WHEN I was a kid, my obsessive compulsiveness found its natural outlet in those spot the difference puzzles. Man, I would get so obsessed with finding every one of the differences between the pictures that the magazines. It was like I was temporarily the chick from Murder She Wrote or something. I needed to get to the bottom of every mystery, and I couldn't rest until I found all 10 differences!
Public sculpture and public art have also often represented something of a mystery to me. Most of the time, giant sculptures or installations leave me feeling underwhelmed. It's a tough gig making something that is eye popping, that fits the surroundings and that leaves a good impression, and that you can comfortably feel is a piece of art.
But we live in a world where cities are in constant competition with one another. Cities whose administrations know it's no longer enough to appeal to residents. You need landmarks alongside your services to be of any significance in this modern world.
When you have lots of big, new cities, you gotta invest in them. You've got to find ways of making them liveable, and if the budget allows for it, a good piece of public art can do wonders for a place before the street artists descend and claim it as their own. This is the case in China, which in the space of thirty years has been completely transformed with the push to urbanism.
So, imagine how quickly I was shot back into my childhood by these pictures of futuristic sculptures. I was Angela Lansbury all over again, trying to spot the differences.
You see, there's been a bit of a keffuffle in the news in recent days. Veteran artist Anish Kapoor is up in arms. His stainless steel sculpture Cloud Gate for the city of Chicago has been sitting in the windy city for the past nine years. It's become something of a symbol of one of the US' biggest cities and has long been heralded an example of what a successful piece of public art can be. The kind of addition to a place that makes you more fond of the surroundings and that is automatically associated with the host town. And the kind of thing that hundreds of thousands of tourists snap on their cameras.
So, why is Kapoor so angry? Has a usual suspect committed a crime at the installation scene? Was Jessica Fletcher on the scene while it happened? For once, no. But there is a usual suspect element to the story.
Cloud Gate was Kapoor's aim of using sculpture to reflect the sky and the heavens. He used his trademark curves and a rather masterful application of stainless steel to act as a mirror.
You see, the North Western Chinese town of Karamay has just birthed its own public sculpture that is yet to be officially unveiled. It's said to be in the shape of an oil bubble, planted firmly at the spot where the town's first oil well was located.
Well, it seems that Karamay has its own remarkable, stainless steel sculpture that is also reflecting its surroundings. But if you believe officials, their sculpture is aimed at reflecting the ground and not the sky, which means, at least in that wonderful world called convenience theory, that there is no plagiarization or infringement of Kapoor's ideas, despite the almost identical nature of the sculpture. In fact, Chinese officials are horrified that Kapoor has the gall to even think of accusing them of stealing his idea. How dare he think his nine year old idea is his own!
Now, I don't want to be my pedantic nine year old self, but let's call a pot black when it's black. Kapoor, like so many other creatives, has had his intellectual property compromised by this anonymous new piece in Karamay. And beyond that, his IP rights are just the latest victim in China's ongoing assault of IP.
As far as I can tell, no artist has come forward and claimed authorship of the sculpture, and at this point, they would be foolish to do so. Kudos to the administration of Karamay for protecting the identity of this artist despite the avalanche of bad publicity that the sculpture is generating. I guess the administration in Karamay didn't really fully grasp the idea of what competing on the international map really means.
Kapoor has been widely quoted as saying the following: “It seems that in China today it is permissible to steal the creativity of others...I feel I must take this to the highest level and pursue those responsible in the courts.”
There are countless examples of how intellectual property rights are constantly infringed in China and other markets. Unfortunately, copyright is a difficult thing to enforce across borders and the cost associated with doing so makes it even more prohibitive than the logistics alone - even when it's a local matter.
In my mind, there's a very strong correlation between sending your designs abroad and playing with fire. Yes, you might save in the short term by having foreign factories produce your designs, but you're basically sending your creativity into the ether by doing so. In this case it's not a clear example of designer sending blueprints to a manufacturer and manufacturer capitalizing on them for the local market. But it's essentially the same theft of ideas that is occurring.
My hats off to Kapoor for drumming up the publicity on this matter. I don't know if it will come to anything, but at least it will give hope to so many artists who feel their work is being compromise, particularly in places where laws don't seem to work in their favour. And in the meantime, perhaps city administrations around the world need to consider new ways that they can protect their creatives' ideas. Rather than sending their work abroad, where the possibilities for IP infringement are more rife, perhaps there are ways that local governments can invest in providing access to equipment that allows for designs to be manufactured locally in a protected environment.
Dave Di Vito
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Dave Di Vito is a writer, teacher and former curator.He's also the author of the Vinyl Tiger series and Replace The Sky.
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