It's from the Globe and Mail.
Too close for comfort
She's known for stirring up controversy. But when Diana Thorneycroft
sketched a murdered Mickey and Big Bird in bondage, it appeared she'd
gone a bit too far
By ROBERT ENRIGHT
Special to The Globe and Mail
Wednesday, July 31, 2002 - Page R1
WINNIPEG -- Tomorrow evening at Winnipeg's <SITE> gallery, Diana
Thorneycroft and Michael Boss will open an exhibition of drawings and
photographs called Foul Play. The exhibition considers the
hypocritical way that society ignores the violence that is often at
the heart of child's play, and its title was intended to be ironic.
As it turns out, the irony has doubled back on the artists.
Thorneycroft now sees copyright law in Canada as playing foul with
her creative freedom: The 13 drawings appearing in the exhibition are
different from -- and fewer than -- those she had originally intended
to include, among which were such well-known cartoon characters as
Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Barney, and Bert and Ernie.
It was only when she and Boss began to offer their show to galleries
that Thorneycroft realized there might be a problem. Gallery 1C03 at
the University of Winnipeg, for one, was interested in showing the
work -- until it received a legal opinion from a lawyer on its board,
advising the gallery it would be liable for copyright infringement.
Of the five galleries the artists approached, only <SITE>, which is
an artists' collective, and Moncton's Galerie Sans Nom agreed to take
In the end, Thorneycroft decided to take nine of the original works
out of Foul Play, compensating for their absence with replacement
drawings, while changing others sufficiently that they are no longer
recognizable. She put a mask on Deputy Dawg and gave Bert a moustache
and a different nose. "Now he looks more like Frank Zappa than a
Sesame Street character," says Boss, and in recognition of his new
identity, Thorneycroft has called the piece Frank.
Thorneycroft is not pleased with the situation. "I did a drawing of a
snowman that died of massive head injuries and it just isn't the same
thing as Goofy dying of massive head injuries," she laments. "We know
how Goofy walks and talks, and we can hear him in our heads, whereas
the snowman doesn't have a history. I can't tell you how disappointed
The exhibition is a departure for both artists. Boss is normally a
painter, but in Foul Play he is exhibiting dramatic photographs of
generic toys from his childhood. Thorneycroft, nationally recognized
as a photographer (whose work often includes violent, menacing
images) is showing drawings. Large-scale and rendered with scrupulous
attention to detail, they depict the kinds of figures usually
described as cuddly and feel-good -- stuffed toys, snowmen, dolls.
But there is one important difference: They are presented in extreme
and threatened positions that suggest they have been the victims of
either suicide or murder. "Think about how many times Wile E. Coyote
has been blown up, smashed like a pancake, or thrown off a cliff. Or
Bugs Bunny is always plugging Elmer Fudd's gun and blowing him up,"
declares Thorneycroft. "We accept that kind of violence. It's
everywhere on television and in comics. It's not like I'm saying it's
a good thing. I'm just calling attention to the hypocrisy around
The recognition factor of the characters she drew had a lot to do
with her choices. "There's a certain amount of glee when people see
Big Bird tied up," she says. "You laugh because you think, 'Does he
want to be tied up? What are the deep, dark secrets of Big Bird and
Her handling of the cartoon characters was also informed by her own
aesthetic and psychic needs. "I was curious about the black humour
involved in my supposedly murdering these stuffed toys," she says.
"It was absurd, the fact that I could kill Mickey so easily and get
away with it. But there had to be some kind of edge for me to be
interested in the first place. I didn't want to just draw Big Bird
without something happening to him."
When Thorneycroft got wind of potential legal troubles, she began her
own research into Canadian copyright law, and compared it as well to
American law. In the U.S., the interpretation of "fair use" includes
"parody or nonprofit educational use, research and scholarship,
criticism and comment." It was with this broader definition in mind
that she turned for further advice to Toronto's Aaron Milrad, an
expert in copyright law and the author of Artful Ownership. Milrad
informed her that in Canada she would have no legal defence and could
be sued by the companies who own the characters.
