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Authenticity – The reproduction of Plecnik’s parliament of freedom

By Bika Rebek
May 2018
Originally published in the Catalogue for the Slovenian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2018

In a time of fake news, artificial intelligence and Photoshop, the authentic is back in fashion. The desire for time-tested qualities can be seen in the resurgence of historic quotations employed by a younger generation of architects, or in the often-successful attempts at the reconstruction of long gone buildings. In an increasingly virtual world, architecture has re-discovered the rough, reliable and antique.
While it would be easy to dismiss many of these practices as sentimental attempts at establishing authority through referencing historic forms, the reasons to put effort into reliving the past vary widely. The Slovenian pavilion at the Venice Biennale is a reinterpretation of an iconic yet unbuilt work by Jože Plečnik (1872- 1957), using the design for a national parliament to rethink the global issue of water treatment and its relationship to architecture. Far from being a neutral container, Plečnik’s project has been used and re-used as a shell to be filled with content, propaganda and identity for several decades now. Its signature silhouette has lent its authority to a set of causes, often with opposing characteristics. The endless replication of Plečnik’s unbuilt parliament lends itself as a rich case study concerned with the various interferences between original and copy.

While the definition of the authentic seems elusive and ever shifting, we tend to have a strong intuition whether something is real or not. Temporary exhibitions like the Venice Biennale are by definition productions of the artificial. For six months exhibitors from all over the world create mini-environments presenting ideas, proposals and installations. Yet even in here various pavilions will display differing degrees of authenticity. What then, are the measures to evaluate authenticity?

In order to establish a sense of authenticity, there needs to be a relationship between an original and a derivative from that original. Something cannot be authentic without a point of reference that creates and confirms its authenticity. The arch, column and primary forms in architecture became authentic architectural elements through endless repetition. Authenticity in that sense is a four-dimensional concept in architecture, that can only be measured by the temporal and physical difference between an original and a copy.

Perhaps even more importantly, authenticity is a social construct, meaning that the same space could be evaluated completely differently in different cultures. In combination with the element of time, one could create an authenticity graph, with authentic sitting at the intersection between the time and cultural axes.

As a normative concept authenticity has an air of conventionality about it, since its purpose is a confirmation of standards rather than the breaking down of norms. On the other extreme, a building that would be an exact copy could also be a fake. There is only a narrow and ever-shifting window of the authentic. While it cannot be precisely quantified, it always involved an interpretation the past, while creating something somewhat new.

Read the full essay here
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