With Love From China
China is the birthplace of porcelain. That valuable and wonderful material reached Europe via the Silk Route, unleashing a veritable porcelain mania. Porcelain, known as white gold, was traded at high prices, and because deciphering how it was produced was also of huge economic significance, many people in Europe diligently attempted to reinvent it. Scouts were sent to Imperial China for the purposes of what today is called “industrial espionage” and to resolve the puzzle of porcelain manufacture. About 300 years ago, porcelain was finally successfully reinvented in the German town of Meißen. The first porcelains produced in Europe were copies of Chinese models, after all, their buyers, European monarchs and wealthy aristocrats, were obsessed with Asian-style porcelain. It was some time before Europe developed its own formal idiom for porcelain. The history of European porcelain manufacture therefore has been strongly marked by the copy, which is highly ironic given the situation today, when China is suspected of copying, even German porcelains. In our individualistically minded society, intellectual property has become extremely important – but this was not always the case. Just how the terms original, copy and intellectual property are viewed alters, depending on which side you are standing on, or what era you are living in.
Today, China is one of the largest manufacturers of commodities for the global market. Many European companies have their products produced in China or buy them there at more attractive prices. An army of cheap labourers deals with this quasi-infinite demand, on the Chinese and on the global market. At the same time, China is one of
the largest producers of copies and counterfiets. The liberalisation of the markets, the globalisation of production, the Internet, which in mere seconds sends data around the globe and links markets, have enabled counterfeiters, both Chinese and European, to buy and sell their goods easily and swiftly. The production volume and the number of copies are enormous. There are many reasons for this demand for copies, especially in the Asian region, and they cannot be reduced to a single common denominator. The very perception of the copy and of copying differs fundamentally in China and in Europe.
In western industrial countries the copy has negative connotations. On the one hand, no one would like to be suspected of doing it – particularly artists or designers. On the other, every designer runs the risk of being copied in the course of his career.
In anticipation of this, I commissioned my first copy myself. These busts are all copies of myself – carried out in the supreme discipline: the bust, as the very essence of representation, and thus the copy. All these copies were produced in China. The way I made contact with my copiers was up to the minute, namely, through the Internet. All the Chinese modellers were given were emaikled photographs. As a result, the busts originally conceived as copies are now actually the creation of the Chinese modeller, albeit in mass-produced form. It take an altogether sporting view of my first copy, and perhaps I can do that of any that may follow …