‘This aura is no longer based on the permanence of the “original,” but on the transience of the copy.’ ‘By losing its visual substance it recovers some of its political punch and creates a new aura around it. This aura is no longer based on the permanence of the “original,” but on the transience of the copy.’
Hito Steyerl, ‘In Defense of the Poor Image’
Is a copy always explicit? Or can the presence of a copy lead to a momentary blindness, which plants originality and authenticity on to an object in a playful deceit?
'Ultimately, mimesis is nothing other than a rhythmics of appearance through which the mystery - or the evidence - of the rising or suspension [la leveé] of forms in general is known, is recognized, and participates.'
Jean-Luc Nancy, 'The Pleasure in Drawing'
Copy as verb…We caught you copying… The speech was copied word for word… Copy the file to your hard drive...
I have always loved copying things – there is something corrupt, illicit and sexy about the activity. I am not sure that I can define the differences between fakes, counterfeits, replicas and copies but I am taken with the idea of the ‘proxy’ which Brian Blanchfield describes as expressing a concession to failure or error. I like this idea of a proxy, a work that is a stand-in for something that approximates the feeling you might get from the desired artefact – if only you could get your hands on it. For me, copying is analytic but not really academic, it’s a way to focus on a subject materially, to unpack it until it gives way to something new. Copying is a site of meditation, ritualistic. And as I make copies by hand, there is also plenty of failure, shame and vulnerability in each work that does not capture the source.
In his Uncreative Writing project, Kenneth Goldsmith considers the practice of copying, as a political act that can vivify and animate a text. There is a now established tendency to explore the copy by passing it through media that exposes its granularity. Rather than producing a simulacrum, these practices make media performative, indexical. From this emerges a kind of resistant ideology, and a circulation of the ‘poor image’ described by Hito Steyerl. Maybe this is a restatement of Marshall McLuhan’s ‘the medium is the message’, distinguishing the machine’s transmission - blind to poetic nuance- from the act of copying as channelled through human consciousness.
It is the specific connection between copying and the limits of reproducibility that I find most interesting. I remember the era of Xerox art when running an image or a text repeatedly through the copier or the fax machine would produce something imagistic out of language until another kind of reading would emerge. The photocopier, the Xerox machine or the fax – these machines occupied a transitional moment between the analogue and digital. Yet the pleasure of the photocopy multiplied and pushed to the point of entropic collapse actually extends copying into an even closer attentiveness to matter. We see this in the images that W.G.Sebald uses in his books, in which the copied and re-copied images imply the hands of the author holding the image to the machine again and again until it falls apart, opting to signify something lost and opaque. These melancholy images convey an erosion of reality that is estranged from both the viewer and the narrator, and also, perhaps, embody the failure of technological transmission.
In the face of new reproductive techniques, something of this material granularity gets lost. It seems easier to refer to the copy than the practice of copying. The digital copy resists the trace of performance, without the ghost of presence, there is a more literal correspondence of meanings between ‘original’ and ‘copy’. Maybe it is the riddle of presence that delivers meaning in the copy – something that was once something else is now transformed through a matrix of meanings including time, source, author, process.
The copy is elusive – hard to apprehend.
The copy is typically thought to be characterised by a kind of secondariness: it comes after the original, degrading it. While the copy may come after the original in individual cases, at a conceptual level the relationship between the terms is reversed. It is only amidst proliferating copies that the notion of originality takes on value. In this regard, the copy comes first.
Copy - as noun - something that looks very like, if not identical, to something else. Is a copy inferior? Is copy produced for a newspaper of lower quality, just something to fill the columns between the advertisements? It is possible to possess a copy - that is my copy, we can say. There may be something useful and heartening about being able to lay some sort of claim to a small reflection of a less touchable, less accessible original.
A copy is generally thought to be the original. It may seem obvious, but the best way to ensure that a copy retains both its structures is to not preserve the structure at all. By storing the original (or one of the original's components) in copy and then "re-arranging" the structure to preserve the copy's characteristics, a "de-copyrithm" preserves the structure from the outside in. By not allowing access to the original structure, it does indeed allow access to the original.
(Jan Hopkins aided by GPT-2 text generator)
We are genetic copies endlessly groping for an impossible original identity. As such, copies are valuable and irreplaceable and precious to our eyes.
As Esther Leslie says, it is possible to possess a copy. Book collectors are used to the phrase 'a fine copy', or 'a reading copy only' (the latter meaning it's knackered). Being a copy allows you to experience time apart from other copies. You can be kept on the shelves, pristine, or you can be carried around and doodled on. The text you all share—your common structure—can never be wholly possessed, only referenced. In the same way, Mowgli can visit the waterfall in step with Christopher Robin, who takes a walk with Winnie the Pooh. They live different lives and yet they are the same.