Last month, artist Kate Hollett wrote a letter to the Art Gallery of Ontario requesting that it remove an artwork by Lisa Steele and Kim Tomczak, due to copyright infringement.
Hollett claims Steele and Tomczak’s Love² copies her video project featuring people saying, “I love you,” directly to the camera. Titled I Love You Over & Over, the work was first exhibited in 2002. That same year, Hollett submitted it to V-Tape, a distributor of contemporary and historical video art, which Steele and Tomczak cofounded and still work for. V-Tape never distributed Hollett’s work.
Hollett alleges she spoke with Tomczak in 2007 about how to make her work interactive. Shortly thereafter, she learned from filmmaker Kathy Wazanna that Steele and Tomczak were working on project similar to her own. It was commissioned by the city of Toronto’s 2 Percent program for Dundas Square, a public square downtown. Steele and Tomczak were awarded $125,000 to complete the project.
After contacting a lawyer and meeting with Steele and Tomczak, they agreed to remove all the footage from their work that showed a person saying, “I love you,” to the camera. Hollett calls the final work they produced a “corporate compromise.”
Since the incident, Hollett moved to Berlin. When she discovered that the edited form of Love² is included in the “Toronto Tributes 1971–1989” exhibition, which is on view until May 22, she decided to inform the gallery of the context of the work it was showing.
“As a member of a small art world, caught up in the politics of art and money, I fear the repercussions of this letter,” Hollett wrote. “But, this is my life’s work, so doing nothing would be far worse. It’s one thing to do a commercial art piece and edit it to stay within legal copyright lines. It’s another to say it’s your art.”