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Archive: September, 2011

Five fun Chagall facts

September 29th, 2011

From the drab surroundings of the Jewish quarter (or “shtetl”) in the city of Vitebsk in Belarus, Chagall created a highly personal style of modern art. Yet his themes of love, loss, joy, memory and family are universal. Chagall combined real and dream worlds into richly coloured fantasies where people fly and animals cavort.

We’ll be sharing a wealth of fascinating information about Chagall and his contemporaries over the coming weeks but just to get you started here are five facts about Chagall you can use to impress your friends and family.

  1. Chagall was born in 1887 and died in 1985 at the impressive age of 97. That means during his lifetime the Wright Brothers made their first flight in an airplane, the first man landed on the moon and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was released at the cinema!

  2. Chagall, born Moishe Shagal, grew up in Vitebsk in Belarus and was the oldest of nine children.

  3. “The sun of art shone only in Paris,” Chagall once said. He moved there in 1911, settling in La Ruche (French for “the beehive”), a complex of more than 100 studios. There he lived alongside many immigrant Russian artists including Archipenko, Zadkine and Lipchitz.

  4. Chagall was fascinated by the circus and theatre. In the early 1920s he designed costumes, sets and murals for Moscow’s Jewish Chamber Theater. In subsequent decades he returned repeatedly to the theme of the circus for inspiration.

  5. Chagall’s famous Double Portrait With Wine Glass, a depiction of Chagall with his wife Bella, is the first time in the history of art that an artist chose to depict the groom balancing on the shoulders of his bride. This unique pose may refer to the Jewish wedding rite when the couple is carried and thrown into the air by their guests.

    Chagall and the Russian Avant- Garde opens at the AGO on October 18.  

Spotlight on: Gauri Gill

September 22nd, 2011

In this series of blog posts we’ll be looking at each of the artists shortlisted for The Grange Prize 2011: Gauri Gill, Nandini Valli, Althea Thauberger and Elaine Stocki. The Prize is Canada’s only major art prize where the winner is chosen by the public. Vote now. Each year four fine art photographers, two from Canada and two from a partner country, are nominated by an international jury of experts. This year, the partner country is India. The Grange Prize is a partnership between the AGO and Aeroplan.

“Voices from the margins should continually enter the mainstream” Gauri Gill, artist statement (video), The Grange Prize 2011

Gauri Gill has recently emerged as one of India’s most significant young photographers. Born in Chandigarh in 1970, she currently lives and works in New Delhi. She has studied in India and America, receiving BFAs at the Delhi College of Art and at the Parsons School of Design as well as an MFA at Stanford University. Gill’s practice is complex because it contains several seemingly discrete lines of pursuit. These include her more than a decade long study of marginalized communities in Rajasthan, of women from different generations and their often tentative encounter with modernity.

Gauri Gill (Indian), Alok and Sumati Patel – Parekh Silicon Valley, California, 2001, from the series The Americans, 2002–2007, archival pigment print, 69 x 102 cm. Courtesy of the artist. © 2011 Gauri Gill.

Gauri Gill (Indian), Alok and Sumati Patel – Parekh Silicon Valley, California, 2001, from the series The Americans, 2002–2007, archival pigment print, 69 x 102 cm.

She has also investigated and recorded issues around migrancy, and the decrepitude and change generated by an expanding city. Working in both black and white as well as colour, she seeks out the narratives of ordinary heroism within challenging environments. Gill’s work also addresses the twinned Indian identity markers of class and community as determinants of mobility and social behaviour. In these works there is irony, a rugged documentary spirit and a human concern over issues of survival.

Gauri Gill: At A Glance

  • Gill was born in Chandigarh in 1970. The city, situated in Northern India, is the capital of the states of Punjab and Haryana and is India’s first planned city.
  • She currently lives in New Delhi, where she a co-editor at Camerawork Delhi, a free newsletter about independent photography.
  • Her work has been shown widely both in India and internationally.
  • She has run photo-workshops with rural girls in Lunkaransar, Tibetan students from Tibetan Children’s Village, Dharamsala and Afghan photographers in Kabul.
  • Themes present in her work include marginalized communities, Indian identity, migrancy, cities, challenging environments. She shoots in both black and white and in colour.
  • You can find out more about the artist at


Since she first started exhibiting in 2007 her work has been exhibited widely in India and across the world. Solo exhibitions include: What Remains, Green Cardamom Gallery, London (2011); Notes from the Desert, Nature Morte Gallery, New Delhi; Matthieu Foss Gallery, Mumbai; Focus Gallery, Chennai, and Urmul Setu, Lunkaransar (2010–2011) and The Americans, Nature Morte Gallery, New Delhi; Thomas Welton Art Gallery, Stanford University; Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago; Bose Pacia Gallery, Kolkata and New York, and Mississauga Central Library, Mississauga (2008–2011).



