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MC5.2 The Concept of the Copy in European Art

The Concept of the Copy in European Art. Transformations of Indian Artefacts (1550-1950)

Koordination: Corinna Forberg


The copy is an essential element of art; more importantly it constitutes the meanings of the concept of art. Copies can be encountered, therefore, in all conceivable artistic practices over the world and across time. In the 21st-century academia, particularly art history, the prevailing meaning of the copy has been dominated by the western, i.e. European and North American, concept of the copy. The main focus of my project was on European copies of Indian artefacts from the 17th to the late 19th century and contemporary writings on the copy. The aim was to scrutinize terminological variables in the dialogue with different practices of copying. One central question was, if and how the translations of Indian artefacts into a European visual language formed the practice of copying on one hand, and reconfigured the meanings of the term “copy” on the other.

These questions were investigated in the last three years. The analytical comparison between a supposed original and its copy as part of a traditional method of art history proved to be insufficient – as it was anticipated in the beginning of the project, because of neglecting social networks, political interests and ideological connotations within such transcultural processes of translation. However, there are more, fundamental difficulties in the confrontation of an Indian original and a European copy, which became prominent in the course of investigation. They concern the status of the copy and the original as entities, the process of copying as a time limited praxis as well as the territorial determinations "Indian" and "European". (for more information, click here)

The necessity to revisit and develop interdisciplinary methodologies in order to investigate the concept of the copy with the focus on transcultural processes, was best discussed in the circle of international experts. For this purpose, I organized the workshop The Transformative Power of the Copy: An Interdisciplinary and Transcultural Approach in February 2014 in collaboration with MC 8.2 Innovation Management – Bronze Age Entanglements between Asia and Europe headed by Dr. Philipp Stockhammer. (for more information, click here) The intriguing results of this event, in which representatives of philosophy, media sciences, literature studies, anthropology, linguistics, theater studies, prehistory, archeology and art history took part, will presumably be published in the end of this year with Heidelberg University Publishing.

On the basis of an advanced methodology, the objects of research could be examined in the context of social networks, cultural mobility and contemporary art theory. Through the mobility of artefacts, their circular movement across long distances and cultural boundaries, the copy and copying became the crucial instrument in the cross cultural dialogue, but also of interests of economic and political power. At the same time, the mobility of the artefacts is responsible for the confusion, occasionally for the absurdity of the use of original and copy – a conclusion that, consciously or not, has not got access to both the past and current theory constructions on the copy. (for more information, click here) My project is to be continued in the upcoming year by a grant of Gerda-Henkel-Stiftung, if applicable, and finished with the publication of a book.



Corinna Forberg