Project 3.2: Appropriation

StefanJSchaffeld (2016) ?Keti Koti - Appropriating Olympia (detail) oil painting

This part of the course is not only, but also about working from images, appropriating images or others, to make new works, to add or to subtract something. Would this be a copyright infringement or the way art works? Some further insight reminded me of my previous exploration on Flatland and abstract narratives, where I do quote here some expression that I feel are getting more important for me.

Sherrie Levine applied in her ‘Statement’ from 1982 (Harrison and Wood , 2003:1038-39) a post-structuralist approach to photography by referring to painting as the model for appropriation. She rejected the notion of original as an author’s statement but considers any visual work as a trigger comprised of signs and deferred meanings that only in the viewer’s mind is being actualized.  This mirrors what Michael Ranta was stating: 

“narration always co-created with the viewer, kind of ‘script’ as a “generalized sets of expectations about what will happen in well-understood situations .”- Michael Ranta, 2011

Levine’s statement could be also seen as an anti-capitalist and anti-Modernist viewpoint in overcoming the notion to consider a piece or artwork merely by its exchange-value.

Glen Brown (Myers, 2011:167-168) sees appropriation in art as a visual commentary referring to verbal commentary on a work. By that he put visual works onto the same level as language, i.e. making a painting similar to a written essay. I am wondering how he would see somehow else appropriating his works? And if visual commentary is similar to verbal language, why don’t we just talk? I do believe that visual images have more to convey than just words. However, Brown’s viewpoint resonates with Gottfried Boehm question, that

“if the image is in truth reduced to being merely a monstrative repetition of what has already been said previously – a sort of detour taken by language – it has no sovereignty of right and can only remain confined to a copy-image, a second image.” – Gottfried Boehm, 2010

Jan Verwoert (2007) compares two stages of appropriation due to a difference in cultural sensibility in the immediate post-modernism and Cold War era (1960s) and the later stage post-Cold War era (since 1989). The first stage characterized by a freezing-in of time through art historical appropriation and still images, e.g. the staged stills from films as seen in the work of Cindy Sherman or Yasumasa Morimura, both embracing still images as an interrogation of historical and cultural conventions and prevailing conceptions.

The second stage as a return to temporal movement as it has been reflected in the growth of global communities and decline of stable, frozen markets (e.g. collapse of Soviet Union). The atemporal world was reflected in a timeless material culture and a notion of discontinuity of history. The later and contemporary stage characterized by a ‘multiplicity of spatialized realities’ reflecting on parallelities in a globally connected world.

Could this parallelism be a different view on the previous, modernist art movement of Parallelism as I’ve seen in the recent exhibition in Basel of Ferdinand Hodler and parallellism ? But instead drawing parallels between a binary nature-culture paradigm, now drawing parallels between multiplicity of cultures? 

‘Temporalities in commodity cultures like strata in the skin’ – Verwoert, 2007

Verwoert relates with this sentence to material culture, appropriation a question of property as a question of spacial allocation (where was it owned, where is it displaced to?). He considers current appropriation approaches as a temporal one where the object is not any longer a commodity fetish in space and in-time but as an object that lives ‘through time’, and where the discontinuity of history is reflected in an endless loop of a void of historical meaning. One of the concluding points is the hollowness of seeking historical meaning in appropriated images.

‘allegory as a rhetoric form to capture the experience of the present that the historical language of modernism is dead and in ruins….signifier in ruins that exposes the ruin of signification.’  – Owens , quoted by Verwoert

The author quotes Craig who considered modern appropriation as a modern fetish, a desire to pastiche past fetish objects together into new meaning, a meaning that apparently is void of historical meaning, leaving behind  a fetish desire. Fetish because one takes pleasure in the de-signification. And according to Jameson the intensity of the presence as an atemporal sensation and at the same of time multi-temporal nature resembles a schizophrenic experience due to loss of linear time experiences and an experience between ‘depression and ecstasy’. With these references to art critiques and referring to Gothic novels when expressing his view that modern appropriation is recalling dead ghosts from the past , the author concludes that it is language as a performative act or actor staging those sensations and renewed meanings. He places the author aka artist into a role of a considered stage director who directs the staging of a work and its effects. However, this seems to be a dangerous play as instead of possessing this work and effects it could possess one self (author citing Derrida). What brings me back to fetishism and the power we embed into objects of any kind. The main conclusion the author draws is that

‘Appropriation .. is about performing the unresolved by staging object, images or allegories that invoke the ghosts of unclosed histories in a way that allows them to appear as ghosts and reveal the nature of the ambiguous presence.’ -Verwoert, 2007

By referring to Derrida, the author considers modern appropriation as a ‘concern for justice’ and as a ‘question of practice’, and not as a quest to resolve the past.

