Imitation not so flattering for Calgary artists frustrated by copied work

The Calgary artists behind a popular light installation have taken legal action to stop others — including a Las Vegas bar — from copying their work.

Caitlind r.c. Brown and Wayne Garrett say installation has been copied multiple times

Wayne Garrett and Caitlind r.c. Brown say one of their art installations is being copied without their permission. (Erika Stark/CBC)

The Calgary artists behind a popular light installation have taken legal action to stop others — including a Las Vegas bar — from copying their work.

The sculpture, called CLOUD, is made up of thousands of incandescent bulbs. It debuted at Calgary's 2012 Nuit Blanche festival and features pull strings that allow people to engage with the installation.

Since then, artists Caitlind r.c. Brown and Wayne Garrett say they've seen some very similar looking pieces cropping up around the world.

But isn't imitation the sincerest form of flattery? It's not that simple, says Brown.

"It's a complex feeling," she told the Calgary Eyeopener. "We're conflicted about it. In some ways, we recognize that is collateral damage for the success of this particular artwork."

Artists Caitlind r.c. Brown and Wayne Garrett say their installation, called CLOUD, has been imitated multiple times. (Caitlind r.c. Brown)

The artists have shown CLOUD more than 20 times around the world, including Israel, the Czech Republic, France and the U.K.

But versions of the piece have also popped up — and these ones weren't created by Brown or Garrett. In Las Vegas, the pair was contacted to build a version of CLOUD but passed on the project due to time constraints. 

"They just went ahead and hired a fabricator to build a version of CLOUD," Brown said.

Legal action

Brown and Garrett sent a cease and desist letter to the bar in Las Vegas. But they say taking legal action isn't their hope.

"We know we're not the only artists who have had some sort of infringement of their work happen," Brown said. "Our hope is that people think twice before they just reassemble the work of another artist."

Garrett acknowledged that there's a difference between being inspired by another piece of art — and ripping it off. 

It's not the first time the pair has had to deal with others infringing on their artistic integrity. In 2014, two advertisements by the Disney Institute and IBM sparked controversy among artists for their similar look to CLOUD.

"You'd be a fool to say that all artwork is conceived in a void. Everything is influenced by something else," Garrett said. "But I think the line for us is when an artwork is completely derivative and doesn't take a step to be innovative in some way."

CLOUD is displayed during the Lumina Light Festival in Cascais, Portugal on Sept. 14, 2014. The installation by the Canadian artists has been shown more than 20 times around the world. (Rafael Marchante/Reuters)

New installation to be unveiled

 Brown and Garrett will reveal a new piece, called Monument to Fallen Stars, later this week.

The piece is constructed out of old City of Calgary streetlight heads, which are being replaced by LED lights. 

"We started wondering where all of these street lights were going," Brown said. "They [the city] had a giant lot of 32,000 streetlight heads."

The roads department donated 100 to Brown and Garrett, and the rest will be recycled. The pair is creating a star chart out of the lights on the ground. 

"The piece itself is kind of a commentary on light pollution and sky glow which, even with more efficient LED lighting coming in is ever present an issue," Garrett said. 

The installation will debut at the corner of 4th Avenue and 5th Street S.W. at the Glow Festival beginning Feb. 17.