Why is Sanja Ivekovic Plagiarizing From Wikipedia?

by Will Brand on June 14, 2012 · 36 comments Off Our Chest

Sanja Iveković, The Disobedient, 2012. Photo from Die Presse.com.

The “Resources” section of Documenta’s website is a bit of a crapshoot. It offers, among other things, the cover of a book which Pierre Huyghe would like you to see, a twenty-minute video by Francis Alys, an Adorno text in German, and a video of the editor of Critical Inquiry pronouncing his lack of thoughts about Occupy. It’s a pile of information without the slightest hint of order, like an orphaned tumblr with too many editors; if you’re interested in a particular entry, there’s no way to find similar entries, no explanatory text, and no idea that you might actually want to know more. Enjoy Jurgen Hess’s minute-long thoughts on the political causes of famine? Then maybe you’ll enjoy Alexander Tarakhovsky’s metaphor of experience as skin. The whole production fetishizes the idea of insight at the expense of the actual knowledge and research from which it springs.

The worst bit came Monday: a post apparently written by Sanja Iveković, the Croatian artist who until recently was exhibiting in MoMA’s atrium, which outright plagiarizes from 12 pages worth of Wikipedia entries. It’s part of a work Iveković has in Documenta, entitled The Disobedient:

A press photograph published in the Hessische Volkswacht in April 1933 inspired the second part, The Disobedient (The Revolutionaries). The photo shows a Nazi officer and a donkey—fenced in with barbed wire—in front of a crowd on Kassel’s Opernplatz, across the street from Friedrichsplatz. The symbolic “concentration camp for stubborn citizens” was erected as a warning not to buy from Jews. Iveković’s installation in the Neue Galerie juxtaposes display cases filled with toy donkeys—the donkey being the symbol of the “beast of burden”—from private collections, one exemplar dating back to the time of World War I, with names of individuals who have resisted injustice and oppression in Nazi Germany and elsewhere in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Iveković, it seems, wanted to produce a supporting text to put stories to the names; as a result, she kindly gives us this PDF. It is, quite literally, the first paragraph of the Wikipedia article on each person. In the section on Steve Biko, she actually left in Wikipedia’s footnote shortcode. Compare for yourself, first from Ivekovic’s PDF:

Amílcar Lopes da Costa Cabral (12 September 1924 – 20 January 1973) was a Guinea-Bissauan and Cape Verdean agricultural engineer, writer, thinker and politician. Also known by his nom de guerre Abel Djassi, Cabral led the nationalist movement of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde Islands and the ensuing war of independence in Guinea-Bissau. He was assassinated on 20 January 1973, about 8 months before Guinea-Bissau’s unilateral declaration of independence. From 1963 to his assassination in 1973, Cabral led the PAIGC’s guerrilla movement (in Portuguese Guinea) against the Portuguese colonialists, which evolved into one of most successful war of independence in African history

And now from Wikipedia:

Amílcar Lopes da Costa Cabral (Portuguese pronunciation: [ɐˈmilkaɾ ˈlɔpɨʃ kɐˈbɾal]; 12 September 1924 – 20 January 1973) was a Guinea-Bissauan and Cape Verdean agricultural engineer, writer, and a nationalist thinker and politician. Also known by his nom de guerre Abel Djassi, Cabral led the nationalist movement of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde Islands and the ensuing war of independence in Guinea-Bissau. He was assassinated on 20 January 1973, about 8 months before Guinea-Bissau’s unilateral declaration of independence.

From 1963 to his assassination in 1973, Cabral led the PAIGC’s guerrilla movement (in Portuguese Guinea) against the Portuguese colonialists, which evolved into one of most successful war of independence in African history.

We’ll say this: copying from Wikipedia is unacceptable in any field, and art is no exception. Even if we excuse the sheer laziness of it, or the arrogance of submitting this to perhaps the most respected art exhibition in the world, copying the text weakens the work: the reasons for Iveković’s inclusions could have been communicated more effectively in her own words. It is the sort of attention to detail which lies at the root of all good art, from the way Dan Walsh trims his paintbrushes to the specificity in Ryan Trecartin’s prop notes.

If Documenta, as it says in the first sentence of its own self-description, is “dedicated to artistic research”, it should throw this out entirely. This is bad art and worse research, and throws into question the entirely of their “Resources” section. A publicly-funded, academically-minded exhibition must hold itself to higher standards.

