How to turn a copy onto original
Drawings of the modernist artist Tarsila do Amaral are copied by Gustavo von Ha and acquired by the MAC-USP.
A drawing by Von Ha, which reverses the original Leonilson
Without being professional forger, Gustavo von Ha sells copied designs Leonilson and Tarsila do Amaral and discusses copyright system.
by Paula Alzugaray
To copy the 23 Tarsila do Amaral drawings (1888-1973) and 16 Leonilson (1957-2003) that are currently exhibited at Galeria Leme, Sao Paulo, the São Paulo artist Gustavo von Ha spent months studying the gestures, techniques and the features of each artist. "Doing this work, I felt like an actor. To reach the intensity undertaken by pencil of each drawing, I had to forge a simulation even in my body posture," says Von Ha to Istoé. The exhibition called "TL" - the initials of Tarsila and Leonilson, who sometimes signed only with letters - is the result of an artist research on image reproduction systems and art today.
But the drawings resulting from this research are much more than copies. In fact, they would be only copies, but not for one small detail: the artist has applied them a mirror effect and so the reproductions appear upside down from the original. From that simple gesture of inversion, Von Ha ensures his own authorship on the images and scale a system of beliefs about the copy status and authorship - and, for good measure, truth and lies, fiction and reality. Thus, tune in to a discussion that dates back almost 100 years - started with Walter Benjamin and Roland Barthes in the mid 20th century - and now exploded with digital media.
"The world of law is very restricted. Authors such as Roland Barthes tell us that the same work, unique as it is, is never the result of a single authorship. An artwork always brings other references. The copyright laws, established at the apex of the Enlightenment, think the authors as single thinkers, who have the right to protect their property making laws less dynamic," said Luciana Rangel, copyright specialist lawyer, invited to discuss with Von Ha on Saturday 26, the changes the concept of originality has suffered in digital playback times.
Von Ha began this work in 2009, from images of Tarsila do Amaral drawings searched on Google. Then he expanded his researching to raisonées books and catalogs.
Why Tarsila and Leonilson? "Because the two are celebrated artists - and so very wanted - and also because they made drawings to be reproduced in series," explains the artist. The Tarsila drawings Gustavo chose were produced in her time to be published in books such as "Pau Brazil" (1924), by Oswald de Andrade, and the Leonilson’s to illustrate the column of Barbara Gancia in the newspaper "Folha de S. Paulo" between 1991 and 1993. "In this way, both artists have dealt with the multiplication of their work, long before they were copied," he says.
Even though controversial, the "original copies" of Von Ha were endorsed by the families of two artists, responsible for their spoils, but all sales must be reported. Paradoxically, all drawings copied by the artist must be cataloged by the Project Lenilson or Tarsila do Amaral Family. The project also won the endorsement of the MAC USP [Museum of Contemporary Art of USP], which acquired the design "The Black woman from Google" (2011) - purchased by the Iguatemi Group and donated to the museum - to join the original Tarsila do Amaral drawing "The Black woman" [A Negra] by 1923 belonging to the MAC. "Tarsila Project (Portrait), Raisonné" (2011) and "Self-Portrait I and II" (2010) were donated by Leme Gallery and the artist to the museum. "The acquisition of MAC is an event that will only add meanings to the process, since the museum is a place that supposedly retains the original," says Von Ha.
The presence of these works in the MAC USP, in fact, closes a cycle of transformation of copies onto originals. "The museum understood that Von Ha’s work blows those authoring notions to which we are used to, it creates, at the same time, opportunities to critically reflect about the education of the artist within the tradition of art. I recall here the exciting work of Felipe Cama which also discusses this matter. Iguatemi also donated to the MAC - by request of the Museum itself - a Cama’s work to the collection," said Tadeu Chiarelli, director of the MAC.
Collaborated Nina Gazire