Chris Moukarbel

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Ask yourself, "Is it possible to respond critically, artistically to something that isn't yet actualized?" Can you predict the problematics of the future and respond to them now? Are the structures of power and cultural production that predictable? If so, can a new technique provide not only a means but also stand as a critique in and of itself? What does it mean to "prespond?"

Challenge: If you are able to make an appropriative artwork from and critiquing this presentation, before the presentation is finished, then you win! A lawsuit.

Chris Moukarbel

Chris Moukarbel is a 30-year-old sculptor and video artist, currently residing in New York City. He recently graduated with an MFA from Yale in 2006.

Moukarbel states, "I make site-specific video and installations, often using found media or objects as a source. Current artworks explore ideas of memorial, fiction, and the way in which politically driven events are edified." He is interested in "how culture is created, expanded and shared, and who if anyone can claim ownership. [He] is a willing participant in his chosen cultural idioms rather than a detached observer."




Marianne Boesky Gallery

IN/OUT - New Haven mud, straw, sand and Chauvet Followspot 400g. A Chauvet Followspot 400g is a small theater spotlight (which produces that white circle on the mud bricks). There is nothing critical written about this work. The work does not seem to be overly interesting, and I'm sure it is some sort of comment on being an MFA artist at Yale, and having the art-world's spotlight on you. Literally. New Haven mud. Think about it.

Although I don't find much to the work, I do, however, find it incredibly appealing to look at (and imagine it to be even more interesting in person). Knowing the artist's biography and the fact about the mud's origins is a determent to the piece, in my opinion. Formally I find it quite fascinating: the jagged edges of the brick wall, the color change the spotlight makes on the mud, the shadows that the observer would make when viewing the work.



Wallspace Gallery

Memorial - A series of installed stuffed-animal memorials on city streets. These found object installations / interventions focus Moukarbel's interest in the notion of memorial. I find them to be at first offensive (especially the ones with text that say, "We love you and miss you"). Memorial takes its aesthetic from roadside memorials of traffic victims, where families will often leave photographs, flowers, and other object to site-specificially memorialize the death of a loved one. Yet, as the initial disgust wares off, a morbid humor remains. Moukarbel is memorializing the process of memorialization, taken to its ridiculous limit. The site-specificity of traffic memorials is made to look crude, and the objects chosen (stuffed animals) calls into question the importance placed onto things. If memorialization is one process of imbuing objects with meaning, and art is another, then Memorial is the brief moment of overlap where neither means anything at all.

For more documentation of Memorial:

Other Work

There is mention of a video series made by Moukarbel, where meat is filmed having sex with other meat, with the aesthetic of pornography. A brief mention states, "inventing his own niche market Internet pornography (select cuts of meat having sex with each other)." Unfortunately that is it - no documentation. Oh well. I bet it would have been neat.


World Trade Center 2006 / Untitled


World Trade Center 2006

The Art

World Trade Center 2006 is a 12-minute color video Moukarbel made for his MFA thesis show at Yale.

Moukarbel writes, "World Trade Center 2006 is an adaptation of dialogue taken directly from a bootleg screenplay for Oliver Stone's up-coming film World Trade Center.  The video was made entirely in my studio using student actors and then released on the Internet, intentionally pre-empting Stone's film release in August 2006. The artwork is a commentary on Hollywood's authority to write history. Through their depiction of an historic event, they are ultimately in the position to influence ideas and effect policy."

The content of the video is, obviously, the same as Stone's film. "It describes the relationship between two firemen caught in an inescapable situation, stuck in the rubble of the World Trade Center. The dialogue between them reveals their admiration and professional respect for one another, and is completely out of synch with their present circumstances. Moukarbel offers a glimpse into human behaviour at a time when death is imminent, making it seem perversely futile."

Of its form and its release Moukarbel goes on to state, "The video was first released on, deliberately pre-empting the official release of Stone's film, slated for August 2006. The broad distribution and democratic access of the video's Internet premiere is an explicit challenge to Stone's and Hollywood's assumed authority (and creative ownership) of the events of September 11th, 2001, events that all of us saw and felt."