  • http://esp1987.tumblr.com Erik Peterson

    Um first of all, the fact that there is no mentioned attempt to contact the artist about this is appalling. Wikipedia is a source for many of us working in the field, and its “open” and “free” ideologies are of interest to many people working with it. It is quite possible that Ikekovic has reasons or motivations for copying Wikipedia content that have nothing to do with plagiarism. In fact it seems rather unlikely that she intended to pass off the writing as her own words, and it’s rather irresponsible to report on it as such without consulting her or even Documenta on the matter. Second of all, Wikipedia is a Creative Commons open license resource. Though it is considered good form to cite any source, including Wikipedia, in an academic context (to provide a clear chain of descent for the scholarship involved in creating an academic work), there is neither a moral nor legal responsibility to cite words that come from Wikipedia. The site is both authorless and ownerless, no one’s rights are being violated by this appropriation and the indignation you’re expressing seems both overblown and misplaced in this context. It’s rather clear that you don’t “like” Documenta, and that this opinion is coloring your reading of this incident. If you have a beef with Documenta, that’s fine, write about it critically. I’m tired of AFC posting these gossipy articles that basically slander artists without asking them for so much as a quote on the matter. It might make for good metrics, and “palgiarizing wikipedia” is definitely a great SEO phrase, but it’s neither criticism nor good journalism. 

    • Will Brand

      “Um first of all, the fact that there is no mentioned attempt to contact the artist about this is appalling.”

      Fine.

      -”Wikipedia is a source for many of us working in the field, and its “open” and “free” ideologies are of interest to many people working with it. It is quite possible that Ikekovic has reasons or motivations for copying Wikipedia content that have nothing to do with plagiarism. In fact it seems rather unlikely that she intended to pass off the writing as her own words, and it’s rather irresponsible to report on it as such without consulting her or even Documenta on the matter.”

      As an artwork, you mean? Why not mention that you sourced the information at Wikipedia, then? You’re proposing that Ivekovic undertook this in secret, but that it is also part of the artwork? Is there anything in her history to suggest she often assumes viewers will discover the sources of her information, without her referencing them?

      Also, the second-to-last paragraph of the post was written in anticipation of this response.

      -”Second of all, Wikipedia is a Creative Commons open license resource. Though it is considered good form to cite any source, including Wikipedia, in an academic context (to provide a clear chain of descent for the scholarship involved in creating an academic work), there is neither a moral nor legal responsibility to cite words that come from Wikipedia. The site is both authorless and ownerless, no one’s rights are being violated by this appropriation and the indignation you’re expressing seems both overblown and misplaced in this context.”

      If we’re going down that route, you oughta look into what Wikipedia’s license means. They have an Attribution-Share Alike license, which does indeed require you to attribute the work. So yes, there is a moral responsibility, and yes, there is a legal responsibility.

      This is an additional reason why I have trouble with the idea that Ivekovic intended to use Wikipedia to make a point, but then never told anyone. If she had some great interest in creative commons licensing, she would have known that she had to mention Wikipedia.

      -It’s rather clear that you don’t “like” Documenta, and that this opinion is coloring your reading of this incident. If you have a beef with Documenta, that’s fine, write about it critically. I’m tired of AFC posting these gossipy articles that basically slander artists without asking them for so much as a quote on the matter. It might make for good metrics, and “palgiarizing wikipedia” is definitely a great SEO phrase, but it’s neither criticism nor good journalism.”

      I don’t have a problem with Documenta; I was looking forward to it very much, and even within this post I call it “perhaps the most respected art exhibition in the world.” I do think their website is terribly organized.

      I guess I just feel let down. There was a lot of promise here, and there are a lot of good ideas and good artists involved, but stuff like this… I mean, I expected they’d have higher standards, that’s all. You don’t feel a little bit let down that this is the best they could do? You don’t think that someone as widely lauded as Ivekovic should put a little bit more care into their work? Writers are pretty inexpensive.

      If I cared about SEO, I would have put “Documenta”, or maybe even “World’s Biggest Art Exhibition” in the title, instead of “Sanja Ivekovic”. So that doesn’t make sense either.

  • http://esp1987.tumblr.com Erik Peterson

    “As an artwork, you mean? Why not mention that you sourced the information at Wikipedia, then? You’re proposing that Ivekovic undertook this in secret, but that it is also part of the artwork? Is there anything in her history to suggest she often assumes viewers will discover the sources of her information, without her referencing them?”
    No, I’m proposing that it’s far more likely that this is an act of accidental omission (especially considering that the citation code was left in), or something that the artist tossed off in order to fulfill a request for more explication by Documenta. It’s also entirely possible that the use of raw phrases from Wikipedia was intended as an artistic gesture. The point is we don’t know because you didn’t ask, and you’re not just suggesting but actually ~stating~ that this is plagiarism without having done the requisite research. This seems particularly galling in the context of the topic of this article.

    “If we’re going down that route, you oughta look into what Wikipedia’s license means. They have an Attribution-Share Alike license, which does indeed require you to attribute the work. So yes, there is a moral responsibility, and yes, there is a legal responsibility.”

