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USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Reproductions and Representations

A reproduction of an object is an exact replica.  If this reproduction is given a different context and environment, is it still an exact replica?  A reproduction of an entity taken out of context is no longer a reproduction, but a representation of the original.  Furthermore, an exact reproduction is impossible to come by.

The Shanghai World Expo removes each represented country from its original context.  This creates a small entity of the original country in Shanghai.  This entity is neither a true representation of the country, nor an exact representation.

The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, by Walter Benjamin states that “the uniqueness of a work of art is inseparable from its being imbedded in the fabric of tradition.  This tradition itself is thoroughly alive and extremely changeable.  An ancient statue of Venus, for example, stood in a different traditional context with the Greeks, who made it an object of veneration, than with the clerics of the Middle Ages, who viewed it as an ominous idol.  Both of them, however, were equally confronted with its uniqueness, that is, its aura.”  Both the Greeks and the clerics of the Middle Ages revered the statue of Venus, yet in different ways.  An object is viewed in contrasting perspectives when given different surroundings and context, although it is the same object.

Benjamin also points out that “one’s social function removed from the field of vision.  Nothing guarantees that a portraitist of today, when painting a famous surgeon at the breakfast table in the midst of his family, depicts his social function more precisely than a painter of the 17th century who portrayed his medical doctors as representing this profession, like Rembrandt in his ‘Anatomy Lesson.’”  It does not matter if the surgeon is represented practicing his craft, or at breakfast, it is still the same surgeon.  The surgeon’s surroundings do not matter, the surgeon remains as the same person, no matter where he is currently located.  Although, when depicted at breakfast with his family, this surgeon is not identifiable as a surgeon, and rather, is just a man having breakfast with his family.

On the other hand, when a representation of an original is given a new context, where this representation would inherently never occur, the same fact does not hold true.

The representations of each country at the Shanghai Expo are not authentic.  Because taken out of context, these reproductions become false representations of the countries rather than genuine reproductions.  What do these reproductions then become?  What does this mean for the viewers who believe that these reproductions are true representations?

The countries present at the Shanghai Expo are then portrayed falsely because of the distorted context.  The viewer then interacts with these fabricated conditions, and believes that they are a true representation of the country.  For example, after visiting the Macau pavilion, at first glance, the visitor is almost meant to believe that bunnies are a large part of Macau’s identity because of the Macau pavilion’s physical appearance.

If a viewer believes they are viewing an authentic representation, then it becomes authentic for the viewer.  The viewer is then left with a false truth about the country they have just “visited” by way of the Shanghai Expo.

Sara Tenanes

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Filed under: Architecture, Authenticity, China, Expo, Shanghai,

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AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Director:
Andrew Liang
Instructors:
Bu Bing
Steven Chen
Yo-Ichiro Hakomori
Andrew Liang
Yuyang Liu
Neville Mars
Academic Contributors:
Thomas Chow, SURV
Bert de Muynck, Movingcities.org
Manying Hu, SZGDADRI, ITDP, Guangzhou
Clare Jacobson, Design Writer, Editor, Curator
Laurence Liauw, SPADA, Hong Kong
Mary Ann O'Donnell, Shenzhen Noted, Fat Bird, Shenzhen
Paul Tang, Verse, Shanghai
Li Xiangning, Tongji University, Shanghai
Students:
Daniel Aguilar
Hong Au
Michael den Hartog
Caroline Duncan
Nefer Fernandez
Christian Gomez
Isabelle Hong
Jin Hong Kim
Ashley Louie
Javier Meier
Paula Narvaez
Ashlyn Okimoto
Tamar Partamian
Samuel Rampy
Luis Villanueva
Krista Won
Tiffany Wu

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