Why research is for everyone (including Ferdinand Cacnio)

Monday, June 26, 2017 Stef dela Cruz, MD 0 Comments

Ferdinand Cacnio’s sculpture, UPLift, started trending shortly after photos of it were posted online. Too bad it became famous for all the wrong reasons.

Cacnio’s brass creation – a female floating in the air with her hair touching the ground – looked a little too much like Elisabet Bea Stienstra’s bronze sculpture in Netherlands. It also resembled many other sculptures all over the world.

Cacnio UPLift

A screenshot of Lei Lois Tolentino Azarcon’s status update on Facebook reveals the uncanny similarity between Stienstra’s sculpture and Cacnio’s “UPLift”.

Netizens cried plagiarism, accusing Cacnio of being unoriginal. Taking to his Facebook page to address these accusations, he denied having ever seen Stienstra’s work, saying UPLift was his “own creation”.

Cacnio isn’t the only artist who has been accused of copying someone else’s work. Beyonce was sued in court several times for allegedly sampling other people's works without permission. Vivienne Westwood had to apologize after someone else’s art was printed without permission on a shirt she was selling. Marvin Gaye’s children filed a lawsuit against Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams for plagiarism – and won.

There will be instances when the plagiarism is obvious (check out how my work was copied by another blogger). However, it’s sometimes as simple as people in creatives forgetting to do one basic task: research.


Who came before you?

In the field of medical research, investigators must do a review of related literature before proceeding with their work. It gives researchers a good working knowledge of what has been done in the past, providing them with information that they can use and/or critique for their research framework.

A literature review also saves investigators from the embarrassment of being accused of fortuitous plagiarism.

Unintended plagiarism: arguably the most famous excuse for doing what has been done before.

While a review of literature in the field of medical research is made systematic by a structured database, doing a search of artwork related to yours can be both simpler and more complicated: simpler, because you can use keywords to look for pre-existing works of art that might look like yours; complicated, because reducing images to mere words can lead to translational error.

Related (paradoxical) post:    
Why research is not for everyone… yet.


The relativity of originality

Is anything really original? Can we claim to own an idea if we can’t say for sure that nobody has thought of it first?

When do we say our work is original? Our creativity borrows from the myriad experiences we’ve had, sourced from a highly personal collage of everything we’ve ever seen, touched, heard, read, done, and felt.

Still, it’s just a collage. Or is it really just that?

After netizens collectively called out Cacnio, his daughter Bianca came to his rescue. “It is not plagiarism. Nobody owns a subject,” she said on Facebook.

“Like my dad has made dancers all throughout his career, however he does not own that subject. People have made dancers before him, people have made dancers after him, and anyone can decide that they want to make a work about dance in the future. My dad cannot say, ‘uy akin yan, you cannot make dancers.’ What he owns is his style, his execution, his work.”

Her defense was compelling and truthful. The point she failed to merit, however, was the fact that her father knew nothing of Stienstra’s sculpture, or even of the many other works of art that looked like his own.

As much as Cacnio’s work was original in the sense that he made it from scratch without looking at his proverbial seatmate’s testpapers, it revealed a lack of research. It therefore belied the sincere desire to ensure no inadvertent replication ever took place.

Like many others, I look forward to Cacnio’s next obra. I give him the benefit of the doubt. I choose to believe he’s telling the truth. That’s why it sucks that his newest masterpiece will be forever hounded by controversy: All this trouble would have been avoided, if only someone had Googled.

Stef dela CruzAbout the blogger
Stef dela Cruz is a vegan doctor and writer. She received the 2013 Award for Health Media from the Department of Health. She is the editor of The Manila Bulletin's Animal Scene Magazine. Get in touch if you want to invite her as a speaker!