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USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Too much of fake thing

“Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.” Hmm, I wonder what time in history this is meant to be from…

“This unique existence of the work of art determines the history to which it was subject throughout the time of its existence.” Is this “snuff bottle” supposed to be from the opium war?

“This includes the changes which it may have suffered in physical condition over the years as well as various changes in its ownership.” Wow, look at those chipped edges. They’ve gotten really good at mastering that “worn” look.

That pretty much summed up my thoughts at Dongtai Lu, the open antique market on a small street near Xintiandi. Now don’t get me wrong, I know we’re in China and “fake copies” is the thing but there was something about Dongtai Lu that irked me. It is a great place to get to pick up that quick souvenir for friends back home but to find something intriguing and exciting, and dare I say it, “authentic” is pretty much non-existence. Within the goods at one stall, I would definitely see some or all at the next. Even the more “authentic” stores in the back are the same story; just instead of next door its five shops down. The funny part is the likelihood of being able to afford anything authentic would be very rare so Dongtai Lu was the perfect street for a college student, yet I did not buy anything. The rows of stalls and constant bombardment of goods made me de-synthesized within the first few minutes. The feeling reminded me of Paju Book City. While at Paju it was “too much of a good thing” here it was too much of a fake thing.

But then I began to wonder can this mass production of “fake” goods; not just exclusively antiques but name brand bags, watches, shoes, etc, be apart of some new tradition?  In Walter Benjamin’s Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, he states, “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.” China has become so good at making “fake copies” that these copies are becoming “real” in this tradition of mass production. Here, they have mastered this art of copies so well stores like Prada get duped into thinking a fake is real. Unintentionally, China has created a brand for itself: Come buy that brand you have always wanted, for $100 or less!

Of course this brings up the question of authenticity and buying into something that has history and/or prestige. But if this idea of mass production is a new tradition then isn’t it authentic at some level? Maybe it’s too soon to say but I might go back to Dongtai Lu and buy some cricket cages, just in case.

– Precious

Filed under: antique, China, Dongtai Lu, Fake Copy, Real Copy, 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