Opening tomorrow, the Cob Gallery’s new exhibition explores Pastiche, Parody and Piracy in British artwork, exploring the age-old practice of appropriation as a means to explore new ideas. The exhibition has been put together by curator Camilla Ellingsen Webster, satirical cartoonist Jeremy Banx and artist Miriam Elia, partly in response to threats of legal action against Miriam following the realease of her most recent work We Go to the Gallery.
We interviewed Miriam about the reasons for putting the show on, and the importance of appropriation in contemporary art. Read on below!
What made you decide to put on this exhibition?
This exhibition was conceived as reaction to accusations by Ladybird Books (or Penguin, who owns them) against my latest artwork We Go to the Gallery. It raises questions about the power of corporations and “brand protection” over independent artists, particularly satirists. In the US and most of Europe artists are protected by an amendment in copyright law, which unfortunately has not been passed in Britain, despite the fact that it was supposed to come into effect on 1 June.
I decided to put on this exhibition to proudly show the huge diversity in appropriation as an art form in Britain. Fine artists, print makers and cartoonists have all put forward work to demonstrate how important it is that the law change.
Why is it so important?
It’s important because the ability to cut, satirise or re-contextualise the modern world is crucial to making art. Artists should not have to deal with companies threatening to destroy their work. Most artists cannot afford the huge legal bills that these companies can, and this factor alone silences them into submission. I do not want to live in a world where I am constantly lead to consume “brands” but I am forbidden to respond to them.
What do you consider the role of appropriation to be in art?
I think it’s a crucial means of understanding the world we currently live in. I also think there is a huge difference between copyright infringement, which is copying something, not changing it at all, passing it off as your own and selling it back to the same audience, and then copying something, contextualising it to create an entirely different message, and giving it to a completely different audience. Art relies on our freedom and ability to play with the world around us. Brands think they own more than a logo and a typeface nowadays – they seem to think they own an entire value system.
Why do you think ideas about appropriation in art are so divisive when the notion has been around for centuries?
It varies from person to person, there are always arguments for and against, but I think in a free society one should be able to artistically subvert or satirise anything at all, without fear of a court case.
You mention a new law that you’re hoping will be passed by the government. Can you tell us a bit about it? What will this law mean for artists?
The UK Copyright law amendment, if passed, will allow an exception for “Parody, Pastiche and Satire” under the Fair Use guidelines. It was supposed to be passed on 1 June but it has been delayed again, possibly until October. This law will not only affect satirical artists, but also comedians and comedy writers. It basically means you will be allowed to subvert and parody any target without permission from the copyright holders.
What’s your favourite example of appropriation in the exhibition?
It’s hard to pick a favourite, but I’m a huge fan of Sadie Hennessey’s work. Her End of the Pier seaside postcards are dark and funny. I also love Neil Fox’s Disney Massacre.