momentarily before it catches fire). Here's Lu's piece [via the International Herald Tribune]:

And here's Mortara's [via his

When challenged about this ("Mr. Mortara wrote to the National Arts Council in Singapore to declare that Ms. Lu’s work...was “a substantively direct copy of a copyrighted piece” that he created in 2002"), Ms. Lu apologized and renamed her piece “X (After ‘Memories Revisited’ by Jason Mortara).” From The New York Times:

Mr. Mortara said a “coincidence” was “impossible,” because he and Ms. Lu knew each other and they had performed on the same night at a show in San Francisco in 2003. After questioning by Heman Chong, curator of the Singapore show, Ms. Lu said that she had been inspired by Mr. Mortara’s work and that she and he had agreed to retitle her installation “X (After ‘Memories Revisited’ by Jason Mortara)” and to share the small grant she had received for her work. She said: “It had not occurred to me before this that Mr. Mortara would consider ‘X’ a copyright infringement of his work, as artists often influence each other, but I saw it as a grave insensitivity and carelessness on my part. I apologized to Mr. Mortara for my poor judgment, and suggested crediting him” with the new title.

Now, however, word comes (in the Times article cited above) that Lu's work has been pulled from the Singapore Art Show.

When I first read the article in the Times, I immediately thought, "Artists reference other artists all the time...what's the big deal? Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, no?" Then I saw the images and concluded Lu was unquestionably referencing Mortara a bit too closely. Knowing that their paths had actually crossed and they had both performed at the same venue (it's not clear if that's where Lu saw Mortara's "Memories Revisited" or not) it seems the reference was perhaps indeed a copyright infringement (UPDATE: but see comments for a dissenting opinion). It might have been one thing to reference an established piece, by an established artist...something that's already in the public's consciousness and therefore fair for riffing on), but to so directly copy a work by an emerging artist (still working to get his name out there) seems to warrant the retitling of the piece and the apology in my opinion. Sharing of the grant was a very nice gesture as well. Whether pulling the work from the exhibition was necessary...I'm not so sure.

Labels: imitation


Blogger Mark Creegan said...

She should be commended for admitting she was wrong, I wish our politians did the same. Actuallly I wish we all did that more often. Its kind of refreshing really.

8/02/2007 09:17:00 AM  
Blogger Houdini said...

If I may be blunt about it; it's completely shit. The method might be the same, but it's something everyone did as a kid.
If you're so afraid of being copied, make something that can't possibly be copied. ART is original.

8/02/2007 09:34:00 AM  
Blogger twhid said...

It's not copyright infringement IMHO as Lu didn't use any physical representations from the Mortara's actual piece (unless she copied the text perhaps).

It is 'idea infringement' which isn't illegal (see Apple v. christian markley re iphone ad). The art world doesn't look kindly on ignorant or unaware 'idea infringement', Lu understood that and tried to make amends but to late! When Markley complained about Apple borrowing his idea for their iphone commercial he didn't have a leg to stand on as Apple doesn't care what the art world thinks of their advertisement.

I'm not defending Lu's piece. If one is going to appropriate ideas, one needs to be aware of exactly where they're coming from and, perhaps more importantly, let the viewer know you know.

Lu is guilty of being incredibly unoriginal and unaware, but it's not a legal problem and legal concepts (which is all copyright is) shouldn't be tossed about in this case.

8/02/2007 09:37:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Was Lynn Lu wrong?

Mortara has included her performance on his website, as a "recreation". The ‘recreation’ label is questionable, it seems more like an extension to me, certainly Lu didn’t write the same words on her toilet paper before setting them afire. This implies that maybe the ‘words’ don’t matter, that it is the ‘performance’ that matters. In other words, nothing that is being done matters, only that certain things were being done as a performance.

Ah well, as a painter I don’t have to worry about these problems. I must run now, I’m working on a 24 in square monochrome blue canvas.

8/02/2007 09:41:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

It's not copyright infringement IMHO as Lu didn't use any physical representations from the Mortara's actual piece (unless she copied the text perhaps).

Thanks for the clarification twhid. As they say, IANAL.

If you're so afraid of being copied, make something that can't possibly be copied. ART is original.

Oh, I think that's perhaps the most difficult to prove assertion I've read all week, Houdini. :-)

8/02/2007 09:43:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

The big aesthetic issue for the 21st century will be to redefine what art is.

Ed's posts from the last few days make it quite clear that no one really knows what art is anymore.

Isn't that great!

8/02/2007 09:45:00 AM  
Blogger twhid said...

Thanks for the clarification twhid. As they say, IANAL.

oops. I'm not a lawyer either :)

I do have a dog in this fight as MTAA has done a few 'updates' to other artists work.

As usual, great post Edward.

8/02/2007 09:53:00 AM  
Anonymous pedro velez said... least there was an apology.

8/02/2007 10:28:00 AM  
Blogger prettylady said...

*WARNING* Hell is about to freeze over.

