Impressions from essencelessness

In the first section of our reading of Boon’s In Praise of Copying I was taken by the idea of objects having essencelessness. In my research I have been trying to attribute personalities within objects and investigate how meaning gets attached to things and their forms. To consider the argument that objects are fundamentally empty and can therefore become anything or nothing depending on which interpretation is injected into it, makes the phenomenon of how we choose our objects to solidify our identities very interesting.

To think of the object as being empty, waiting to be filled up with the interpretations, intentions, desires and needs of the individual no matter its form or intended function opens the grounds for recognition of objects as physical, transitional beings. The object becomes ever-changing since the experiencer/user of the object is constantly shifting their platforms of perception, which puts the experience in a sphere of impertinence thereby making the interpretation just as much so. All of these momentary perceptions influencing momentary instances all to rest on differing interpretations really makes the mind whirl. To step further into the Buddhist school of thought and to understand the self as being in a state of selflessness, meaning there is no true self that is deciding, then how to determine what type of meaning of experience will be felt and who is in control; the object or the subject? To think of both the individual and the object to be in a state of essencelessness flux, awaiting identities to be assigned onto them I find to be an intriguing and somewhat confusing concept.

When Boon is explaining the essencelessness of objects in relation to the copy, it is easy to see how the meaning of what is copy and what is original becomes incredibly blurred. If a copy is viewed as a deceptive original then we tend to attribute distain for it since we want so badly to believe in realities outward appearance even though we are creating the illusions of our realities constantly. The demand of stability and truth we urn for from our objects and surroundings becomes almost comical when considering that we as individual identities are ever changing, unstable beings. Perhaps this is the reason that we put such importance towards “finding the truth” since the underlying feeling of insecurity is calling out as we try to build our egos and attach it to a sense of self that just isn’t there to begin with. Just as the copy plays at being the original, we play at trying on roles to justify our identities.

I can’t help but feel a sense of detachment when reflecting on these impressions which makes we wonder further if the idea of essencelessness/selflessness/emptiness is starting to sink in.

Marcus Boon.  In Praise of Copying (Cambridge, MA & London: Harvard University Press, 2010).

Jack Kornfield. “Identity and Selflessness in Buddhism:No Self or True Self?” Tricyle Magazine.


Is the notion of taking something exactly and replicating it in a new medium stealing?

Then, why artists using appropriated works are being successful in doing so?

Mona Lisa is the most iconic paintings in history, and one of the most appropriated. Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol, and Jasper Johns, have successfully appropriated the Mona Lisa in their work.


  • H.O.O.Q. (1919) Marcel Duchamp

L.H.O.O.Q. features Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa with masculine features (moustache and beard) had an impact on the Dada movement. It challenged traditional art and helped pave the way for the upcoming surrealist movement.


Thirty Is Better Than One (1963) Andy Warhol

Warhol appropriated the Mona Lisa a little bit differently than Duchamp. In his piece Thirty Are Better Than One, Warhol creates a pattern-like print utilizing the image of Mona Lisa multiples times, in a way embracing mass consumerism and reproduction.

 The Seasons (Summer) 1987 Jasper Johns born 1930 Presented by the American Fund for the Tate Gallery, courtesy of Judy and Kenneth Dayton 2004

  • The Seasons (Summer) 1987 Jasper Johns

John’s Seasons appropriates the image of Mona Lisa directly acknowledges works of artists like Duchamp and Warhol who had used the iconic image in the past

When the images are altered and put into a different context, we no longer look at that work in the same way; it becomes a different art work. After recognizing the effort, technical skill, intelligence and intentions to create new art departing from an original, we can then appreciate recontextualizing a piece of art. Mona Lisa can be taken from an oil painting, appropriated as a television cartoon, a postcard, a silk screen print, or a piece of assemblage.  However, when you google “Mona Lisa”, you will see endless variations of the iconic piece by Da Vinci altered by many artists or hobbyists. Here I see that the image has been overdone and over consumed purposelessly in a way that takes off from its value, quality and authenticity.

