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Pulling my Leg?

Forum > Reviews

COCA Anthony Harper Award for Contemporary Art 2007

Various artists at CoCA - Centre of Contemporary Art
31 May 2007 - 17 Jun 2007

Lee-looking-profound-1 by Artbasher
Article of the Month July 2007
Hatoum-Pull I recently received an email drawing my attention to an artwork by Mona Hatoum, a British/Lebanese artist. Her work Pull (1995) is pictured at right.

My corespondent pointed out the similarity to Pull (2007) by Rama Port which won the $10,000 prize at CoCA and is pictured at the bottom of this article. I emailed CoCA and the artist regarding this. Their responses are reproduced verbatim.

From Warren Feeney:

Rama Port Pull

The winner of the 2007 COCA Anthony Harper Award, Rama Port’s Pull references Mona Hatoum’s Pull with Port’s work adopting Hatoum’s presentation of the artist’s head upside down on a video screen with a main of hair below the screen for the gallery visitor to pull. It is this point of entry to the artwork and the intention to engage the viewer in the work that Port has deliberately taken from Hatoum. However, Port’s work engages its audience with very different objectives. Hatoum’s presence in her work and her interest in performance art, as well as the manner in which she unsettles viewer expectations of reality (and by implication of identity and non-being) make her work darker and more disturbing than Port’s. In contrast, Port’s work, although to a certain extent unsettling, is informed by an optimism and interest in sexuality, affirming life and being. On one level her work provides an answer to Hatoum’s in its celebration of existence and its humour, and the way in which it questions the sense of alienation and pessimism in Hatoum’s piece. Accordingly, Port’s work is also informed by ideas that have been consistent in her practice over the past two years.

Warren Feeney

From Janet Abbott:

Regarding Pull (previously titled Hair Pull) by Rama Port

This work has clear references to a number of different sources including that of Mona Hatomn, Tony Oursler, TV reality show Fear Factor and Japanese photographer(name not yet sourced) (image of sunflower and lily in mouth).

While, superficially, Pull looks like still shots of Mona Hatoum's 1995 performance piece, it differs in a significant number of ways.

1. Hatonm's work was a three day performance piece where she was attached to the hair and responded in real time.

'In Pull The viewer was invited to pull a hank of hair hanging down in a specially constructed niche below a TV screen. When the hair was pulled, the artist’s face on the screen registered a feeling of pain or discomfort. The hank of hair was in fact attached to Hatoum despite the illusion of the TV screen above it. The TV screen and the viewer acted as the public sphere and the artist’s face and body physically behind the screen acted as the personal sphere. In this three day performance Hatoum placed her actual face and body behind a TV screen rather than making a recording representing it. This is in order to draw the spectator’s attention to the private versus public dichotomy and to invite the participating viewer to question the realm of the public and the private.' mireille.astore.id.au/Thinker/hatoum.html

2. The five different video pieces of eating dirt and flowers have no relation to Hatomn's work.

3. Rama has documented these references in the theortical essays that has informed and document this work earlier in the year. Had I known she was submitting it for the competition I would have advisored her to entitle the work Pull (after Mona Hatomn). She has however referenced the work by using the same title.

I would also note that that with all respect other works in the show bear more than a passing resemblance to other great art works including the photo of snow on centrally placed tree and the aluminum cutouts of leaves and bugs looking a little killeenish. I could go on. After all one strand of Postmodern dialogue is the dilemma of influence. There is nothing new in art.(?)

Janet Abbott
Head of Department
Fine Arts
Design and Arts College of New Zealand
116 Worcester Street
PO Box 539

From Rama Port:

In regards to your message I thought it pertinent to respond with some written information.

While my own work uses a similar a frame work to Mona Hatoum’s own 1970’s performance piece, there are a great many differences. I use what Michael Balktin referred to as a discursive horizon, as far as feminist works go.

I haven’t personally seen any of her video works, I’m not sure if they are recorded at all. Her work Pull, is a live performance piece where the camera shoots her face as visitors to a gallery pull her hair, she is hidden. At the crux of her work relies on the audience’s surprise as it is revealed she is actually there.

