A recent visit to Bilbao led me to reflect on digital creation and ownership. I will briefly describe the two experiences that triggered this post. The image above is a photo taken during my visit to the Guggenheim museum. As I wandered around looking at the Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibit on the top floor I used my phone to capture some of the quotations on the wall. A friend meanwhile captured the impressive light and surfaces of this beautiful building. We were not prevented from doing so. That is until I turned my phone towards one of the artworks and was abruptly chided "no photos por favor". Fair enough, I thought, maybe the flash could damage the artwork. Later, having visited the fan shop for Athletico Bilbao in the old town to take home a souvenir for my son, I asked if I could take a picture of the shop's interior to share with him. Again came the "no photos" reply.
I was left puzzling the principles behind these rules. Both spaces are public spaces, they clearly want to attract visitors. Both will happily take our money and benefit from our patronage. Our reported experiences (as seen on sites such as Trip Advisor) can influence other potential visitors and thus affect their "brand". It is normal these days for us to capture snapshots of our experiences to share on social media. Perhaps such businesses could better communicate what they consider to be acceptable use of technology on their premesis?
Digital activity has made everyone a reviewer or reviewee. Creating and sharing digital capture allows individuals to express their unique take on the world, capturing a perspective that is personal and original. In the same way Basquiat's self expression came to promenance on the streets of New York, ours resides on social websites such as Instagram, evidencing how our experiences shape our lives. Businesses are in some cases claiming ownership of such experiences, the more progressive of them recognise that visitor impressions are powerful and encourage posting to their own social pages.
Using legislation, policies and rules to limit the rights of others to experience and portray their world without good reason is abhorrent to me. I believe it is contrary to web culture, a domain where equity and freedom of speech is currently a defining principle. I believe Basquiat would have felt the same way had he lived long enough to experience the rise of the web. He clearly felt that self expression through art connected him to the world. Freedom is under threat however, not least by those who abuse it, but also by those who would assert ownership of the infrastructure to create a two-tiered system where access is governed by your means. One way of addressing this is to ensure that ordinary people can claim their stake on their contribution through Creative Commons licencing. The silent majority need to be heard if we are to avoid the internet becoming a mirror of our world, where 1% of the population owns the lion's share.
PS. If you would like to explore Basquiat's work in the open take a look at this site Artsy has a mission to bring art to all.