Enfield Independent

Trust, trolls and trademarks – Artists suffer for artwork made on Wikipedia
This article by George Nott appeared in both the online and print editions of the Enfield Independent

It’s fair to say Nathaniel Stern and Scott Kildall have suffered for their art…. Since their first collaboration, they’ve been labelled vandals and trolls and suffered personal insults both “nasty and completely untrue”.

“We’re not artists because we want fame, glory and money,” says University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor Nathaniel. “We think it’s important stuff for the world, and are willing to invest in it.”

Lucky that, because although their 2009 work, being exhibited for the first time in the UK at the Furtherfield Gallery in Haringey, found them discussed on internet forums in more than 15 languages and profiled by the world’s media – it also cost them a hefty sum in lawyer’s fees…. They met on the internet, in person a year later, and soon began work on Wikipedia Art. At first glance, a straightforward entry on the online encyclopaedia; behind the webpage, says Nathaniel, an “intervention into the power structures behind the most powerful, and most-often used, information resource in the world.”

A quick lesson in the way of Wikipedia. One of the most popular websites in the world, it is closely guarded by eager volunteer editors and a “citation mechanism” which means all entries must be cited by a mainstream source.

“However, these ‘notable’ media sources often siphon their facts directly from Wikipedia,” explains Scott, “creating a problem of there being no original source.”

A feedback loop of misinformation the pair pounced upon. Before their page was launched it was written about by their media friends in various publications. Wikipedia’s safeguard had been sidestepped. And the trouble began.

A war of words broke out between Wikipedia’s editors. They were outraged, they’d been duped. The page was deleted within 15 hours.

And it wasn’t long before the lawyers started circling with talk of copyright infringement and trademarks.

“We felt they proved our point for us,” says Nathaniel. “Behind Wikipedia are powerful individuals with agendas and flaws and mood swings, even in their commendable efforts to disperse information widely.”

Think of it… as an “art intervention” [Nathaniel] says, defined (by Wikipedia, who else?) as “art which enters a situation outside the art world in an attempt to change the existing conditions there”…. Art, activism or both, the work continues to change. Just by mentioning it, this very article becomes part of Wikipedia Art’s existence and history, the author now too a collaborator….

“Thanks to this work,” explains Nathaniel, “far more people than ever before are aware of how Wikipedia and its surrounding community function, and thus tend to look at it with a more critical eye when using it….

The piece, in a physical form made up of legal letters, scrolls of online debates, media coverage and the reactive work of other artists, is at the Furtherfield Gallery, Ashfield Road, with some of Nathaniel and Scott’s individual works until June 25.

Judge it in person for yourself – because you won’t find it on you know where.

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