Guari Gill (Indian), Kundan Singh. Yuba City 2001, from the series The Americans, 2001, archival pigment print, 30 x 40 inches. Courtesy of the artist. © 2011 Gauri Gill.

Guari Gill (Indian), Kundan Singh. Yuba City 2001, from the series The Americans, 2001, archival pigment print, 30 x 40 inches.

To see more works from Gauri Gill and to vote for her please visit
Join The Grange Prize on Facebook

Cory Doctorow: Can creativity and freedom peacefully co-exist in the Internet age? (Audio)

September 21st, 2011

Cory Doctorow

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Recorded: Wednesday, September 14, 7 pm in the Weston Family Learning Centre
Duration: 01:12:49

Companies claiming to represent the “creative industries” have turned into unlikely advocates of censorship, surveillance and control. Entertainment industry associations have asked world leaders to remake the Internet as a nightmarish panopticon, in the name of defending the arts and copyright.

But for all the censorship, easy takedown, digital locks, and warrantless surveillance and seizure, copyright infringement goes on, and artists find themselves increasingly serving as the justification for totalitarian policies that could have been ripped from the Chinese politburo’s playbook. Can we design a copy-native, Internet-friendly copyright system? If so, what would it look like? Which artists would it serve? Which artists should it serve?

Cory Doctorow  is a science fiction author, activist, journalist and blogger — the co-editor of Boing Boing and the author of Tor Teens/HarperCollins UK novels like FOR THE WIN and the bestselling LITTLE BROTHER. He is the former European director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and co-founded the UK Open Rights Group. Born in Toronto, Canada, he now lives in London.

Nice To Tweet You: An interview with Gary Taxali

September 21st, 2011

‘Nice To Tweet You’ is a regular series that connects our Twitter followers with artists, curators, speakers and experts. Tweet your questions to @agoToronto using the #NTTY hashtag and the best will be put forward to whoever’s in the hot seat. Answering your questions this week is iconic Toronto artist Gary Taxali, who joins us at the AGO on September 21 from 6pm to sign copies of his new books, Mono Taxali and I Love You, OK.

© I Love You, OK? by Gary Taxali, published by teNeues, Photo © 2011 Gary Taxali. All rights reserved.,,

Gary Taxali will be joining us later on this evening at ShopAGO to meet with fans and sign copies of his two new publications, Mono Taxali and I Love You, OK? Taxali is an award winning artist, illustrator and toy designer who has exhibited in North America and Europe and appeared in countless publications.

Random Taxali fact: He was nominated for a Grammy in 2009 for his work on Aimee Mann’s album, @#%&*! Smilers,

All last week you’ve been busy tweeting us your questions for Gary. We picked a couple (and snuck in one of our own) to put to him. Read on to find out what he had to say…

@AlanaArmstrong Gary, what are you doing when you’re procrastinating?

I don’t know what procrastinating means!  I only say that because I always have so many projects, shows, etc that I am working on so procrastination is a luxury I cannot afford.  I also think that the more one works on something, the more ideas are bound to surface.  Therefore, my issue is more a shortage of time and what ideas shall I pick from a bottomless well that are worthy of exploring.  I imagine that all working artists go through this.

@MiriamFitting Is there a show in the future?

I have a solo show slated for next spring. It opens on April 26th at The Outsiders Gallery in London, UK.  (It’s also known as Lazarides Greek St)

@AGOToronto You have been called both a fine artist and an illustrator. Do you have a preference for how you are described, or do you find labels like these to be prescriptive?   

I don’t like to get hung up on labels but in terms of being an accurate descriptor for my vocation, most of time is spent working on gallery shows so “fine artist” would be an accurate term.  That said, I am in love with illustration and if the project is something that I would enjoy doing, I’ll certainly take it.

