The Importance of Being Original. (Cecily Brennan @ the Crawford Gallery)

Image top, Black Tears by Cecily Brennan. Image above, The Enemy and the Self.

Recently I attended a discussion with artist Cecily Brennan following a screening of a video piece Black Tears at the Crawford Art Gallery. I was immediately reminded that nothing I do is ever entirely original as soon I opened the e-vite and saw the included screen shot that bears resemblance to Enemy and the Self that I made last year.

Black Tears was a more successful piece. The result of years of research, a more experienced artist and a professional production team. There is resemblance at a glance. Both touch on "vulnerability and strength" and as Black Tears gallery press release said it opens up a "maelstrom of questions directed both to the weeping woman and within oneself"1. There is the element of performance in both. The Enemy and the Self is part performance piece however the woman in Black Tears is an an actress, a professional performer, the late Britta Smith. There is a moment in Brennan's piece when the subject looks into the camera. Some people at the discussion said that this made them feel more voyeuristic, but I felt differently. By looking out, into the camera, the subject connects with whoever is watching. I learned that Britta could not cry in front of the artist and the cameraman, so they watched by live feed in another room. They did not specify how long it should last and I suspect that although Britta was channeling real emotions, it was a performance and she may have been looking towards the director/artist for a response. My piece is about performing for myself and for others. I think that the idea of performance and putting on a mask works wonderfully with strength and vulnerability.

But the differences are very much there in both the idea and in the execution. Yet still I could not help but think of the importance of originality in art. Every now and again the topic is brought up, usually in a discussion about what is or is not art, or a discussion about the value of contemporary art, or something like that.  With absolute originality being hailed as a prerequisite for a great artist. But is absolute originality even possible or even desirable?

Every artist has at some time done something and realised later that half the world already did it. I remember once reading about an art lecturer who had a rubber stamp made that said "nice idea but already done by______". He would walk around the studios, stamp it on student's work and fill in the gap. I can't remember the who or where, if you know please tell me.

I love going to art discussions. They allow an artist and an audience to engage with each other and with the art, opening up an omnidirectional conversation.  Which is exactly what art is. If art is to be relevant, can absolute originality exist? Art needs to know what came before, what was said earlier, if 
it is supposed to make a  relevant response and any thoughtful response will reference that. If we are responding to the same world in the same time surely there will be a few similarities.

I am going to look at the similarity as a good thing and not give in to my immediate urge. Which is to never speak of my piece again, erase my hard drive and f**k the tapes into the river. Interestingly Cecily Brennan talks about how it is is difficult to look at someone crying2 and I had great difficulty editing this piece and a greater difficulty in showing it.  Although to lesser degrees this is an urge I feel with everything I make.

1 on 23-01-11. 
2 on 23-01-11.
Image is a screen shot from the artist's website, no copyright infringement intended.

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