Faking it -for real -this time

Faking it

for real - this time

18-24 October 2020


The Ise Jingu Shrine in Mie Prefecture, Japan is a reproduction. It has been demolished and rebuilt from scratch on a 20-year cycle 63 times, holding it in a paradoxical state; forever new and forever ancient and original. Is the temple a fake? What is a fake? Forgery, fabrication, fake and feign all have their etymological origins in words for the inventive acts of shaping and moulding. Can we consider the art of forgery, then to be a valuable creative act, a form of cultural heritage?

The 1972 John Berger BBC series, ‘Ways of Seeing’ begins with the presenter cutting a face from Botticelli’s Venus and Mars, a disturbing and provocative act even seen on YouTube almost 50 years later. This face has however already been extracted and distributed millions of times in catalogues, posters, books, catalogues, films, copies and fakes through photography and reproductions. The meaning of a painting no longer resides in its unique painted surface, nor on its immediate context.

We know most of the works of art that we love by looking at them in reproduction. It is images of these reproductions that we look at in books and carry around in our heads, yet being face to face with the originals can give us a qualitatively different experience. Vernon Lee describes this real relationship with physical artworks as a spontaneous and organic attraction, an immanent and unconscious relationship with the things in her environment. But can a forgery incite the same phenomena? “The important decision to make when you are talking about the genuine quality of a painting’ explains Clifford Irving, biographer of famed forger Elmyr de Hory, ‘, is not so much whether it’s a real painting or a fake; it’s whether it’s a good fake or a bad fake.’

Factum Arte are masters of this kind of forgery, in its most creative sense. A non-profit foundation operating out of Madrid, they have worked globally to analyse and reproduce some of the most famous, delicate and revered pieces of art, sculpture and architecture. Their inventions to digitally capture and reproduce the colour, surface, forma and texture of an object lead us to question the value we place on authenticity. If a fresco now housed in a museum was intended to be viewed in the damp dark of a venetian church interior, what is the more authentic experience, the fake in the original location or the original on the wall of a museum?

Alternating between city locations and the workshops of Fontana & Fontana in Jona, we will split the week between handwork and headwork. The Fontana family have passed their buisiness and knowledge down through three generations and remain the experts in paint techniques in Switzerland. Marius, Olivia and Claudio will be instructing us on the replication of a material chosen and surveyed individually during the week.

Questions of authenticity operate within different value systems when they are translated to pixels; depth and texture now a sliding scale of contrast and brightness. Having spent a semester interrogating the limits of resolution, our eyes have adjusted to the smooth brightness of the screen. For a week in October we will return our eyes to the workbench starting with a blank canvas and a rich topic. Not only will we study and reproduce wood and stone in paint, but we will also meet in locations around Zurich and take the time to and read and discuss.

18-24 October 2020

Price Range

10 students max

Marius Fontana demonstrating timber paint technique. Image: SRF, Claudia Herzog
Mosaic woodwork, Studiolo, Urbino, 1473 to 1476. Image:
Josef Albers’s Drawing Class, Black Mountain College, ca. 1939-1940. Photograph likely taken at the Blue Ridge campus. Courtesy of Western Regional Archives.

This series of seminar weeks explores our physical and emotional connection with the world around us. Focusing on different materials and actions we will investigate the process by which things are made at both the scale of the factory and the craftsman. Literature, film, and technology will guide and frame the way we look at these processes of making and we will use our own hands and bodies to explore each theme. Weaving, Firing, Casting, Carving, Moving, Forging, Preserving.

We will work in small groups of 12 students and each seminar week will be accompanied by a specific reading which we will discuss over the course of the week. By keeping travelling to a minimum, each seminar week will be affordably priced below 500CHF.