"I was shocked," recalls Thorneycroft. "I expected him to tell me
that parody is an exception in Canada just like it is in the U.S, but
his advice was, 'It's not worth it, unless you have someone backing
you with very deep pockets.' "
"There are two issues involved," Milrad says. "One is copyright and
the other is trademark. Under copyright, you can get fair-use
situations, and parody in the U.S. falls under fair use. But they've
put a trademark on many of these characters, and it tends to
complicate things. Not only do you have an issue with respect to
copyright, but also with moral rights -- because if you use the
product in association with a product that could be considered
prejudicial to the honour or reputation of the artist who made the
image, then that, too, is a violation."
Thorneycroft is not the only artist working in Canada to be hit by
image chill. Toronto painter Natalka Husar has won a wide following
for her oil paintings delineating the romantic aspirations and
disappointments of recent immigrants from Ukraine. An exhibition of
these paintings, called Blond with Dark Roots, is currently on a
six-city Canadian tour.
One body of work in the exhibition -- she calls them her pulp
fictions -- uses romance novels from the 1950s and 1960s to
illustrate the pitfalls that face young women negotiating the anxious
world of contemporary relationships. Husar would buy the novels at
thrift stores, keep the cover with the title and the author, but
alter the logo by painting "A Husar Romance" over the original name.
Most critically, she would then paint a completely new image over the
In May, she received a letter from a lawyer representing Harlequin
Enterprises Ltd., claiming that her use of the covers constitutes a
violation of the moral rights of the authors, artists and editors at
Harlequin. The letter asked that she either alter the existing
paintings, or stop including them in exhibitions. Husar responded,
emphasizing her disappointment. "I think they should buy the piece
and donate it to an institution," she says. "They should want to
collaborate and not dictate what I can paint or not paint."
While Husar hopes that she and Harlequin will come to a mutually
satisfactory agreement, Thorneycroft is less optimistic about her own
situation. And she's concerned about her photographic work as well.
She has recently been taking Barbie Dolls and G. I. Joes, altering
them substantially, and placing them in staged tableaux where the
visual narratives have nothing to do with their original identities.
"I showed them to Aaron and he thinks I'd be okay because they're so
blatantly altered," she says. "But if I get into trouble with that
stuff, then it will genuinely affect what I'm going to do in the
And despite recent court rulings against it, Barbie-maker Mattel may
have something to say about such photos. When the Danish band Aqua
recorded the 1997 song Barbie Girl, whose lyrics include sexual
innuendo about the famous doll, Mattel launched a lawsuit against MCA
records. Although a California court of appeals ruled in MCA's favour
only days ago -- citing freedom of expression -- Mattel was adamant
that such lyrics as "I'm a blond bimbo girl in a fantasy world"
harmed the value of its trademark. It wasn't the first time a court
had ruled against the toymaker. Last year, a U.S. federal judge told
Mattel it could not stop Utah artist Tim Forsythe from using Barbie
in his photographs, which have included Blue Ice Barbie, showing the
doll nude in a martini glass, and Barbie Enchiladas, in which he
wrapped naked dolls in tortillas.
Indeed, Thorneycroft hopes to exhibit the withdrawn works from Foul
Play in the United States -- although if it comes to litigation in
her case, there is no guarantee she will enjoy victory. "Whether
she'd win or not would have to be tested," says Milrad. "There is a
real violation in the work in respect to the rights of the creators,
because she's using it in a way that is hurtful. That's where the
Thorneycroft is well aware that her work could be accompanied by
trouble wherever she takes it. "The scary thing is that even though
artists have won some important decisions lately, the large companies
will still pursue legal action. They have battalions of lawyers, and
artists, for the most part, are not wealthy. It's David and Goliath."
Robert Enright was the curator of Diana Thorneycroft's current
travelling exhibition of photographs called The Body, Its Lesson and
Camouflage, and contributed an interview to the exhibition catalogue
of Natalka Husar's Blond with Dark Roots.
-- Carrie McLaren Editor, Stay Free! 718.398.9324 www.stayfreemagazine.org www.illegal-art.org ---------------------------------------------------- Rumori, the Detritus.net Discussion List to unsubscribe, send mail to majordomoATdetritus.net with "unsubscribe rumori" in the message body. ---------------------------------------------------- Rumori list archives & other information are at http://detritus.net/contact/rumori ----------------------------------------------------
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