First, let me say that I don't think Lu's piece was such a direct copy as everyone else seems to think; I think Lu's use of apple juice added a subtle aesthetic and conceptual dimension to the piece that was lacking in Mortara's. Both pieces are still, however, so inconsequential that this hoopla seems overblown and inappropriate.

BUT, the thing that leaps out at me, I'm afraid, is the fact that a female artist ripped off a male artist, the male artist made an enormous fuss about it, it got reported seriously in the New York Times and the female artist offered a sincere apology and financial remuneration.

Whereas when a male artist rips off a female artist, he generally gets away with it, and the female artist who bitches about it is consigned to the ghetto of 'sour grapes feminist' and largely ignored.

Just sayin'.

8/02/2007 12:16:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Say it, Prettylady!

8/02/2007 12:20:00 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

I second the tip of the hat to Pretty Lady!

8/02/2007 12:40:00 PM  
Blogger Rich said...

"Whereas when a male artist rips off a female artist, he generally gets away with it, and the female artist who bitches about it is consigned to the ghetto of 'sour grapes feminist' and largely ignored."

I agree with your statement that these are inconsequential works, but I wonder if the resolution is just facilitated by gender as you say. Can you give examples of male artists ripping off female artists and getting away with it? Does it happen so often that it's an established practice?

I ask, not to start a war, but because there seem to be so many opportunities for women to exhibit.

8/02/2007 12:43:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

You're not starting a war. It's a legitimate discussion--though probably for another thread (Ed? Want to host this one?)

But about those opportunities....Would they be at MoMA? The Whitney? The Guggenheim? The Met? SFMoMA? The Chicago Institute?The Tate? Bilbao? In the Chelsea galleries? (Using the summer AiA guide to galleries would be a good time to see how many men are represented by each Chelsea gallery versus how many women). In Janssons? Art history is squarely on the side of--um, how did Robert Hughes put this?--the pale penis people.

Related info:

8/02/2007 01:14:00 PM  
Blogger Betta said...

First, a disclaimer: I exhibited with Lynn in a show featuring emerging artists from South East Asia in Singapore late last year.

My view of this episode is necessarily coloured by a deep bias because I know Lynn as an artist full of integrity and quiet dignity, something displayed in her reaction towards this 'overblown hoopla' (I agree, Prettylady!). Given their position as artistic colleagues (probably of much the same level) Mortara could have approached Lynn personally, rather than fire off an official letter staking his claim.

In addition to Prettylady's comment about the male-female dimension, I would like to add that Lynn's reaction is also a typically Asian one. The first thing we do when criticized is to apologize, to retract and negotiate. I'm generalizing, but whatever - I'm putting my fingers in my ears and I am singing very loudly.

I'm sorry Edward, but I must disagree that Lynn's work referenced Mortara's too closely. Although the visuals are similar, the two works differ enough in intention and execution to become differentiated from each other. 'X' continues to hold intrinsic artistic value despite Mortara's accusation, especially in light of Lynn's wider practice. Please note that Lynn does not acknowledge that it is a copyright infringement, but only points to her 'carelessness' and 'insensitivity'.

As for withdrawing the work from the exhibition, I must confess I'm really outraged. In view of the gentlemanly and dignified (no groveling, no denials - it's not easy to walk the fine line between) response from the artist , it is an incomprehensible, indeed, rather vulgar, gesture on the part of Singapore Art Council. It is disappointing when institutions do not match artists in courtesy.

8/02/2007 01:23:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

So, gender politics aside, what might have Lynn Lu been thinking?

It appears her performance/video was given a fairly high level of visibility by the curators of the Singapore Art Show. I’m assuming Lu is an ambitious young artist, she must have considered what she was doing when she agreed to exhibit this particular work.

I suspect a question that must be asked is whether or not she revealed to the curators the source of her inspiration, or if she just allowed them to draw their own conclusions.

In an e-mail message, Lu said she believed that the "content, intention and context" of their works "were different, despite the similarity of materials and method used." [IHT]

Maybe, Lu thought "this is in Asia, who will ever know?" Maybe there is a cultural difference in the way the concept of ‘originality’ is viewed.

Whatever, I think it’s all trivial and acerbated by the thinness of the concept behind the artwork.

Removing her from the exhibition was a spineless act.

8/02/2007 01:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

um, paul chan?

(scroll down to paul chan vs. the student)

worse... because of the power imbalance.

i feel sorry for this artist who is being so humiliated... her work is much different from the piece she is borrowing from.

why do none of those sleazebag dealers from the former thread get named, and this girl is getting gangbanged on a number of smug blogs.

8/02/2007 01:57:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

Does it happen so often that it's an established practice?

Joanne is right, it is a legitimate discussion.