Many times, there are crossover projects like the time I did a Converse ad and they essentially asked me to do whatever I wanted and would print it no matter what.  Since my name and short bio was on the ad, it was more of a fine art application under the guise of illustration.  A very ideal situation, really!

To find out more about the interview please contact Holly Knowlman via email, Twitter or call 416 979 6660 (ext 426)

Chagall and the Russian Avant-Garde Opens October 18 at the AGO

September 21st, 2011

Masterworks from the Centre Pompidou make their only North American appearance in Toronto

(TORONTO – Sept. 21, 2011) The Art Gallery of Ontario brings the magic and wonder of modern painter Marc Chagall to Toronto next month with a major exhibition organized by the world-renowned contemporary art museum, Centre Pompidou. Chagall and the Russian Avant-Garde: Masterpieces from the Collection of the Centre Pompidou, Paris is on view from Oct. 18, 2011 to Jan. 15, 2012, and includes 32 vivid and imaginative works by Marc Chagall and eight pieces by Wassily Kandinsky, alongside pieces from other visionaries of Russian modernism such as Kasimir Malevich, Natalia Goncharova, Sonia Delaunay, and Vladimir Tatlin. A total of 118 works belonging to the collection of the Centre Pompidou comprises a broad array of media including painting, sculpture, works on paper, photography and film.

Early-bird tickets for the exhibition are on sale now and include a 20 per cent discount if purchased online before Oct. 18. Regularly priced tickets range from $16.50 for youth and student visitors to $25 for adult admission. Admission is free for children ages 5 and under. Tickets can be booked online.

AGO members enjoy FREE admission to Chagall and the Russian Avant-Garde, and are invited to attend a special members’ preview of the exhibition on Sunday, Oct. 16, 10 am – 8:30 pm, and on Monday, Oct. 17, 10 am – 5:30 pm. Members of the Curators’ Circle can enjoy an exclusive talk and preview on Monday, Oct. 17 at 6:30 pm.

Read the whole press release

Liveblogging from the AGO: Cory Doctorow

September 14th, 2011

Tonight at the AGO Cory Doctorow joins us in the Weston Family Learning Centre to talk about freedom, creativity and copyright in the age of the Internet. I’ll be liveblogging the event, which starts at 7pm, so if you couldn’t make it out you can still see what he has to say. – Holly Knowlman, Internet & Social Media Content Coordinator

6:41pm This is the first talk we’ve held in our brand new Weston Family Learning Centre. Great to see the space filling up, think we’re headed for a full house.

6:59pm Cory is in the room.

7:00pm Opening remarks from Kelly McKinley, Director of Education. ‘It’s a double thrill bill for me tonight – the first public lecture in the new Weston Family Learning Centre.. and to have Cory Doctorow here tonight. We’re delighted he’s taken time out of his holiday to join us.

7.03pm Entertainment Weekly called (Cory Doctorow) the William Gibson of our generation. Cory will talk for about an hour followed by a Q&A session.

7:04 pm: Cory Doctorow takes the stage.

“There’s a boring, polarizing debate around copyright. Copyright is good vs copyright is bad. I think this is an incredibly unfruitful way of approaching the subject… we should be asking which rules give us the outcome that we’re hoping for.”


“Everything we do in the digital age involves copies. Millions of copies. Copy is something that happens in the digital age every time you click a mouse… so the stakes have never been higher becasue it affects everything we do all day long.”

“So what should copyright do? It should serve as an incentive to creativity. A good copyright system is one which serves creatives.”

7.08pm – Cory is talking about the history of copyright law in relation to the Internet.

“The American govt passed a law which stated that breaking a digital lock was unlawful, no matter the reason. If you’re a user of creative work things like backing up and copying were no longer allowed if you had to break a digital lock to do so.”

“Under this new system of copyright, the people who created the locks had more rights than the people who created the work in the first place.”

7:10pm Cory is talking about iTunes as an example.

“For example, if you create an audiobook and you go to iTunes, they’ll tell you that you need to put a digital lock on the book. This means you can’t grant your users permission to follow you to a new system if you want to work with a competitor.”


“This becomes copyright the friend of a platform owner, not the friend of the creator.”

7.15pm Cory is talking about how Apple uses this law to its advantage to prevent creatives and users from leaving its platform. The more popular Apple gets, the more difficult it becomes for competitors to offer an alternative.

