In her second show at Vancouver’s Republic Gallery, Yedda Morrison presents “ReGenesis,” an exhibition of photographs, taken at close range, of artists painting reproductions of works in the collection of the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg. What we actually see is an artist’s hand with brush, working on a detail of a landscape, seascape, portrait or historical scene. But never is the whole painting shown, nor do labels identify them.
Morrison found these images on the website of the copyists who produce these paintings, and acquired the rights to reproduce them for her own purposes. Her previous conceptual photo-based projects, such as Bioposy and Pre-Colonial Forest, raised issues of artificiality, preservation, interpretation, and authenticity. In “ReGenesis” she questions the meaning and relevance of originality in art in today’s world of digital media and the Internet, where copying someone else’s work is easier than ever before.
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Her methodology is a continuation of the image scavenging and appropriation art practiced by Sherrie Levine and many other artists in the 1970s and 80s. Levine appropriated Walker Evans’ classic photographs of sharecroppers in the American South by re-photographing the images from a catalogue, questioning their iconic status. Morrison approaches the originality issue from a different perspective. Rather than reproducing a famous artwork herself, she reproduces the work of reproduction artists, adding an additional layer to the levels of replication. In doing so, she raises multiple questions about originality: What is the identity of these original paintings and who are the original artists? What about the identity of the copyists, who do not sign their paintings and remain anonymous? The original paintings were collected by Russian emperors and are housed in a public museum that was the former state residence. Yet the copies being painted, available to anyone who can pay $3800, will be divorced from their origins, hanging in homes and public venues in very different parts of the world. Why have these paintings been selected for reproduction? Are the originals more valuable simply because they were selected to be reproduced? Or are they less valuable now that they have been reproduced?
Morrison further extends the debate about originality, authenticity, and value by re-presenting the photographic images taken by the copyists. Now this documentation has become a new work of art, presented as digital C-prints in two different sizes in editions of five, and available for purchase. Ironically, unlike the original paintings in the Hermitage, which are part of the public domain, Morrison’s photographs are protected by copyright law.
The operative part of Morrison’s title for this series is the prefix “re.” If genesis is the act of creating, then in “ReGenesis” these images have been re-photographed, re-produced, and re-presented in order to be re-born. Her images make us re-think the implications of originality.