    Actually, if you want to get down to the nitty-gritty of it, Creative Commons licenses (and other similar ‘copyleft’ and GNU based licenses) have had very little luck gaining any legal status, as most countries put the onus of “protecting” a copyright on the copyright holder, and a deliberate refusal to diligently pursue that protection is often construed as abandonment. Likewise, while it is shitty to directly lift from Wikipedia in an academic work without citation, the “attribution” and “share-alike” clauses of Wikipedia’s licenses typically refer to those pieces of media that have known and specific authors, like images and logos created for the site. This can be seen in the history of its logo, which had to have its copyright transferred from its “authors” to Wikipedia because posting on Wikipedia does not legally imply assignation of copyright. There is probably an argument to be made that you “have to” cite text copied from Wikipedia, but it’s a murky one at best.

    “This is an additional reason why I have trouble with the idea that Ivekovic intended to use Wikipedia to make a point, but then never told anyone. If she had some great interest in creative commons licensing, she would have known that she had to mention Wikipedia.”
    Again, I don’t know that she meant to make a point or that she has any interest in Wikipedia or in creative commons licensing or in the complexities of authorship and ownership of collaboratively created intellectual property. What I’m saying is that we don’t know, and I’m suggesting other possible reasons besides “plagiarism” which implies a desire to deceive and present another’s work as your own. It simply seems unlikely that this was the intent, and irresponsible to state it without even contacting the artist.
    “I don’t have a problem with Documenta; I was looking forward to it very much, and even within this post I call it “perhaps the most respected art exhibition in the world.” I do think their website is terribly organized.”
    Sorry, I’ve been seeing a lot of Documenta hate going around lately so I unfairly assumed your position on it based on the tone of this article.
    “I guess I just feel let down. There was a lot of promise here, and there are a lot of good ideas and good artists involved, but stuff like this… I mean, I expected they’d have higher standards, that’s all. You don’t feel a little bit let down that this is the best they could do? You don’t think that someone as widely lauded as Ivekovic should put a little bit more care into their work? Writers are pretty inexpensive.”
    Actually I don’t disagree. What I think is both annoying and kind of worrying is that you singled out a particular artist as an example of what’s wrong with Documenta’s site, and then mostly talked about her “plagiarism” instead of providing other detailed examples of what you think is wrong with the site and how it could have been presented better. Though you do a little of that in middle of the text, most of it is given over to the “plagiarism” which seems like a pretty sensational word to apply to this pretty piddling transgression (if it is a transgression).
    “If I cared about SEO, I would have put “Documenta”, or maybe even “World’s Biggest Art Exhibition” in the title, instead of “Sanja Ivekovic”. So that doesn’t make sense either.”
    Yeah that was a unfair jab. I have a grudge against SEO because I do production work for a commercial site and see how ruins writing. I don’t actually think that you or anyone on AFC is really trying to game your title tags for Google’s sake. What I’m getting at here is that I’ve seen more than one article on here recently that singles out artists as the “problem” in a particular situation that is far more complex, and rails against them without contacting them for quotes, reactions, or explanations. For instance, though I totally agree with Paddy’s recent assessment that the Net Art world (and obviously the art world in general) has major problems with diversity and gender dynamics, I also think it is totally irresponsible to single out artists who put their work in all-male shows as villains without contacting them to even find out if they knew who was participating in the show before it opened. It comes of as both gossipy and cynical, which I don’t think is the tone you want for this site.

    • Will Brand

      As far as I’m concerned, using someone else’s work without attributing them is plagiarism. Given that definition, it’s happened here already, and doesn’t require confirmation. Perhaps, if I witness a murder, it’s worth asking the murderer if they premeditated it; that has a pretty big effect on how negatively I think of the person, and that’s why we break up murders by degree. Plagiarism, though, isn’t like that—it’s pretty black-and-white. There’s no question of intent, because intent isn’t the point; the point is that you’re causing people to believe you have produced this work, when you have not. That’s happened here. 

      Leaving in the footnote reference only happened once in the entire PDF, which I think indicates it was an accident; every other one has been systematically removed. Similarly, all the pronunciation information has been removed, and occasionally a sentence from further down in the piece is brought into the paragraph, as in the blockquoted example above. I would think, if the intent were to reference Wikipedia, that she would have quoted it in full. Also, it would have been trivial to link to the pages within the PDF, or else to produce this in HTML, if she meant to refer to Wikipedia. This is not a document which encourages readers to read more; that, to me, is additionally damning as a research offering.

      Additionally, I think the idea that something just happened to drop out of a PDF is silly. Permanence is the whole reason you use a PDF!

      I also think it needs to be said that your argument is based on an imagined justification, where mine is based on the observed absence of citation in a situation where absence of citation is precisely the issue. I don’t understand what the argument here is.

      “Gossip” was in our page titles and self-descriptions until about two weeks ago, but perhaps it should go back in. It’s sometimes what we do, sorry :(. It’s actually kind of nice that people get the idea we’re super dignified—sometimes I think we’re growing up. 

      I agree that it is not very nice to single out artists. Paddy’s piece, though, mostly gave specific examples for what would otherwise have been a very broad argument to make. In this piece, on the other hand, one artist is singled out because one artist is to blame; this has Ivekovic’s name on it, directly. Perhaps it is not her, but an assistant who made the error; if we start giving assistants credit only when things go badly, though, I think we’ll end up in a very nasty world.

