I tried to follow this discussion as carefully as possible and thank
you all for many inspiring and valuable comments. With my last
statement I would like to refer to Roger's question no.8: "Under what
circumstances does "invention" mean "fiction"? Apologies if some of
the following aspects have already been discussed.
I would draw on a concrete example, namely on the work by Kirsten
Pieroth, an artist based in Berlin. She is working with methods and
strategies of conceptual and appropriation art. In her works common
objects are being removed from their learned contexts by means of
subtle manipulations, re-placements and appropriations of ritualized
behaviour and brought into a state of mimicry or camouflage, out of
which numerous levels of interpretation are being opened.
In a series of works from 2003-2004 Pieroth focuses on the inventor
Thomas Alva Edison. Part of this is an installation based on a letter
by the American inventor that reads: "I regret that a previous
engagement prevents me from accepting your kind invitation to dinner
at your home, on Thursday evening, September seventeenth." Pieroth put
the ambivalent question whether Edison 'invented' the excuse to the
scholar in charge of Edison's papers, who thought an invention likely;
David E. E. Sloane the great-grandson of the inventor agreed. Pieroth
therefore asked a patent attorney about registering Edison's probably
invented reason for his nonappearance. He refused in particular as he
could not recognize a considerable achievement that is required in
order to take out a patent.
Another piece relates to a photo from 1927 showing Edison sleeping on
his workbench. There is a thick wooden border on the table, and the
photo is signed with "Thomas A. Edison" exactly there, as though he
had signed the table. Pieroth produced a wooden workbench likewise
bearing the signature of the inventor, this time forged by the artist.
This installation raises questions like: Can there be invention
without accident? Is not invention, including artistic invention, a
contingent coincidence of associative processes? As Pieroth tells
"amusing stories came to be associated with that as well. Edison
was someone who signed his name a lot, which is why there are so many
signed documents in circulation. I found photos where he signed
cement, for example. He also had his signature registered as a
trademark, which is still there on old phonographs. He could very well
have done that with his work table too, then that would have been the
signed workbench as a predecessor to the trademark."
Another installation titled "From the Laboratory of Thomas A. Edison"
based on a replica of Edison's personal workshop in his second factory
complex. Nine years after Edison's death, the wooden building was
transported from West Orange, New Jersey, to Dearborn, Michigan, to
the museum park of Henry Ford, who had bought it. For this, every
single board was taken down and numbered, and then the entire
disassembled house was transported and rebuilt. Pieroth obtained the
wood and cut it to fit the measurements of the house, and then this
was exhibited unassembled. All the construction material that was
needed was there: nails, paint, roofing, and so forth. Pieroth
reproduced the lathes, boards, and window and door frames that would
presumably be necessary for a reconstruction of the laboratory shed.
They were piled on the floor of the exhibition space and stacked along
the walls. One is free to produce a copy of the laboratory shed. But
what will this reconstructed shed then be? A copy, a forgery, or an
invented art object?
[more information an images: http://www.portikus.de/ArchiveA0123.html]
I would argue that Pieroth compares invention to fiction in three
1.) A invention is perceived as such by a system of rules and
conventions, i.e. as a social construction (so far she follows
2.) The artist used the figure of Thomas Edison as a point of
departure for extensive research into the notion of 'invention' in
relation to production and reproduction, intellectual property and
verifiable authenticity. Thus she questions whether existing rules and
conventions are appropriate to recent principles and practices – be it
in the field of art or other domains of innovative production
3.) Last but not least, Pieroth also mentions Edison's marketing
talent, i.e. his ability to "invent" not only excuses but also an
inventor persona with the corresponding inventor's legends.
Thank you again to all Yasminers for the interesting discussion and
Roger and Robert for constant input and careful moderation.
Dr. Barbara U. Schmidt
Ludwig Boltzmann Institute
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