“The alternative is a law that states it’s illegal to break a digital lock to break the law… but otherwise is fine.”

7:17pm Cory is now talking about C32, the Canadian Copyright law.

“It’s been 15 years since they got this so wrong. You would’ve thought other governments would be lining up to get this right. But no. More than a decade later it’s inexcusably stupid to repeat these mistakes, but it’s happening.”

7:20 Cory asks:  Why doesn’t DRM work?

“DRM doesn’t work because if you want to make a system that stops a user from copying a file, you need to create a device that can ‘hide’ a function from its user. You have to ensure that everyone, from the dumbest person in the world to the smartest, can’t break it.”

“Doctorow’s first law: When someone puts a lock on something that belongs to you, it’s not there for your benefit.”

“Doctorow’s second law: Fame doesn’t guarantee fortune, but noone ever got rich from being unknown.”

7:23pm Cory is talking about Tim O’Reilly, who coined the term ‘web.20’ and said ‘for most artists the problem isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity.’

“It’s not true that if you’re famous you’ll necessarily be rich. Fame is nice but you can’t eat it. You can’t exchange it for a ride on the subway to the AGO. But everyone who is successful creatively has fame. If the people who love your stuff don’t know that it exists, then they won’t pay you for it.’

7.26 “It’s never been easier to put your work in the hands of someone who wants your work. Videogames for example – we can deliver content to browsers, tablets, phones through DIY shopping carts or large carriers.”

“Things like blogging and Twitter, and low cost copying, make it easier to get your work to audiences that care about it. It’s easier to enter distribution channels than ever before – this means there are more creators than ever and more people than ever who want to view your work.”

7.28pm “Governments are trying to get intermediaries, like YouTube, to be more responsible for the content. They think that sites used by pirates should be held responsible for piracy.”

“We need intermediaries to bear the cost of production and distribution – there is no such thing as a substantial creative endeavour which doesn’t involve exchanging large volumes of files between people.”


“Doctorows Third Law: Information doesn’t want to be free, people do.”

“We want to be free to use networks that don’t spy on us in case we’re infringing copyright. We want to be free to communicate privately without worrying that our communications are going to be made public.”

Cory is now talking about the 3DS: “It has one enormous flaw in the way it tries to stop you pirating games. Every time you’re near a network it connects to it and checks for a new operating system update, even if you don’t want it to. If you’ve jailbroken your device it will detect this and render it inoperable.”


“I’m a science fiction novelist… and there’s one thing I really dislike about sci-fi movies. It’s the self-destructing rocket ship. Whenever I see that I think, that would be a better ship if it wasn’t designed to explode. I think devices would be better if they weren’t built from the ground up to let spyware/governments see what we’re doing.”


“‘The UN calls Internet access a human right. My wife looked at what happened when people in the poorest, most vulnerable parts of UK society had Internet access. They had better nutrition, more pocket money because they could pay bills online, their kids had better grades, more class mobility. The Internet improved their lives. And we’re talking about taking this away from people who have infringed on copyright, the people that live with people who have been accused of infringing on copyright etc.”


“I predict that everything you do in the physical world involves some online component. Tomorrow it will REQUIRE an online component. I believe we can make copyright law that will pay artists and look at the reality of the technology around us without the absurdities that currently exist.”

“I want to be free more than I want to be a writer. I want my daughter, my country, our future to be free. If the only way to create copyright is with devices that spy on us, I’m going to go and get a real job.”

7:46pm Q&A from the audience
Q: How can we capture the public’s imagination around these issues?
A: “Science fiction gives us a narrative to make real some of the very abstract concerns about technology affects our lives. Imagine if you want to explain surveillance… Orwell’s 1984 has given us Orwellian, the way we feel when a camera looks at us.”

Q: What can we do to stop Bill C32 in Canada?
A: “There’s a legal clinic at the university of Ottowa which is coordinating a grass roots response to the bill. There’s room inside the Tory party to square opposition to this bill ideologically….”

Q: Alot of the rhetoric around copyright is that it protects creators. What words can be used to make sure that groups that are supposed to protect creators aren’t perpetuating these ideas.
A: “Every debate is a balance between fact and emotion. There’s a lack of evidence that DRM makes money for creatives. It’s harder to capture the emotional argument.”

