Joywar: The Molotov Years


Recall Toywar, the battle between Zurich-based net collective and eToys, a once-profitable but eventually bankrupted toy vendor? Recap: in 1999, the retailer closed down, arguing that eToys users who accessed the art site would be offended by its content. In an act of 'electronic civil disobedience,' etoy supporters bombarded, overwhelmed its servers, and helped devalue its stock to $1/share. When the dust settled, the commercial giant had lost five billion dollars worth of equity in 81 days and retained the rights to its name. Now: Joywar. Artist Joy Garnett, whose paintings sample photojournalism, is being sued by a photographer over 'Molotov,' a reworked, large-scale painting based on an image from 1978. The case hinges on the question of who owns media images, especially those that are supposedly documentarian: after all, if an artist can lay original and exclusive claim to the portrait of a revolutionary hurling a molotov cocktail, we might have pause to wonder on the nature of that captured event. We might also notice the anxiety released when an image is remade and given new meaning, new circulation, and yes, new profit potential. While she awaits the outcome of the suit, whose plaintiff is demanding several thousand dollars, credit, and that she not exhibit or produce the work again, Garnett has removed 'Molotov' from her website. Garnett's peers have initiated a 'Joywar,' and a flourishing campaign to sample, share and remix is underway. It's impossible to list here all of the mirror sites and uses of 'Molotov' that have exploded in the last week or so, but it's clear that many are in favor of the free dissemination and reuse of images and the rights of artists like Garnett to sample.