If you read biographies of widely acclaimed male artists (i.e. Picasso, Matisse, Noguchi, Serra, etc.), and you observe closely, you might notice that the women around them are viewed, not as named 'influences,' with whom they have Seminal Conversations, but as part of the landscape, like birds or trees or shadows or food, there to be taken in but not credited with independent thoughts. This applies to women who are their teachers, partners, colleagues or students. Relationships among male colleagues are overtly acknowledged as being Historic and Significant--witness Noguchi's homage to Brancusi, or the fabled Rift between Serra and Close--but if Picasso gets a Big Idea during a conversation with Francoise Gilot, her name is erased from the canon and only his words remain.

It is, to my mind, less a question of direct 'ripping off' than an unconscious psychological failure to perceive the ideas of women as having the force of Authority. I suspect it may be quite literally biological. We do not credit our mothers for 'influencing' us; we take what they give us as a basic human right, and move forward as perceived authors of our own destiny.

8/02/2007 02:24:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

this girl is getting gangbanged on a number of smug blogs

Lighten up please. There's no need for such graphic or bitter rhetoric here. Express your opinions respectfully or leave.

8/02/2007 02:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Ethan said...

Here's an appropriation (minus the gender politics) that gets my blood boiling:

Miltos Manetas, an LA-based atist, stole (and exhibits in shows as well as online) the content from a Flash site that lets a visitor make their own Pollock-style image. Eventually, Manetas had the gall to ask Eric Stamen, the author of the site to share his code. When Stamen objected, Manetas wrote:

Please, try to understand the way we work at Neen: we consider all visual/audio material as everybody's property. It's more cool like that.

You can see what Eric Stamen has to say about it at:


8/02/2007 03:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Ethan said...


Manetas also got credit for the site he ripped off in Time Magazine's "50 Coolest Websites." Oooh, it makes me mad!

8/02/2007 03:25:00 PM  
Anonymous oriane said...

Testify, Pretty Lady! You are so right. Often women artists don't speak up when their work is inappropriately apropriated for various reasons ( a big one being that the male artist doing the apropriating is more visible, more powerful than she is, someone with more clout in the art establishment). It happened to me when I was young and inexperienced and didn't know enough to stand up for myself and I regret now not challenging him then.

8/02/2007 03:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: um, paul chan?

(scroll down to paul chan vs. the student)

While the graphic language might need to be toned down, - this author added a very good point...

The Chan thing is outrageous. The violation of visiting artist over student is really poor on so many levels. There is no complexity or gray area with this one... just selfish exploitation and self promotion at any cost.

8/02/2007 04:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From the post:

I guess I need to tell the story now: as a visiting artist at Northwestern in spring 2006, Chan saw a work by one student in her studio that he really liked: a banner with the words “mission accomplished” on them. He told her that she should really do something with the work, which she was unsure about. The matter dropped, at least until the summer, when a Hong Kong arts center asked him to contribute a work to a benefit. He also had a solo show there. For the benefit, he re-created that same banner. But it didn’t sell. A couple months later, in the fall, Chan was asked to participate in a group show at Serpentine Gallery in London. He made an edition of twenty, again, none of which sold. (Perhaps it was the edition in China—my memory is fuzzy.) When the work was in London, he e-mailed the student artist in order to share credit (and income, if there would be any). Responding a couple weeks later, she totally freaked out. A few weeks after that, Chan was contacted by lawyers at Northwestern.

Like I said, Chan separated the legal aspect of the situation from the ethical part. But he was unwilling to say—at least to this audience—that he was in the wrong, and that it was a mistake to directly take (steal) this other artist’s work and present it as his own. He did say that the first thing he should have thought of when first making the banner (contacting or involving the student) became the last thing he thought of.

8/02/2007 04:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

re oriane's experience:
this has happened to me too. when i was a grad student, a male visiting artist at the school did a studio visit/crit and then used some of my ideas in a gallery show. he never discussed it with me, never credited me, i only found out about it when several friends told me that his work looked suspiciously like my student work of 2 years earlier. i didn't know what to do, so did nothing. the gallery is a prestigious one and i don't have a gallery, so i didn't think anyone would take me seriously.

it was more blatant than just one of those "it's in the air" type of influences. but what could i do?

8/02/2007 04:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'm curious if paul decided it was time to contact the student before or after the review came out (in the telegraph) -

"The banner outside the Serpentine Gallery's group show of young Americans artists simply reads: "Mission Accomplished". By compressing into two words all the cynicism and contempt so many Americans feel for their president, the artist Paul Chan suavely disassociates American art from American policies and so disarms the potentially hostile audience likely to visit the show."

8/02/2007 04:38:00 PM  
Blogger Rich said...

Does this sort of thing only happen between a powerful male artist and a less-powerful female artist? It seems to me the issue has as much to do with a power structure as with gender.

8/02/2007 04:52:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

While the graphic language might need to be toned down, - this author added a very good point...

I agree, the Chan story is relevant and does bolster the point made by PrettyLady. I don't mind adding that being male and of European descent (i.e., having been taught that one should die before apologizing for something one doesn't see as wrong), I didn't even consider Betta's point that "that Lynn's reaction [to apologize, to retract and negotiate] is also a typically Asian one" but rather accepted it, from my cultural point of view, as the actions of someone who agreed with Mortara after having it pointed out to her.

