Project 3 * The Piracy Project
The Piracy Project (PP) is the third of the five projects that I submit for this PhD. Again, what follows is a quick overview. It lists the elements and steps – including short factual descriptions – that Andrea Francke and I have taken during the five years we were actively engaged in the project. A detailed reflection on the ways the PP explored enclosures in knowledge practices is provided in chapter 05*Reflection and theorization of projects. The pink text in the right-hand column is Andrea's voice, who in this form, added her perspective and reflections on the project. This comment feature – specifically coded for this kappa by Varia, Rotterdam – allows for those who have equal stakes in the projects to be present, and comment. This is an ongoing thread throughout this Wiki. I was keen to have the form of the writing mirror the poli-vocality that characterized the practice.
- 1 Starting point and context: Byam Shaw School of Art Library closure
- 2 Open Call for copied, modified, emulated, annotated books
- 3 Searchable online catalog
- 4 Reading Rooms organized
- 5 Organizing discursive events
- 6 Talks, interviews and panel discussions
- 7 Workshops, Collective Research, Teaching with the Piracy Project
- 8 Edited Publications
- 9 What Others Say
Starting point and context: Byam Shaw School of Art Library closure
The Piracy Project started at Byam Shaw School of Art as a response to restrictive university policies: in 2010, the university management announced its plan to close the Byam Shaw School of Art library due to a merger with Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London.
I grew up reading pirated copies of books bought in my coming-back-home holidays. The sellers of pirated books in traffic light stops seemed very familiar but also very foreign since pirated books were not common in Brazil. When I read Alarcon’s description of those modified books it felt very personal: What had I been reading? Who had I been reading? I told Eva, I’m going to Peru next week to visit my family and maybe there is something there? Maybe I can propose something related to the modified pirated books? Eva was really excited about the potential of those books and told me to come back to see her after my trip. I spend so much time in pirated book markets and comparing books page by page. And then I found it.
There is also how that was an important time in terms of student activism. A moment in which the commodification of university education had accelerated and there was a feeling that staff and students could imagine different ways to think about the institutions and art education as well as protest. In a sense, the PP happened in the same time frame of Arts Against Cuts, the Camberwell occupation and all the alternative MAs that followed. The PP was connected with the occupation of the library in terms of how property and ownership are constructed in the institution. Who is the library for? Who owns a library? What are the power processes involved in constructing that space as well as produced by it?
Annotated by AF
Students were advised to visit the library on the main campus in the city center. In a joint effort, students and staff – supported by the acting principal – turned Byam Shaw's art college library into a self-organized and self-governed library that remained public, and intellectually and socially generative. There was not a clear-cut question that triggered TPP at this point. It was rather a political situation at the art school and the desire to organize against it – as well as Andrea Francke's parallel and puzzling discovery of specific cases of book piracy in Peru, where pirates had started to alter and amend the plot of some fiction books anonymously.
Open Call for copied, modified, emulated, annotated books
The open call
The Open Call is my biggest regret. I had a very clear image of the books I wanted to see. I wanted books that replicated the feeling of the Peruvian Piracy cases. Books that created a sense of suspicion, that confronted the reader with the removal of the authority of the author. And by hosting them in the library we would question how we use the library, interact with the canon, etc. I didn’t realise at the time that it wasn’t really ok to project those expectations onto the free labour of other people, or maybe I didn’t have the skills to sell what I thought was the concept at the core of the project. Instead, we received lots of books from all over the world, in the most generous way, but they were mostly artist’s books. Fairly enough, the books were all authored objects in themselves, with poetic descriptions and lots of care, but not what I had envisioned. And now we felt we owed all those people, that we needed to find a way to credit them, to always carry all the books to exhibitions (physically carry most of the time, in our luggage, through planes, airports and foreign cities). We still owe them and what happens with the collection is a big problem. But part of me still doesn’t understand why we made that contract and if we created a system of exploitation at what point can we let go, or how can we take it apart.