      • JosephYoung

        I don’t know what the artist’s intent was here, but the sentence “Plagiarism, though, isn’t like that—it’s pretty black-and-white” catches the eye. Seems a difficult position to take on a blog dedicated to contemporary art, doesn’t it? 

        • Will Brand

          I dunno, I just took it, and it wasn’t that hard. Why should it be? Nobody swore me to uncertainty when I got my press pass.

          • http://esp1987.tumblr.com Erik Peterson

            It’s appropriation when you like it, plagiarism when you don’t : P 

            Plagiarism is absolutely conditioned by intent, a student who mis-cites something or drops a footnote without the intention of passing off the writing as their own is certainly not guilty of plagiarism, and would be given the chance (by any reasonable professor) to explain them self in this circumstance. I get that your murder comparison is hyperbolic for rhetorical effect, but it kind of disproves your point. The justice system separates manslaughter (unintentional death as the result of intentional actions) from premeditated murder because both are crimes, but of different degrees. Unintentional presentation of another person’s writing that might cause someone else to think it was one’s own writing isn’t punished at all, because it’s understood as a mistake and is not in the category of plagiarism.

            I never suggested that something just “dropped” out of the PDF. I’m suggesting the possible scenario (which I think is more likely than “plagiarism”) that perhaps the artist was asked for supplementary material from an organizer, and tossed off the document without too much thought. I know when I’m emailing with friends or people with whom I’m discussing my work or ideas, I don’t generally follow standard academic conventions for citation or even always add links. The point is there is plenty of reason for doubt of intent here, or even of the idea that this document was produced by the artist with the intent that it be seen by anyone by the curators of Documenta.

            Your argument is based on your imagination that the artist produced this document with the intention of passing off the writing as her own. My argument is based on the fact that there are many other plausible scenarios for the emergence of this document on Documenta’s website, and that you irresponsibly suggested that one (i.e. ‘plagiarism’) was demonstrably correct without contacting Documenta or the artist to see if the document was indeed created with that intent. Plagiarism is a very serious charge to level against someone, and is a word that carries a distinct connotation of connivance and dishonesty. Whether you like it or not, this blog (as admittedly silly as it is sometimes) projects a certain degree of authority in this community, and as such you have a responsibility not to smear people.

             Had you contacted Documenta and found they were aware of the “plagiarism”, or contacted the artist and came to the conclusion that she intended to present this writing as her own, I would have no problem with you writing an article quite similar to this that mentioned those facts. As it stands, you’re essentially smearing someone who is obviously not stupid enough to think that no one would notice that she ripped off Wikipedia text (which to me is the strongest indication that she probably did not intend to pass the writing off as her own).

            Gossip is all well and good (I jumped right in to defend y’all in the comments on your post about Kinkade’s death), but if you want to gossip about artists in a way that could potentially damage their career or reputation, the responsibility lies with you to find out if what you’re saying is actually true. If not, you might as well put “World Weekly News” up top and start covering Batboy’s happenings in Saddam’s spider hole. 

            The idea that “contacting Ivekovic makes no sense” is frankly absurd. Even if you really believe that it’s ok to infer intent to deceive from a shitty PDF with little contextualization on an exhibition’s website without even talking to the principals involved, I would think you would at least want to confront Ivekovic and find out what made her think she could get away with such a ~dastardly~ scheme.

          • Will Brand

            What term would you use to describe what happened to your hypothetical student? I’d call it “accidental plagiarism”, and I bet you would, too. In doing so, you’d be calling it—fasten your fucking seatbelt—’plagiarism’. 

            That’s what this FAQ from Northwestern calls it: 
            http://www.writing.northwestern.edu/avoiding_plagiarism.html. Most of the reputable top Google results don’t even make such a distinction, e.g. http://www.indiana.edu/~wts/pamphlets/plagiarism.shtml. Purdue defines it as “the uncredited use (both intentional and unintentional) of somebody else’s words or ideas.” Mirriam Webster, if we’re at this point, doesn’t make any mention of intent: 
            http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/plagiarizing?show=0&t=1339747954. Neither does Dictionary.com:  http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/plagiarism 

