Our inaugural year of Marker’s of Authenticity is coming to an end and so it seems timely to reflect on the discussions stimulated and developed throughout our new seminar series.
The first two seminars were presented by our two co-founders, Rachel Yuen-Collingridge and Malcolm Choat. Rachel’s paper started the series off with a confronting yet productive discussion of how different disciplinary stances identify and police authenticity. In doing so, Rachel raised questions of the re-enactment, restoration and the recollection of the past within an interdisciplinary framework. These questions stayed with us for the entirety of the series and were re-addressed in Rachel’s timely discussion of cultural appropriation in our final seminar of the year.
In our second seminar, Malcolm introduced our audience to Constantine Simonides, the 19th century master forger and his creation of a series of fake papyri which validated his own theories about the translation of hieroglyphs. Setting his research within a discussion of the legal definition of forgery, Malcolm provoked questions about our relationship with authenticity and the tools used to generate distinctions between “fakes” and “copies.”
These legal themes followed through in the next seminar, presented by Lucas Lixinski, from the Faculty of Law, University of New South Wales. Lucas’ provided a fascinating challenge to existing legal definitions of tangible and intangible cultural heritage by identifying how the vocabulary of “authenticity” has negatively impacted on the experiences of local communities and other traditional owners of heritage. Ultimately, he concluded that the only real solution to these ethical issues would involve abandoning this existing vocabulary and moving forward with more collaborative strategies involving the perspectives of the typically neglected stakeholders.
Our next seminar saw the discussion move to a very different, albeit fascinating, context: authorship and the drafting process. Marcelle Freiman (Department of English, Macquarie University) located her analysis of drafting and revision within the problematizing of concepts of authenticity, authorship, and authority in 20th century literary studies, using her work on cognitive processes and the extended mind to reinstate the writer in the creative process, focusing on the drafting visible in manuscript copies of 19th century literature.
Our final seminar for semester one saw the return to ancient world studies and was presented by Javier Alverz-Mon (Department of Ancient History, Macquarie University). Javier highlighted the damage done to our understanding of history by the trade in looted antiquities, the problematic response to the issue in some academic quarters, and the duty of academics studying the ancient world to speak ethically on its behalf, and on behalf of the nations on and in which we conduct research.
Semester two started with a panel titled “The Authenticity of the Museum Experience”, featuring representatives from local museum institutions. The discussion started with Arul Baskaran, Digital Studio Manager at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, asking if we were trading off realism vs the authentic in the context of the production and display of digital reproductions of objects. As the objects themselves are a critical part of the stories museums tell, how much do we take away from the story by removing the object itself? Next, Craig Barker, from the Nicholson Museum at the University of Sydney, discussed the value of replicas within a museum context, if labeled as such. He noted changing perspectives in this regard by discussing the extensive (and now lost) plaster cast collection the Nicholson had up to the 1960’s, which are themselves artifacts of the view of antiquities in the Victorian era. Finally, Andrew Simpson, who teaches Museum Studies at Macquarie University, dealt with the privileging of the original within museum culture, and the multiple layers of authenticity, some dependent on context, which objects possess.
In the following seminar, Louise D’Arcens (Department of English, Macquarie University) spoke about the ‘marketplace of Authenticity’ produced by the commercialisation and commodification of cultural heritage and heritage tourism, examining this through the lens of Michel Houellebecq’s The Map and the Territory. After the paper, we discussed whether the idea of an authentic past can co-exist with the demands of heritage tourism for an authentic experience of the past.
Then, in a special seminar co-sponsored with the research seminar series of the Department of International Studies, Meg Mumford (School of the Arts and Media, UNSW), and Ulrike Garde (Dept. of International Studies, Macquarie University) presented the examination of the Berlin theatre movement discussed in their book Theatre of Real People: Diverse Encounters at Berlin’s Hebbel am Ufer and Beyond. Their discussion introduced us to Knaller & Muller’s argument that authenticity is ‘constituted by performative act and observation.’ Through this framework, authenticity is not given, fixed nor static but rather the product of agreement that needs to be renewed with each authenticating act.
In the same week we hosted Margie Borschke from the Department of Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies (Macquarie University). Margie discussedthe aesthetics of circulation, asserting that an understanding of what it means to be a ‘copy’ was crucial to a proper understanding of the internet. She problematized various descriptions of ‘copy’ in the digital age, locating her discussion within both theoretical work on authenticity by Walter Benjamin and Charles Taylor, and consideration of notions of the authentic and genuine in popular music and music communities, drawing on material from her forthcoming book This is not a Remix: Piracy, Authenticity and Popular Music (Bloomsbury, 2017). Please check out her Storify presentation here.
The 2016 series ended with a roundtable forum on ‘Markers of Authenticity across the disciplines’, in which the 2016 speakers, as well as Dr Natalie Seiz (Curator, Asian Art, Art Gallery of New South Wales) addressed two questions provided by the convenors: “What use do you make of the concept of authenticity in your research and/or practice?”, and “How can this concept be ethically applied to the rules and practice of your discipline?”
Over the ten seminar sessions we hosted, we found ourselves constantly redefining our understanding of authenticity in the context of an array of interdisciplinary frameworks. For some presenters, authenticity was a legal tool used to shape discussions around ownership. Others drew attention to the malleable nature of authenticity, which is reliant on the negotiation of social contracts for its identity. What we were left with was an understanding of our narrow our previous focus had been and a glimpse into an exciting future of interdisciplinary collaboration around these ideas of authenticity, authorship, forgery and identity.
We’d like to end this reflection with a note of appreciation to our presenters and faithful audience and also with a call for papers. We intend on continuing these discussions in 2017 and if you would like to be a part, reach out to the team with your proposal.