Culture(s) of copy – Report from Edith Russ Haus

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Check the Culture(s) of copy photo set here.

Copying as a tool of the re- appropriation of meaning, amplification and creation of sense: this was the territory chosen for the exhibition “Culture(s) of copy” hosted by Edith Russ Haus in Oldenburg, Germany between 20 November 2010 and 27 February 2011. The plural in the title reflects the multifaceted soul that has characterized the show since its design phase. The Goethe Institute in Hong Kong, which commissioned the entire operation, chose a multidisciplinary curatorial team, consisting of exhibition curators, urban designers and teachers of comparative literature. The result was an exhibition able to discussing a number of multicolored concepts linked to the idea of copy, stirring the aesthetic codes of the East and west without any prevarication.

Making a copy of something could mean preserving it, or perhaps storing it. But there was nothing in the way of tedious bureaucratic archiving here. “New Book of Mountains and Seas”, by Qiu Anxiong, for example, is a video remake (multichannel) of the homonymous ancient Chinese book on evolution. The artist has portrayed the contemporary world in terms of a stinging science-fiction, but he uses the iconography and the allegorical “bestiary” of the ancient book.

The video “The Last Words” is made from clips of Chinese government propaganda movies of the ’60s and ’70s. The artist Zhang Peili has created a looped edit, only using the scenes featuring the heroes who died for their country. Emphasizing the similarity of the scenography geometries and the expression of the actors, this recurrence desecrates the didactic intent of the film.

Leung Chi Wo and Sara Wong used majestic photographic enlargements in “He Was lost yesterday and today we found HIM”, bringing new life to some secondary figures in old journalistic photos (in the exhibition positioned beside the corresponding enlargement). Ordinary people in the background of events are shown now in the foreground, finding new historical dignity in this copy.

The last work on the first floor of the exhibition was the video “Factum” by Candice Breitz in which the bright colors are magnetic and forthright. The concern of the “double” is embodied in the image of two Canadian twins (but with strong Asian traits) who speak of each other. The idea of the other as a copy can often be disturbing because it is a potential threat to the claim of everyone being unique. This uniqueness here dissolves into a soft and sinuous plot; the words and gestures of the two women complement each other, without ever repeating anything.

The curators of the exhibition purposely avoided choosing works that focus on intellectual property. Nevertheless, the “anonymous Warhol Flowers” by Cornelia Sollfrank opened the second room of the exhibition. Paradoxically, the very nature of digital technology became a terrific dodge for ironically redressing the artwork of its lost aura (according to Benjamin, forever killed by “mechanical reproduction”). Behind every canvas with the modified copies of the famous flowers (and even alone on the last canvas of the series), was placed an RFID chip. It contained information about the work itself, becoming an ironic bastion able to ensure the originality of an artwork via a signature. Everyone is able to create similar images (through the software ‘netartgenerator’), but the electronic signature is the key item for sale.

Further on we sat on a comfortable leather couch, reassured by the warm light of a lamp. It was strange that we did not find it strange that a TV was broadcasting a documentary about the Malaysian occupation of Austria (Wong Hoy Cheong “Re: looking”). Similarly we found gentle humour in another work: a video documentation of the absurd enterprise of a group of Chinese people who are cutting 1.86m off the top of Everest (the exact height of one of the participating members). This is “8848-1.86″ by Xu Zhen. The knowledge that both of these pieces are fake is a bitter sensation. The trust in a faithful representation of reality by the media is so weak that you end up settling on the funniest copy of it.

Finally, the exhibition turned its attention to the triumph of the most brisk and faithful reproduction, the perfect copy in its most extreme exasperation: the Theme Park – the topic of two other works on display. The photographic series “Kremlin Doppelgänger” by Anna Jermolaewa is disarming: tropical beaches and swimming pools have as a background a faithful reconstruction of the Kremlin Palace. (Which really exists in Antalya in Turkey, and it is called the “World Of Wonders Kremlin Palace”). The photos are accompanied by a video of an actor in the role of Gorbaciov who tries unsuccessfully to remove the (famous) mark from his head. And finally, in the video “Real Snow White” by Pilvi Takala, a video shows an adult dressed as Snow White, who is prevented from entering into Disneyland, Paris. This is only because she is not the real Snow White. They say she confuses children – a fake copy of the original figure.

Artists: Qiu Anxiong, Xu Bing, Candice Breitz, Wong Hoy Cheong, Sven Drühl, Omer Fast, Anna Jermolaewa, Zhang Peili, Cornelia Sollfrank, Leung Chi Wo / Sara Wong, Ming Wong, Xu Zhen

Curatorial Team: Ackbar Abbas, Sabine Himmelsbach, Birgit Hopfener, 姜珺 Jiang Jun, MAP Office (Laurent Gutierrez/ Valérie Portefaix), Michael Müller-Verweyen, 葉德晶 June Yap, Pilvi Takala
Chiara Ciociola