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

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

Art for the Few

Does art lose its value when it is readily available to the public?

Art that is easily mass produced is often no longer viewed as art in today’s society.  Copious amounts of a work of art takes away its value.  Many times posters and books are no longer even considered to be works of art because of their mass production.

How readily available should art be?  And to whom?

Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction states that, “mechanical reproduction of art changes the reaction of the masses toward art.  The reactionary attitude toward a Picasso painting changes into the progressive reaction toward a Chaplin movie.  The progressive reaction is characterized by the direct, intimate fusion of visual and emotional enjoyment with the orientation of the expert.  Such fusion is of great social significance.  The greater the decrease in the social significance of an art form, the sharper the distinction between criticism and enjoyment by the public.  The conventional is uncritically enjoyed, and the truly new is criticized with aversion.”

What happens when a mass amount of viewers view a singular work?  Although the piece may not be mass produced, it is still being viewed by masses.  The social significance of the piece changes.  With more viewers, the piece is no longer being criticized and analyzed, it is merely being enjoyed by the observers.

Benjamin also points out that “mass reproduction is aided especially by the reproduction of masses.”

The visitors to the Shanghai World Expo may not necessarily be visiting the Expo for its social and educational value.  Rather, the Expo is seen as a spectacle to many Chinese visitors.  Most are more preoccupied with obtaining a stamp from every pavilion in the Expo rather than learning about each country.  Taking pictures next to what looks aesthetically compelling at many times appears to be more important to the Chinese visitors than the actual content inside the pavilions.

What happens when art becomes a neglected spectacle instead of a valued exhibition?

What does this say about a society as a whole?  Is the fact that society does not see value in the exhibitions a problem with the society, or a problem with the fact that these exhibitions are too readily available?

Mass accessibility devalues art.  The art remains the same, with the same content, yet this content is overlooked when put into an overly inhabited environment.  The few that still critically analyze the work exist within this mass, but at the same time are unable to be completely critical of the work because of the chaotic backdrop surrounding it.

Would the Shanghai World Expo be more successful in terms of its educational value if placed in a different location?  The Expo would have been more successful in a pedagogical sense if the amount of visitors was limited.  However, by limiting the number of viewers, the masses would not have a chance to attempt to experience all that the Expo has to offer, whether or not they can overlook the spectacle aspect and see the Expo for what it truly is.

Sara Tenanes

Filed under: Architecture, Art, China, Expo, mass production, Shanghai,

Not Just Packaging

The following video compiles a series of video clips taken at the Shanghai World Expo 2010. At the World Expo, countries are promoted through their pavilion design. Exterior elevations and appearance are very important, and These wrappers become the primary way for branding. Focusing on the exterior makes sense since a majority of people will only see this wrapper, due to obscene lines (some take up to 4-5 hours to get through). On the inside, each country creates its own narrative to display their  culture and identity. The Expo’s theme, “Better City, Better Life”  is clearly present in a majority of the pavilions demonstrating their “green” lifestyle. By using different forms of media, each pavilion was able to create unique environments to display their ambitions, lifestyles, and ideas for the future. This small compilation of pavilion narratives samples some different takes on countries presentations. I hope my time waiting in line provides you with some insight towards the Shanghai World Expo 2010.
Ross Renjilian

The music used was recorded in different exhibits accordingly as follows
Australia, Austria, Portugal

Filed under: 2010, Architecture, Australia, Austria, Branding, China, Denmark, Expo, Identity, Netherlands, Norway, Pavilions, Portugal, Shanghai, Spain, Video, World, Wrapper, ,


The views and opinions contained in this blog are solely those of the individual authors and do not represent the views and opinions of the University of Southern California or any of its officers or trustees.



AAU FALL 2013:

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

Andrew Liang
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
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