I must disagree that Lynn's work referenced Mortara's too closely. Although the visuals are similar, the two works differ enough in intention and execution to become differentiated from each other.

Such matters are, in the end, a judgement call. If I were Mortara, there would be no way I could accept that assessment though (i.e., that it was different enough to not be upset). It's clearly the same central concept (toilet paper and all).

8/02/2007 05:28:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

Damien Hirst is now making a general practice of stealing ideas as equally dumb as this one. I'd argue that this constitutes a conceptual programme on Hirsts part.

One can only hope that this is merely a publicity stunt. If not it is yet another stunningly inane example of artistic ego engaged in the territorial pissing matches demanded by an absurd art market/system.

"Houdini said...

If I may be blunt about it; it's completely shit. The method might be the same, but it's something everyone did as a kid."

Indeed. I did it with lemon juice and or milk over a candle and the toaster, and found it lyricly magical. Secrets!!!!

I'm sure everyone has had this discussion before. What if anything is to be done about it?
More vigilant self policing?

Keep em in their cages!!!!!


I had a well known artist take a little parlour trick I showed them and put a version of it in a gallery - when I saw it at first I was like, read your own damn magic trick book. Then I was like, no, its a gift and they recontextualized it by having the fortune to be in a gallery show, and I should be happy for them. Besides I dont think it sold.
Boy, if it did you'd sure see my hand out, you bet your tushie.

I think twice before sharing ANEEEEYTHING now!!!!!

8/02/2007 06:43:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

The more I think about this, the more bizarre it all seems.

Having done business in Asia, I agree with Betta’s point that Lu’s response must be interpreted in the correct way culturally. Even if Lu has overtly copied Mortara’s idea, I think she made a tactical mistake by backing down and diluting the piece as "after".

The conceptual points she was addressing, "content, intention and context" seem valid enough to personalize its performance. Toilet paper, vinegar and a candle, well that’s 7-11 stuff.

No doubt it would have been better if she had come up with something without the reference to Mortara’s work.

Taking it further, these artworks (Lu, Mortara, Chan…)seem minor. I think the student who had the ‘Mission Accomplished’ idea may have understood this, but Chan was straining under the pressure to come up with a quick idea.

In the case of Lu vs. Mortara, the importance of this particular piece may now come to depend on the body of works produced by the two individual artists.

If one of them produces a string of minor one-liners, and the other develops a body of work with some depth, then it won’t matter who was first, or who copied who.

There is something that rubs me the wrong way about Mortara’s response to this incident. I can understand how he would be upset, it appears that Lu was able to do the performance in a better venue and received better press.

My hunch is that the victor here is Lu, her response was tactically weak but probably the politically correct thing to do. To me it’s an indication that Lu may produce more interesting work in the future and the current event will fade into the background.

8/02/2007 06:57:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

George I allready said the piece was minor, and so did Houdini. If Houdini declines to make a stink, I will.

8/02/2007 07:52:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

Also, I just bought the rights to monochrome blue paintings.

There was a dude who patented reflectors (of the bicycle type) for use as an art medium. That is so stupid because there are lots of other kinds of reflectors - my favorites are gold, platinum and diamonds.

8/02/2007 07:57:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry (ISBN 0-19-511221-0) is a book by Harold Bloom, published in 1973. It was the first in a series of books that advanced a new "revisionary" or antithetical approach to literary criticism.

Bloom's central thesis is that poets are hindered in their creative process by the ambiguous relationship they necessarily maintained with precursor poets. While admitting the influence of extraliterary experience on every poet, he argues that "the poet in a poet" is inspired to write by reading another poet's poetry and will tend to produce work that is derivative of existing poetry, and, therefore, weak. Because a poet must forge an original poetic vision in order to guarantee his survival into posterity (i.e., to guarantee that future readers will not allow him to be forgotten), the influence of precursor poets inspires a sense of anxiety in living poets.

8/02/2007 09:07:00 PM  
Blogger Henry said...

This post has been removed by the author.

8/02/2007 09:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Jason Mortara here. Thanks to Mr. Winkleman for posting the whole story as it's been reported in the press, you clearly have an avid readership and your readers' discussion is generally thoughtful and interesting.

A critical thing missing from the current web links, to put this in context, is the original article, published first in the International Herald Tribune and then the New York Times, which featured the title "X" and made no reference to me. The current versions of the articles have been updated with the corrected title and a reference in the body.

I met Lynn Lu when we were both in graduate school a few years ago and she was/is a friend and colleague of mine, though she moved away about a year later after she graduated it was during overlap that I made this work. To clarify something that may be ambiguous in the articles, we were both asked to participate in the same one-night show in San Francisco on the same night. This was the third and last time I did this piece. The first was solitary, for the still camera, which is the image you posted from my site. The second was a roughly hour-long video, shot from about the same angle as Ms Lu's video. The third time was a live performance, also about an hour, and Ms Lu was simultaneously performing her piece a few feet over during this event.

