28th June 2019: Lasting Impressions 2019: Making and Re-Making the Replica – Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford

Let’s begin with the key premise for this conference:

The object is embodied – it carries its own story.

Panel 1: Embodied knowledge

Kate Johnson: Mould Making, Materials and Casting in ‘Project code-named Humpty’ – a contemporary art and archaeological science collaboration

In her presentation, Johnson introduced her piece ‘Project code-named Humpty’, a 2.7m tall sculptural cast of a human figure being created for the purpose of deliberately smashing and reconstructing. It’s a piece inspired by working with the Fragmented Heritage Team. Johnson is interested in exploring human-object interactions. I was struck by the concept of making art works specifically to be fragmented and reconstructed – the piece is not ‘complete’ until its destruction and reconstruction has taken place.

I was also interested in the material challenges of creating a piece with a specific function in mind. In this case, the sculpture has to be made without an internal armature, so its form was dictated by this parameter. There were a LOT of material tests to find a plaster that would keep its form (due to size and weight) but also shatter into the desired fragments. This is simply fascinating – having to consider the aesthetics of destruction.

Santa Jansone: Late Iron Age Baltic Costume Replicas – Assumptions, Replicas and Practice

It was interesting to note the dual role played by the body both in making and wearing these costume replicas. These experiments, both in making and wearing, highlighted the importance of touch, skill etc. and how in the making and wearing of replica costume you ‘put yourself in the shoes’ of past people → the use of the replica revealing the haptic aspects of material culture (Note: I’m reminded of the replica as narrative prop 13th June 2019: CHORD workshop: Private Textiles and Dress: Domestic and Intimate Textiles and Dress in Museums and Historic Houses)

I also noted the academic method of reconstruction: RESEARCH → MAKING → ANALYSIS → REFLECTION

I also noted (in the Q&A), the various methods of dissemination – live events (how to record it?), the processes of making, teaching and participation through workshops. A final point about the materials, the wood is no longer available, so they had to use a similar material, though this was an educated guess.

Laura Dudley: From Reconstruction to Co-Production

Dudley’s PhD research explores the reconstruction of art exhibitions, which in their original form had a participatory element. She spoke about gaps in the documentation and how through re-staging she is attempting to fill those gaps. This remaking allows a view of the scale that is often not captured but also allows a re-analysis of materials – in this case to make it safe – but what does this do to the authenticity? And does the replica fetishize the original?

Dudley also drew attention to the lack of written accounts of the interactions, so argues that this fosters a visual/bodily response. But how do you replicate an engagement? And do you want to? Is there a way to document an individual experience? Dudley, in pondering these questions, acknowledges that the lived experience of re-staging will be different as the audience has changed and will interpret an object or event differently.

Dudley’s research also brings up issues of museum nostalgia and institutional memory.

Panel 2: Layering Process

Michael Ann Bevivino: Truly Immaterial? Using Applied Technologies to Investigate Historical Plaster Casts

Key Research Questions:

• Why do we reproduce the past?

• Why do certain objects become icons that are continually replicated?

• Where do studies of historic replicas and digital replicas meet?

• How can the historic replicas be used to test the use of advanced technologies?

• What can comparing 3D models of the original objects and the historic replicas teach us?

Bevivino discussed the analogue – digital continuum and pointed out that the application of new digital technologies (especially 3D printing) has not really moved on conceptually, essentially doing the same thing as the 19th C. plaster casts. She also highlighted the potential value in scanning replicas.

Becky Knott: Life after the Original? The social, cultural and material value of the copy

Knott’s paper rejects the notion of reproduction as ‘unoriginal’ and explores the ‘afterlife’ of the copy as an object in its own right, highlighting how the value of the copy lies beyond its relationship to the original and how a copy can also provide ‘authenticity’. Knott works with the collection in the Cast Courts at the V&A and she began by highlighting the importance of these objects in terms of the technical skill and creativity required to make them, pointing out that attitudes to interpretation have changed (see V&A museum policies from 1800s), with the current focus shifting to the makers and materiality of the copies.

She points out that copies have their own object histories and authenticity. Attributes of value are in flux, with the perception of ‘aura’ subject to changes in taste and fashion.

Knott also draws attention to the tension between fakes and copies and suggests that this can be navigated by putting the stories of the copies to the forefront (Note: could the difference between a copy and a fake be in the attempt to deceive or not?). Copies are related to but separate from the original and this story is the core of its aura and authenticity. The copy has its own network or relationships, and these depend on who is looking at it.

She highlighted these points by giving the example of “The Temperance Basin”, emphasising that each of these reproductions has its own aura and authenticity. Finally, Knott highlighted the role of replicas in the democratisation of objects, allowing access and a change of perspective through being able to get closer.

Lee Robert McStein: A Copy of a Copy? The Curious Case of the Deir El Bahari Casts

This paper posed an interesting question – What lies inside storerooms? This is something to think about, the collections held by museums being largely in storage – what does this mean for access and awareness?

McStein posed a set of questions that might be relevant to my own research:

• Without context, do objects in storerooms still retain their value?

• Is this magnified when objects are reproduced?

• Is there value in methodologies used to create reproduction?

• Does the perceived value differ between professional and visitors?

• What role do we play as professionals in bridging that gap?

I wondered about the term ‘value’ and during the Q&A McStein proposed several ways we could think about this – as artworks, research objects, exhibition artefacts and in terms of monetary value.

Dr Sally Foster: My life as replica: the role of materiality and craft in letting the replica ‘speak’

Foster’s paper outlined her research on Iona’s 1970 concrete replica of the St John’s Cross. She focused on ways to let the replica ‘speak’, a way of re-contextualising the replica. She spoke of the “composite cultural biographies” of the original and the replica and how that relationship is an entangled one. She outlined her key findings:

• Authenticity is founded on networks of relationships between people, objects and places.

• These connect through affect – senses and emotions respond in ineffable ways

• Authenticity is a social construct AND draws on the materiality of the thing.

• ‘pastness’ evident in emotive responses

Cultural biographies of replicas and felt relationships associated with them play a key role in the generation of authenticity → informing the authenticity of the historic counterpart through composite biographies

• Importance of production, creativity and craft in generating authenticity.

Her main conclusion is that these objects speak to us through their affect upon us (what Ruskin calls “voicefullness”), it is the viewer that invests the object with the ability to ‘speak’. Foster also emphasised the importance of telling the human story of the creation of the replica – if it matters to the creators then it should matter to us, we can link these stories to or own lives.

The question then become – how do you communicate these stories?

These stories and the biography of the replica is woven into the story of the original → the replica becomes an original authentic reproduction.

Afternoon Session

The afternoon session was hands-on – with object handling and the chance to talk to researchers. I enjoyed the casual format and hands on objects, there was a LOT of 3D printing though… I wonder if this is technology is actually adding anything?


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