Q: What prevents us from stealing physical items?
A: “I think it’s a social contract. People are mostly good. But I don’t think copying falls into this contract – people copy music that they love.”

Q: We all agree that in the future copying will become easier. But here and now we’re dealing with changing laws – what’s a best case scenario for the future of copyright law?
Kevin Kelly from Wired aruged that there’s a certain amount of inevitability with technology. I think this can be stopped with weird and crazy rules. I worry that if we don’t do something, things could get very bad indeed. But I hope that if we do do something, things could be better. I think that defines activism.

That’s the end of Cory Doctorow’s talk, we hope you’ve enjoyed tuning in at home. Please leave your comments, questions and suggestions underneath – we’d love to hear what you think!

AGO Launches Artist-in-Residence Program with Winnipeg-born Artist Paul Butler

September 14th, 2011

Butler to host an all-night painting competition for Nuit Blanche and exhibit new work in the AGO’s Toronto Now series.

(TORONTO – Sept. 14, 2011) The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) launches a new artist-in-residence program this month, including a dedicated studio in the newly built Weston Family Learning Centre. The program, the first of its kind at a major Canadian art museum, will host up to six artists each year for eight-week terms. Paul Butler is the AGO’s first artist-in-residence, and kicks off the program with an all-night event at the Learning Centre during Nuit Blanche on Oct. 1.

Butler is also the latest artist to be featured in the AGO’s Toronto Now series
with his installation The Greg Curnoe Bicycle Project, which pays homage to influential Canadian artist Greg Curnoe. Opening Sept. 17 and guest curated by Tatiana Mellema, the installation features photographic and video elements documenting Butler’s rides around London, Ont. with the late artist’s friends and family and members of the arts and cycling communities in London. The installation also includes a custom-built replica of Curnoe’s bicycle, which Butler built with Mike Barry, a friend of Curnoe’s and the owner of Mariposa Cycle in Toronto.

“Paul Butler is an artist whose keen interest in community and institution building makes him well suited to be the first artist-in-residence at the AGO,” says Matthew Teitelbaum, the AGO’s Michael and Sonja Koerner Director, and CEO. “The Artist-in-Residence Program is designed to spark connections between our visitors and the artist community, and the events and programs Paul has planned are an ideal fulfillment of the program’s terrific potential.”

Read the whole press release

Inspired by AbEx:NY? Here’s some more ways to learn about Abstract Expressionism…

September 13th, 2011

 Abstract Expressionist: New York took place at the AGO from May 28 – September 04 2011 and featured the works of Jackson, Pollock, Kline and more. The collection has now returned to its home at the MoMa in New York, but for those of you who are still craving a taste of Abstract Expressionism fix this blog post provides some suggestions.

Distraught that the AGO’s fantastic  AbEx:NY show has closed its doors? Why not explore these extra ways of learning more about the awesome Abstract Expressionists

1. At the theatre

Red, directed by Kim Collier, is a play about Abstract Expression artist Mark Rothko. Showing from November 19 to December 17 at the Bluma Appel Theatre, it’s the chance to see a Tony Award-winning interpretation of Rothko in the late 1950s.

“In his Bowery studio in New York City, Mark Rothko is working on a group of murals for an expensive restaurant. His assistant, Ken, bluntly questions the artist’s theories on painting and his giving in to such a commercial project instead of putting all of his focus on creating a masterpiece.     

2.  Online

Learn more about colour field painting, and which Abstract Expressionist Artists used this technique in their work. Click here

Create an image in the style of Jackson Pollock using this fun web tool. Click here

Read an interesting list of recommended books about Abstract Expressionism. Click here

3.  In the Gallery

Paintings on Paper: The Drawings of Robert Motherwell – At the AGO until December 11

Abstract Expressionist artist Robert Motherwell called paper the most “sympathetic of all painting surfaces,” remarking that “it’s a struggle to get a canvas to have the beautiful surface that paper, by nature, already has.” Motherwell drew incessantly, often “painting” on paper to explore new ideas and work through pictorial issues. His drawings reinforce his belief that ideas, emotions and the subconscious can be communicated through the gestural lines and bold forms of abstract art.

Painting on Paper: The Drawings of Robert Motherwell unveils for the first time one of the largest public collections of Motherwell drawings. The works on display were selected primarily from the 74 drawings and paintings acquired by the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1998 through a generous gift/purchase arrangement with the Dedalus Foundation, New York. The foundation was set up by Motherwell to place his works in museums and to support exhibitions, research and scholarly programs.

