Tag Archives: fair use

Transformative Commentary

Transformative Commentary with Leonard Cohen’s “I’m Your Man”

Deep down, way down low, in the dark days of cuts and attacks upon the public sphere, vilification of teachers and public servants, and threats of even a thousand more cuts, I found some solace in Leonard Cohen’s 1988 album, “I’m Your Man.” The songs fuse together Cohen’s cutting words with synth-pop beats and lilting melodies that still speak to me on that level of stunning disappointment over institutional failures, of systemic corruption, and of human apathy enshrined by the paralysis of cynicism. The album opens with his lyrics, “They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom, for trying to change the system from within,” and though the album is decades old now, those musical choices that Cohen made still resonate as contemporary, futuristic, and forward facing. However, his vision is bracing, pitted from the abrasive blasts of transactional grit, but with perseverance, in spite of debacles and loathsome obstacles, with radical calls for action and strange optimism. In the tradition of Kafka’s aphorism, “There is hope, but not for us,” Cohen’s work describes for me a new practice and ideology for survival which I call “post-cynical.” That is to say, of course, things are terrible, but there is wisdom in accepting that, even embracing it, in order to protect a sense of possibility, for moving forward, so that we may again reach new heights.

Epilogue: The drawings in the series Transformative Commentary are a mashup of Leonard Cohen’s lyrics from each of the eight songs from his 1988 Album, “I’m Your Man,” paired with portraits of politicians and activists that figured prominently in 2016. All of the drawings in the Transformative Commentary series were planned earlier in 2016 but the last three (Barack Obama, Diamond Reynolds, James Comey) in the series exhibited in the RedLine Timeline exhibition were completed after Leonard Cohen’s death and the U.S. Presidential Election on November 7th and 8th, 2016, subsequently.


In January 2017, The Next Four Years Milwaukee selected a poster design by Marc Tasman and printed and distributed an edition of 500 for the occasion of the Women’s March on Washington DC and other gatherings around Wisconsin and the globe. The poster’s main design element, a charcoal drawing of US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg is derived from Tasman’s drawing series called “Transformative Commentary,” in which he mashed together lyrics from Leonard Cohen’s 1988 album “I’m Your Man,” with portraits of contemporary political figures. This poster design, however uses a quote from a plaintiff’s brief that Justice Ginsberg wrote as an attorney arguing in her first case before the Supreme Court, a equal protection case, Reed v. Reed, 404 U.S. 71 (1971): “The pedestal upon which women have been placed all too often, upon inspection, been revealed as a cage.” Along with the Ginsberg quotation, a paraphrasing of Susan B. Anthony, “Our Rights, No Less,” appears in large hand drawn letters.

The phrase “transformative commentary” refers to a principle in US Copyright law, the Fair Use exception. This principle allows for the unauthorized use of copyrighted material so long as the use of the original copyrighted material is proportional, transformative, or provides commentary or critique. The drawings in the series Transformative Commentary are a mashup of Leonard Cohen’s lyrics from each of the eight songs from his 1988 Album, “I’m Your Man,” paired with portraits of politicians and activists that figured prominently in 2016.

The album playlist goes as follows, the parenthetical names are the paired portraits:

1. “First We Take Manhattan” – Donald Trump

2. “Ain’t No Cure for Love” – Hillary Rodham Clinton

3. “Everybody Knows” – Bernie Sanders

4. “I’m Your Man” – James Comey

5. “Take This Waltz”– Diamond Reynolds

6. “Jazz Police”– LaVoy Finicum

7. “I Can’t Forget” – Barack Obama

8. “Tower of Song” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Who is Stealing My Signs?

An interventionist, performative, and net-based project, Who is Stealing my Signs? documents my attempts to protect a political yard sign during the US presidential election season in 2004.

Devising a Rube Goldberg-esqe surveillance, alarm, and reporting system made from fishing wire, motion detectors, cooking oil, an infrared video camera, an 8 hour VHS tape, and a website hosted on angelfire.com, I captured several failed attempts to steal the yard sign, in addition to the often humorous and surprised reactions of the unwitting would-be sign thieves.  By crafting my complaint using the rhetoric of an audio-visual narrative, I succeeded in soliciting the help of TV news and radio to tell my story in the local media vernacular. Of course when one hands control of the narrative over to another producer, one relinquishes control of certain aspects of agency and accuracy in exchange for recognition and sensation.

But how else could one respond to the tropes of the local media vernacular, where digital remixing is possible, and the best chance to reclaim agency? A Video Vigilante Fair Use Mashup, of course.