            By every one of those definitions, plagiarism has occurred here. If I’m not using your favorite dictionary, I’m willing to hear what it has to say, too.
            I should add that I find it deeply disappointing that the defense here assumes Sanja Ivekovic, a very intelligent and successful artist, must be treated with the same sort of paternal forgiveness that we accord college students in their first research skills class. I think she should be held to a higher standard, and I don’t think this is the first time she’s had to deal with attribution.Every other item in this section of Documenta’s website is obviously the direct making of the artist involved. Pierre Huyghe’s book covers are his own choosing. Sam Durant’s links come from Sam Durant. The text under “Adorno” is Adorno’s. If Sanja Ivekovic was not involved in the making of this document, then this would seem to be the only example of that in this very extensive section. Perhaps that does not mean Sanja Ivekovic did the copying-and-pasting herself, but it certainly qualifies as passing it off as her own; readers of this page would have a reasonable and extremely well-supported belief that the artist named is responsible for the work presented. This is not my “imagination”.I already acknowledged that you’re unhappy I didn’t call Sanja Ivekovic yesterday. You’re free to forward this to her, and I’m sure you’ve seen that AFC makes a point of posting responses, when we get them. If you’d forwarded it a few messages ago, you might have saved yourself some of the time and effort spent writing out these great excoriations. Maybe that wouldn’t have been as much fun.Also, “a shitty PDF with little contextualization” is a large part of what I have an issue with, so yes, that’s the basis. You omitted, though, that all of the context available supports my point.

          • http://esp1987.tumblr.com Erik Peterson

            Dictionary definitions are the recourse of weak arguments. You can play all the language games you want, but I would bet you my last nickel the vast majority of people would find it inappropriate to call anyone a plagiarist without giving them a chance to defend or explain themselves. It’s neither my responsibility to contact the artist nor to establish that actual narrative of what led to the posting of the PDF on Documenta; I’m not the one making the claim of plagiarism. It’s your responsibility as both a “journalist” and a member of this community to do your due diligence in establishing these things before you make an inflammatory post. As you (and I, in my previous response) said, it’s very unlikely that an artist with the intelligence and research history of Ivekovic is unfamiliar with standard practices in citing data, or that she would willfully publish something with the intent to pass of Wikipedia pages as her own work. I’m not patronizing her or suggesting that she be coddled in some way. What I’m suggesting is merely that there are equally plausible alternative narratives to willful plagiarism in this event. 

            Even in the Northwestern page you link to, a distinction is drawn between “accidental” and intentional plagiarism. Though the same noun is used for both, the meaning is quite clearly differentiated. One is a forgivable mistake that can be (mostly) avoided by careful scholarship (even the most careful academic writers are capable of slipping up and missing a citation or creating an unaccredited paraphrase without a diligent editor), the other is the intentional misrepresentation of someone else’s words as your own (which is a shitty thing to do and tantamount to lying and stealing at the same time). The PDF is admittedly sloppy and of low quality, and it may even have been produced by Ivekovic with the express intent of being put on the Documenta site for all to see, but if you’re going to hold her (a non-writer presenting this information in a decidedly non-academic context) to a “higher standard”, it would seem that you should hold yourself to at least the basic standards of verification and investigations established for journalism. 

            I don’t much care about what Ivekovic did here (I don’t know her, I’m not making claims about her work, and I think the idea of getting your knickers all twisted about what is most likely a little laziness or rushed work in a PDF is pretty silly) , and I doubt many other people do either. What I do care about is that a post like this can become the source of citations of its own, and a part of establishing the idea that someone like Ivekovic is a “plagiarist” (or whatever other name you happen to be calling an artist this week) as a fact. While the stakes are fairly low in this circumstance, as I said before you and this blog carry a certain amount of weight and authority in the community, and I think this kind of journalism does that community a disservice. 

          • Will Brand

            I gave you four published, reputable sources for what I think plagiarism is. You, in turn, bet me a nickel based on a hypothetical situation. I like my sources better. You’re telling me I’m using a word wrong without being able to cite a single source that would use the word differently.

            I mentioned the Northwestern distinction. I was the one that brought it up, along with every other specific example in this argument. You have very badly mischaracterized what it says. It does not, at any point, mention it being “forgivable”, or common to even the best scholars, or whatever. You made every single part of that up. 

            Similarly, I think you’re quoting yourself when you say “journalist” all those times. I don’t think I’ve ever used that term to describe myself, and certainly never in print. I write opinion pieces, mostly. Paddy started this blog with mostly opinion pieces. That’s actually our hallmark. And nobody’s ever told me, in my whole life, that I have to phone someone to check if it’s okay before I express my opinion.

            Sorry if I got my knickers all twisted over nothing. If it helps, you just wrote out a few thousand words about how deplorable it is that I got my knickers all twisted in a way that doesn’t please you. I guess I’m in good company.

            I didn’t call an artist anything, I don’t think, last week, or the week before, or… ever, maybe. You generated that history of name-calling, also, from thin air.

            Before you continue to malign my willingness to research, it’s worth noting that no fact stated in this article in is dispute. You are fighting an imaginary battle against what you think I ought to have done based on a self-image you falsely ascribed to me and a term you refuse to define in anyone’s words but your own. Occasionally you back this up with a series of complicated assumptions which explain why everything involved here is probably the exact opposite of what I can see with my own eyes.

            I don’t see the point in continuing.

