Art & Development

The Original, with cross-references

It’s impossible to be truly original or free of influences. (See postmodernism.)
Besides, originality is overrated. (See Appropriation Art.)

I saw my past and future in other artists’ works today.


“Seven Future Gifts” (2008) is an installation by Mircea Cantor (see a photo on of ribbons and bows around empty spaces, suggesting absent gifts. The shape is very similar to my “Absent Presents” (2007) series of sculptures.

Christine Wong Yap, Green Present, 2007

Christine Wong Yap, Green Present, 2007

But the similarity doesn’t bother me.

As I mentioned in the previous post, what matters is not who comes up with an idea first, but who does it best (a cousin to the cynical saying, If you can’t do it better, make it bigger).

Cantor’s Future Gifts are significantly bigger; they appear to range in scale from about one foot tall to 10 feet tall. In terms of engineering and craftsmanship, the concrete Future Gifts are easily more impressive than my Absent Presents, of modest scale and materials (balsa wood, paper and glue).

Yet for all their similarities, Cantor’s Future Gifts function completely differently than my Absent Presents. What mattered to me most were the concept of a vessel for the viewer’s projections, my skepticism of the role of the artist, the play on words, the colors, the ho-hum store-bought materials juxtaposed with Minimalist forms. Cantor, I’m sure, meant to reference Minimalism as well, but to a contrasting result: the Future Gifts‘ monumental scale, unfinished concrete and simple, unvarying bow are funereal, high-art serious. I’m guessing the extreme shifts in scale are a result of an interest in the phenomenological experience. And perhaps by repeating the same exact shape throughout seven gifts, Cantor may be making a point about industrial modes of production and consumption. I’m also interested in consumption, but in a dorky, Christmas store display sort of way. Whereas the Future Gifts are serious, the Absent Presents’ human scale, festive colors, and exuberant bows are playful. The Absent Presents wink at viewers.


During my research for the Anti-Campfire project, I came across the engrossing factoid that diamonds and graphite are both allotropes of carbon. This is a rich metaphor — diamonds are rare, valued for clarity and refractivity, while graphite is common, dark, cheap.

Naturally, I wanted to make drawings of diamonds in graphite or charcoal (another common carbon allotrope). Conceptually, such a drawing would raise the question of value, by conflating the artist’s labor with great beauty, and the work of art with a pricey commodity. I was also greatly interested in the implications of the interconnectedness of light and dark / optimism and pessimism. I printed photos of famous diamonds and brought them to my studio a few months ago.

I hadn’t actually made any drawings, but tonight I saw what the drawings would look like, more or less, courtesy of Sylwia Gorak.

Gorak is an Artist in Residence at the Headlands Center for the Arts, where she presented her work, including a past series of charcoal drawings of famous diamonds. She mentioned her interest in the conceptual logic of depicting a diamond with a material of the same base element — same as me. The results were nice charcoal drawings — accomplished, probably better photo-realist images than I could have done.

So I found myself in the funny position of looking at images that I had considered making, but finding the conceptual rationale sort of one-dimensional (“Thunk!”). It sort of offered me a peek beyond my own subjectivity. I’m interested in conceptual art when it gives viewers more to tease out beyond visuality; but if the concept engages the mind for only a second or two, that’s not good enough. There has to be a better payoff.


A lot of artists fear being unoriginal, so they usually wince when they encounter similar work by other artists. Whatever. Here’s a new saying: Similarities happen. It’s not the worst thing in the world. In fact, it can work out for everyone.


[I’m not always so peppy. There are other times, like when I feel like Eric Clapton crying after a Jimi Hendrix concert: I’ll never be that good! Grab a tissue box and click over to Abelardo Morrell’s photos of interiors made into pinhole cameras at Bonni Benrubi Gallery.]


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