The Authentic Lies
The concept of authenticity is widely adopted in psychology and arts in order to address to diverse theoretical claims. There is a hefty amount of subjective elements associated with the study of authenticity, and experts have keenly observed its historical development from times as early as Socrates’. The basic premise for the study and research has been the interrelation between material world and the internal world of the maker. To put it in other words, an ideal situation would allow the creative self to indulge in practices that are independent of outcomes by commercial or material standards. In the philosophy of art, the phrase ‘art for art’s sake’ has direct implications with the notion of art as being loyal to the artist’s self. This radical subjectivity is perceived as authentic since it is not concerned with art’s worth in terms of external factors. The topic at hand assumed all the more relevance in the twentieth century literary and artistic domains, but not without causing controversies among the critics. For instance, Existentialism, one of the key postmodern literary genres, demands offbeat interpretations of the term ‘authenticity’.
According to major existentialist figures such as Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre, the conscious self of the artist strives to disentangle itself from external pressures and obligations coming from the world he/she belongs to. Social norms and customs are seen as an impediment to the development of the artist’s inner being and ways of natural expression. Now if we consider this development as authentic in the sense that it does not conform to any kind of reactionary mechanism to the changes occurring in the outer world, we can probably arrive at a working ground for the progression of our discussion. This essay is going to review Scenario Data # 39, a script written by Eran Schaerf, a German artist of Israeli origin. What makes this attempt relevant to the notion of authenticity is its preoccupancy with various forms of reenactment in modern art. Albeit in an imitative way, Eran Schaerf brings out the tussle between the artist’s inner self and the coercion of artistic representation. Reenactment has played a pivotal role in the subject of the author’s arguments. It is a kind of aesthetic reproduction that recalls the past and transforms two-dimensional vision of the artist into three-dimensional experiences.
Written in a format that can be attributed to science fiction, Scenario Data # 39 records the personal but detached impression of the author on the reenactment project taken by the Israel Museum. The purpose of reenactment is to move back in time and create a real-time setup to which the lost futurologist of the ‘Kubrick Company’, who was last seen in an eighteenth century French salon, can make a comeback. The reenactment is planned in such a way that in the event of the futurologist’s return, he would find himself on Israeli soil and not in France. An acute and vivid picture is drawn by Schaerf to represent the authenticity and believability of stage preparation that would subsequently lead to the reproduction. Commenting on ideology and precursors to reenactment, Karl Marx observed that even a child is aware of the fact that “a social formation which did not reproduce the conditions of production at the same time as it produced would not last a year.” (Žižek 100) What he means is that in order to produce, we must first of all form the conditions that would facilitate production. This holds true for the premise opted for by Eran Schaerf in Scenario Data # 39. Since history is nearly impossible to be relived directly, any attempt to recreate the past through vehicles of art must focus on preparing a setup that resembles what is to be reproduced. In truth, art is a dissolute medium which is not dictated by common social standards of righteousness. Hence, the reenactment needs not be exact all the time, but it has to reflect the authenticity of the situation to some extent. Likewise in Scenario Data # 39, the French Baron Edmond de Rothschild’s installation of a French salon in the Israeli Museum of Period Rooms does not reflect the actual eighteenth century salon in which the Kubrick Company’s lost futurologist was seen for the last time. It would be more appropriate if we say that this reconstruction does not need to match the original one simply because artistic imagination is perfectly capable of sustaining itself without stretching to exact points of resemblance. But at the same time, we also face an inescapable paradox concerning the authentic expression of the twentieth century artistic movements. The problem an artist encounters while reenacting past events is how much the past and the future should be blended to make a seamless continuation (RETRO/NECRO: From Beyond the Grave of the Politics of Re-Enactment 2007). Socio-political pressure on artistic freedom is another key factor to consider in this context. Rise in consumerism and retro fashions often lead to falsification of historical facts that emerge out of linear progression of time. Now this is critical when it comes to maintaining the authenticity of art or any other creative sector for that matter. If the source is tampered with, chances are slim that the reconstruction would carry the original flavor. Thus, the perplexing question remains unanswered: “Does the seamless flow get affected when reconstructed?” This seems to be very much relevant in case of Scenario Data # 39, where the reenactment of a public interrogation scene by the Israeli security service leaves the actor somewhat baffled: “The accused said he had never seen Israeli interrogators through Palestinian eyes before, and referred to the shooting as an intimate viewfinder experience which he has been longing to re-experience ever since.” (Schaerf 11)
The cultural aftershock that comes from reconstruction has a significant amount of bearing on the concept of reenactment. Here again, social setup plays a determining role in that the capitalist mode can exercise its power to shape not just the ideas, but also the upshots of creative undertakings. Walter Benjamin (1936) argues in his essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction that modern ways of conceiving art differs a great deal from what it used to be in ancient times. A steady influx of technical innovations has brought about a sea change in the way we appreciate art in its purest of forms. From the perspectives of culture, technological advancements have set the privileged class apart from the underprivileged ones (Burt 2004). While art has always been an impalpable phenomenon characterized by its reiterative nature, mechanical reproduction is something new – something that has emerged in recent times. It is an issue of serious contention whether the mechanical interference has denigrated the intrinsic qualities of art or not. If