The exhibition covers the trajectory of Motherwell’s work over four decades and is organized around key themes to demonstrate how motifs took root in his imagination and, over time, were revisited, refined and reinterpreted.

4.  In your ears

Download this fascinating talk given by Robert Motherwell at OCAD in 1970.  This lecture is Robert Motherwell personified: charismatic, erudite and open – as he reveals insight after insight in regards to Abstract Expressionism, his artistic practice and his artworks.

This collection of interviews focuses on Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century and the role she played as patron to the New York Abstract Expressionists.

If you’re a fan of Abstract Expressionism maybe you can suggest some other great ways of learning more about the art and artists. Please feel free to leave a comment below with your suggestions.


Nice To Tweet You, Gary Taxali

September 8th, 2011

‘Nice To Tweet You’ is a regular series that connects our Twitter followers with artists, curators, speakers and experts. Tweet your questions to @agoToronto using the #NTTY hashtag and the best will be put forward to whoever’s in the hot seat. Taking questions this week is iconic Toronto artist Gary Taxali, who joins us at the AGO on September 21 from 6pm to sign copies of his new books, Mono Taxali and I Love You, OK.

© I Love You, OK? by Gary Taxali, published by teNeues, Photo © 2011 Gary Taxali. All rights reserved.,,
“Gary Taxali visually blends now with then. His style, inspired by vintage comics and advertising art, is repurposed with the goal of communicating the ironies and comical essence of popular culture. His work is at once alluring and endearing. Despite the vintage look, he is neither maudlin nor nostalgic. His imagery is rich in satiric verve.”
– Steven Heller

What would you like to ask Gary Taxali? Maybe you have a question about his striking images, which explore the space between illustration and fine art and have been shown in galleries and museums throughout North America and Europe. Or perhaps you’d like to find out about his vinyl toy company, Chump Toys. You might have some burning questions about his friendship with Lady Gaga, his recent collaboration with Polaroid or his two new books, Mono Taxali and I Love You, Ok?

You might also like to ask him about badminton. (We hear he really likes badminton.)

Those wishing to take part can tweet @AGOToronto with their questions using the hashtag #NTTY (nice to tweet you) from now until Wednesday, September 14 at 9pm. The top questions will then be selected and put to Taxali. Excerpts from the full interview will be shared via @AGOToronto and a complete version will be published on the AGO Art Matters Blog.


Gary Taxali is an award-winning illustrator whose work has appeared in many major magazines. He has exhibited in many galleries and museums throughout North America and Europe including The Jonathan LeVine Gallery. In 2005, he launched his first vinyl toy, The Toy Monkey, which included a special edition along with a silkscreen print commissioned by The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. This led Gary to create his own toy company, Chump Toys, which recently saw the release of his OH NO and OH OH vinyl figures. Aside from his gallery shows and illustration work, Gary also devotes a portion of his time teaching and lecturing at various arts organizations and schools such as OCAD University (Toronto, Canada), The Art Director’s Club of Houston (Houston, USA), Dankmarks Designskole (Copenhagen, Denmark) and Istituto Europeo Di Design (Rome, Italy) . He is a Founding Member of IPA (The Illustrators’ Partnership of America) and sits on the Advisory Board of 3×3: The Magazine of Contemporary Illustration. Gary has also juried many student and professional competitions including The Society of Illustrators, The National Magazine Awards, The Dallas Society of Visual Communications and 3×3: The Magazine of Contemporary Illustration. Gary created the cover art and inside illustrations for Aimee Mann’s latest album @#%&*! Smilers, which won a 2009 Grammy Award Nomination for Best Package Design.He just released his first children’s book entitled This Is Silly, published by Scholastic Press. He lives and works in Toronto, Canada.

To find out more about the interview please contact Holly Knowlman via email, Twitter or call 416 979 6660 (ext 426)


Nice To Tweet You: An interview with Cory Doctorow

September 7th, 2011

Nice To Tweet You

The AGO’s ‘Nice To Tweet You’ series connects our Twitter followers with artists, curators, speakers and experts. We tell you who’s in the hot seat and then you are able to submit your questions to us via Twitter @agoToronto using the #NTTY hashtag.

