Original or Facsimile

In my personal opinion, I think that the question of originality is one that might be important for politics, economy, and ideology, but is less relevant for our experience of art itself.

I like Latour and Lowe’s constructivist approach in this matter [1], which questions the notion of “original” in general and begs the question up to which point, which alteration, restauration, and dusting, a piece of art can still be called the original. Instead, we should move away from our obsession with originality and towards a trajectory or artworks, which involves more than just the work of art in its physical existence, but extends to the location, perception and the question of authenticity. Lowe beliefs that the experience of a facsimile in the correct setting can be more authentic than the experience of the (perceived) original in a setting which it was not intended for. This point was proven by the reaction of the public to the facsimile of Veronese’s Nozza di Cana in Venice.

I belief that the negative connotation of replicas and facsimiles is outdated and potentially harmful to preservational efforts. But I also belief that a reproduction has different values than what is called the original, due to its different history. A painting by Vermeer or Rembrandt has a longer and richer history than a facsimile of the same artwork, and it it this history – back to the point in which the painter’s brush created it – which engages and fascinates people. A facsimile cannot reproduce this history, but it will develop a history of its own. In this, the intentions behind the creation of the facsimile should matter as well.

What Lowe calls “digital mediation” [2], using technology to preserve cultural heritage while making it accessible for the large public, is an important driver of the creation of facsimiles. If we have the choice between seeing important cultural heritage be damaged by millions of people trying to catch a glimpse at it, and saving this cultural heritage while still enabling people to see it, which option should we choose? The answer to this question seems obvious, yet, the real question is, if, when I stand in front of an exact replica of a famous artwork, that cannot be detected as such, and is placed in the right location, my feelings will be the same as if I were standing in front of the original.

[1] Bartscherer, T. and Coover, R. (eds) (2011) ‘The Migration of the Aura or How to Explore the Original through its Facsimiles. A chapter prepared by Bruno Latour & Adam Lowe for Thomas Bartscherer’, in Switching Codes: Thinking Through Digital Technology in the Humanities and the Arts. Chicago ; London: University of Chicago Press.

[2] YouTube (2010) Facsimile Specialist Adam Lowe in Madrid | euromaxx. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jRNjsuQqYKw (Accessed: 17 January 2019).

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