Some of you are probably artists out there, so you are familiar with the life: no money, no stability, few opportunities, work really hard because you love it... really your ideas and your community of other artists is all you have. And one more thing: tiny scraps of recognition here and there. I'm not complaining: I love the life I chose for myself and consider myself lucky to have it.

Let's keep in mind that if you wrote a book, published it yourself on a shoestring, sold a couple of copies, forgot about it, and then five years later someone got international recognition for the same text with the names and a couple of chapters changed, there would be nothing to discuss about what was ethical or legal--it would be clear-cut plagiarism and you would have an ironclad case in court because you could prove you were the original author. When thinking about this in the context of a culture of youtube, mash-ups, sampling, and appropriation, you might ask yourself how you would feel if this were your work.

This piece, I would add, is from a brief period when I was experimenting with using autobiography in my work, and with a goal of not ending up with a physical object--I was trying to get away from sculpture and installation. It's not what I consider my best work and I haven't shown it since 2003.

After the first few days to get over my initial nausea and anger after reading about the original article in the International Herald Tribune, during which I had to act quickly to try to rectify the authorship issue, I entered a state of being a bit more objective about the whole situation. I found myself able to talk with friends (who were at that point more incensed than I was) about it as an important conversation about authorship and ideas. I found myself not exactly defending Ms Lu's decision or her piece, but trying to convince my friends that she meant no direct harm (this was based on my emails with her), and that it was an oversight gone awry, and that this is all part of an important conversation.

Some of your readers are right in that this is really mostly an ethical matter, and that the legal issues are quite gray. However, to act quickly (before this image and caption spread all over the internet), over emails to the curator, chair of the Arts Council, journalist, International Herald Tribune, and New York Times, to receive proper credit as the original author of this work in an international newspaper before the show opened a few days later in a country on the other side of the planet, demanded not a kind of "please, sir, may I humbly submit that this piece may have been influenced etc", but a much more significant assertion of my rights as an artist. I provided lots of documentation of this piece from my archives, video stills, a card from the show we were both in that features this image and both of our names on the card, emails to the curator of that show, and offered to send the new curator video of that version of the piece, etc. The curator, Heman Chong, asked Ms Lu about the piece and she made no argument or contest. If she'd felt that this was a truly original work that I deserved no credit for, she would have argued, and/or the curator would have stood up for her, and both the curator and the Singapore National Arts Council would have backed her up. I certainly didn't try to intimidate her and most of my arguments were directly to the curator and the museum and the journalist. She did the right thing and offered to give credit where it was due, and I respected her greatly for doing so. I think those of you who imply that she backed down because she is Asian or a woman are insulting her intelligence and should really think much harder about what you are saying about her ability as an independent thinker and accomplished artist in her own right.

At my suggestion, Ms Lu instantly and courteously agreed to split the small artist's fee and change the title. She made the same arrangements with the curator and the journalist who was to submit a correction. (I don't feel I should receive any part of the fee now that a different piece is being shown.) Never at any point did I suggest that the piece be withdrawn. I was interested only in receiving credit for what I saw was essentially my own work being performed by another artist. This view was affirmed by the unsolicited opinions of my peers. I gave my response great consideration, knowing that I was entering waters personally unknown to me and with no guarantee that my authorship would be clarified, and, I felt, taking the risk we all take when we enter the public fray--that our words or deeds might be taken out of context, distorted by the other parties involved, that the media would inevitably get some or most of the story wrong no matter what their intentions, and that it might snowball. I have never done this before, I found the assertion I was forced to make very distasteful but necessary, and I truly hope never to have to get into this kind of issue again. Any artist will agree that my side of things is not how an artist wants his or her name out there.

At the same time I was considering this action, I was getting emails from outraged friends clamoring for me to defend myself--people who had seen the original work, and people who also know Ms Lu. I still have friends who, weeks after this started, are telling me I am "going too easy on her", "should sue", etc. I'm certainly not out to hurt Ms Lu's reputation--I would stand to gain nothing by that--only to clarify my own authorship. Of the dozens or so friends who have been writing me, about half had stories of their work, or a friend's work, being plagiarized or used without permission, inevitably with the perpetrator benefitting and the original artist left with no viable recourse. Not one of those artists got proper credit for their work. Not to be too sappy about it but I felt that the roster of frustrations could benefit from an occasional success story.

The curator, Heman Chong, was really great throughout this. I was impressed with his professionalism. He treated us both fairly I feel. A few days after the title had been changed, he wrote me that he and Ms Lu had changed their minds and decided to pull the work from the show so that this story didn't overshadow the rest of the show, and that Ms Lu would show a different piece. Again I never asked for this. I was also impressed with Ms Lu's professionalism after my response.