Below is a screenshot from google image search for Mona Lisa:


Copying Restrictions and Unhappiness

Marcus Boon’s In Praise of Copying finds many ways to argue that copying is a fundamental condition of communities and that this is how we learn and pass on knowledge from one generation to the next.  He explains that this occurs in art when dancers repeat the steps of other dancers; in music when songs copy parts/styles of other songs (i.e. sampling in hip hop); and that books often repeat themes.  However, Boon argues that the “newer versions” add nuances that modernize the original and influence us further.  By explaining how copying is deeply engrained into our society, and how greatly we are influenced by it, the author helps the reader understand the negative impact it would have on the majority of the population if practices of copying become even more limited and inaccessible as we are currently observing with ongoing intellectual-property wars.

I agree with Boon that having the right to autonomous acts (described as occurring in folk communities) has a positive effect on the human psyche— which I believe plays an important role in our individual happiness.  For example, I grew up in Toronto and am old enough to remember a time when we had greater autonomy, as it pertains to public activity.  This was before cameras infiltrated the street, public advertising spaces were heavily guarded/monitored and before copyright law made an arresting presence in copy shops.  Before all this there was a different feeling that you had when you travelled throughout the city.  I don’t know how to describe it, but it felt more relaxed and “open” somehow.  It was like people had a freedom of action that translated into a feeling of ownership over their own lives.

We could put up a poster almost anywhere, write a comment on a subway ad and photocopy virtually anything we wanted in a print shop without being stopped.  While I don’t support vandalism, I think that a lot of cameras everywhere, and their copies, are a significant hindrance to our sense of autonomy (which is compromised even if we have no desire to do the thing we are told not to).  I always suspected that the loss of these so-called “trivial” freedoms (like Boon is talking about with threats to the fair use exception) had a greater negative impact on all of us than we realized.  The popular opinion and belief system was (and still is) that these types of autonomy were worth giving up because of what would be gained as a result.

After reading Boon, I realized that the limitations put on copying also affect our happiness.  I read some articles and found out that if we don’t have autonomy— even if it’s just being stopped from making a copy at Kinkos— it can actually make us unhappy and even affect our health (see

Marcus Boon.  In Praise of Copying (Cambridge, MA & London: Harvard University Press, 2010).  Autonomy (Social Psychology):


Ceci n’est pas une pipe: Labeling as appropriation

In the section of the chapter “Copying as Appropriation,” Boon is questioning the abstract nature of language and what it means to label a thing. He is also referencing Heidegger, who speaks of the “property” and “essence” of objects.

“…when we look at a tree, although we can recognize the impermanence of the tree—the fact that is grows, changes with the seasons, eventually dies—we nevertheless feel that a tree is not a bird or an ocean, nor could we call an ocean a copy of a tree (or could we?). The tree is established by an act of labeling that is appropriate, yet we also recognize a certain properness in calling a tree a tree” (Boon, p.219).

When I was reading this section, it reminded me of the work by the Belgium Surrealist painter, René Magritte. Although famous for his work in the surrealist movement, Magritte considered himself a philosopher and thinker who represented his ideas through paint. In 1929, Magritte painted “The Treachery of Images,” an image of a pipe with the phrase bellow, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe,” which translates to “This is not a pipe.” The painting is a representation of a pipe, rather than the pipe itself, but what is a pipe? It is a pipe because it is labelled a pipe. Magritte is questioning the relationship between language and objects, which I think we could say is an appropriation of a pipe. He was very familiar with Heidegger and Foucault, who questioned similar relationships between language, objects and meaning. As well, Foucault wrote a book in response to Magritte called “This is Not a Pipe” in 1973.


Willette, Jeanne. “Michel Foucault: ‘This is not a Pipe,’” Art History Unstuffed. 2014.

Binary Code?

In Chapter 6 Mass Production of Copies pages 198- 200 Boon writes of Digital Perfection? Of copies of binary code stored on computers series of 1’s and 0’s. I’m going to go on a bit of a tangent.

Jacquard looms patented in 1801 are considered the first computers and use punch cards the first binary code not a one or a zero so much as a space or no space, these cards instructed a loom on which yarns to lift and which to lower in the weaving of a complex pattern in fabric.

What I think is interesting in binary code, is each set of binary codes used to produce a pattern in fabric also produces it’s opposite. Below is a photo of both sides of an early jacquard weave. As you can see what is blue on one side is white on the other, almost like a negative. So what code is correct 011011 or 100100?