Annotated by AF
circulated locally via printed posters and flyers, on AND Publishing's website, and internationally, through an art-agenda newsletter. This also announced "The Pirate Lectures", a series of talks with artists, lawyers, journalists, writers, artists, and independent publishers exploring the topic of book piracy from different perspectives.
The international announcement stated:
"Andrea Francke & AND Publishing would like to invite you to contribute to The Piracy Project, an international publishing and exhibition project exploring the philosophical, legal and practical implications of book piracy and creative modes of reproduction.
With a series of talks from guest speakers, workshops, and an open call for pirated book projects to add to a Piracy Collection, we aim to develop a critical and creative platform for issues raised by acts of cultural piracy. After a period of research and production at Byam Shaw Reading Room in London, this unique collection of books will travel to international venues in 2011.
The Piracy Project is not about stealing or forgery. It is about creating a platform to innovatively explore the spectrum of copying / re-editing / translating / paraphrasing / imitating / re-organizing / manipulating of already existing works. Here creativity and originality sit not in the borrowed material itself, but in the way, it is handled."
Searchable online catalog
The local, national and international entries that we received (i) from students, staff and alumni at the art school, (ii) sent to us from across the world or (iii) found through our research and residencies in Peru, China, and Turkey
Annotated by AF
are cataloged on a searchable online database. The catalog descriptions, created in collaboration with writer John Moseley, provide selected metadata as well as the strategies of reproduction, modification, and distribution used by the respective pirate. The catalog lists the title, author (= pirate), date, publisher (= pirate), format, print technique, source (the book that had been copied), and context of the activity (as far as we are aware of it).
Reading Rooms organized
The first and longest-running reading room was at Byam Shaw School of Art Library (2010–12). Situated as part of a politicized community of practice during these years the major part of the books was brought together through a shared struggle to oppose government funding cuts and the planned closure of the art school library, as detailed above. After the Byam Shaw library was eventually closed, The Showroom hosted the PP in the form of a one-year residency. With Arts Council funding we organized a set of workshops and talks at the Showroom (see below). Following this, a range of cultural institutions invited the PP to install temporary reading rooms in their exhibition premises. From this point, the project started to "tour" to different venues, contexts and communities, a development that changed the way the project operated, and which I discuss in the chapter 05*Reflection, theorization of projects.
Annotated by AF
Annotated by AF
I recorded my side of the video with Alison Powell. I met Alison through Invisible Spaces of Parenthood and her research is super interesting. Some of her recent work includes being part of Virt-EU tools and methods to develop ethically informed technology.
The idea was that Eva and I chose our 10 favorite books from the catalogue. Alison met me at The Showroom in London and I talked to her about them as I packed them. Then Eva received the books in Oslo and recorded her unpacking. I think the videos touched on many of the things that made the PP great but also hard to display. The most interesting things around the project were the conversations we had around the books. But the conversations that worked were at an individual level, with people that brought their expertise. Eva and I would then carry the accumulated conversations and reflect them back in the next interactions. Some of those conversations were with people that we knew or invited experts, a lot of them would be with people that we met through the project. I don’t think we ever found a way to have those conversations at a workshop level though. And that became a problem for art institutions that saw us as part of a public program that needed to justify itself through numbers.
Annotated by AF
For Munich, we categorised the books according to the modes in which they were distributed. It was clear that the categorisation did impact the questions the visitors formulated to the collection. It also made clear that it was hard for us to do this in a way that allowed us to share the collection in an additive way. We didn’t find a way to enable the collection to accumulate the knowledge that emerged at every exhibition and encounter and to allow people to access it so they could catch up with us. We were still the bodies that needed to mediate the collection and that meant we were permanently stuck in the shallow aspects of the arguments. To me, we were slowly becoming the maintainers of the collection and I wasn’t comfortable with that role.