we take into account the ancient Greek sculpture and works of Bronze, terra cottas and coins, we will be able to trace a pattern of how these artifacts were reproduced in bulk scale. At the same time, ancient artisans did not have to compromise too much with the quality of their products. The same went for literature too. However, the nineteenth century witnessed radical changes in reproductive methodologies involving art. As we see in the presentation of Schaerf, pictorial reiteration began to take the center stage replacing traditional modes of painting. On one hand, it facilitated more vivid and accurate representation of events, which was impossible to capture in any other way. But on the other hand, it also took away the imaginative faculty of creation: “At the same time, a drawing is evidence of the scene that it represents as having taken place – be it only in the imagination of the caricaturist.” To the question, whether the caricaturist who depicts scenes from his imagination can be legally taken to be the author of these scenes the spokesman replied: “Each and every one of us is at least a co-author of what he imagines…” (Schaerf 12)
According to Walter Benjamin, any work of art is authenticated on twofold parameters – its cult value and its exhibiting worth (Benjamin 2005). It is imperative that a piece of artifact is first placed in a cult so that it earns the right judgment by knowledgeable appreciators. This can be termed as a type of acid test for an ingenuous justification of the value of art in general. Benjamin cites example from the Stone Age when primitive artisans carved the elk on cave walls and laid it bare for their cult to appreciate. The very feat of creation mattered a lot to those early men who, by modern standards, lacked the sophisticated expertise. So it can be argued that the first phase of production does not always involve the imposed skills and techniques. It is only in the reenacting stage that all the subtle nuances of artistic expressions or the exhibiting worth comes to the fore. Now the case of the lost futurologist of the Kubrick Company being last seen in the eighteenth century French salon can be attributed to the first parameter. But the veiled appearance of Palestinian and Israeli soldiers in the reenactment of past events is connected to the second and the most crucial parameter. Another important point we can raise in this regard involves the caricature where the Palestinian demonstration of Israeli interrogation process is mimicked. Like a true master, Eran Schaerf portrays how the exaggerated interrogation with “sunglasses, blindfolds and darkly atmospheric soundtracks” could only attenuate the time slot in the reenactment phase (Schaerf 12). What actually happens here is that the qualitative aspects of the reproduction are compromised with the quantitative aspects for the sake of exhibiting values.
Performing on stage is different from performing in front of camera and the actor on stage shares a close proximity with the audience. The audience can not only relate themselves to every movement of the actor, but they can also see through the vision of the acting person. While on screen actors are mere pawns to the camera, stage actors have to express themselves real time in front of an audience. This is beautifully illustrated in Scenario Data # 39 where the accused Israeli soldier disguised as a woman press reporter imbibed in himself the very essence of the role he was asked to portray. Consequently, he did not face any problem playing a part which was no longer foreign to his acting senses. It was as if the trial of the Israeli soldier in the law court was a genuine reproduction of events that took place many years ago. What we must also consider are the elements of the trial scene where the characters seem to hold subjective notions. However, each object on the stage is symbolic of objectivity depicting literalist art movement which celebrates the ongoing process of aesthetic migration from times gone by to times to come (Fried 149). This phenomenon, as argued by Fried (1998) can be compared to a paint canvas where the ‘vague whole’ comprises smaller but significant parts arranged for a pictorial consummation.
The above mentioned argument prepares the ground for the caption-related conjecture presented in Scenario Data # 39: ““The futurologist lost in space” the caption claims, “is suspected to be in an eighteenth century French salon. There is no link between picture and caption.”” (Schaerf 15). Now, if this part is explicated through Fried’s interpretation of modern painting as being “an entity, one thing, and not the indefinable sum of a group of entities and references” (Fried 149), we will be able to decipher the apparently meaningless relation between the picture and its caption more logically. The philosophy of authenticity does not allow for broadening the viewpoints of an observer when it comes to understanding a piece of painting from manifold dimensions. There is no denying the fact that any modern day painting, especially the one of the armchair portrayed in Scenario Data # 39, demands greater depth of analysis. But the basic problem with thorough study is inviting the vagueness of illusionism. Here lies the ostensible lack of authenticity in our acutest of observations.
Considering all the pertinent factors that make up the Scenario Data # 39, it is quite clear that critical research on the philosophy of authenticity in artistic realms has failed to bring out any definitive statement. Since art is not based on stern scientific reasoning, there is always a chance of idealizing things as per subjective liking. As a disengaged observer, if one attempts to judge the progressive course of development of a piece of art, he/she is bound to relate one phase with another. Moreover, the latter phase is unlikely to be judged on the merit of the former one, as both are independent of each other (Borges n. d.). So it is up to the discretion of the critic to differentiate or define the validity of authentic artistic genres in relation with Scenario Data # 39 by Eran Schaerf.
Žižek, Slavoj. Mapping ideology. London: Verso, 1994.
“RETRO/NECRO: From Beyond the Grave of the Politics of Re-Enactment.” ART PAPERS. 2007. 21 April 2009 <http://www.kollectiv.co.uk/Art%20Papers%20feature/reenactment/retro-necro.htm>.
Schaerf, Eran. Scenario Data # 39.
Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Marxist.org. 2005. UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. 21 April 2009 <http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/ge/benjamin.htm>.
Fried, Michael. Art and objecthood: essays and reviews. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.
Borges, Jorge Luis. “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.” n. d. 22 April 2009 <http://www.coldbacon.com/writing/borges-tlon.html>.
Burt, Kate. “Cereal entrepreneurs.” The Independent (2004)