The Sincerest Form of Flattery?
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 website]:
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.