I’m not sure what the details are of her actual performance layout in the gallery, I have only seen one picture, she might be behind a wall?

My own work is within a machine space, and while I am upside down, and have hair hanging down, it is not my own real hair, as in the case with Hatoum. Where visitors tug on her hair, causing an immediate real response.

I haven’t seen her video I don’t have a clue what her responses were! I have no idea if there was sound involved, or talking.

In my own work I make my own response and address the audience directly, all my work is pre-recorded and is linked to video chapter imagery. Hatoum as far as I know, doesn’t have any flower eating or dirt. I sing and speak, sigh, shrug etc, these are personal attributes to this work.

In my work the box and screen themselves don’t have a connection to Hatoum’s work, I have no idea if she even projected images or used a Television screen. Sorry if my information on her work is a little unknown, but there isn’t much info available that I have seen on her gallery installation technique. I have a computer chip that is specifically designed to change scenes. I have also designed a switch that connects to the DVD player and this is what controls the image change when the hair is pulled. As far as I’m aware these are unique to my own Pull work.

We are both upside down, with hair hanging down; I have also called my work pull, in regards to the innuendo of audience participation action, of hair pulling.

Mona Hatoum is a Palestinian artist, I am a New Zealand one, and we are both females with long hair. I don’t much resemble Hatoum’s 70’s persona otherwise.

I have included some information on my background and theory in regards to this work. Also an artist statement containing other influences. I have also written an extensive statement of my works relationship to Screen Theory, of the gaze, theorists, such as, Lacan, Mulvey, Cindy Sherman and deconstruction and semiotic theory, pertaining particularly to Barthes and Derrida. Please email me if you require this.

In this Post-Post Modern time there are not many successful artists that can be said to have been original to the point of being unaware of other similar art, or to have created a work without past influence. I have been inspired by Hatoum’s digital work, and have built upon it in a personal way. Responding to the ‘Hair Aesthetic’ that lends itself to the female form. My work can be said to be unique in the way I have used my own form, and while there is a close relationship to appropriation, my work relies on my individual own personality to create interaction between the image and the audience. So I believe that it can hold it’s own when it comes to original form!

Thanks, I hope this clears things up for you and others enquiring about the background of this work.


I make no judgment and feel like a bit of a bastard even putting this up at all. The works are clearly pretty different from each other.

Whatever the case, it raises some interesting issues about how unique we expect art to be and how we look at art in competitions differently from art in general.

1 to 20 of 30
william blake
29 articles & 728 comments since 15 Aug 2006
oh she used a discursive horizon....then shes not a copy cat. I think an art work is primarily a visual event; all the talk etc. takes second place and these works look uncomfortably similar. did rama port think mona hatoum got it wrong, and is showing the world how it should have been done? and no i dont think its duchampian to use another persons artwork as a crib (L.H.O.O.Q is just a throw away pun and davinci was long dead) i think it is pointless insincerity.
19 articles & 495 comments since 9 Aug 2005
This is the sort of thing Artbash should be all about!
46 articles & 641 comments since 26 Jan 2006
Go on then Pop. be a good journo, prove something.
19 articles & 495 comments since 9 Aug 2005
Calling me a journo is like calling Michelangelo an interior decorator (he said with tongue firmly in cheek). There is no NZ forum I'm aware of where you could actually discuss this kind of issue.
David Cauchi
9 articles & 122 comments since 9 May 2006
Well, my first impression reading these responses is that each is acutely aware that they have something to justify.

Rather than the term 'appropriation', I prefer Francis Picabia's: copying. When some newspapers pointed out that his object-portraits (Steiglitz as a camera in front of a handbrake, with the camera stretched towards the word 'ideal' in gothic letters, for example) were copied from engineering and technical drawings, he was cheerfully unrepentant. Yes, he said, the mechanical reproduction of mechanical objects is an appropriate art for his age. A similar argument could have been made here, but wasn't.