One major thing that's come up in all this is that of "appropriation", "idea osmosis", "ideas are out there", "influence", etc. These are critically important concepts that any good contemporary artist should grapple with. Many of you are sharing your views on this in this forum, which is important. To me, appropriation, which is a critical tool for many artists and is a bedrock of much contemporary art, implies that you are overtly and purposefully reusing existing content to create new content and new meaning, and that the fact that there was a previous author is actually an important component to your new work. Here, in my view, we had a different case: this was certainly not appropriation. Also, all artists share ideas with and are influenced by other artists. "Influence" is a bit more slippery to define and one could argue it constructively all day. What was the nail in the coffin for me was the fact that this was not a piece Ms Lu heard about, or read in a book, or we talked about doing some day, but one she saw me perform in person, with her own eyes. And if I were to submit a piece to a show that were so heavily influenced as to be nearly identical to another work, you can bet I would be referring to the original in the title and when I spoke to the curator about what I was going to show. Entire successful exhibitions have been created out of nothing but well-made art that references previous works. Who loses by referring to the original author? Nobody--it's win-win. To not do so is not unlike a lie of omission: to claim the entire idea is your own original creation.

In fairness to everyone involved, and in hopes of continuing this discussion, I am inviting Ms Lu via email to add her thoughts on all this, which I know are as valid as my own. I know she might want to comment and feel she should tell her side of all this.

Thanks for the interest everyone.

-Jason Mortara, August 2 2007

8/02/2007 11:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The thing that was not reported in the NYT or the IHT at the time of publishing was the fact that Lynn and I were discussing the matter at hand and working out a resolution that would be fair to several parties, including her, Jason, the National Arts Council (NAC) Singapore.

Out of the discussion, we decided that we should credit Jason by renaming the work and I left it to her to resolve the money bit of the deal. Not once did I imply that she had to share her grant with Jason and I kept the NAC at bay by assuring them that the artists are adults and would be able to come to a simple contract regarding the matter. No point having a situation with a large institution national funding agency stepping into the scene.

I must stress that I never had the thought of throwing Lynn out of the show. I came to the conclusion that her work "X (after Memories Revisited by Jason Mortara)" would be withdrawn because the work itself is compromised by her admittance that she made a mistake by appropriating Jason's work without a clear intention of doing so. So for me, its really an issue of infringing a kind of social contract (I would use the example of the inclusion of footnotes for quotations you have in an essay, which is something you're expected to do), which Lynn has transgressed upon. If it was her intention to borrow from Jason's work, then she should have credited it from the start. I agree with the comments above that the crediting came WAYYY too late.

So, I thought it would be a good idea to nullify the previous working agreement that we had, the product of which was "X" and to refresh the curator-artist engagement within the very same exhibition process and platform. What we've settled on is for her to show another work in the exhibition, one where she has volunteered to produce in the short span of time between where the issue surfaced and the opening of the exhibition. She filmed the work on site in the gallery and I'm glad to say that it worked out very well.

Reading from the papers, it must have spelt out like some good old-fashioned scandal involving a couple of bohemian types trashing out, but the truth of the matter is that both Lynn, Jason, the NAC and I were emailing each other in a calm and human manner thoughout the whole correspondence. There was no shouting, no name calling, no finger pointing or malice of any sort. Everyone did their role to address what we think is best for the logic of the situation.

Best regards,

8/02/2007 11:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The content of the piece is so commonplace and has been done so many times by so many people that it is absurd to think that Jason can claim ownership of it. There is no reason for Lynn to have ever have credited him. I sounds like she was coerced. Jason is clearly an obsessed and self-absorbed person to have done what he has done, which includes sending out vast group emails detailing the whole situation asking for people to write the Times for him demanding that he get even more attention than he already has, and stating that Lynn had "ripped him off". He is delusional if he thinks he has any ownership of that piece. Not to mention that Lynn's version has enough variations from his to make them almost entirely different (and no to mention much better than his variation). The last thing the art world needs is Jason or others inspired by his unfortunately rewarded actions policing other artists. It is understandable that Lynn would have been intimidated by his actions. Heman should have seen through Jason's absurd assertions and stopped this all before it started.

8/03/2007 02:11:00 AM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

i really liked Jason's well written response, it was convincing and had the ring of rationality and truth.

I can't wait to hear Lynn's side.

"I think those of you who imply that she backed down because she is Asian or a woman are insulting her intelligence"

Yeah man, RIGHT on!!!! Asians can think for themselves, its not all Confucian right livelihood and Yakuza honor codes. No, there's some real western style individuated art coming out of the far east or near east, depending. And its all worth millions!!!!

I'm with anon though, this idea is a one liner. Please notify the Buddhists that a portion of their "prayer wheel" - Patent 5062417 I believe, is being infringed uppon.

On the other hand, in Lynn's mind it might work as a magical spell type dealio - see Simon Frazer's "Golden Bough" for example. In that case, might the art system not cease to be in the romantic "alienated artist" paradigm and instead evolve to something more rational?

One can dream.

8/03/2007 05:23:00 AM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

magical I mean, something magical.

