Commentary
5:00 am
Wed April 16, 2014

Is 'Free' Really Free?

This is the final weekend for the exhibition FREE TEXTS by Stephanie Syjuco at the Ulrich Museum.

Syjuco is a recent recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship and her solo exhibition proves that the re-conceptualized Ulrich Underground is a perfect space for experimentation and contemporary artistic talent.

Entering the first floor, visitors will find the walls lined, floor-to-ceiling, with flyers, the kind with fringy tabs to be torn off. Each flyer advertises a scholarly text on issues concerning copyright, hacktivism, art markets, cultural theory, intellectual property and institutional critique. Tear off one of the tabs, and you have a direct URL to these purposefully selected scholarly writings.

Syjuco has found these texts online, uploaded anonymously and, most likely, illegally. The nature of the texts charges the exhibit with questions of access, distribution, open source culture and copyright infringement.

This analog style of peer-to-peer sharing is quite satisfying. But after my scholastic tab-pulling binge, I felt a twinge of guilt. Whose work did I just rip off?

The act is deliciously unassuming, but the implications are incredibly complex-- and rightfully so. We live at a moment when information, music and media fluctuate between open source culture and fierce copyright protection. The interactive installation frames these questions with no clear cut answer.

And I truly appreciate that. Syjuco’s FREE TEXTS challenges visitors on their thoughts, assertions and feelings within the complex balance between open source and ownership, sharing and stealing, and the cost of “free.”

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