About writing practice
Bence uses writing to investigate graphic design from unconventional angles, such as economic and cultural production, critical theory and media analysis.



Written works



Who owns culture?



The archetypal individual creative saturates cultural spaces. Upheld by the obscuring and mystification of the creative process, presentations of ownership in culture parallel that of ownership in the economic sphere. Through dissecting relations in the former, I intend to introduce a political dimension to the latter relevant to makers.

Ubiquitous from the beginning of consumer culture, the spectacle and modernism, the mythical view of the individual creative is sustained through a mismanaged image, reproduced in storytelling about creative labour. This is mostly based on economic grounds, a creative genius figure is easier to market, to make the face of a product, or ghostproduce for to maximise profits. Cultural production is attributed to a single person, while concealing the network of people who are collectively responsible for it. This, in its camouflaging, mirrors Marx’s commodity fetishism.

One way to demystify production and speculate about more accurate models of ownership from a creator position, is the surfacing of influences and collaborators, making these the foundation of work. Virgil Abloh’s design practice is centred around this idea, which was excellently materialised in the Louis Vuitton SS22 menswear collection, Amen Break. Through fluidly moving through references, almost as a visual realisation of Derrida’s deferral of meaning, it surfaces the collection’s influences, from BreakBeat Lou and Lenny Roberts, Goldie, Wu-Tang Clan to many more. In the show notes Abloh (2021, p. 3) writes: ‘A chapter in the Black Canon’s preservation and teaching of Black art history on par with that of Europe, the Amen Break exemplifies the arts’ instinct to sample and resample a core design. Applied to fashion, where the staples of suits, tracksuits, shirts and t-shirts are re-interpreted on a never-ending loop, the Amen Break becomes a metaphor for the myth of ownership in contemporary creativity.’ The endless reinterpretation, layering, changing and infinite deferral of meaning explored through various semiotic pairs, such as suit–tracksuit and chess–chequers, embodies the articulation of the postmodern in Derrida’s différance and Baudrillard’s simulacra, now given shape through clothing. As Abloh points out, this recognition of sampling and resampling are the basis on which the ‘myth of ownership in contemporary creativity’ is challenged. Culture belongs to everyone.

Another way to clarify the ownership of cultural products can be from the viewer’s position, through a poststructuralist approach to reading these works. Since meaning is located not exclusively in the work itself, but in the interpretation of the reader, a new type of authorship emerges. As articulated by Barthes (1977, p. 148), ‘the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author’, the collective is given foreground over the individual. Deriving from this, as the reader is part of meaning creation, the authoring process, they too are owners of the product. This is not to erode the distinction between creative and interpretive making, but to recognise both as production. The implications are massive: a collective ownership of culture.

Parallel to and inherently tied to cultural production, is economic production. Recognising the involvement of an extended network of people, and diffusing the social repute arising from the cultural products alludes to a more accurate distribution of material gains, one that represents the collective nature of making. If the concealing of the creative production can be uncovered, so too the concealing of material production. This is the direction I hope to see figures like Abloh protest for, although the ultimate decisions about profits are made by executives.

Both the creative and interpretive threads of authorship and their common arriving point, communal ownership, are uncomfortable for those socialised in the “century of the self”, and for those whose material interest is against equatable distribution. Nevertheless, by tying the cultural aspects to that of economic, a powerful subversive idea emerges that allows creatives to push for material change through their labour.



References

Abloh, V. (2021) 'AMEN BREAK - Collection notes' Louis Vuitton Menswear Spring/Summer 2022, Louis Vuitton, 24 June 2021. Available at canary---yellow.com (Accessed: 21 July 2021)

Barthes, R. (1977) Image–Music–Text. New York City: Fontana Press.



© 2021 Bence Iványi

Mark