8/03/2007 05:27:00 AM  
Blogger Lynn said...

Hello, this is Lynn Lu.

When I began thinking about making a video about memory, time and travel, in the context of it being screened in an unoccupied shop in a shopping mall in Singapore, it occurred to me to directly address my audience (something I do quite often in my work) by name in the video. Reflecting that I have lost touch with most of my childhood friends from this city, and many people I have known over the past decade-plus of somewhat nomadic existence, I thought that I would bring them back to my consciousness, in a way that also indicated that they are no longer a part of my life as they once had been.

In the midst of this nostalgic reflection, I recalled writing secret letters to childhood best friends in apple juice, readable after applying a hot iron to them. I thought that I would write the names of lost friends one by one, using this method. Since this loss over time is a fact of everyday life, toilet paper seemed appropriate for its connotations as well as form. Putting the invisible writing to the heat of a flame would cause the names to appear for an instant before being consumed by the fire, seemed like an apt metaphor for what I was considering. I wanted innocent shoppers to be surprised by their own names (or names of people they know-Singapore is a small city) mysteriously appearing and disappearing.

At this point, I recalled a performance made by Jason Mortara, an artist I went to graduate school with in San Francisco. We performed at a group show together once in 2002. At this event, I
performed interacting with the audience for the duration of the evening bathing in a bathtub, while Jason performed his piece at one point in the evening. I remember him writing on toilet paper in ink, then letting it burn in the palm of his hand, and recalled hearing from others that he was writing confessional/diaristic statements.

It seemed that his work was about personal pain (both emotional and bodily), while mine was a meditative and direct "Hello there" to long-lost friends. It never occurred to me that Jason would see 'X' as a copyright infringment on 'Memories Revisited', and in fact I did not give it any thought.

I forwarded Jason the link to the article (we have been on each other's mailing lists and in touch over the years), and when he wrote back (seemingly) lightheartedly if I meant to compliment him with the similarity of 'X', I replied (genuinely) lightheartedly that I did. I was extremely suprised to receive a strong request from him later that day to be credited and compensated financially.

I felt like the new dog who peed at what seemed like a reasonable spot and only realized "uh-oh" when the owner got mad. I was shocked by Jason's reaction and immediately felt that I must have done a terrible thing thanks to my very poor judgement. I saw why Jason would feel they way he did, and felt sorry for not considering more carefully how my actions (or non-actions) affect others. I apologized to Jason immediately for my carelessness, and was grateful for his gracious response.

If it would help clarify things regarding the works and where they are situated in the respective bodies of our work, please visit Jason's site and mine:;=3&NP;=5

Thanks very much for your time,

8/03/2007 07:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks to Lynn, Jason and Heman for all the clarifications.
Is seems that responsible treated matters are made by us, the pubic, a real mess.
I appreciate Jason’s resolution of acting when he felt revisited without credits. We expect that in literature, articles, essays, etc, why should Art be different. Lynn did think about his piece while elaborating hers, a footnote would have been enough. That is what Jason was asking for. I also appreciate Lynn’s response and apologies when realizing that her actions as artist could affect others and were to probably required more examination and responsible awareness than other activities. And I also appreciate Heman attitude of taking the piece out of the show, giving her the opportunity to present a new piece and clearing the show for her, and the other artists represented there of a very unfortunate event.
I wish other matters in our life could be resolved this way, through dialogue, and with care for others.
And one last thing, with all I love Warhol’s work I don’t think he was right when he says that a great artist is the one that copies, I would say the we are presented with three great personalities in the art world today, I believe and would like to think that a great artist first and foremost is a responsible person aware of her acts and with the will to make changes.
I know, I am a believer!!

8/03/2007 08:11:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the end, as so many of us have noted, writing on toilet paper, with any material, names and words, then to be burned, ironed, put in front of light, or any such deal has been done, redone so many times by so many a child and adult to render the idea of originality in it over. I am am sure there have been artists before 2003 that have burned tp over a flame and so on. If every person stepped out today and recreated this action, it would not be copyright infringement. The hub that some of this dialogue spins around is the claiming of something private that was once public. It becomes private by recording the action. Once it is private, we can argue about nuances, intentions, meanings, and so on endlessly. The heart of the problem lies then in the competitive feelings aroused by the financial and social mobility granted by institutional support and media attention. In such a competitive marketplace (and by this I do not simply mean sales, because all support, non-profit or otherwise is seen as career advancement) every drop of attention is collected by the artist. It is the proof of one's professional life, of authorship. If this tree fell in the forest without a paper to report it or an institution to support it, no one would have ever heard of it. I am sure there is some interest in the academic argument about idea transference, about ethics and so on. But if Lynn never made her private practice public (through institution/media), Jason would not have even known to make a complaint. If Jason never made his private practice public (through institution/internet), he would probably have to let it go. This is why students often do not complain when ripped off by teachers, because they feel they have not sufficiently made the work public- the educational environment essentially fosters public acts (painting a figure) in a private space. The work is not private which is then presented in public. And this public presentation in the eyes of most artists is worth fighting over because everyone wants to be first in the public presentation, notions of originality dancing in our heads. That is how we come to own the ideas that are truly public, re-made private, and represented in public. The audience gives us authorship over what belongs to everyone.