I also question the use of the word 'superficial'. Does Janet Abbott mean that the close formal correspondence between the two works is 'apparent but not real'? Or does she mean the works are similar 'on the surface'? Let's be clear: a significant difference is where two things differ in a way that is 'noteworthy', 'important', or 'consequential'. It is a fundamental difference that distinguishes two things. A significant difference between a fork and a spoon, for example, is that one doesn't hold liquid and the other does. A superficial difference is where two things are only slightly, or inconsequentially, different.

In both cases we are dealing with actual hair below what appears to be a video image of a woman's face where, if the viewer pulls the hair, the image reacts. Is whether the woman is physically present (or, for that matter, the details of the woman's appearance) a significant difference? The artist admits she doesn't know how the original was installed, so superficial differences are to be expected in any case.

Both Janet Abbott and the artist cite theoretical essays as justification. The artist even includes an incantation 'to Screen Theory, of the gaze, theorists, such as, Lacan, Mulvey, Cindy Sherman and deconstruction and semiotic theory, pertaining particularly to Barthes and Derrida' as if to ward off evil.

There is one response conspicuously absent. Has anyone asked what Mona Hatoum thinks?
137 articles & 705 comments since 12 Feb 2005
Populuxe - Such controversy would never have arisen when you judged the contest, would it? A good argument in favour of choosing judges who are critics and historians rather than artists. What are your opinions on the issues? Or is it all a bit close to home?

David C - I didn't bother emailing or attempting to contact Hatoum. As with Cullen Vs. Friedman, I'm pretty sure Hatoum won't give a toss.

Most disturbing of all is seeing the head of a fine arts department saying, "There is nothing new in art." Clearly Janet Abbott does not read Artbash. We proved that not to be the case in Hovering Above a Zero Sum Game.
19 articles & 495 comments since 9 Aug 2005
I have to say that all the winning works were predicated on a single, rather weak comedic gag, so I wonder what Mr Frizzell's intentions really were. Methinks he was being deliberately naughty.
19 articles & 495 comments since 9 Aug 2005
By the way, what is a "discursive horizon"? What if the discourse is flat instead of round? Do stormclouds gather there?
David Cauchi
9 articles & 122 comments since 9 May 2006
I have to admit to being amazed at the 'nothing new in art' comment as well, question mark in parens notwithstanding. We don't even have a satisfactory definition of art, so how could can you possibly state that!? It's completely illogical nonsense.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for copying. I just think the arguments presented in this case are specious.
william blake
29 articles & 728 comments since 15 Aug 2006
I just looked up various definitions of 'discursive horizon' and it seems to mean; everything you know but deconstructed, its a 10 out of 10 in a game of art wank bingo.

mona port seems to be very art-smart, perhaps a victim of our ever expanding education facilities, ( as an aside Elams yearly plan states an intention to have 800 masters students and 500 doctorates, this year alone..yes you can now get an MFA at a summer school.) but its nothing new to the far flung margins of NZ to copy high art from some other place.

I wonder what creative opportunities mona port is missing by cribbing from others?
5 articles & 165 comments since 24 Nov 2005
Populux, It (a discursive horizon) is a bewildering prospect perhaps :-) and I agree wholeheartedly with you about Dick Frizzell's judging, maybe he should stick to making art! I don't think he was being naughty at all, I think he was incapable of doing the job, and as often happens in times off stress he resorted to humour. and on that note I thought he was a bit arrogant and even insulting in his comments about the work in the show. I do agree with Janet Abbott though, that "many other works in the show bear more than a passing resemblance to other great art works"

So, when does a copy become a facsimile, and can a facsimile of another artwork still be justified academically?

David, I'm all for copying too, it is as much a part of nature and life as it is art. What bugs me is walking into a contemporary art competition (where to roughly quote mr Frizzell, artists shouldn't simply offer there stock standard gallery work but something more challenging) and then seeing him choose a winner that is so strongly derivative of Hatoums piece. Isn't Dick being a little contradictory there? but he is correct in that if one is to see "something new" in art then competitions like the Anthony Harper award are the very place you would expect to see it.
5 articles & 165 comments since 24 Nov 2005
I wonder, was Mr Frizzell aware of the Hatoum piece at the time? or was he judging it as being original ? and, how many other people were aware of Hatoum's piece at the time ?
william blake
29 articles & 728 comments since 15 Aug 2006
sorry to be digressive but it occured that i may have misread the elam annual plan, but alas no..here is a link to it in its awful majesty...