Annotated by AF
Annotated by AF
Organizing discursive events
From its very beginning, the PP was concerned with testing, discussing and disrupting conceptions of authorship and ownership, and to discuss the moral and legal boundaries of cultural piracy. Therefore, the open call for pirated books as well as our research into existing book piracy (enclosures, property relations, censorship, market monopolies, commercial interests) was a means of exploring these issues. This took place through a range of discursive events
I would add as discursive events all the conversations we had around the books that were carefully and intentional planned but were not ‘public’ in the art institution/funder categorization. The categorisations by art funders were something that we struggled with through the project and it was what culminated in our taking a step back. We were invited to be part of an exhibition around copyright and we wanted to have a small programme or workshops and conversations around the books. The institution behind the commission first agreed but then said that as part of the public programme, our events and workshops would have to engage with much larger numbers of people than the ones we had proposed. Public then became a metric of numbers that fulfilled funding requirements instead of the idea of sharing in any meaningful way. This made no sense to me.
So, I would like to push back in a different direction and add here the time in which we visited a Chinese book pirate and he sent us to a different address so he could check us and approve us beforehand. The days I spent in Peru looking for modified Peruvian books and how the sellers would react as if I had broken a massive taboo. When we met a Chinese curator in Beijing and he mentioned that the piracy framework would be useful to think about the political system in China. The time I ended up at a Creative Commons meeting in Vancouver dragged by someone who saw us a panel and wanted us to raise some of our questions in that context. All the books and essays we read through those years and shared with our different interlocutors. I don’t say this to commensurate the informal but because at a personal level, the pub conversations were so much more interesting and impactful than any of these events.
Annotated by AF
such as workshops, debates, and talks that we organized, mostly in the form of temporary reading rooms with the books as exemplary cases to refer to.
Talks, interviews and panel discussions
In the early 2000s, the media industry as well as other market monopolies made several efforts to extend and toughen copyright policies against so-called online piracy and peer-to-peer sharing networks. The proposed "Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement" (ACTA, 2011) attempted to establish an international legal standard for intellectual property rights enforcement targeting counterfeit goods, generic medicines and copyright infringement on the Internet. Similarly in the USA, the "Stop Online Piracy Act" (SOPA, 2012) provoked massive international protest and debate among the open culture, open-source, and copyleft movements on disobedient counter-strategies, and practices of commoning as a way to oppose the looming enclosures.
Workshops, Collective Research, Teaching with the Piracy Project
The Piracy Project explores questions of copying, reproducing, appropriating in a practical and hands-on way, whilst simultaneously reflecting on issues that emerge through this practice. As such, it has proven to be an useful and highly engaging teaching method. In the context of both higher education and art spaces and institutions, participants explored the legal and their own moral and ethical boundaries trying to negotiate the conflicts that might arise from this practice.
Making Social Realities with Books, Brett Bloom (Temporary Services, Chicago) invited the Piracy Project to run a workshop in the series " Making Social Realities with Books", which he co-organized with rum 46 in Copenhagen. The series of lectures and workshops explore the idea of how books – libraries, archives, publishing, and distribution – are used to create distinct social realities. Participants in this one-week workshop traveled from art academies in Denmark, Latvia, and Estonia to collectively think through the complexities of cultural piracy and appropriation. We explored strategies and ethics of unauthorized publishing, built on local facilities and knowledge, visited self-publishers, self-organized print shops, libraries, and bookshops in Aarhus.
Alternate Futures Conceived and organized by Oliver Klimpel and Lina Grumm at the Leipzig Academy of Fine Arts, this course project takes as starting point in Victor Papanek's legacy of socially and ecologically responsible design to explore possible utopias in visual culture and fiction's potential to construct new worlds. A project on speculation, alternatives and the courage to imagine. From the course brief: "Curation from the Commas, Translative Authorship, Visual Re-Authorship, Experimental Authorship, Reductive Re-Authorship, Reductive Subtraction, Identity Subversion, Bootleg (Visual Re-Authorship), Concrete Transformation (Narrative Appropriation), Critical Theory (Denial of Image Clearance), etc. For example: changing the ending, translating, taking out, inserting, etc..."
