Growing up as a young creative shaped me to guard my originality. After all, it's what distinguishes me from the rest; it's what makes me unique. So, imagine my surprise when I went to Shanghai a few months ago to attend a Gucci-powered art exhibit in the Yuz Museum whose premise was to give credence to copying as a form of artistic expression.
The exhibit was called The Artist is Present. If it rings a bell, it's because it's also the name of the name of Marina AbramoviÄ‡'s 2010 performance piece that lasted 700 hours at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
In the age of finding authenticity, it seemed quite subversive that a high profile designer like Alessandro Michele would encourage the idea of plagiarism. However, I am not entirely suprised, because since assuming his role at the creative helm of the Italian luxury brand, he had an obvious inclination to mining this kitsch. He partnered with Trevor Andrew, a Gucci junkie, ex-Olympic snowboarder, who goes by the moniker GucciGhost, for a collection of apparel and accessories bearing the latter's graffiti art in 2016. Come 2018, Gucci released their Cruise collection laden with the intentionally mispelled name of the brand: Guccy.
Going back, the exhibit in Shanghai holds the pieces of more than 30 artists around the world that attempted to explain in their own truths the meaning of self-expression, originality, and intention. It was hinged on the idea of a fluid culture and shared existence seen on a global scale. I couldn't help but be thrown back to my media theory class in college as we discussed Jean Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation. The book examines the complex relationships we have between reality, symbols, the society we live in, representation, and presentation.
According to the philosopher, we're all copies, perversions, and masks of realities before we fully deviate from it, and thus reach true self-awareness. In a more concrete illustration, we're essentially both the feeder and consumer in this world, switching in between illusion and reality. And so, we question: where does it all start? What does it mean to copy? What do we get out of it? Where do we draw the line? Is anything today original?
Artist Maurizio Cattelan, along with Gucci, posits their points in five truths:
1. "I copy therefore I am."
Human learning starts from copying. Maurizio likens copying to blasphemy: "It could seem not respectful to God [creator] but at the same time, is the significative recognition of its existence."
2. "Nothing is created, nothing is destroyed, everything is transformed."
Why trends follow a cyclical process can be attributed to this. What had gone around will come back eventually—a little different, but never fully the same.
3. Repetition makes history.
In the digital era, where copying is rampant and infinitely possible, the more an art work is reproduced, repurposed, altered, and given new meaning, the more it becomes an icon. There is some sweetness in being able to clone and mutate yourself and learn to adapt to reach a wider audience.
4. Same, same, but different.
With copying we learn that while we think we're different from others, there is comfort in knowing that we are not truly alone because we share something similar with other people, too.
5. "Sharing is caring."
This is an aged concept of human capacity. After the transmission and diffusion of knowledge, you uncover your real truths.
By the idea that copying is an art form where we learn, copy what you love because you admire it and you want to learn from it. Copy for the sake of the unborn that they may live to learn what you've learned. Copy to recognize its existence. Copy and at its pit, you'll find your originality. Remember that reproduction with the intention of improvement, of sharing a sincere piece of you will forever be different from a hollow, counterfeit copy meant for profit.