Poppy Flowers, Collin Zipp, Oil on Canvas, 21" x 26", 2014
September 4th, 2015 to October 16th, 2015
Opening: September 4th, 5-8pm
Artist Talk: October 3rd, 3pm
Recent Acquisitions, an exhibition of new work by Winnipeg based artist Collin Zipp. Zipp continues his investigation into the manipulation of narrative and the status of the art object. The work in Recent Acquisitions explores the fine line between theft and appropriation and questions the role of production in art making.
My practice addresses appropriation, adaptation and authorship, and is rooted in the exploration of narrative structure and storytelling. Found narratives are manipulated and repositioned to reveal new perspectives. I explore the role of the art object and it’s positioning within the gallery space to challenge viewer experience and expectation. The works in Recent Acquisitions exist as multiples, only with slight differences. Individual brush strokes are distinctive as the representation of each flower and stem. Seeing the paintings side-by-side forces the viewer to further investigate their similarities and differences and making it an exercise in the way a work of art is looked at. Does the viewer look at the series as a whole while looking for differences between the paintings, or are works contemplated individually? Does the method of visual consumption affect the value one places on a single work of art? The work in this exhibition forces the viewer to re-evaluate and re-examine an understanding of what an original and multiple is and can be.
Test response by Sigrid Dahle
Playgiarizing With Pictures
…the goal of progressive political and aesthetic movements should not be to make judgements or claims as to a final and authoritative state of belonging or property, however historically disenfranchised those in question are, but to create practices whereby humans and non-humans can live sustainably without needing to claim ownership.
Typical of fine art museums everywhere from Beijing to Cairo, the eleven oil-on-canvas paintings in Recent Acquisitions are hung to emphasize their unique masterpiece quality and invite quiet contemplation. There’s nothing new here–except that the paintings are all the same and the artist, Collin Zipp, didn’t actually paint any of them. Rather, this multiple – a product of chaotic global conditions, believe-it-or-not narratives and deeply conflicted value systems– issued from an unnamed studio in China.
Closer inspection reveals (if you are an art history buff or an on-line news junkie) that each work is, in fact, a singularity; a unique hand-crafted copy of a $50,000,000 Vincent van Gogh variously known as ‘Poppy Flowers,’ ‘Vase and Flowers’ and ‘Vase with Viscaria.’ Though the stated size of the 1877 original also varies depending on the source consulted, ranging from 65 x 54 cm to 30 x 30 cm, Collin’s eleven look-alikes are each 26 x 21 inches. Mimicry, like memory, is a fluid practice in which there’s plenty of room for both conservatively careful and wildly creative interpretations. As Michael Boon points out, in a compelling argument that references Duchamp’s notion of the infra thin, every copy–even a digital file–is never precisely identical to the one that it duplicates (In Praise of Copying, 198-201). Singularity isn’t particularly special or unique – it’s everyday ordinary.
Collin’s exhibition gleefully toys with this slippery state of affairs. Playing the role of curator and using familiar conceptual art strategies, Collin deploys work fabricated by others and purchased on-line to redirect our gaze and nudge us into thinking. He simultaneously points to an unknown painter(s) studio somewhere in China, to innumerable similar (but not identical) hand-painted copies shipped world-wide in incomprehensible numbers and to a missing van Gogh-painted canvas which was twice stolen from the Cairo's Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum; once in June 1977 (returned 10 years later) and then again in August 2010 (it remains at large). Each of the eleven works on exhibit in Winnipeg pays homage to one of the eleven Egyptian ministry officials, including museum staff, who were charged with negligence after the mother-painting’s second disappearance. The deputy minister of culture at the time, Mohsin Shaman, himself an artist, spent a year in jail for his ‘crime.’ In his cell turned studio, he painted “Held for Questioning,” in which he depicts himself in the company of two other prisoners and wearing a multiple, no less –a white t-shirt imprinted with van Gogh’s yellow poppies (Elkamel).
All of these stories, accompanied by digital images, were (and continue to be) reproduced and circulated around the globe faster than the speed of light (which is how they came to my desktop and Collin’s too, as well as painters’ studios in China). And now, by virtue of Collin’s curatorial gesture, Martha Street Studio, a production and distribution centre devoted to copy-making practices of its own, is also drawn into this tangled world wide web; this cornucopia of disparate practices and illustrated stories which have been gathered together under the names, Poppy Flowers, 1877 (or whatever it is called) and “VINCENT” (sometimes van Gogh) and beginning in September 2015, Collin Zipp’s Recent Acquisitions.