One Publishes to Find Comrades, a two-week workshop at Kunstverein Munich, focused on alternative and informal and counter-public archives, collections, libraries and bookshops, as well as independent print shops in Munich. For this research into local and informal knowledge infrastructures we invited Ingrid Scherf, the co-founder of Munich's independent Basis bookshop and event space (closed in 2010) and co-editor of Das Blatt, West Germany's first alternative city magazine (1973–84) in order to give a voice to those who are not represented by mainstream media. Marcell Mars visited from his residency at Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart to speak about his project Public Library, a collaboration with Tomislav Medak. Sarah Käsmayr introduced us to her Raubkopiebuch, investigating book piracy in the context of 1960s and 70s German student movement. Stephan Dillemuth invited us to unpack his zine archive. Ruth Höflich introduced us to her critical publishing practice and gave a guided tour through her father's print workshop, Druckwerkstatt Höflich, in Munich. Anna McCarthy invited us for a conversation about her exhibition Nein and her and Tagar's independent publishing, performance and recording practice. We also visited Steffi Hammann at the Munich Art Academy, where, as a student and in collaboration with Maria von Mier, she set up a publishing house, Hammann von Mier, that operates from within the art school classroom. Finally we visited the copy shop Unikopie, where – as the shop owners told us – the space is not only used for print production (making copies), but also for dissemination (leaving copies back in the shop for random people to pick up). Download zine produced during the workshop
The Piracy Collection as of 25.11.2011, printed in black and white with a blank library card slid into the front cover, contains the full catalog of the books in The Piracy Collection received by November 25, 2011. It represents a specific point in time, as the collection is constantly evolving. Alongside an introduction, the catalog contains cover images and short descriptions of each of the submitted book projects demonstrating many different strategies and approaches to un-authorized copying and piracy.
The Piracy Papers is a series of aperiodically published pamphlets, that contain stories and essays that were previously published online.
Piracy Paper #1: Jackson Hole by Michael Eddy & Grandpa Eddy. Michael Eddy's Jackson Hole is an email exchange between Michael (based in Bejing) and his grandfather (based near Jackson Hole, USA) about the re-creation of the eponymous American town on the outskirts of Beijing, China, and both writers' reflections on these two places that – although connected – are so different from each other.
Piracy Paper #2: The Author of Everything by James Bridle. In this short story, James Bridle explores the possibilities and practices created by the employment of overseas workers in the digitization of English Classics into e-books. What are the systems that guarantee the truthful "transformation" of these texts?
Piracy Paper #3: The Junk Ships on Alibaba by Joanne McNeil. In this short story, Joanne McNeil describes a series of encounters with different types of counterfeit cultures around the world and their interaction with digital technologies.
Borrowing, Poaching, Plagiarising, Pirating, Stealing, Gleaning, Referencing, Leaking, Copying, Imitating, Adapting, Faking, Paraphrasing, Quoting, Reproducing, Using, Counterfeiting, Repeating, Cloning, Translating is an open-ended reader, which will develop over time as people buy shares in its chapters. The book explores the vocabulary that became relevant to the Piracy Project. In an attempt to acknowledge the paradoxical positions that the reductive legal-illegal binary produce, the book explores an alternative vocabulary of relationships to the work of others.
At the time of writing, the book contains essays and contributions by Dave Hickey, Eva Hemmungs-Wirtén, Joanne McNeil, Karen Di Franco, Lionel Bently, Prodromos Tsiavos, Sergio Munoz Sarmiento and awaits prospective essays by James Bridle, Stephen Wright and 16 others. Courtroom drawings are by Stephanie Thandiwe Johnstone.
Excerpt from the introduction to the book: "This book is not finished. It is the start of a dialogue that will grow as we go along. Normally when you publish a book it aims to be a resolved object, an endpoint of a process. Not this one. The thing is that there are two of us, and that has become one of the key determinants of how the project evolves. There are always two voices, and that allows us always to be open to different positions. I guess that's what I call a dialogue." (...)