If you look at textile grammar further the language gets even more complicated, because fabrics can be interwoven, a double weave. Below is a diagram from Grammar of Textile Design that shows the cross section of regular woven cloth. Here where the negative or opposite results as in the image of the coverlet above. It is also interesting to note that it is not labeled with 1’s and 0’s but with 1’s and 2’s and takes me to Boons comments on Julian Dibbell’s work, that the 0’s and 1’s don’t mark on and off rather slight differences in voltage.


(Nisbet 1906, 7)

In the case of double weaves yarns can jump back and forth between one woven fabric and another.


(Ostick 1952, 41)

A double weave is still created using sets of binary code, but here it does not produce its opposite, it instead produces something completely different on its opposing side. I can’t help but think of Derrida, even within a binary system there is the space that exists in between the opposing but not opposite sides. Is this taken into account in computer programming?

Boon, Marcus. In praise of copying. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013.

FiberMusings. “Jaquard Loom at Busatti Mill.” YouTube. February 20, 2009. Accessed February 19, 2018.

Nisbet, Harry. Grammar of textile design. London: Scott, Greenwood & Son, 1906.

Ostick, Ernest, and Angela Field. Textiles for tailors. London: The Tailor and Cutter Limited, 1952.



The Power of Montage

I am intrigued by the way that Boon connects language, magic, and montage. I think this is a beautiful constellation of ideas and a wonderful description of how creative modes of “copying” hold power over our imaginations.

“Anthropologist Stanley Tambiah, in his discussion of James George Frazer’s theories of magic, sees metonymy as a key part of magic— the substitution of one thing for another with which it is closely associated. And montage is evidence of this: the artist makes a copy from fragments of other objects, or from wholes that now become components of a newer, larger assemblage. But these things are not just fragmentary bits to be reassembled like Lego bricks; they in some sense contain the whole from which they come—and when they are placed in a montage, the transformation of the fragments that occurs also exerts an effect on the original from which the fragments came.” (145)

For Boon, the decontextualization and juxtaposition of images, words, or objects in the art of montage doesn’t reduce their influence but enhances it, since each element speaks to both its original context and its new situation. He likens this to the workings of ritual; magical thinking, where a token or fragment of a whole is seen to hold power over the original thing itself. I think this is an interesting set of ideas to bring into contrast with the Agamben reading earlier in the term: like Agamben Boon sees a power in decontextualized objects.

Boon’s discussion makes use of a classic work the Golden Bough, which is a strange and awkward text to read in 2018. Published in 1890, it is described as “A monumental study in comparative folklore, magic and religion.” Many poets of the 1960s and 70s were fascinated with it, but when I’ve tried to read it, though I’ve found its subject matter fascinating, I’ve been unable to get past its casual racism and eurocentrism. That said, it has been very influential in creative circles, and I think Boon makes great use of the basic ideas of mimetic and sympathetic magic, showing how these ideas can be understood in the context of art making, copying, and imaginative play.

What I think this discussion of montage, magic, and metonymy raises is the importance of associative thinking in creative practices. As Boon says: “By breaking open a named, coded form, one creates fragments that are unfinished, charged with some of the energy of the form they came from, whose likeness they still contain” (152).  Another way of phrasing this might be to say that interpretation through juxtaposition is a way of breaking through hegemonic logical orders.

This puts me in mind of several artists whose work I enjoy, including Falke Pisano, who works with philosophical syllogisms and mathematics, but who appropriates them in order to explore how to “move agency away from the artist.”  Inviting chance and “other” material agencies into a work speaks to the power of montage, in my opinion: a work of collected fragments is a work that is surrounded by many fields of meaning all at once.

Invested as it is in mathematical logic, Pisano’s work is difficult, and it doesn’t appear to have much to do with magical thinking, but I think we can use Boon to see how decontextualization and juxtaposition work to “reenergize” the theorems that Pisano uses in her work.

I also enjoy Kolaj Magazine for its recognition of the power of artistic juxtaposition; they too use the language of “brokenness” to hint at the dual destructive/creative power of collage (much like montage in Boon).

