INDIRA SYLVIA BELISSOP
Editors: Sreshta Rit Premnath, Avi Alpert
Shifter’s 13th issue focuses on the importance and impact of this philosopher, who, though unknown, seems to have been one of the most important thinkers of the late 20th and early 21st century. Belissop’s thought has been instrumental in changing the entire terrain of intellectual, artistic and activist practice over the past seven decades of her immense production. Her revolutionary work in activist “interventionism,” and her Marxist, materialist commitment never seemed to conflict with her important contribution to experimental poetry. Her philosophical treatises managed to comfortably accommodate both psychoanalysis and neuro-psychology while simultaneously problematizing both disciplines. Her expertise and influence in so many varied disciplines made her something of an Aristotle of our age. Of course, like Aristotle, she was not right in everything she said, but that she said it made so much of our own work possible.
Belissop was an untimely thinker – indeed a thinker whose true time has not come and perhaps never will. We are using this occasion as an opportunity to reflect on critical practice at the present time. The invention of Belissop (and her inventiveness) gives us the opportunity to explore concepts that have yet to be named or written, to test out ideas, to question the history of critical theory that has swept all fields of practice, to engage in a dialog with someone so capacious, so brilliant, that they could never really exist.
In this issue we present aphorisms, essays, interviews, letters of friendship and admiration, poems and artwork that grow out of the possibilities opened by her analyses. The aim of the issue is simply to continue Belissop’s legacy – to explore the multifaceted themes that her work touches on and helps animate within our own lives.
On March 21 2011 Mr. Lincoln Cushing wrote to Shifter Magazine. He alerted us that an essay in Shifter #13 “Movement designer Howie Solomon passes away on April 10, 2009 [contained] a quotation taken, without credit, fully and directly from an interview [he] did with Frank Cierciorka, who died 11/24/2008.
“Movement designer Howie Solomon passes away on April 10, 2009” was a piece contributed by Kalle Brolin to the I S Belissop issue, and he responded to Mr. Cushing with an apology and explanation. Published below is Kalle Brolin’s letter and Lincoln Cushing’s response to that letter in full. As the editor of Shifter and co-editor (with Avi Alpert) of Shifter #13 I felt that this exchange was illuminating in its own right and would serve the readership of Shifter well as a way to think through the ethics of appropriation in art and writing.
-Sreshta Rit Premnath
Mar 22, 2011, at 2:03 AM
Dear Mr. Cushing
I certainly apologize for offending you, and will try to provide an explanation.
You are right in assuming that I meant it as some form of art. Appropriation is an established technique in both writing and art; maybe some of the most well-known examples from USA could be post-modern artists like Richard Prince and Sherrie Levine. This is why I tried to differentiate between ‘written by’ and ‘appropriated by’, I would not want to claim I had written the piece. Because of all the precedents, I did not see appropriation as something that would be new to people or especially controversial (at least I didn’t think it would be to other artists, or to post-modern philosophers, who I assumed would be the readers of this magazine), I didn’t think of it as particularly clever, I just thought this technique would work with the theme of that issue of Shifter.
Since the whole of that issue of Shifter was meant to portray a fictional philosopher, one that never existed but who was to be treated as if she had existed, and to trace her influence on the countercultural movement, one of the themes to work with was a blend between reality and fiction. To then find an example of a biography of someone connected to the real-world movement and change just a few details would be an illustration of that theme – I assumed that the readers would know that this issue of Shifter was fictitious, and that they would not think that the designer named by me had actually/in the real world produced the works made by Mr. Cieciorka, for example.
I understand that you fail to see it this way, and although probably inadequate this is the only explanation I can give you. This is how I thought at the time. I will ask the magazine to publish my apology, and of course to name the original source material.
Again, my apologies.
March 22, 2011 11:46:17 AM EDT
Thank you (and Shifter) for responding so quickly.
I don’t believe you were maliciously trying to take credit for my work, but this approach to artmaking has many potential flaws.
The online pdf may be somewhat different from the actual printed edition (Shifter note, I’d like a copy mailed to me, address below), but it certainly wasn’t clear to me that the theme of that issue is fictional as you describe. Perhaps regular readers are familiar with this magazine as blurring the line between fiction and fact. I’m certainly not so rigid as to expect such distinctions in life. But where you crossed the line was in taking a real story – my obituary about Frank Cieciorka – and printing it with very minor tweaks. You are listed in the table of contents as responsible for that item. The standard assumption in literature is that you are the author, not “appropriator” – a term which only appears on your website.
As an artist who has become an art historian, I am very troubled by what appears to be an increasingly cavalier attitude about grabbing existing content, mildly fussing with it, and passing it off as creative. Mr. Brolin, I don’t mean to criticize your other work – I am unfamiliar with it, and couldn’t offer an opinion – but I’ve had several brushes with this that may explain why I’m so upset about this.
In 2007 I came down on well-known artist Shepard Fairey because he had used a print from a Cuban artist (and friend) passing it off as his own. He ended up paying royalties to the family. See backstory here:
Closer to your piece in Shifter, in 2009 I ran across a fist image for sale through Fotolia, an international graphic clip-art business, crediting the image to “Eugene Ivanov.” I advised them that it was an unauthorized copy of Frank’s work, and with some grumbling they took it down.
I could go on.
I really don’t want to be an intellectual property cop. I’ve got better things to do. But most artists, and especially community-based political artists, get so little recognition or support that it particularly hurts to see them exploited by other artists. It’s one thing to appropriate from major corporations or governments; mining the work of community artists, even well intended, is another. That’s why I posted this short item,
Suggested “best practices” in using the graphic artwork of others:
I hope this helps you understand my concerns better.
Docs Populi – Documents for the Public