THOUGHTS ON THE INTERSECTION OF LAW AND ART: LEGAL ARCHITECTURE

I recently read a compilation of essays, in a work from an outstanding publishing house Sternberg Press, Thousand Eyes: Media Technology, Law and Aesthetics, on the connection between contemporary art and law, particularly courts of law, where the art theory concept of “representation” and the physical and legal attributes of law intersect through the courtroom. From that connection the comparative analyses are many and varied: the courtroom as theatre, evidence as iconoclastic images, and the changing role of new media. But what struck me was the concept of the law court as a bounded space, which reinforces the separateness of the law world from the real world.

In his essay In Between: Power and Procedure Where the Court meets the Public Sphere, Richard Mohr observes the fixity of our courts within a self-constructed bounded space and the resultant tension between those inside, the legal players, and those outside, the public. He argues this border between the two is not just physical but conceptual as well. Not only does the courtroom have a fixed address with an enclosed space but the rules or procedures too emphasis closure through the rules of evidence, which permit only certain forms of approved facts into its space. This closing off of the law not only impacts public access but also public perception.

Other essays in the collection go further and suggest the advent of new media and the relaxation of media in the courtroom has expanded the courtroom walls and changed the static concept of law. However, one of the editors, Judy Radul for whom the essays were published to celebrate her World Rehearsal Court exhibition, in her essay, Video Chamber, argues to the contrary: in her view, the ability of the courts to be connected elsewhere through, for example, CCTV, makes the court an even more enclosed space “monolithic and unmovable” as the court hunkers down, forever fixed in place, as the images come to it.

The legal architecture then becomes an impactful aspect of the law, particularly in light of the access to justice issues Canada has been recently facing. It may also impact how the Supreme Court of Canada view evidentiary rules: should they unbind the courtroom or provide further enclosure?

The connections between art and law may, at first glance, appear superficial: yes, the lawyers are like actors in a Shakespearean play, albeit their backs are usually to the audience. However, when viewed through the lens of art theory, the representational force of the law cannot be doubted. This is something to think about when arguing in the bounded space of the law.

 

 

 

 

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The Art of Taking (And Giving) Art

This morning a crime was committed in Greece. It was a theft, which by Canadian standards is not a shocking crime. Nonetheless, the incident made international headlines. Why the notoriety? The theft was no run of the mill affair, but a sophisticated art theft from the National Art Gallery in Athens. Three paintings, of immense historical and intrinsic value, were taken: Female Head painted by Pablo Picasso and donated by him in commemoration of Greece’s role in World War II, Piet Mondrian’s Mill, and a 16th century sketch by Caccia.

The theft was reminiscent of many such art heists, such as the 1911 taking of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre and the infamous September 4, 1972 theft of 18 paintings and other artifacts from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Although the recovery of such stolen art is low, the Mona Lisa was returned two years after the fact. Sadly, only one of the 128 paintings taken from the Montreal museum has been recovered to date. It seems that at least in the Art world, crime does pay.

Theft for profit is one matter but objects taken during wartime is another matter of concern. The recovery of art works plundered by the Nazis is still ongoing. George Clooney is presently working on a dramatization of the Monuments Men, a group of art experts who assisted in locating and identifying stolen artwork found by the Allied operation after the end of the war.

Such recoveries can be complicated by the difficulty in tracing the art back to the original owners. Even if the artwork is traceable, many of the new owners dispute the return on the basis they purchased the art in good faith without knowledge the item was stolen. The result is lengthy litigation oftentimes involving numerous parties in an array of international courts. 

In 1998, The Unites States government together with the United States Memorial Holocaust Museum sponsored an international conference on Holocaust-era assets. The conference heard from a number of scholars working in the area of stolen artifacts and art resulting in the creation of guidelines to assist in the return of the objects. The United States created a searchable database to assist museums in detecting the stolen items. However, a recent follow-up study has shown slow progress in identifying the suspect objects.

There are times, however, when art can be “legally” taken as in the case of an Australian hotelier who, as part of a grand marketing scheme, is counting on their guests to commit, well, grand larceny. This “contest” allows any registered guest, who can successfully steal the Banksy art piece from the hotel wall, can keep it.

Bansky, of course, turns the question of art theft on its head when in 2004, he went into the Louvre and hung his version of the Mona Lisa. Which leaves us to ponder this question: is it illegal to bring your own art into an art museum or is it just another form of philanthropy?

Longreads For the Holidays

The holidays is a perfect time to indulge in a book or a longread. In Twitter nomenclature, a longread is an online article which will typically take longer than the usual five minutes or less one might spend reading a web page. There is a good reason searching the internet is called "surfing": one doesn't want to spend too much time on that big wave. It will either peter out and disappoint or it will come crashing down and inundate us.