Works Cited

Boon, Marcus. 2010;2011;. In praise of copying. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Living Copia

Marcus Boon’s description of Nature as a mass-produced object brought to mind the many ways we try to manipulate and control flora and fauna. The commercial food industry is perhaps one of the most obvious examples of this. In The End of Food: How the Food Industry is Destroying Our Food Supply, And What We Can Do About It, Thomas F. Pawlick exposes the disconcerting realities of agricultural (re)production. This includes a great loss in species diversity, significantly diminished nutrients and overall, a monopoly on food (2006).

The Arts and Crafts movement reacted against industry and mass reproduction by looking to the “pre-colonial traditions”, craftsmanship and folk culture. However, even the most iconic work of this movement by William Morris, still fixed dynamic and living nature through repetition and flat design. While the pastoral and floral representations are beautiful examples of organic “copia”, they very much bring to mind the problematic aspects of nostalgia, appropriation and land cultivation. As predominantly a representational artist working with the concepts of biophilia and natureculture, I continue to wrestle with these considerations in my own work. Jessica’s question from last week regarding engagement with these structures is deeply poignant and one which we are all considering: “can we see them for what they are and change them?”

One could argue that montage is the “key to the impasse called postmodernism, capitalism and globilization”, but as Boone sums up, “Derridean Trace and Deleuzian assemblage were part of the anti-essentialist project’, but have “instead been absorbed into capitalism” (166). Even the collectivist pursuit of accessibility is harnessed for capitalist gains. Our best attempts to expose and juxtapose are thwarted and end up as part of the capitalist machine.

Perhaps the question is in the framing and reframing; the ongoing framing. Instead of Adorno’s concept of ‘exploding elements’ we need to embrace a fluidity of phenomena that are in a constant state of definition and erasure (164). On page 154, Boon considers “mimetic energy” as an expression of “flux, transfer, transformation, impermanence on matter” signifying a “certain inherent openness of matter which can be worked with through the practice of montage” (154). This refers to a non-binary, always shifting-in-relationship quality of the world. As a maker, this fluidity and agency of matter is both a liberating and daunting consideration when it comes to wanting to engage in conversations of transformation. Not only can engaged art expose the shifting systems and structures in our world, but it can collaborate and facilitates alternative networks of seeing and doing, all the while revealing its own evolving position.
Boon, Marcus. 2010. In Praise of Copying. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Pawlick, Thomas F. 2006. The End of Food: How the Food Industry is Destroying Our Food Supply, And What We Can Do About It. Fort Lee: Barricade Books.

Reflections on The Appropriation of Eastern Philosophies

Boon’s chapter Copying As Appropriation in his book In Praise of Copying discusses the use of appropriation throughout various cultures. Appropriation is the act of taking something and using it as one’s own, including making or claiming it is one’s own creation. Boon describes an interaction he had with his own students while discussing what it means to appropriate other people’s culture, to which one student claimed that slavery was a kind of appropriation; the appropriation of other peoples bodies, cultures, minds, properties.

This passage of Boon’s book got me thinking about what Boon was putting forth. Often, Boon uses Eastern philosophy as a “lens” to which we can understand how a culture of copying influences perspectives of ourselves and others; but I wonder how much of Boon’s appropriation of Eastern philosophy could also be considered a negative appropriation of culture. How can one utilize Eastern philosophy when they themselves are not Eastern? I have been watching a very interesting Netflix show recently called The Witch Doctor Will See You Now, a series where host Piers Gibbon asks two Americans to follow him to countries where the concept of medicine is very different from Western societies; countries such as India, Africa, and Peru, have more holistic perspectives of healing. In these countries, medicine can mean taking part in ritualistic practices that integrate cultural belief systems as part of the healing process. For Western countries, biomedical models of science often separate emotion or belief from the healing process.

Much like Boon’s use of Eastern philosophy, The Witch Doctor Will See You Now, is limited in its understanding of these cultural practices and philosophies because they are not from those countries. I believe that, even though the intentions of both Boon and Gibbon may have been positive, it is still problematic for them to represent and use cultures that are not their own in order to make a point or demonstrate aspects of Western culture.