          • http://esp1987.tumblr.com Erik Peterson

            Since you’re not even going to do me the basic courtesy of actually reading my comments and responding to them as they are (I never claimed to be quoting from that definition, I was offering my interpretation of it ~just as you were~), I’m not going to do you the courtesy of using nice words. I think it’s a dick move to call an artist a plagiarist in the title of a blog post on one of the most popular art related blogs on the internet. Whether or not you’re right about her “plagiarism” or the definition of plagiarism is totally besides the point. It’s completely discourteous, and a sensationalist move, to use such a harsh word against a member of the community that I don’t think even you would say was intentionally trying to do something wrong. 

            As far as “making every part of that up”, I’m as entitled to my opinions as you are. I think you’re a dick for calling her a plagiarist, I think the fact that that NW study guide draws the distinction (and the fact that we don’t ream students OR academics who accidentally commit “plagiarism” and apologize for it) is evidence enough that errors of omission are forgivable. If you don’t think that anyone could make a citation mistake, you obviously haven’t read much. It’s incredibly common, just as typos and factual errors are common. People are people, not perfect writing machines. If you want to hold artists to a “higher standard” that’s your problem, not theirs, and you shouldn’t drag their names through the mud trying to make a point when you haven’t even asked the question posed by the title of your article to the relevant person. 

          • http://www.artfagcity.com Paddy Johnson

            Erik, your concerns have been noted. I’ve read the NW study guide, and Will is correct. It doesn’t say anything you seem to think it does. Cite the specific passage you’re talking about or leave that argument alone. 

            If you think the language of the title and the post is too strong, look at the art, decide what you think about it, then tell us why you think the post overstates the term. 

            On a related note: Calling someone a dick is a bad way to establish your own credibility in an argument over strong language use. We don’t allow name calling on the blog. If I see it again, I’m going to close this post. There’s already more than enough here to warrant that. 

          • http://esp1987.tumblr.com Erik Peterson

            Paddy- If you really think that I was rude before that post, or that Will has not been rude to me throughout this discussion, I’d ask you to read back through and reconsider. Once again, I never said that the NW style guide said anything besides making a distinction between accidental and purposeful plagiarism. My interpretation of that, and the simple facts that I stated (students and academics are not excoriated for mistakes, only for willful plagiarism that is then usually denied), are all I referred to. The idea that me saying calling someone a plagiarist is a “dick move” in your comments and calling an artist a plagiarist in the title of a post on a rather well attended blog are at all equivalent is naïve at best. Whether you take yourselves seriously or not, lots of people do, and especially considering most people who read this post will never see the work in person (or even research the artist) it’s likely that they will form their opinions of Ivekovic’s work based on your writing. Whether that’s a responsibility you all want or not, it’s one you have.I get that you don’t like me, I don’t care. I really think that it is totally inappropriate to call an artist a plagiarist without actually investigating the issue. As you know the right of an artist to use appropriation as an artistic gesture is constantly under attack. Right now that right is in particular danger with the lawsuit against Richard Prince and the incessant efforts of the US government to give itself to power to censor the internet. It’s incredibly unhelpful to have a voice within the community calling someone who, as other commenters have noted, often uses “plagiarism” and copying as an artistic gesture what is essentially a dirty word. Will has defended himself solely on the dictionary definition of “plagiarism”, which isn’t even the argument I’m making. By the standard of those definitions most artistic gestures and a good deal of writing by artists made since say, 1960, would clearly fall into the category of plagiarism. From Andy Warhol to Ryan Trecartin, artists make use of other people’s work often without any citation or even nod to the original source, in order to engage with, subvert, and comment on the products of our culture. I was joking before when I said “It’s appropriation if you like it, plagiarism if you don’t” before, but now I’m not at all. Why should we hold Ivekovic’s writing to a different standard than we do her objects? Or a Prince painting? Or a Duchamp readymade? Just because it takes the guise of writing doesn’t mean you can assume that it’s not intended as an artistic gesture. Ivekovic’s past work suggests that it very well may be, and as I said before it’s simply irresponsible to decide otherwise without speaking with her. In actuality, Will may be right, this may be “Plagiarism”, intended or accidental. On the other hand it could be a painstakingly crafted gesture complete with a left behind partial citation. The point is, Will doesn’t know, so Will shouldn’t assume, and he certainly shouldn’t make it the title of a blog post without investigating the primary source: Ivekovic. It might not seem like a big deal to you, but when you smear a label like “plagiarism” onto someone it tends to stick, deserved or not.

          • http://www.artfagcity.com Paddy Johnson

            Just so I understand you properly, if the artist considered it appropriated text, that gesture negates the plagerism claim, regardless of how that gesture might square with the art work itself? If that’s what you’re saying, I just don’t agree. I think this work is demonstatably made worse lifting the text wholesale like this and I don’t think anyone is done any favors by calling this something other than what it is.

          • http://esp1987.tumblr.com Erik Peterson

            Just so I get what you’re saying too: 

            Either
            a) Lifting text wholesale is plagiarism, and no regard should be given to claims of artistic gesture.
            or
            b) Someone’s opinion of the quality of a work of art’s quality is what determines whether or not an act of appropriation is legitimate?

