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Works That Work, No.5,


by Peter Biľak (682 words)

Exploring the fine line between breaking the rules and breaking the laws.

The Mona Lisa (or La Gioconda) by Leonardo da Vinci is probably the best­known, most visited, most written­ about and most parodied work of art in the world. The painting is said to be ‘priceless’, but based on its insur­ ance value some estimate it to be worth over €2 billion. (Photo: Theresa Scarbrough)

Creativity often challenges generally accepted assumptions and standards. New ideas, after all, are new because they deviate from the norm, flout convention and break rules. But are there rules that shouldn’t be broken, and if so, who decides which ones? In olden times explorers set out to discover new worlds, new possibilities and new resources. Today we debate whether they were heroes and pioneers or opportunistic invaders who despoiled virgin territories, subjugated native civilisations and destroyed historic cultures. This issue of Works That Work explores creativity on the edge of legality and beyond. Faced with complex challenges, people worldwide try to change their fortunes by innovations that are judged differently in different places and different periods. We look at how international borders are enforced and also broken, what defines the idea of original or fake, how our lives are shaped by our belief in the authenticity of official documents, how prisoners make their lives more bearable by making imaginative inventions from contraband, and how creating your own currency can be a rewarding way to protect local areas. As always, these ideas were collected, researched and documented so that they can help us to improve our lives or the lives of others.

The Mona Lisa is also the most reproduced painting in the Chinese village of Dafen, which produces copies of iconic art for consumers across the world. German photogra­pher Michael Wolf photographed Dafen art workers for his project Real Fake Art. A book of his photos was published in 2011. The Mona Lisa in the photo sells for €49 (US$53). The Real Fake Art book retails for €40.20 (US$42.20). (Photo: Peter Bilak)

We commissioned art workers at the Dafen Oil Painting Village to paint Michael Wolf’s photo via the website The 41 × 51 cm (16 × 20 in) oil painting cost €452 (US$474), including UPS shipping from China to the Netherlands.

We exchanged eight emails with an administrator named Henry who sent photos of the painting during the process for approval. Despite our enquiries, the art worker remained anonymous.

Peter Biľak is the founding editor of Works That Work magazine. He also runs Typotheque type foundry and co-founded Dot Dot Dot magazine. Peter also teaches at the Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague.

This article comes from Works That Work magazine, No.5.
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