ISSUE 31_WHAT IS AUTHENTICITY NOW? BUILD + EAT _BY ANON 007 _SUBJECTS_ # . DEAR ARCHITECTURE SCHOOL... What is the authentic object? The extent and range of the influence of a building is defined by a collective state of distraction which consummates its reception. The audience absorbs meaning and values through the osmotic process of prolonged regular exposure, as the built environment structures their casual relationships and rituals. This experience has been metamorphosed by the transformation into 24 hour digital culture as open commodity fetishism and a spectacle culture that blurs the boundaries between the inauthentic and authentic body. Human memory is as transitory and dynamic as our relationship with architecture. When simulations replace the real as the valued experience the question remains whether the reproduction, particularly at the level of the mass generated experience can fulfil the function of the authentic object (if the experience of the authentic object is still relevant, if it still desired)Tourism is the embodiment of this process as it “attempts to commoditize locations and items through fragmentation and reification” (Lasansky, xvii). But it rides shotgun to the systematic elimination of interiority, as architects seek a reproducible framed image. What is our debt to mass reproduction in creating a global language of objects in support of singular notions of collective identity? Authenticity The authority of the term history, with its Eurocentric emphasis on the materiality of evidence creates the illusion of a universal truth in our ongoing search for a democratised, collectively accessible linear narrative . This “involves the reconciliation of seemingly contradictory elements” (Lasansky, xvii), or the synthesis of individual memory, in which the elastic specificities of time and distance are frequently reworked in the process of concretising symbolic values. Experiences outside the established norm of contemporary relations are “miniaturised and interiorised” to shape the canon of public memory that is known. Within the ‘democracy’ of a technological onslaught of information there is no differentiation of quality in the sheer volume of material. In the midst of moral uncertainty and disorientation we have lost our ability “to rely on the notion of authenticity as a kind of unmediated cultural value”. (Lasansky, xviii) This effect is essential in creating the distracted state, not of the Walter Benjamin’s flaneur, but of non place for the “transformation of information and knowledge” (Baudrillard) into a tradeable commodity. Symbols and visual discourse are a currency representing cultural capital. A souvenir is the impoverished reduction of the three dimensional public discourse into the miniature so that it can be supplemented by narrative discourse within the privatised view of the individual subject. This simulation’s association with an authentic presence is only an epistemological convenience. For some Walter Benjamin’s distinction between the aura of the original and the mechanical reproduction are irrelevant in today’s discourse implying potential authenticity in the eye of the beholder based on fixed expectations. However, the nature of the souvenir establishes the authentic in miniature – a simplified, fetishized miniature that mythologises sites to blur the boundaries between ‘High’ and popular cultural knowledge. The Leaning Tower of Pisa underwent a gradual transformation into an object of the masses’ gaze. To fulfill the collective desire for experience ‘the uniqueness of the object has to be overcome’ (Benjamin). To consume a complex building (And eat with it all its associations and context) with the greatest ease and efficiency it must be simplified to a largely instinctual level of understanding. Monuments and buildings have formerly stood apart from souvenirs, miniatures and reproductions as they “were not built for consumption in the sense of converting them into commodities and carrying them away” (Lasansky). The Leaning Tower of Pisa, originally a freestanding bell tower) has been transformed into an object synonymous with Italian historical identity. The interiority of the building has become void. The function is reliant on the rapidly consumable experience, proliferated through digital technology – the “holding up the tower experience”. Due to the continuous slippage of the so named “Leaning Tower” significant artificial measures were undertaken to stabilise the object as an imagined construct established within the limitations of collective memory. What is authenticity as the distance from the original increases? The replica built in ‘Windows of the World’ theme park in China was almost deliberately scaled to simplify the creation of the expected tourist experience. However the ritual basis for interaction is a uniformly Eurocentric understanding, of which the patrons of this theme park lack the requisite familiarity. This simulacrum may have the potential to engage a new construction of existing meaning or take on new meaning altogether but, once transformed into a marker within the collective consciousness, it also removes all notions of ownership. European monuments, removed from their uniformly Eurocentric rituals feature most in “Windows of the World” - streamlining cultures and societies, materiality and reality into a single built symbol, at scales related to the intended experience. Landmarks or objects are used in almost every consumable media to bookmark experience. Our obsession with the commodified image has displaced the real, saturated and materialised into an objective reality. The image is not independent from, and more important than the reality that it supposedly represents. Synchronously the durability of architecture has come to rely on the mythology that is built around it, evident in the proliferation of iconic images and florid descriptions of the photogenic angles of buildings. The audience begins to see “Globalism's inescapable surfeit and waste as the only legitimate field of architectural action.” (Sorkin, 25) Bombastic exercises of self expression of the now declining starchitects made architecture synonymous with abstract expressions of form. The ambiguity of abstraction is still tried by Depol. Architect (Depoliticised Architects Inc,) attired in the fashionable aesthetic of speculative redevelopment. Cultural relevance requires a void of meaning to allow the individual subject to graft upon it any association of symbolic capital. This effect is essential in creating the distracted state not of the flaneur, but of non place for the transformation of information and knowledge into a tradeable commodity. What is authenticity now?
Lasansky, M.D. McLaren, B. 2004 'Architecture and Tourism: perception, performance and place, Berg, Oxford
Baudrillard, Jean 1983 'The Orders of Simulacra', Simulations, translated by Foss, P., Patton, P. And Beitchman, P. Semiotext, New York
Benjamin, Walter. 1936. Illuminations: The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Pimlico, 1968, New York . . .