see point no4.

if you thought your degree was worthless before...
3 articles & 366 comments since 9 Oct 2006
Rama Port has made explicit reference to Hartoums work by her titling and intentional formal similarities. many contemporary artists do this in an intelligent way that goes beyond reiteration. The titling in itself acknowledges the source.
it seems obvious that the reference is intentional rather than naive. I also cant imagine that Frizzell would not have known about the original, possible but unlikely.

while I agree that there is an kind of unacknowledged bad habit in NZ of copying offshore work superficially from images in periodicals and calling it contemporary practice, I dont think that is the case in this instance.

(DC I am using 'superficial' in the sense of a limited formal resemblance without an understanding of context, history or implication)

I dont actually like the work but that is beside the point.

Also dislike the glib PO MO reiteration from Abbot "there is nothing new..etc" this kind of defensive response does more harm than good.
here's a new ism for you: negative relativism.

5 articles & 165 comments since 24 Nov 2005
referencing a work through titling only acknowledges the source if the viewer is aware of the source, which brings me back to my question of exactly who was aware of it at the time? I'd love to know honest answers to that, as for starters I didn't hear anybody on the night talk of it! and there was lots of talk after the award.
3 articles & 366 comments since 9 Oct 2006
seriously? if true that arguably reflects more on the education of the audience. should an artist assume lowest common denominator when making work?
its a given that not everyone will understand the work precisely as the artist intends it, this is not a good reason to dumb the work down. as a general principle do we also stop referring to historical events in case there are people who werent there and dont remember them?
the titling references the source whether the individual viewer is aware of it or not.
those people who do know about the original understand the reference and get another layer of meaning. those that do not know about just look at what is in front of them. both starting points are fine.

it is ludicrous to accuse this artist of plagiarism on the basis that one group of people in Christchurch didnt know about a specific Mona Hartoum work made 12 years ago. The artist clearly did know about the work and has made no pretense. She has not hoodwinked you or cheated.
william blake
29 articles & 728 comments since 15 Aug 2006
seems very, very fragile.
David Cauchi
9 articles & 122 comments since 9 May 2006
The prize is completely irrelevant. Regardless of what you think of the work, it does raise some issues that are of genuine interest. As Populuxe said, this is what Artbash is all about.

1 What is a significant difference? How much weight should we give a major difference that's behind the scenes if the viewer's experience is essentially the same? To reuse my analogy, are we talking about the difference between a fork and a spoon or is it more like a spoon being made of metal rather than wood? Does it matter?

2 Alibi distinguished between intentional quotation and naive copying. This raises the knotty question of intention in art. As I vaguely recall, the Intentional Fallacy points out that not only can we never know someone else's intentions but that person may not be fully aware of them either. Every single artist will know wat I mean. You get perhaps a little too close, someone else points comes along, and they point out something you have never even considered. But we regularly take account of intention in all aspects of life. A parent's response to their child's misbehaviour depends to a large extent on whether the parent considers the action intentional or accidental.

3 I thought the tone of some of the quoted responses was pretty dismissive. Maybe that's me, but the reliance on stock terms and phrases is a bit of a worry, I reckon. Janet Abbott's response in particular was shocking.

And, finally don't be hassling copying from reproductions! People seem to think the tendency in NZ for people to only know work through reproduction is a bad thing. I think it's a really good thing, something we should be proud of.
5 articles & 165 comments since 24 Nov 2005
you misunderstood me Alibi. What I was saying or trying to anyway, was that nobody can be expected to be aware of all the thousands of artworks made daily around the world, and it would be perfectly understandable if Dick Frizzell was not aware of Hartoums piece. So the point I was getting at was that the title Pull alone is not enough to reference Hatoums piece. If that were the case every painting ever titled #5 for exacmple would automatically reference Jackson Pollock, which obviously is not the case.
william blake
29 articles & 728 comments since 15 Aug 2006
frizzell probably thought the work was funny, a bit of a dag-gag. dick is broad but not deep.
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