La Rate Blanche

La Rate Blanche – a copyleftish art concept

The copyright culture had come to an end, when the first audio samplers reached the mainstream market. As it became easy to record and manipulate bits and pieces from any song you liked, there was no holding back, no loop, no beat was out of reach, accessible to any schoolboy who had a machine. Copyright was never a reality though. Since the early days of civilized culture, public performance was always a place to share and communicate ideas, techniques and inspirations. In fact the (legal) idea of copyright came up in the year 1710 with the “The Statute of Anne” in the UK and seems to be a late reaction to the invention of the printing press in 1450 by Johannes Gutenberg. By the early 18th century printing had become so cheep and easy that authors felt a need to introduce their right to copying their work rather than to leave that to their editors – which actually still seems like a good idea to me today.

By the end of the 20th century it became clear that, with the rise of digital media, an idea of ones ownership of ones workings was not enforceable anymore. The Internet finally can be seen as the gravestone of copyright culture, for it does now allow the immediate distribution of ones copyright-violations.

Strangely one possible solution to the problem came out of the same corner that the problem itself had come from: the digital domain. It was Richard Stallman who by 1983 conceptualized the GNU General Public License (GPL) in an effort open up the rigid patent structure that determined the world of corporate software development where almost all copyrights where now attributed to, guess who, the editor. Stallmann wanted the creator of the work to be entitled to determine the range of protection he felt was needed for his own creation.

By 1985 his ideas had grown to a point, where tendencies began to emerge to widen the scope of this new licensing system beyond the realm of programming, towards other works of creation. The copyleft movement emerged and initialized a new paradigm for creative ownership.

In the last 10 years a wide range of copyleft licensing systems have emerged, most notably besides the diverse GPL derivatives, the Artlibre (originating in France) and the Creative Commons Licence, both internationally accepted and widely used.

“La Rate Blanche” is the creation of Afro-American artist Chandra Brooks and it is one of the first of its kind. It is by definition multimedia and multicultural and was conceived to be a truly open piece of art. Centred around a medieval fairytale related to us by French author Henri Pourrat (1887 – 1959) it deals with such deep subject as alienation, identity and the psychological structure of the family. Chandra Brooks uses this (at first glance simple and naïve) story of parents who deal with their unsatisfactory life by projecting their hopes and needs onto a white rat whom they have then magically transformed to become their daughter, to dig deep into the subconscious of our neo-colonial western lifestyles. The individual alienation in the story becomes representative of the alienation suffered by all the diverse ethnical and cultural minorities living in their respective diasporas.

The Project is intended to be adapted in language and performance as well as visual and narrative style to its respective audience so to provide the matrix for what Chandra Brooks calls “the universal fairytale”.

In parallel to this ad hoc adaptation comes the goal to upload all produced media, texts and sources to a central internet server for anyone to adapt, modify and finally perform freely without any ownership restriction and this clearly for commercial use by a third party.

All of this clearly needs a distributional structure and it now seems, that the project is tending towards an open source license pretty close to the original Stallmann manifesto where everything that is created within that complex will clearly have to be produced and redistributed under the same copyleft system of thoughts. What is open has to stay open.

Freedom has always been one of the key motivators to artists and the idea of giving the source material away for free (as in free bear) does not mean that this project has no commercial focus. But diverse open source software projects, such as Firefox or Open Office have shown that money can be made by other means such as support, workshops and of course, giving away the sources does not signify, that performances and shows, derivatives and media distributions will be just given away. On the contrary the production will be more cost effective and creatively richer, the more people join our effort and augment the quality and density of the source material.

For now, the project is setting up quiet nicely and first performances of a staged theatrical version will be held at Openbare Bibliotheek (OBA) in Amsterdam on the 25th and 27th of March 2009. The idea of such a collaborative working is not new, let me be clear with that. As long as artists have joined to jam together the creative exchange and disregarding of creative ownership has been the substrate for enormous creative explosions and it is needed even more these days, where the ‘art market’ is slowly drifting away from artistic considerations to mere financial interests. To produce “La Rate Blanche” as free and open piece of art is clearly a statement a declarations of faith in the company’s own creativity for you can only steal what you do now own.

Enkidu rankX, Berlin, 17th of March 2009