Moukarbel continues, "Through their access and budget they're able to affect a lot of people's ideas about an event and also affect policy. I was deliberately using their script and pre-empting their release to make a statement about power... My film was offered free on the Internet... It cost $1,000 to produce. We're at a place now where technology allows the democratization of storytelling."

The work installed at Yale.

In my opinion, the art of the film is not in the content or even in the visual aesthetic of its mise-en-scene. If Moukarbel's video is a profound statement on power, memorial and circulation, it is because of its appropriative technique, which I will designate later as "presponse." Yet, the narrative of Moukarbel's video is greater than the act of its creation. The legal repercussions and the artist's subsequent response must be examined first.


The Lawsuit

The Paramount Studio injunction.

Shortly after posting his video on his website - Paramount Studios (the production company for Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center" film) discovered the artwork, and quickly took legal action. (In fact, Paramount was only able to retrieve Moukarble's contact information with the compliance of YouTube, which handed everything over to them. But the ethics of such a move by YouTube is another issue altogether.) Threatening with suing, the studio's injunction forbids the circulation or display of Moukarbel's video (although many galleries, especially a few international ones, disregarded this threat (with no repercussion)).

The work installed at the gallery Witte de With in the Netherlands. The gallery writes, "The artist is currently restrained from showing or distributing the work "World Trade Center 2006". Witte de With will not remove the work from public viewing and continue showing it as part of the exhibition."
Paramount claims that Moukarbel's video is a copyright infringement on Stone's screenplay, and they deem the "copy" to be "virtually identical."

The studio also produced a side-by-side comparison of Stone's script with a transcript of Moukarbel's video in order to highlight the similarities.

Paramount's side-by-side comparison.
The entire injunction and script comparison can be viewed at:

In place of Moukarbel's video, now this statement resides on his website, "I'm not a commercial filmmaker. 'World Trade Center 2006' constituted a portion of my recent graduate school thesis. Offering Paramount's story for free online was a statement on their 60 million dollar [marketing] effort. Though I can't speak to 'Fair use for the purpose of political commentary' in copyright law, I can say that I wasn't trying to address this law with regard to appropriated works. I was using appropriation as a strategy to make a statement about power."
It seems that Moukarbel's profound statement on copyright law, and his new paradim in appropriation, was unintentional. Alas. I guess we're now free to appropriate his great idea for ourselves.

Moukarbel continues, "I wasn't really thinking about copyright law when I made this piece, and my knowledge of copyright law is limited... I very well could be found guilty of copyright infringement."

A Paramount Studios lawyer issued the following statement for why such legal action was taken, "The preemptive release of the Moukarbel Film on the Internet before Paramount's WTC Film means that unquantifiable but, most likely, large numbers of people will see the Mourkarbel Film first for free and determined, based on this poor-quality copy, that they do not want to pay to see the remainder of the WTC Film."

Moukarbel responds, "It's all about power and who has the authority to represent historical events. Obviously, Hollywood in our time has taken that right because they have the money and they have the access... The meaning of the piece exists in the fact that I used their screenplay; that's something I was clear about."

Moukarbel was approached by two specialist copyright lawyers who decided to take his case on pro-bono. They asserted that the use of Stone's script constituted fair-use (however, the official decision would be in the hands of a judge). The issue at hand is: the extent of the copying, the effect of the new work on the market for the original, and the intent of the individual in using the copyrighted material. The extent and the intent were both on the side of Moukarbel, which explains why Paramount went the direction they did with their injunction (claiming that the artwork would have negative marketing effects for Stone's film). However, because the artwork was made at a university, for scholarship purposes, and not for profit, that Moukarbel would have had a good chance in court.

James Wagner, an art critic and blogger, writes, "Chris Moukarbel's audacious new work, together with the restraining order it has provoked, dramatizes the pervasiveness of corporate and governmental control over all information - and ultimately its disastrous impact on our ability to respond to any challenge, including but not limited to those posed by terrorism."