In any event, the following is a list of 5 longreads I found:

1.Karyn McCluskey: the woman who took on Glasgow's gangsThis is an article of one person's fight to find peace in a turbulent City. Karyn McCluskey, a former nurse, forensic psychologist, and head of intelligence analysis for Glasgow, turned the City's gang mentality around by understanding how violence worked "like an infectious disease" and beget "recreational violence," which in turn created the City's gang mentality. Through the use of a Boston-based initiative called "focused deterrence strategy," the scheme couples zero tolerance with, what I can only describe as, an intense collective "scared straight" program. 

2. Sleep Disorders Common Among Cops: Study Fascinating longread of a study which indicates 40% of police officers in North America suffer from sleep disorders, which may impair their judgment and reaction time. The actual journal article from JAMA is for purchase only but the Abstract is here. There is also a companion author video here.

3. A Guide to the Occupy Wall Street API There is so much out there on the Occupy movement but this longread puts an apt API spin on it. 

4. Armenian Genocide Articles: I have connected some short read articles on the Armenian genocide issue, which has been re-ignited by the recent French Bill criminalizing denial of the World War I massacre. The incredible reach of this issue makes these connections even more fascinating but the real issue of the massacre is what makes world politics disturbing. Read the articles here, here, here, here, and finally for an article on how art connects to life: here.

5. Who Owns The Words? This is from 2010 but a very relevant longread, Texts Without Context. This is a book review of Reality Hunger, a "book" by David Sheilds. The book is a compilation of excerpts of other writer's works, which are at times manipulated or micro-managed to suit Sheilds's intent. Many of the quotes are taken out of context and as such, become, through a fresh reading of the words, imbued with a new meaning. In this way, Sheilds makes these words his own. Two connections come to mind for me: Stanley Fish's Is There A Text In This Class? and the use of music sampling and remixing in hip-hop and dubstep.

So kick back and relax this weekend with some #longreads or better yet, find some for yourself! As Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote as Sherlock Holmes: "What one man can invent, another can discover."

 

Famous (Legal) Battles of Ideas

In yesterday's post on the anniversary of the first flight, I commented on the patent infringement suits between the Wright brothers and Glenn Curtiss, which essentially ended in a "draw," so to speak, as the corporate legacies of both, merged to form the Curtiss-Wright Corporation.

But such arguments over "who's on first," is, unfortunately, common to the arena of ideas. As famous as the invention of the airplane is, the invention of the telephone as a form of mass communication has had an even greater impact on the world's social and political structure. Yet here too was a legal battle over who intellectualized first. Although Alexander Graham Bell, in 1876, patented his electronic speech transmitter first, Elisha Grey, patented his "new art of transmitting vocal sounds telegraphically" only hours later. The ensuing patent suit ended with Bell's victory, which explains why we receive monthly bills from Bell Canada and not Grey Telephone Co. 

The patent concept arose from the written granting of rights and privileges by the monarchy under royal seal. Thus, the Latin "litterae patentes" means "open letter." The Venetian glass-makers of Renaissance Italy informally made use of this patent system. Thus, the first recorded patent in 1449 England was a patent for a glass-making technique.

Although I could not find an estimate of the number of patent law suits to date, a new study suggests the financial costs, in the past four years in the USA, have risen to $83 billion per year. In August 2011 alone, there were 294 patent lawsuits in the USA. According to some critics, we are experiencing a "patent bubble," with most major intellectual corporations involved in multiple patent suits. For example, Apple is embroiled in 97 "open patent" cases alone.

These "battles of ideas" span time, place, and area of expertise. The obvious conflicts come from the inventors: Thomas Edison was involved in multiple patent suits. In the gaming arena, the legal battle over Tetris was as epic as the game. The Zuckerberg vs. Winkervoss and Winkervoss (or Winkervii) battle spawned a movie. The Newton and Leibniz argument over Calculus, still rages today. 

Such arguments have spilled over into the Arts as well. Jeff Koons has been both the initiator and defender of artistic copyright suits. Stephen Joyce, James Joyce's grandson, has scrupulously, some say miserly, restricted the use of his grandfather's writings. Although June 2012 sees the end of his copyright fiefdom, the repercussions of his aggressive stance has caused no end of intellectual difficulties.

Musically, legal accusations abound. In a recent U.S Supreme Court argument on the limits of copyright legislation, Chief Justice Roberts reminded the Court of Jimi Hendrix and his famous rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner." In response to the government's support of the new legislation, Roberts commented on Hendrix when he stated "assuming the national anthem is suddenly entitled to copyright protection that it wasn’t before, he can’t do that, right?" 

Finally, we must come full-circle, as I am wont to do, and mention the penultimate legal battle of ideas: the Scopes Monkey Trial, famously depicted in the play/movie Inherit The Wind and upon which I have blogged previously. The clash of beliefs as represented by the Scopes case and still on-going today, is a real testament to how dearly we as individuals, and as society, hold onto our ideals and ideas.

Which makes one wonder: Is there a patent for that?