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Workshop: The Transformative Power of the Copy: A Transcultural and Interdisciplinary Approach

Announcement | Programme | Abstracts | Logistics


 Organisers: Dr. Corinna Forberg (MC5) & Dr. Philipp Stockhammer (MC8.2)

Venue: Karl Jaspers Centre for Advanced Transcultural Studies (KJC)
Voßstr. 2, Building 4400
69115 Heidelberg, Room 212
February 14-15, 2014

The topic of the “copy” has attracted interest among scholars in cultural studies for a few years. One aim is to free the notion of the “copy” from its restricted understanding as an accurate effigy and to reach a new conceptualization. Most studies, however, have more or less remained within the analytical approaches of their particular discipline. We are still missing a transcultural and interdisciplinary perspective which analyses the process of copying and the meaning of copies in contexts of intercultural encounter. That is the aim of our workshop on “The Transformative Power of the Copy: A Transcultural and Interdisciplinary Approach” at the Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe in a Global Context” at Heidelberg University.

The contributions of the eighteen speakers range from prehistory to the present, from Europe to the Far East. They aim at overcoming the disciplinary boundaries and at taking a critical and interdisciplinary look at the notion of the “copy” and related terms like “mimesis”, “imitation” or “reproduction”. We move beyond the established connotations of the copy in the 20th century as a minute and uninspired imitation. Instead, we focus on the flexible, dynamic and process-related aspects of copying.

Walter Benjamin’s thesis of “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (in 1936) is still a crucial point of reference for current discussions and serves as a basis for further reflections – e.g. in confrontation with Arthur Danto’s claim that a mere copy cannot exist, but only originals do. Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, we search no longer for the meaning of an assumed original which was blurred by copying, but rather for the effects of copying.

At the beginning of our workshop, scholars from linguistics and philosophy discuss how to define “original” and “copy” in language and whether there are differences in spoken and written language. While media studies, linguistics and philosophy primarily focus on contemporary phenomena, scholars from art history, archaeology, musicology, theatre studies and ethnology deal with the topic of the copy from a historical perspective. Can we understand the copying of foreign artifacts as a creative praxis of dealing with and appropriating otherness? Or should we define copy and creativity as a contradictory pair of concepts, as is still proclaimed in musicology today – even in spite of alternative concepts in Asia?

In a series of case studies, the speakers concentrate on the following questions: 1) techniques and material: this concerns the influence of the practice of copying on the meaning and perception of the copies and originals, especially when new techniques and material come into use. 2) Copy and competition: which effects did the copies of Asian artifacts have on European art and its concepts on the one hand, and on the patterns of representation on the other? This question inevitably leads to a critical re-evaluation of art historical methodologies and their boundaries: is the copy measurable? 3) World Cultural Heritage: the practice of copying as a colonial strategy will be debated from an ethnological and art historical point of view. In addition, we will examine contemporary practices of copying World Cultural Heritage with regard to the consequences on the intellectual and material property, authorship etc.

Our contributions underline the diversity of understandings and uses of the term “copy” and related terms like “mimesis”, “imitation” and “reproduction” from an interdisciplinary perspective and aim at further developing this concept in order to analyse the dynamics of transcultural phenomena.