Our interviewee this week is Boing Boing co-founder Cory Doctorow. As well as founding one of the web’s most insightful and entertaining sites, Cory is also a science fiction author, activist, journalist and blogger. Thank you so much to everyone that submitted questions – here is what Cory had to say:

Is CC sufficient to fix the problems with copyright? Should solutions build upon copyright or is an overhaul necessary?
I think you’ve got an OR gate where you want an AND gate. CC isn’t sufficient to solve copyright’s problems — look at all the fans under threat of lawsuit, and all the musicians and other artists who conspicuously fail to benefit from those lawsuits. But CC is an important instrumental and strategic tool — it helps creators “live as though it were the first days of a better nation”; and it establishes facts in evidence that there is no universal consensus that “all rights reserved” is what every artist wants or needs.

You seem optimistic about the the future freedom and creativity? Is that because of the technology, or humanity itself?
 I’m a pessimist because I think things could get very bad if we don’t do something. I’m an optimist because I believe that technology makes it easier than ever for people to work together to get stuff done.

How can copyright serve as an incentive to creativity?
I think that there’s a long continuum of motives and prerequisites for creativity. Some people have a creation within them that can only see the light of day in the absence of broad, automatic copyright (you could never produce the Beastie Boys’ PAUL’S BOUTIQUE in today’s copyright regime, for example). Some works require enormous cash investment and the bulk of investors want expansive, exclusive rights before they stump up cash.

It seems to me that the trick is to formulate cultural policy that allows the greatest diversity of expressions and creators. So, for example, we could fix a formula for pricing music samples:

Gross revenue / (Number of seconds in song/number of seconds in sample/number of other samples layered over that sample)

(or some variation thereupon)

That would make it possible to sample gratis if you have no expectation of income, would pay artists (not lawyers), and would allow Paul’s Boutique to be made today without bankrupting the band. Or we might decide that the best solution is to make sampling preemptively fair dealing (analogous to the decision to exempt fashion from exclusive rights). Determining the right answer is something that we could arrive at through evidence: go and survey a lot of musicians, try a small-scale experiment, see what happens, refine as you go.

But that requires copyright to be viewed as a mere instrument of policy, not an inherent right — that’s something pretty controversial at the moment. But the instrumental view of copyright is at the core of all copyright solutions.

With the societal recognition in recent years that (musical) artists deserve compensation for users who illegally download their music, are we making progress in the public discussion on internet copyright? (as it pertains to creative industries?)
Not that I can see. I think Charlie Angus feinted in the right direction, but then lost the right path. We have societies that offer blanket licenses to radio stations and live venues enabling them to play any music they want. Why not offer ISPs similar (opt-in) licenses that legalize their users downloading of any music they can find, from any source, using any protocol? That’d pay artists, legalize fans, and get us all on the same side. We’d have thorny problems (the analytics and division of income), but these are implementation details. Maybe we could prototype a good implementation by ripping apart our current collectives, holding them to account for their vast administrative overheads and secretive policies on expenditures, and reinvent them as the transparent, Internet-era institutions we need today.

In your opinion, how does Canada stack up against other nations’ efforts in the area of internet copyright?
Pretty poor. C-32 is proof positive that if the USA jumped off the CN Tower, Canada would do it too. James Moore and Tony Clement’s account of why we need the same disastrous  WIPO-plus protection for DRM that the US has been drowning in since 1998 was an incoherent mumble that basically came out as “The US Trade Rep demands it, and we haven’t the guts to stand up to him.”

Internet copyright is one of those issues that seems to catch policymakers’ attention for a while, and then it drops off of their radar.  What needs to happen to keep this issue front and centre in their minds?
I think we need to stop talking about copyright and start talking about Internet policy. You can’t make an Internet copyright law without making a law that touches on all the other stuff we do with the net: civics, politics, family life, friendship, health, employment, education. Let’s stop pretending there’s an “Internet copyright policy” that stands distinct from Internet policy, period.

Cory Doctorow is at the AGO on Wednesday, September 14 to give a talk,  ‘Can creativity and freedom peacefully co-exist in the Internet age?’
Wednesday, September 14, 7-8:30 pm
Weston Family Learning Centre

To find out more about the interview please contact Holly Knowlman via email, Twitter or call 416 979 6660 (ext 426)