Authenticity

The Nara Document on Authenticity (1994) declared that our ability to understand heritage values depends on the degree to which the relevant information sources may be understood as credible or truthful, and therefore authentic. In the Middle Ages authenticity was related to legal authentication of texts; gradually it was also extended to the authentication of objects, such as relics of saints. The word 'authentic' refers to the Greek authentikos (autos, myself, the same) and the Latin auctor (an originator, authority), and thus to original as opposed to copy, real as opposed to pretended, genuine as opposed to counterfeit. Comparing 'authentic' with 'identical' is to compare the specific with the general. Being authentic refers to acting autonomously, having authority, being original, unique, sincere, true, or genuine. Being 'identical' refers to what is representative of a class with the same properties, e.g., an identical reproduction, replica, copy, reconstruction. In relation to the creative process and time, the authenticity of a work of art is a measure of truthfulness of the internal unity of the creative process and the physical realization of the work, and the effects of its passage through historic time.1 This definition takes a stand in relation to artistic or creative quality, and requires a judgement based on a critical assessment of the essence of the work and its relation to the context. It also stresses being genuine and true. In this sense, there can only be one original. Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) has noted that in the pre-modern era, what mattered was cult value, and art value was only generated with the start of collections and exhibitions. Works of art were always reproducible, but, at the same time, the presence of the original was the prerequisite to the concept of authenticity - and authenticity was not reproducible. Since historical testimony rests on authenticity, if the duration in time ceases to matter as a result of replication, what is really jeopardized is the authority of the original object, its 'aura' (Benjamin, 1979.223). Benjamin has also drawn attention to the meanings of original and copy in the age of mechanical reproduction, as in the case of photography or film. He has noted that the technique of reproduction 'detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition. By making many reproductions it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence. And in permitting the reproduction to meet the beholder or listener in his own particular situation, it reactivates the object reproduced' (Benjamin, 1979.223).

The question of authentic vs. copy was debated in the context of the emerging conservation movement. It was a fundamental reference to the Venice Charter, inviting to hand on to future generations the inherited cultural properties 'in the full richness of their authenticity' (Venice Charter, preface). As a result of threats caused by air pollution and the risk of accelerated weathering, copies have since become increasingly accepted as a way to allow placing the originals under shelter. This question has been discussed in relation to important World Heritage Sites, and has involved important works of art, such as the sculptures on the Acropolis of Athens, the horse statues over the entrance to San Marco in Venice (1994), and the Roman statue of Marcus Aurelius on the Capitol Hill (1997). Another question is the Stele of Axum. as a result of the bilateral agreement between Italy and Ethiopia, its transfer from Rome back to its original site in Axum is foreseen. Considering the established image and cultural reference of the stele at the far end of the Circus Maximus, the question of making a copy has emerged as one of the feasible ways to fill in the urban and cultural 'lacuna'.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the question of authenticity tended to remain in the shadow of scientific development, and the issue was only revived with the approaching thirtieth anniversary of the Venice Charter. The purpose was to clarify the meaning of heritage concepts in the broader international context, and particularly in the relationship between the Western world and traditional societies. As a result, the Nara Document on Authenticity

Figure 10.1 The ancient bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius was brought to the Capitol Hill in the sixteenth century. Due to damage from air pollution, it was replaced with a replica in 1997, and the original has been restored and placed in the Capitol Museum

emphasized the issue of credibility and truthfulness of sources, but also cultural diversity as a fundamental reference to the definition of authenticity: 'Cultural heritage diversity exists in time and space, and demands respect for other cultures and all aspects of their belief systems' (Nara Document, art. 6). This reference was made with particular concern to safeguarding areas with on-going traditional cultures that risk losing their cultural essence under the impact of Western, industrialized influences.

In the late twentieth century, the issue of authenticity has become relevant in multicultural communities, closely related to the concept of cultural identity. While the urban environment traditionally was an important source in regenerating creative thought and communication, the explosive population increase in large metropolises has had the opposite effect. The Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor has identified the concerns in modern society, including exaggerated individualism, disenchantment with traditional values in favour of maximum efficiency, and restriction of choices in a mechanized environment in favour of mass production (Taylor, 1991). Such detachment of people from their traditional values has caused severe limitations to their creative capacity, and has led to the fragmentation of society, and to social conflicts. The re-establishment of creative communication and improved social integrity may, however, take place through education and sensitization. In this process, cultural properties can play an important role in providing physical references for the re-establishment of collective memory and cultural identity. Nevertheless, the process is delicate and can lead to political domination or exacerbation of nationalistic feelings of particular groups. In fact, in the armed conflicts of the early 1990s, cultural heritage was often being taken as a target for the destruction of the enemy's cultural identity.

In the process of nominating sites to the UNESCO World Heritage List, authenticity has been referred to the design, material, workmanship and setting of the site concerned (Operational guidelines, 1996). These references can be understood to cover the aesthetic and historical aspects of the site, as well as its physical, social and historical context, includ ing use and function. Such variety of references may tend to leave space for different interpretations and even misunderstandings. The question of authenticity has been raised, for example, in the case of the Sydney Opera House, which was originally designed by Jörn Utzon, but completed by other architects. The possibility of 'restoring' the interior so as to correspond to Utzon's intentions could be challenged by the historicity of the entire creative process. At the same time, the creative significance of the Opera House is seen in its overall cultural-historical context of the seascape of the Sydney Harbour, from where its design had received its major inspiration (Sydney, 1996).

A more limited interpretation to authenticity has been given by the Finnish conservation authorities: 'Authenticity can best be experienced as the atmosphere originally built into the building, a certain kind of unchanging characteristic of the building' (Mattinen, 1997: 20). Taken literally, the statement would tend to equal 'authentic' with 'identical' (or 'conform'), and to emphasize the documented evidence of the first construction, ignoring the impact of time and giving less importance or attention to later changes and additions.2 The definition of authenticity should, in fact, be related to the historicity of the heritage resource; only then does it achieve its true significance to modern conservation. The process of defining the authenticity of a historic structure or object can be a demanding undertaking. In the case of a clearly definable work of art, the analysis will more easily result in deciding whether or not it is authentic and true than with more complex structures; here the definition may need to be articulated in reference to different periods or to the overall historicity.

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