            If (a) my comment above spells out very clearly why it’s bad to have a double standard for words and objects when dealing with appropriation.

            If (b), I think that’s an unhelpful argument to make. If appropriation is a legitimate artistic gesture, it’s a legitimate artistic gesture. Making a judgment about whether it’s legitimate or not based on the quality of the work plays into the hands of people who would rather that it disappear as a technique in general. Yes, I think if an artist intends something to be an act of appropriation as an artistic gesture, that’s what it is. It doesn’t mean that it was done well, or that it improves their work, but it definitely isn’t plagiarism.

            And, once again, what I think is inappropriate is not the idea that someone could claim that something an artist has done is plagiarism, it’s that this circumstance is clearly a lot muddier than Will makes it out to be, and he should have done basic research by asking the artist before making a very public and inflammatory claim of academic dishonesty. It also seems like you don’t have any rejoinder to my argument that by dictionary definitions, most art that uses appropriation would be considered plagiarism, and I think that you would need to establish some pretty strict criteria if you want to be able to apply the word plagiarism to any kind of creative/artistic work (even writing).

          • http://www.artfagcity.com Paddy Johnson

            So wait, what specifically about the art work in question is muddier than has been represented?

          • http://esp1987.tumblr.com Erik Peterson

            Also if it’s not obvious that when I use “you” I’m referring to this blog, then maybe that’s my bad, but I don’t know you personally and that was the context I’ve used it in in this entire thread so I thought it was kind of obvious.

          • http://esp1987.tumblr.com Erik Peterson

            It’s also almost funny that the title of this is “Why Is Sanja Ivekovic Plagiarizing Wikipedia?” since you didn’t bother to ask her the answer to that very question.

          • Martin John Callanan

            Her work is published. It’s public. You’d not contact an author to review/discuss a novel etc.

  • Will Brand

    I care. I expect better from art, from artists, and from Ivekovic and Documenta in particular. I think we deserve better. Perhaps you do not.

    I explained in the last comment to Eric why contacting Ivekovic doesn’t make any sense in this situation.

    • Will Brand

      You are, however, correct that Ivekovic is not a writer. That is very much the point.

  • http://esp1987.tumblr.com Erik Peterson

    No, it’s not irrelevant. Print encyclopedias have authors and editors for each article whether prominently listed or not. They assign their copyrights to the material to the publisher. Copyright is the legal basis for claims of plagiarism. Wikipedia does not require it’s millions of authors to assign their copyrights to it, nor to does it pursue copyright infringement claims against people who copy their words. Obviously academic institutions do, and should, expel people who copy without citing in a deliberate attempt to pass off other’s writing as their own. They don’t expel people for putting together for unintentionally creating that impression, or for throwing together a document of ideas they’re working with to explicate the context of an art object they’ve created. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1041028338 Viktor Witkowski

    Fair question, Will. But what do you think of documenta when you visited it? You say that documenta is trying hard to be “very, very smart.” I hope that you are drawing this conclusion based on the venue on not their website.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/RX763MO6FWJFIUV4LSYV4SDMGY kim

    but isn’t the plagiarism itself one of the points of this piece that she made?  I saw her show at the MoMA and it’s in the same vein as this “plagiarizing,” and just as overtly revealed as in this piece.  What I gather from her work is her revealing hidden structures and conventions -often repressive- in the representation of objects and images, making them appear so true and natural – fact so true and natural, but how close are they really to the truth?  

    • Will Brand

      You say it’s “revealed”, but I disagree. There’s no effort at all made to reveal this, or to draw attention to the fact that we need to question these sources. 

      I think your assessment of her work is reasonable, but I don’t think it applies here.
      IIRC, in those works there’s always an addition: a new context, an added or removed element, something. They’re also often pretty suspicious images to begin with—nobody ever puts real sunglasses ads up on the walls at MoMA, so seeing them there pretty quickly raises an eyebrow and provokes further looking. This, on the other hand, is writing produced where writing is expected, without anything that would draw the material into question. I just don’t see it.

      • http://esp1987.tumblr.com Erik Peterson

        Obviously there’s something that would draw the material into question; you questioned it.

  • Martin John Callanan

    I’m in agreement with Will on this. Quality and integrity is important in art. It is a fair way to judge the skill of the artist. Poor quality work is lazy and not tolerated in any other field. The common stance that everything an artist makes is art and to be revered, well, that is boring.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Paddy Johnson

    Hi Erik,

    I’m a little confused about the concern for our journalism standards. In the net art post complaints were lodged because we used quotes that were made on facebook. Main stream media commonly cites statements made on facebook, so that argument was meritless, but for reasons beyond my comprehension the myth that it was bad journalism continued. 

