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Who owns the idea of shooting giant laser beams into the night sky?
That's the question at the heart of a simmering dispute threatening a signature project at Miami's new mega music and art festival, UR1, where Andy Warhol associate Ultra Violet plans to beam a huge laser across Biscayne Bay.
Problem is, a Berlin-based artist named Yvette Mattern says her own successful giant-laser art is being ripped off. "I am deeply disappointed in Ultra Violet," Mattern tells Riptide.
Ultra Violet won't hear of it. "Light is my medium. I don't use paint," she says. "And light is a public domain. No one has a monopoly on it."
Let's hope this doesn't come down to a lightsaber duel.
Mattern, who is American, has made a name for herself with a piece called Global Rainbow, for which she aims an RGBIV barrage across cities and waterfronts. The piece recently shone five miles across the coast of Northern England, where viewers "hugely enjoyed the spectacle," according to the Guardian.
Last year, Mattern says, Ultra Violet approached her about the idea of reviving the Noguchi Tower — a light installation on display for years at Bayfront Park. Mattern agreed to collaborate and met the artist and reps from Kiwi Group, which is producing Ultra Violet’s work, but eventually lost contact and assumed the project was dead.
So she was shocked to read online about Ultra Violet's UR1 plans. "This project has taken me years to develop and a lot of financial sacrifice to create," Mattern says.
Though Ultra Violet admits she met with Mattern, she laughs at the idea that the UR1 piece was Mattern's idea. "Nothing came of it. We have no relationship," Ultra Violet says.
Tom Harmon is the owner of LaserNet, the same company that lit up the Noguchi Tower in the mid-'80s. He's also creating Ultra Violet's new work, and echoes her views. " I've been making a living from laser beams for 30 years. Have I ever shot rainbows with my lasers? Yes, thousands of times," he says. "That's a public domain. There's no artist who can claim I can't shoot rainbows."
Harmon and Ultra Violet also point out they're doing the project pro bono, so there's no financial motive for thievery.
But Mattern says her own living is threatened by the work. She says she plans to send an official cease-and-desist letter soon.
"The legacy of Andy Warhol has enormous power in the art world," Mattern says, "and if Ultra Violet and Kiwi are using this power in ways that affect the integrity of another artist, then they are not honorable people."