Trader Chris’s

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Greg Allen responds to Roberta’s post of Oct. 19

Hey. First, congratulations on an excellent weblog. Second, thanks for reading my article. Chris [Hughes] and I worked for months on it, developing our ideas back and forth since he first contacted me last winter.

We were both wondering what the reaction’d be in the art world, but we both prepared to take a little heat in the interest of getting the word out about a growing, broader interest in video art that goes underserved/under-recognized by the current art market. I think Chris is a brave, passionate, sincere guy–a little naive, sure–and I’ve told him so. The Times wouldn’t let me say so in the article, of course, but I’ve given him props on my site.

As for the article’s impact on his trading activities and his site, the only actual change is the statement/disclaimer he added (the one you called “pathetic”). [actually, I called it “pitiful,” ed.] His site never had downloadable videos; it was only ever a catalog of the works he has on tape and dvd. He only trades tape for tape; he doesn’t distribute his stuff any other way.

Since the article ran, he’s been bombarded with tons of requests, mostly for Cremaster, from people who just want a copy for themselves and have nothing to trade. (image, top, is from Cremaster 1) This is probably a nuisance for him, but it’s one he’s faced before; until last year, he’d trade works on the honor system, spending hours and hours dubbing tapes for people who’d then renege on their end of the deal. Putting up the “you send first” statement on his site cut his request volume by 90%, but it left only the serious traders. But the publicity brought a wave of beggars to him again. The price of fame, I guess.

I should also mention that he’s been working with a dealer in NYC to curate a show of his collection this winter, too. Fame has its upside as well.

I just got back from the Frieze art fair, where I met easily 20 people–collectors, artists, and dealer/gallery folks–who read the article and went to Hughes’ site, and confessed to me what tapes THEY have “borrowed and never returned.” One guy had just bought a William Kentridge video piece and joked that he’d trade a tape for some of the works I have. We’ll see. (image above is from Kentridge’s “Stereoscope” 1998)

In London, I met a couple of major video artists who I admire greatly, and I have to say, neither of them wants copies of their work circulating where it can be sampled, broadcast or sold in ways they don’t approve of. Sure, other artists are stoked or amused by the practice, but there’s no blanket statement you can make about artists being harmed or not by bootleg trading.

Personally, I think copying and trading is one way video art’s influence will expand and grow, but that’s still for the artists to realize and manage themselves. I never traded tapes with Chris because I talked to all the artists whose work I have, and none of them were keen on the idea.

And for artists who finally make a living from their work, or those for whom the sale of expensive editions is the only way to finance their productions, there can be a direct harm done when that market mechanism gets disrupted: they have a more difficult time making and selling their next work.

Sure, other options exist: museums and other institutions can sponsor work; the retail distribution model may generate some sales, but only after the artist makes a name for herself; they can make music videos along the way. (image above is from Chris Cunningham’s music video for Bjork’s “All is Full of Love” shown recently at the ICA) I saw the almost-completed New Museum set of DVD’s I mentioned; they’re great, but no artist could completely finance her work through it, much less her lifestyle.

Galleries et al aren’t perfect, but none of these alternatives is perfect, either. Galleries serve a definite purpose for a certain type of work. (Now, whether we’d all be better off if Cremaster had never been made at all is a debate I’m not gonna touch; what is for sure, though, is that it owes its existence to funding from the gallery/edition system.) But I wouldn’t want all artists to rely on this model, any more than I’d want all artists to create work under the political umbrella of some museum/non-profit institution.

Anyway, a lot to write. I had no idea. Thanks for bringing it all back to my mind. (bottom image is from Allen’s short film,”Souvenir Jan. 2003″)–Greg Allen, filmmaker and writer, covers art and filmmaking on his weblog greg.org

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