Conference Engages the Perils of Appropriation and Integration

The Oxford English Dictionary defines appropriation as the making of a thing private property. On March 18 in the Andrews Conference Room, room 2203 of the Social Sciences and Humanities Building, the DHI Studies in Performance and Practice Research Cluster will present The Art of Appropriation.  This conference will bring together legal and visual media scholars and practitioners from across the globe to engage issues concerning appropriation and integration of copied images and ideas in public culture and the arts.

Appropriation is an ever-present part of daily life, whether buying or stealing commodities, acquiring knowledge, or claiming and naming places on the map. This conference seeks to engage the issues raised by appropriated objects and spaces concerning the relationship of ownership, property rights and cultural heritage. Talks will deal with the global enforcement of copyright laws, the practice of criticism and parody in the wake of the recent indictment of whistleblowers, and the understanding of what belongs to the public and what constitutes the commons.

The conference is organized by Kriss Ravetto-Biagioli, Associate Professor of Cinema and Technocultural Studies, and John Zibell, a graduate student in Performance Studies. Ravetto-Biagioli, author of The Unmaking of Fascist Aesthetics, is a film and media scholar whose work focuses on representations and theorizations of violence in film, media, and online. Zibell creates media and physical artworks for theatre, cinema, gallery, and the street, and is also a filmmaker, actor, and performance artist. He is currently collaborating with dancers, actors, programmers, theorists and digital artists to develop an immersive 3D experience in conjunction with the UC Davis KeckCAVES.

The Art of Appropriation will feature talks by Martine Beugnet, Professor in Visual Studies at the University of Paris 7 Diderot, Mario Biagioli, Distinguished Professor of STS, Law, and History, and Director of the new Center for Science and Innovation Studies at the University of California at Davis, Tarek Elhaik, Assistant Professor of Media and Culture at San Francisco State University, Tatiana Flessas, Professor of Law and Social Theory at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and Madahvi Sunder, a leading scholar of law and culture. A full description of these talks is detailed below. For more information, contact Kriss Ravetto-Biagioli at

“Critical Remix,” by Martine Beugnet: This talk looks anew at the contemporary trend for sampling and compiling film footage amongst video artists and filmmakers. Whilst, thanks to digitization, cinema’s infinite archive has increasingly proved a valuable and fertile source of inspiration and appropriation to a growing number of artists, some of the resulting video work testifies to a current tendency towards the fetishization of the act of collecting itself. Here, the work of selecting and re-assembling film fragments tends to overlay or substitute itself to film form, effacing the critical and aesthetic significance of film-making proper. Arguably, artistic practices such as video compilation do not so much blur the frontier between artist and curator, than reflect the general trend towards the growing separation of consumption from production.

“Curation & Repetition,” by Tarek Elhaik: This talk engages the task of curation less as an authored or collective history of exhibition, or indeed as the sole domain of contemporary art, than as a conceptual pedagogy immanent to the force field of contemporary inter-medial culture. The proposed form of curation is conceptualized in tandem with Deleuze’s ontology of theft and repetition.

“Ends of the Museum,” by Tatiana Flessas: In recent years, there have been a plethora of cases in which museums have had to release treasured pieces. New legal initiatives and developments increasingly make repatriation claims by source nations and other single or group ‘original owners’ possible, most recently in the area of illicitly-trafficked antiquities. Recent scholarship radically questions the genealogy and functions of the museum, and its relationship with the concepts of space, culture, and identity. Museums are now searching for strategies to protect their collections from the loss of authority and status that attend repatriation claims in this climate of criticism.

“Theories of Fair Use,” by Madhavi Sunder: Law and economics scholars imagine a narrow fair use doctrine that would find exceptions to copyright and trademark infringement only where there is market failure. I will discuss broader theories that have historically grounded this doctrine, and which continue to give explanatory power to current legal analysis.

“Against Pastures: The Commons as Movement from Justinian to Stallman,” by Mario Biagioli: The recent discourse of the intangible knowledge commons mobilizes emphasizes the importance of communal property arrangements or shared access to resources, but typically does so by mobilizing spatial figures, like pastures, that have been central to the discourse of tangible, real property.  Going back to Roman law, I argue that the difference between property, commons, and the public domain was not conceived only as a different kind of space or ‘estate’, but also as the capacity for movement. Far from images of organic communities operating according to moral economies, the genealogy I try to retrace points to a recognition of the importance of passing through, moving away, and the movement of strangers.