4D Fdn II: Appropriation (Allie Mac Burroughs)

  1. Why can’t artist simply make his own content? Analyse why and how the remake critiques the original. How do the artists view their own works in relation to others?
  2. Think hard about the material interpretation, motivation of the artist, viewing and social context and the reaction to all.
  3. Is it ok to copy and reuse materials of others in contemporary art? It is a necessary evil to critique a particular issue or status quo.


In 1933, Walker Evans creates a photographic series depicting a family of workers during the Great Depression. Some of these images, such as the untitled portrait of Allie Mac Burroughs, became an icon in the history of photography, as well as symbol of the Great Depression.

In 1981, appropriating artist Sherrie Levine exhibited in New York her photographic series called After Walker Evans. Levine photographed the famous series of Walker Evans directly from an exhibition catalogue.

In 2001, another artist, Michael Mandiberg scanned and posted online the photos that Sherrie Levine appropriated from Walker Evans. He also created a website entitled aftersherrielevine.com, where the photos appropriated by Sherrie Levine once protected by copyright become available for further appropriation by any user of the website.

This fact applies entirely in the instance of appropriators such as Levine or Mandiberg and helps us understand that they do not, in fact, really go against the Foucaultian understanding of the author’s death. It is true, however, that their work seems in fact to reinforce and reaffirm the artist’s authorial function rather than undermine it. ‘Who is speaking’, namely whether it is Levine or Mandiberg, is, indeed, not only important, but imperative. Levine and Mandiberg are Foucaultian followers in as much as they prove through their undertaking that the author is nothing but a function of the text, a label, or in Agamben’s terms, a gesture.

The appropriators use the Foucaultian distinction as part of their tactics. The author function is, according to Foucault “characteristic of the modes of existence, circulation and functioning of certain discourses within a society”. He works also as a sort of projection “of the operations that we force texts to undergo, the connections that we make, the traits that we establish as pertinent, the continuities that we recognize or the exclusions that we practice”. The appropriators have assimilated this lesson by acknowledging the fact that by changing the name, one changes the way we operate on the texts, the connections and exclusions we rush to create.


Author: Alfred Yeo

Every colour has a mood, every design has a purpose, and every word communicates something.

One thought on “4D Fdn II: Appropriation (Allie Mac Burroughs)”

  1. Good crossed reference of Foucault’s the function of an author. It is true that it is important to know is the the author, is in order to contextual the work. You might find Barthes’s Death of the author a good accompaniment to Foucault’s What is An Author. Thanks for sharing your reflections!

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