Stefan513593 -Catch_Paint_Move - screenshot

Fig. 1: Appropriating Richard Serra – spatial expansion of the catching hand

In this context, I find the work of the Palestinian artist Mona Hatoum quite representative for the notion of dislocation, displacement, dysfunctional, and unsettling moments of non-resolving ambiguity and past tensions (Said, 2011) It is the staging of a broken past through dysfunctional domestic objects in the present space without resolving it or providing comfort that makes Hatoum’s work a contemporary work of appropriation of cultural artefacts that speaks to the Palestinian experience of displacement.

‘Narrative potential lies in everyday objects and materials, and their embedded cultural associations. Through extensive research, acts of appropriation, or performance, layers of meaning can be uncovered. Individual experience as a means of conveying stories.’ – Guggenheim Museum, 2016 

When it comes to my own practice and how I consider appropriation, copyright and the right to ‘visually comment’, I feel reminded of a previous issue of the OCA student led Edge-zine SHARE (no.5, 2017).  The scope was to expand on the word ‘share’ and especially in context of collaboration. Images or words that act as an input for another, And the entire work is such of a collaborative work, one not without the other. I contributed to that issue with  a project done with two fellow students. It also brings up to my mind a project done for painting 1: ‘Keti Koti’, remembering the abolition of slavery (1863) and the presence of modern slavery, especially targeting women through sex trafficking (Schaffeld, 2016). One painting I did was appropriating Édouard Manet’s Olympia, 1863 -> Appropriating Olympia (featured image) with some reverted roles. Reflecting on it a bit dense and raw, but for me a visual commentary on the observation that the background female slave was not really a scope of discourse, neither at Manet’s time nor now.

During my UVC studies, I explored aspects of appropriation as a cultural sensibility, kind of resurfacing past memories, or as Verwoert stated, the ghosts of the past. This can be seen in a way of making or perceiving differences in the same work but at a different time or different place, e.g. in some works of Michael Asher, Art&Language, or Fred WIlson (Schaffeld, 2017). Key take away for me were: Appropriation as a technique to challenge political, social and cultural beliefs and questioning art perception and meaning of art . Regarding ‘originals’, the question is whether one considers the idea, or the object is the original, When it comes to music or writing, that distinction get even more blurred, i.e. a book purchased is always a copy, a reproduction, but what is the original? the manuscript? the idea? In music similar: the idea of the composer? the handwritten notes? the first performance? What makes visual art different? And how is digital creation influencing that definition?


  • Appropriation as recalling past memories, under the condition of present prevailing knowledge, beliefs, assumptions, sensibilities. 
  • A sense of fairness: when concealing, and for an engaging viewer not discernible, the intention of the artist might be a critical moment: profit gain thus forgery, deceiving, or subversion?
  • Appropriation as something in-between: going beyond the object’s exchange value and having more of a cultural conceptual value. And this conceptual meaning resembles for me an abstract narrative, the artwork in itself just the trigger.
  • Interpretation is in the viewer’s mind (see Levine’ statement), once a work is out in the public it is out of control, even destroying the work would not destroy the way it has been received. It could even turn into an imprint in an artist’s person, e.g. Levine is quite often just connected with her appropriation works. 
  • The expression of Verwoert that material culture relates to ‘temporalities in commodity cultures like strata in the skin’ quite insightful and wondering how this could influence not only my own practice and project.
  • Objects, including physical artworks, as fetishes, resonating well with my previous exploration. Is appropriation one way to overcome this, or just to create another fetish?
  • Language as a performative act – with schizophrenic sensibility of multitemporal exposure – but with a ‘concern for justice’ (Derrida). Artworks as creating tension and ambiguity to hold past memories in the present moment.



  • Fig. 1: Schaffeld, SJ (2018) ‘Screenshot from performative painting Catch-Paint-Move’
  • Featured image: Schaffeld, S.J. (2016) Keti Koti – Appropriating Olympia (detail) [oil painting]


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