For example, in The Witch Doctor Will See You Now, Gibbon is a white, British man who asks to be part of sacred rituals and healing journeys that often evoke negative responses on part of both him and his American guests. Many of the participants on the show have adverse reactions to the “gross” or “dangerous” practices, which reinforce the show’s already orientalist gaze.

The show positions non-White cultures an unknown territory of sacred knowledge, in which one may find strange yet miraculous cures to a variety of ailments. Appropriating these cultures for television is a way in which Gibbon has harnessed Western viewers; by demonstrating the weird, gross, and disturbing healing rituals, the show gains viewers by captivating them with the unknown.

In a way, I feel that Boon does a similar thing by discussing Buddhist philosophies from a white perspective. It is interesting to me that in both these cases, other cultures are being offered up as alternative answers to our culturally contingent predicaments. In my opinion, I think it is ironic that Boon touches on the violence of appropriation but does not consider that his conceptualization of Eastern philosophies may not even accurately reflect the knowledge systems of non-White cultures.


How do animals create culture?

I love podcasts and I spend soooo much time listening to them. I also love animals and sciences in general. This week I was listening to The Guardian Science Podcast when the topics of the importance of copying in the process of construction of a culture came about. This episode deals with animal and human culture alike and how culture is created through repetition and variation, which implies selectivity (of what we copy) and capacity of innovation (of the elements we choose to vary). It was very interesting to reflect on how what we have been talking as a human action can be applied and seen in animals. Enjoy!

Week 6 – Some thoughts textual adaptation and Montage

Doing the textual adaptation is a pretty interesting experience to me, especially to see how different Western and Eastern interpretation of Chuang Tzu and the Butterfly. The story was written a long time ago, so the original text was in classical Chinese instead of Modern Mandarin. That being said, Boon’s reference to the story was a translation of a Modern Chinese translation of the classical Chinese text. There can still be read differently.

Although Chinese interpretation of the text often is criticized for romanticizing the text too much, I still think it is interesting to talk about it. Boon use this story to suggest that the illusion of Chuang Tzu is because of how direct and violent our language cut through things by naming them. Hence, if the identity our things are more fluid than we thought, then it is pointless to talk about original and copies. On the other hand, Chinese interpretation was heavily influenced by Chuang Tzu’s lifestyle, personalities and life events. Many later thinkers interpret Chuang Tzu’s text as a presentation of his philosophy on life, encourage people to remove their physical desires for their body (Chuang Tzu, a name we give to our body), to have spiritual freedom as what butterfly represents. I think both interpretations can be used to support the argument of copy. As what the book has explained so far, many examples of copies are works/ products that copy the physical form of the original. It seems that we almost do not care about works that carry the same idea but different appearance. If what is matter is the inner spirituality/ concept, then the story also encourages us to drop our prestige on the form of the works.

Another chapter I found interesting is the “Montage”, as I consider myself as a collage artist, I think I am quite familiar of what the difference between Montage and collage, and yet I found myself getting confused again. To me, montage is a grouping of things that consist a sort of similarities where as collage uses things that is totall random. Assemblage will be a systematic display of the things. I again find his reference to Chinese I Ching interesting as he use it as an example of montage’s modularity in Non-western context. This reference makes me think if the modularity in I Ching stand for the similar meaning to Western culture, and my guess will be no.

As he introduces in the later of the chapter, modularity is tied with digital computing. The modularity here is utilized to group entities with a hierarchy of preference to reach the efficiency on an execution of a command, in a sense, for regulation and control. In I Ching, the modularity was originally used for understanding climate and natural disaster, but quickly it also becomes an extended philosophy on its own. Although it has the very similar concept of opposition relation between elements, the hope is not for one element to dominate the other. For example, the famous concept of yin and yan.


Yin as energy of the moon and Yan as energy of the sun, the diagram demonstrate a perfect fusion between the two where energy is neutral. Moreover, yin always reside within yan and yan always reside within yin, they are codepedent to each other. When there is a strange phenomenon, or sickness, the traditional interpretation will be that the reason is either a lack of some element or too much of an element. The solution will be to remove that excess element or to charge more opposing element to balance the energy. Hence, I am not sure if this is the best example for arguming around montage as the response to modernity in this book.