The Response Video

Stills from Moukarbel's response video, Untitled 2006.
Following Moukarbel's release of his response video, the New York Times writes,

"After a temporary restraining order was placed on the distribution and showing of his video (part of a thesis project for his Master of Fine Arts at Yale), Mr. Moukarbel went ahead and produced another for Wallspace. For his new 13-minute video, he used film of the two actors in the first video while they were waiting for direction and getting into character. It has no dialogue except for the banter between the actors and off-camera direction from Mr. Moukarbel.

Mr. Moukarbel, 28, who graduated from Yale in May, said his new video was intended to capture the art of performance and to serve as commentary on his plight. "I had to put together a project to reflect on the old project but also stand in its own right," he said.

Chris Klatell, a lawyer for Mr. Moukarbel, said yesterday: "We've reached a settlement in principle with Paramount that we hope to finalize. Chris is in full compliance with the temporary restraining order. The new video doesn't have any dialogue or any elements of the 'World Trade Center' screenplay."
Walter Robinson, an art critic, writes about the response video, "Through some kind of weird esthetic inversion, the outtakes from Moukarbel's film have more emotional authenticity than the scene from Stone's phony movie."
Thus, the narrative of Moukarbel's video comes full circle. Yet, however emotionally substantive his response video may be, in my opinion, the true weight of Moukarbel's statement comes not from his adaptive ingenuity, but rather from his initial, radical act of appropriation (even though it was not an intentionally aware act).


Because I have not seen Moukarbel's video (nor have I seen Stone's film) - I cannot comment critically on its content, or how it was visually actualized. However, I do not think the drama of two firemen on September 11th is the achievement of Moukarbel's video.

Starting from the end and working backwards, I will first read his response film (yet, without having seen it, I can only comment on its cleverness). And that is all there really is to say - it is clever. Moukarbel subtracted the copyrighted material from his video (the dialogue) since the scene and setting themselves cannot be copyrighted due to their historicity. The response video is a clever solution to Paramount's legal injunction, and, apparently, it renders intense emotional content. Looked at as isolated texts, I'm sure the response video is a much more effective work of art, and much more interesting than its forebear. Its like "Dr. No Words" meets Warhol's "Screen Tests." Without dialogue the video is stripped down to its bare-bones emotional content and its intersubjective moments of gazes and gestures. And since the pre-action material is included as well, it is also a study on the acting process, the machinery of filming, and the artistic weight of what is seen when the cameras shouldn't be rolling.

Yet, as I have said before, the true accomplishment for me is in the approach to appropriation Moukarbel's video presents. By deliberately pre-empting Stone's film, World Trade Center 2006 plays with the idea of creating an adaptation of a film before its release. Is there such thing as an adaptation that precedes its original? Can it be called "adaptation?" What can such an act of pre-appropriation be called?

There are obviously very interesting legal questions at hand. Such as: is such a work copyright infringement? Is Moukarbel's video fair-use? Why?

Even more importantly to me are the artistic questions raised. What does it mean to appropriate preemptively? I am reminded of Haskell Wexler's film Medium Cool, which is a fictional film, a narrative drama, about the riots in Chicago during the 60s. But since Wexler was a radical, and in tune with the underground political currents of resistance, he knew about the planning of the riots before they were to happen. He wrote his film about a historical event that hadn't happened yet. He then filmed his fictional film, with actors, in Chicago while waiting for the planned riots to happen. They did, and he filmed his "fictional" scenes during the actual historical moment.

Such ideas explode notions appropriation. The term "appropriation" presupposes a temporal structure: original work leads to appropriative art. Yet, to pre-appropriate a work presents a theoretical problematic of its own nature, and one with a new temporal logic.

In a world where wars can be waged preemptively such a notion of pre-appropriation seems fitting.

I will denote such an artistic event: "prepropriation" or "presponse"

What does it mean to prespond? How can one prespond? What is the economy of prepropriation? How do such notions shatter the linear, temporal structure of appropriation, ownership, and intellectual property?

In the words of artist M.River, who blogged in response to Paramount's injunction against Moukarbel: "If you take our pain for propaganda... we will take your film for art."

In light of this problematic - my entreatment to the class: How can we use the logic of prepropriation and presponse to create a new ethos of art making?


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