8/03/2007 09:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

lynn lu has a true appropriation problem. sure, she's got the gift of sound and poetic aesthetics on her side, but basically she is a leeeeeach. this isn't an issue about women and men. this is an issue about honesty and decency. i have found to be neither. i'm glad she only stole my crappy ideas. and i'm glad she got caught.

8/03/2007 10:02:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

10:02:00 AM anonymous,

This is your only warning...tone it down. Any additional comments of such a hostile nature (and unsupported by any examples) will be deleted. If you have something meaningful to add, please do so with civility. You suggest Ms. Lu stole an idea from you, but offer no details.

You're free to elaborate on why you feel the way you do, but I'll insist you leave out the vitriol.

8/03/2007 10:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I applaud Mortara for seeking credit for his work. "Memories Revisited" is essentially a script for a performance and Lu did not alter the variables enough to make "X" a different play. She followed the set of rules that Mortara's performance prescribed, the dipping pen, the bowl of ink, the toilet paper, the small candle, and the action of recalling, writing and extinguishing over and over for an hour. Recalling names IS recalling a memory. Apple juice vs. ink is like replacing the drink of a character from vodka to milk, which does lend a different interpretation, BUT it is still the same play! If Lu were to sit on a stage and invite the audience to cut off her clothes, people would raise hell if she didn't credit Yoko Ono!

8/03/2007 12:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am not really sure why people are trusting that this action was simply a result of "bad judgement" this action was obviously contrived and premeditated. In performance art the actions are the medium- it doesnt matter if you leap from a wall, or a window you are still leaping into the void.

I am most disappointed with the curators of the show who clearly should have pulled Ms Lu from the show completely. All artist's have are their ideas, and the integrity of creating them. It is a microeconomy based on respect, trust and understanding. It is an understated creed amongst artists. You make bad work before you rip off a another. Ms Lu breached those thresholds. It is ridiculous for her to state she was surprised that Mr Mortara was SO upset. Of course he was- imitation is not the greatest form flattery in an economy of invention.
In effect, it was the Michael Richard's outburst of Ms Lu's career. The saddest part is that the action was posited on a relatively mediocre piece. Indeed her actions were much bigger and complex then the performace itself.

8/03/2007 02:07:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

If folks are willing to say their own name, I have no problem with them naming those who they belive have stolen their ideas (although, be sure, provide your evidence, and read up on libel laws if you're not sure).

I just don't believe anonymous accusations are fair to those accused, which should essentially, as designed, dissuade most folks from naming names. Still, if you're sure...I'm curious.

8/03/2007 03:19:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...


Okay. I don't want to say my own name, but I am sure about XXXX's situation.

that's not the deal...I apologize in advance, but I deleted your comment. I strongly believe it's only fair for someone making accusations to do so if they'll say who they are.

Via this proxy method, IMO, you've placed both those artists in an awkward position when clearly that wasn't either of their wishes (or they would have/could have done so directly).

Sorry if I'm being a stickler about this, but the principle here is important, IMO.

8/03/2007 04:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh, sorry. i thought the "still, if you're sure, i'm curious" meant i should go ahead and spill. didn't mean to break the rules, and i see your point. my apologies.

8/03/2007 04:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ed, I think you should delete that anon's first comment too, from 2:41 pm

yet another anon

8/03/2007 04:44:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Ed, I think you should delete that anon's first comment too, from 2:41 pm

I see your point. I hate to bring censorship into the blog, but with anonymous suggestions that someone has stolen something, I think it's best to give the accused the benefit of the doubt. One of the tenents of our justice system is the right to know your accusers. I tend to feel that's only fair.

didn't mean to break the rules, and i see your point. my apologies.

Not at all, thanks for understanding.

8/03/2007 05:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

re: I am most disappointed with the curators of the show who clearly should have pulled Ms Lu from the show completely

dude, i'm curating an exhibition, i'm not running a prison camp.


8/03/2007 10:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an artist I can definitely understand Mr Mortara's initial wrath, if not envy, at Ms Lu's supposed similar work receiving big write-ups over his attempt which was fading into oblivion.

As a fellow artist, if not a (ex) friend of Ms Lu, his actions- in my opinion, at trying to bring the career of a fellow artist down by writing to every single literate living thing to claim his due credit could have been better solved in a private discussion with Ms Lu, and if necessary the curator to seek a proper and amicable solution that is fair to him. Jumping the gun and unleashing a barrage of hostilities seemed like a honest attempt to end someone's career.

If he had claimed Ms Lu's "plagiarising" was unethical and unprofessional, he had done well at stooping lower and claiming his fair share of publicity from this debacle.

8/06/2007 01:33:00 PM  

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