In this post-post modern 21st century moment we are pretty comfortable with most kinds of replication – but not all. A room full of human clones would make many of us squeamish and conjure our deepest dystopian fears and fantasies (even though identical twins show us that DNA will never have the last word). Tens of thousands of cans of chemically indistinguishable tomato soup stacked in a COSTCO warehouse seem banal. Ditto for Harry Potter novels or silk ties sewn from exactly the same fabric.
In Eurocentric cultures (but not necessarily everywhere), hand-painted replicas of so-called masterworks fall somewhere in between, eliciting uneasy but difficult to verbalize responses that are readily displaced and sometimes articulated as concerns about the makers’ working conditions or the squelching of creativity, individualism and authorial voice: copying is considered to be synonymous with alienated labour. Yet closer examination suggests that this critique might be misplaced for any number of reasons. Winnie Wong, based on her extensive study of the preeminent Chinese painting village, Dafen, argues convincingly that most copy-paintings are produced in small home-based workshops where precariously employed workers labour under conditions that are, however, much better than those in ceramics, clothing or furniture factories (ch.1). So why is it ‘ok’ to make multiples using mechanical or electronic devices (like the industrial-era presses or contemporary computer printers at Martha Street, for example), which may or may not have been fabricated in off-shore factories, but problematic to directly employ another’s off-or on-shore manual labour to do the same? After all, multiples such as illuminated manuscripts were once routinely produced by hand and pottery continues to be.
Recent Acquisitions compels all of us–artists, makers, users, distributers, curators, theorists, viewers and collectors–to collectively engage in a timely, playful and soul-searching discussion or eleven, regarding the valuation, production, dissemination and consumption of contemporary art. If that sounds like an implausibly inflated responsibility for an exhibition of van Gogh replicants – and leaves you with the urge to burst out in cynical, knowing and/or anxious laughter (which Collin would surely appreciate) –remember Marcel Duchamp. He performed a similar curatorial feat when he attempted (and failed) to exhibit a multiple of his own choosing - an upturned urinal signed ‘R. Mutt’ – at New York’s premiere fine art event the spring of 1917. It’s almost 100 years later and we have yet to stop laughing, teasing, talking, arguing and writing about it – nor have we ceased mimicking Duchamp’s cheeky curatorial gesture.
 Marcus Boon, “Depropriation The Real Pirate’s Dilemma,” on-line pdf,137.
 Infra-thin is a Marcel Duchamp neologism that describes differences so minute they are almost imperceptible.
 Since around 2007, China’s copy oil painting industry has been the subject of dozens of interventionist projects by contemporary artists – Chinese and Western – well-known in the international art scene (Wong, Introduction).
 According to Winnie Wong, between 2004-2010, Dafen alone was home to 8,000 painters who produced three to five million paintings a year, 90% destined for export to Europe and North America (Introduction).
 The words copy, copious and cornucopia all share the same Latin root word, which means abundance or plenty.
 Marcus Boon and Winnie Wong offer numerous examples and thoughtful analyses of cultural contexts in which copying is interpreted as a generous, productive and/or socially enriching practice. Moreover, Wong notes that “if were were to define this species of copy pictures simply as “art produced to the specifications of a client’s order or a patron’s commission, then there are certainly few historical art practices wholly unrelated…” (Introduction).
Collin Zipp is a multidisciplinary artist who works with video, photography, sculpture, painting and installation. Zipp has exhibited his work widely both nationally and internationally in solo and group exhibitions and screenings. Selected exhibiting venues include Saskatoon’s Paved New Media, Winnipeg’s Plug In ICA, The Winnipeg Art Gallery, Modern Fuel in Ontario, Gatineau’s Daimon and AXENEO 7, the Boston Underground Film Festival, Halifax`s eyelevelgallery, Outpost for Contemporary Art and the MOCCA Geffen in Los Angeles, the Kelowna Art Gallery and the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal. Zipp obtained his BFA from the University of Manitoba’s School of Art in 2005 and his MFA from the University of Lethbridge's Faculty of Fine Arts in 2011.