Who Owns the Clouds
Not In My Back Yard takes on a whole new meaning in the groves of Cambridge Academy it seems, as artist Gerhard Lang (alias Cumulo Nimbus), discovered to his cost when he attempted to photograph in the sky above the hallowed ground of King's College Chapel as part of an ongoing project on cloudology.
In the course of his researches across Great Britain, from Land's End to John O'Groats, Lang fetched up in Cambridge last Summer. Walking past King's College, he spotted the first clouds of the day drifting gently above the Chapel. Deciding to add some "King's College Clouds" to his collection, he paid his entrance fee, set up his tripod and camera, lens uppermost, and began "collecting". He was snapping away happily when he was approached by an official who informed him that it was forbidden, on pain of prosecution, to use a tripod to photograph the chapel or any of the King' College architecture without prior written permission. When he explained that he was actually photographing the clouds above the chapel, he was met with scepticism which only increased when he further explained that he was an artist. The official insisted that, if he really was only photographing the clouds, and if he really was an artist, then the photographs eventually would be exhibited or published as "King's College Clouds", taken on King's College property. Ergo, since the clouds were the property of King's College, in the view of the Domus Bursar, Lang would be liable for prosecution. "Fine", said Lang, who had long been wondering whether anyone could own the clouds - whether the reach of capitalism could extend that far. The official, perhaps feeling that the artist was not taking the matter seriously enough, warned Lang than in any confrontation with the College, he would be bound to lose, such is the power and influence of that august institution. For Lang, however, the whole episode was becoming more and more interesting, philosophically speaking. For instance, what if a photograph not of a King's College cloud were nevertheless exhibited as King's College Cloud? He put this question to the official. It would make no difference, he was told, as long as the College's name was used, it is their property.
This whole affair raises interesting questions. As Lang himself has pointed out, the Ministry of Defence might contest King's College claims to the sky - and any passing clouds - above its property. What of the public's rights? Are there equivalents for the public right-of-way bylaws that protect our rights on land? If you have a license to fly, must a toll be paid to fly over private property? Perhaps the College will apply to the UN to create a "no-artist" zone over Cambridge. Or did the Government quietly privatise the air as well as the water when no one was looking? If so, what would be the quango set up to monitor its operations? After Offtel and Offwatch, how about Offair?
['Cumulo NIMBY', Editorial originally published in Art Monthly (Editor:
Patricia Bickers), Issue 191, November 1995, p 14]
Today the King’s College Front Court Cloud is part of a large collection of photographs that are used for creating identikit photographs of landscapes and clouds etc. For this work Gerhard Lang employs an old identikit machine of the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA). See Work: New Reports from the Countryside. Identikit Photographs of Landscapes, and the cycle: Identikit Photographs of Clouds
More about the clouds in Gerhard Lang’s work:
- Cloud Walk 9
- Silhouettes of Clouds
- Cloud Walk 3
- John Constable’s Clouds are still passing
At the Back Entrance of
Photo: Alan McCormick