    I’m watching the same thing occur here. As Will points out the creative commons license requires attribution, and the reason that license exists is so people know to use it. CC doesn’t have a license without attribution rights — technically speaking you have to release all content to the public domain — and that doesn’t make sense for Wikipedia. 

    There are reasons attribution makes good sense, and in this case, not knowing the source, means that the reader is likely to both assume it was written by the artist, and that it’s correct. That’s a problem given the actual source. I don’t mean to slag Wikipedia in saying this — indeed it’s a great source — but any good journalist and artist knows that you can’t assume it doesn’t contain errors. Given the nature of this piece, use of the source and lack of attribution have a directly negative effect on the quality of the work. The whole piece is about building a historical narrative. It’s doesn’t have anything to do with appropriation, and would have clearly been made better had the research not been phoned in. 

  • James Case-Leal

    i have always thought that applying copyright laws and related traditions of authorship to be irrelevant and even stifling in art. So many artists have “plagiarized” all other disiplines. Was Warhol plagiarizing campbells? prince plagiarizing marlborough? Every time this happens someone from the field that is being borrowed from bitches about how its not really art or that its bad art – how they are stealing – how they are irresponsible. at times they take them to court. and at times they win in court. We need to let art be free of these rules and not get pissed that an artist isn’t also a researcher and writer. that they used existing information as a raw material is nothing to chide. unless, you are a craftsman who feels threatened by contemporary art. Which is very much how Will Brand comes off here. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jan-Malinowski/649419902 Jan Malinowski

    hey guys would be so kind as to have a look at my newly created blog at http://www.artportion.com  cheers

  • http://twitter.com/andrewbirk LAWRENCE OF ARABIA

    TO ERIK:ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF AN ARTIST DOING SOMETHING STUPID (INCOMPLETE, LACKING, UNJUSTIFIED, ETC) AND HER CIRCLE COMING TO THE RESCUE TO PROTECT THEIR INVESTMENT. AS AN ARTIST, IF YOU ARE GOING TO PLAGIARIZE, OWN IT. EVERY ARTIST SHOULD HAVE LEARNED THAT FROM RICHARD PRINCE BY NOW. 

    DOCUMENTA IS SUPPOSED TO BE THE MOST INTELLECTUALLY ‘SOUND’ FAIR. IF YOUVE ROBBED YOUR MATERIAL FROM WIKIPEDIA, HOW DOES YOUR WORK JUSTIFY THAT? IN THIS CASE IT DOESNT. AT ALL. IT IS A GAPING FALLACY THAT ENDS UP UNDERMINING THE STRUCTURAL AND INTELLECTUAL INTEGRITY OF THE WORK. 

  • http://twitter.com/rosslnrd rossleonardy

    The page and the document seem to just attach Sanja Ivekovic’s name to the piece, not the writing. 99% chance an intern was assigned to put together a supporting document for the website and it has not even been seen by Sanja. slow news day? 

    • Will Brand

      Sure, it’s probably an intern—interns do lots of stuff nowadays. Judging by the PDF’s metadata, his name was probably Mario. I don’t think that excuses the chain of people between him and Ivekovic for not checking it, or the organizers of Documenta for putting this hacked-together thing next to, say, a really pretty lovely 20-minute Francis Alys video. They shouldn’t be in the same section at all; that’s pretty insulting to some of the other offerings.

      Besides which, Paddy and I accept responsibility for errors made by AFC’s staff, and I expect others to do the same. Certainly when things are under our names.

      It’s almost always a slow news day in the art world; if we had to rely on sensation on the 360 days a year when there isn’t a decent headline, we’d be pretty worthless. I honestly thought that this was a shitty thing for an established artist to offer up for a ~$15 million publicly-funded exhibition, and I thought it should be questioned.

      • http://twitter.com/rosslnrd rossleonardy

        Thinking it should be questioned is a little bit different then flat out stating that Ivekovic is a plagiarist. The page, and their site, is poorly designed, and does not actually say (as far as I can see) that she wrote the pdf. It doesn’t give a context for the pdf, and the pdf itself has no introduction or explanation for its contents. So instead of calling it out as the weird error and oversight that it obviously is, you flat out state that Ivekovic is a plagiarist (“why is Sanja Ivekovic plagiarizing wikipedia?”) as if you somehow know that she’s even seen this pdf, not having asked Documenta or her what the deal is? That’s a little bit unfair.

        (wtf are all these plagiarism apologists doing here? don’t you guys have a summer writing class to be making up?) 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/4JFRYG6HNJ2NMFAKASFGIXRYPU lennard

    Good God, this Erik Peterson is just a lawyer-like lingerer type. It’s painfully clear Sanja and/or her team done goofed there.
    And obne should say it: the piece itself is terribly aesthetizing, it’s an insult to put all these people fighting for very different reasons into the same bucket and call it your work of art. Just terrible.

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    Am not sure if “plagiarism” is the right word for the unattributed use of open source, community-edited text..in an artwork. It makes for a nice “gotcha” headline, though.

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