Curatorial Projects > Determining Domain (2012-13)

Determining Domain

November 7, 2012 – January 19, 2013
Intersection for the Arts
San Francisco, CA

A group exhibition featuring work by Bigface, Scott Kildall & Nathaniel Stern, Sanaz Mazinani, Farnaz Shadravan, Stephanie Syjuco, and Scott Tsuchitani

This exhibition was organized with the assistance of independent curator Kim Munson and Founding Director of the IP Law Program at Golden Gate University School of Law Marc Greenberg.

Exploring complex issues regarding intellectual property and image ownership, this exhibition about our visual landscape also features descriptions and images from leading U.S. court cases on copyright issues pertaining to contemporary art, such as Art Rogers v. Jeff Koons and Shepard Fairey v. Associated Press.

Overprotecting intellectual property is as harmful as underprotecting it. Creativity is impossible without a rich public domain. Should anyone be allowed to use prior works as inspiration? Of course they should. Should anyone be allowed to then say that the only way they can convey their message is to use the words or works of another? That raises a tougher question. Should it be required that people either come up with their own original words, or pay for the privilege of using someone else's words, or art, to convey their message? Ultimately, all issues of ownership and copyright infringement center around how someone will use an image and information. Money seems to be very tied into the notion of ownership and infringement – either multiple parties fight over the profits from an image, an individual or group fights to protect the integrity of an image from being commercially tainted, or someone seeks a financial substitute for what they deem to be an inappropriate use of an image. Damages are usually awarded when the use either damages the creator/author financially or reputation-wise.

Imagine the public domain of a world in which no image is regulated and conversely, in which every image is regulated.

About the participating artists in Determining Domain:

Bigface is a self-taught artist working in collage. Using source material culled from a wide range of printed media (magazines, photographs, newspapers, packaging, greeting cards), he creates dense worlds that reflect his environment and experience. For this exhibition, Bigface creates new work from a collection of images that have been under scrutiny and contention for issues of infringement, including work by Shepard Fairey, Richard Prince, Sherrie Levine, Glen Friedman, and many others, adding another layer of complexity to the issue of image appropriation.

Scott Kildall & Nathaniel Stern are interdisciplinary artists who work in a variety of media, including video art, installation,, and printmaking. In February 2009, Kildall and Stern created a Wikipedia article called "Wikipedia Art" that was simultaneously a self-referential performance art piece called Wikipedia Art. This collaborative project was originally intended to be art composed on Wikipedia, and thus art that anyone can edit. Since the work itself manifested as a conventional Wikipedia page, would-be art editors were required to follow Wikipedia’s enforced standards of quality and verifiability; any changes to the art had to be published on, and cited from, “credible” external sources: interviews, blogs, or articles in “trustworthy” media institutions, which would birth and then slowly transform what the work is, does, and means simply through their writing and talking about it. Although Kildall and Stern encouraged editors to strictly follow Wikipedia guidelines in editing the page, Wikipedia editors determined its intent was nonetheless in violation of site rules, and it was deleted within 15 hours of its initial posting. A month later, Kildall and Stern received a letter from a law firm representing the Wikimedia Foundation, claiming the domain name,, infringed on their trademark. The resulting controversy received a lot of national coverage, including an article in The Wall Street Journal, all of which helped to continue to transform what the work is and does simply through their writing and talking about it. Mary Louise Schumacher of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel compared the incident to the “outrage inspired by Marcel Duchamp's urinal or Andy Warhol's Brillo Boxes.” Wikipedia Art has since been included in the Internet Pavilion of the Venice Biennale for 2009. In 2011 it appeared in a revised form at the Transmediale festival in Berlin, where it was an award finalist. Kildall and Stern present the whole dialogue and controversy surrounding their project, calling attention to issues of infringement and creative license.

Sanaz Mazinani is an interdisciplinary artist working primarily in photography and large-scale installations, in addition to sculptures, drawings, and assemblages. Her practice intersects conceptual and formal boundaries of the photographic image in response to site, sight and insight, especially in relation to digital culture. She presents work from Frames of the Visible, a series of large-scale digital collages that re-mediate images gathered online. In several of the pieces from the series, Mazinani reconfigures photos obtained from a database of hundreds of previously secret images of American casualties returning to honor guard ceremonies from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. The database, also known as War Casualty Homecoming Images, highlights the issue of whether these images are rightfully part of the American public record or should be kept classified by the U.S. military. In response to Freedom of Information Act requests and a lawsuit, the Pentagon made public more than 700 of these images in 2005. However, many of the images clearly show evidence of censorship, or as the Pentagon prefers to call it “redaction,” resulting in faces, features on equipment, and sections of uniforms being concealed with black bars, bringing forth the issue of who in fact owns the right to this imagery.

Farnaz Shadravan, a dentist by trade, presents a series of four full-size bathtubs that she has engraved directly into with her dental tools, scraping away the protective layer of enamel to reveal the metal structure underneath. She directly copies four individual works from Albrecht Dürer's seminal late 15th Century woodcut series, The Revelation of St. John (Apocalypse) onto these bathtubs (4. Four Riders of the Apocalypse; 5. Opening the Fifth and Sixth Seals; 8. Battle of the Angels; 11. St. Michael Fighting the Dragon), even transposing Dürer's signature mark onto the work rather than signing it as her own work. Dürer was one of the first truly international artists, who achieved recognition and celebrity in his lifetime. A great master of the multiple image, his “AD” monogram became one of the first widely-known examples of a recognized trademark. All along Shadravan had intended her work to be a direct and apparent homage to Dürer's artistic vision, and does not claim authorship of the work, creating a complex conversation around issues of appropriation, direct copying, and infringement.

Stephanie Syjuco is a mixed-media conceptual artist who creates large-scale spectacles of collected cultural objects, cumulative archives, and temporary vending installations, often with an active public component that invites viewers to directly participate as producers or distributors. Working primarily in sculpture and installation, her projects leverage open-source systems, shareware logic, and flows of capital, creating frictions between high ideals and everyday materials. She presents work from a series called RAIDERS, a sculptural installation of re-assembled antique vessels that Syjuco has created by downloading publicly available images from a prominent Asian arts and antiquities museum’s online database and then printing them at their actual sizes. Adhered to laser-cut wooden backings and gathered in groups, the prop-like objects at first glance appear to be a collection of valued cultural objects. Yet the vessels, now degraded and flattened, have been rendered ineffective, removed from both their original usage and their institutional context. By using open online sources, Syjuco investigates how we participate in the construction of culture and how the accessibility of the internet can facilitate its redistribution. The work also delves into issues of acquisition and appropriation.

Scott Tsuchitani is an interdiscplinary artist whose socially engaged interventions have been recognized by scholars from a range of disciplines around the U.S., and have demonstrated impact on academic discourse on four continents. He combines poignant narrative with unexpected humor and latent stereotype to expose how structures of power and dominance have created an atmosphere of societal conditioning. He presents work and documentation from two projects that utilized image appropriation and parody to critique recent exhibitions presented at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, CA: Geisha: Beyond the Painted Smile in 2004 and Lords of the Samurai in 2009. Appropriating the imagery and graphic design used in the marketing campaigns for both exhibitions, Tsuchitani created his own posters and flyers that subtly subverted the original message as a means of providing an institutional critique to the exhibitions and the marketing of these exhibitions. He posted his versions of posters and flyers throughout the city, which received a fair amount of media attention, including large articles in The San Francisco Chronicle.