The Power of Copying

Exhibition  /  14 May 2010  -  14 Jul 2010
Published: 04.06.2010
Xuzhou Museum of Art
Li Yafei

© By the author. Read Copyright.

(...) Intellectual property cannot be sold, transferred or stolen. Stolen intellectual property continues to belong to the person from whom it was robbed. (...)
Otto Künzli
Copy and Paste

Minuzien (latin) are little things. Minuzien indicate the papillary grooves and bifurcations of the human fingerprint. These characteristic points within the skin grooves are unique for each person and finger. In connection with cave paintings of the Palaeolithic period about 30 000-year-old handprints and fingerprints were found in Africa, Europe, Australia and Asia. Most of them resulted accidently whilst painting the murals and the free hand was supported against the stone walls of the cave. Hands were also immersed in paint and with widely spread fingers intentionally used as a “stamp”. Artists of the Stone Age complemented complex hunting scenes with these original size "hand images" in order to indicate their own individual presence. This is a concrete process which demonstrates uniqueness and authenticity and precedes the characteristics of a seal and personal signature. The Contrary to Copyright is Copywrong. The word ‘glyptic’ derives from the Ancient Greek term glyphein, which means “cave“, “carve out“, or “dig into the stone“. The term glyptic is associated with the art of gem-cutting especially that of a seal.1 The earliest examples date back to the 3rd millennium BC and come from the Harappan culture in Northern India and from Jemdet Nasr in Mesopotamia. The use of seals was introduced to Ancient Greece via the Sumerian, Assyrian, Babylonian, and Ancient Egyptian cultures. The Romans were responsible for spreading the usage of seals to the West and North. By the early Middle Ages (565 to 962 A.D.) seals were widely accepted by the rulers of Europe. Humpty Dumpty: when I apply a word, it has exactly the meaning I give it. Seals 2 were first documented in China in 1324 BC and were then in general use since the Zhou Dynasty (1122 - 256 BC). Wikipedia: “During that period seals did not serve the purpose of a signature or proof of identity. They served more as a proof of authority, a sign of rank, governance or were simply worn as a status symbol, often suspended from a belt. When a nobleman requested to have an audience with the Emperor, he would usually show his jade seal as a proof of identity." The crucial question remains, however, has something artistic emerged from the citation? Seals have existed in China and Europe over a very long period of time, and have been in use to legitimize the identity or social status of a person, guarantee the genuineness and origin of a document (in the case of a seal also remaining intact) and legal certification. Seals on objects certify their provenance or identify the workshop, or authenticate the work of an author or artist, like a signature. Intellectual property cannot be sold, transferred or stolen. Stolen intellectual property continues to belong to the person from whom it was robbed. Both the cylindrical and block-like seal, held in ones hand, can be found in China, even today. In contrast to this in the Western world an independent form of jewellery 3 has evolved which combines the seal with a finger ring. Like this the seal could be permanently carried around and securely kept on the finger. The seal ring became a symbol of power; heavy and fancy rings were reserved for princes, kings, bishops, the Pope and his messengers. With time seal rings became accessible to higher officials, merchants and craftsmen, and ultimately to everyone. The varying shapes of seal rings through the centuries have influenced and also broadened both the history and designs of finger rings. Today seal-like rings have been transformed into fashion accessories, are found as Hip-Hop requisites (Bling-Bling), designer jewellery for everyday, and occasionally also in individual artist jewellery. Instead of being a tool for creating unique signatures, they have now developed into a “tool” to represent the wearer’s individual style and “proof” of his or her special features and uniqueness. Hegemann: Of myself there is nothing. I myself am already not from me. The original of a seal is its original version. The original version of a seal is the draft of its character, which is copied and recorded in reverse on the material, in which the seal is then cut. Seen from this perspective the seal cut in jade is thus already a copy and respectively an imprint of the seal on paper, wood or other materials, consequently this is just a copy of a copy. Even though the document or object, which carries the seal, may be a plagiarism or copy, the impression of the seal gives validity to the authenticity of the object. However, not if the seal has been imitated, plagiarised or faked. The same applies to the rubber stamp, but only if it is unmistakable, if not it would no longer be appropriate as a signature. Texts of fiction pretend to reflect reality: Mockumentary on Facebook. The manipulation of reality leads to its loss. The Internet is here for copying. The inclusion and usage of the engraved jade block on the red sealing wax , the transfer of a character or signature onto a carrier and transposed into a new situation - I describe rather casually as Copy and Paste. At a first glance the process appears related to the processes and practices of artistic creativity. The perception and reception (consciously or unconsciously) of “information” (for example actual experience), its conservation (storage), processing, transformation, and conversion into a new form, or placement into a new context, are the same as found in the creation of art. How it was made and what happens during the process of making is not written in any book. However without that, which needs to happen and be there between Copy and Paste, is zero Power in Copying ! Clones mean the end of evolution. My Asian students, colleagues and friends firmly believe a seal cannot be faked whereas it is as simple or even child’s play to copy a handwritten signature. My Western students, colleagues and friends however believe just the opposite. Maybe we are all wrong. Recently I became the victim of a credit card scam. Long live the electronic signature in a virtual world! For certain it can be hacked! Postpostauthenticity, the disappearance of the sense of authenticity in our culture, is necessary for some, but a tragedy for others. In Europe the seal has almost vanished. That is why we now make lots of seal rings which can no longer be used as a seal. They are small art objects, unmistakable and original miniatures, one-off pieces, originals. We are not arrangers of borrowed authenticity. Hidden behind remixes or compilations lie cover-ups, plagiaries, bricolages, samplings, mashups, these are not our thing. Stealing is neither a Minuzie, nor small matter. Also not in a mini-format.  And the traces can still be found, the fingerprints of the thieves and plagiarists… We adorn ourselves with our own plumes. And whoever succeeds in this, has the right to put their name on their work, their signature, or if they so wish, also their seal.

1 Seals were cut, other than in stone, also in wood, bamboo, ivory, bronze, iron, silver and gold.

2 The Classical Western seals generally leave a three-dimensional impression, a relief in wax, clay or sealing wax. The traditional Chinese xi, yin, zhuwen and baiwen “stamps” create together with the red sealing wax a two-dimensional graphic image.

3 Jewellery in the Far East: India brought a dazzling variety of designs in jewellery. In Ancient Japan bangles, brooches, necklaces and also finger rings were unknown. From the Silla period in Korea there are fantastic gold crowns and finely granulated earrings. A special type of jewellery in China has evolved, these are the pieces made of brightly shimmering turquoise-coloured kingfisher feathers in the Qing Period. The earliest known Chinese rings go back 3500 years. These are the antecedents of the wide, cylindrical jade rings which were worn by the archer on their thumb to pull the bow string. Many of them are engraved with calligraphy, but never in reverse, as they were not intended to be used as seals.


Opening Hours: 09:00 – 17:00
Closed on Monday (exclusive of legal public holidays) and Chinese Lunar New Year's Eve
Admission Fee: Free
View of the Xuzhou Museum of Art.
View of the Xuzhou Museum of Art

© By the author. Read Copyright.
View of the entrance..
View of the entrance.

© By the author. Read Copyright.
Image from the exhibition..
Image from the exhibition.

© By the author. Read Copyright.
Image from the exhibition..
Image from the exhibition.

© By the author. Read Copyright.
Some of the participants..
Some of the participants.

© By the author. Read Copyright.