TinTin is reeling backward, a dynamic spiral beneath his feet, Hergé’s sign indicating movement. Snowy is beside him mimicking the ‘take’ and emphasising it. In one hand TinTin holds a suitcase, under his arm a parcel which contains an Arumbaya fetish, perhaps the very one he has just travelled through South America to find. He is looking into a factory where Arumbaya fetishes are being mass produced. Shocked, his other hand grasps his brow, there is a spray of sweat drops, his cap floats in the air and his head is surrounded by black stars to show the enormity of the problem. How will he ever find the original fetish? For all the copies replicate its characteristic fault: a broken ear. How will he discover the unknown knowledge it contains and then return it to the museum from which it was stolen?
Hergé’s story of TinTin and the Broken Ear hinges on the reader believing that there should be only one authentic fetish. A reasonable enough assumption. Yet our experience shows us otherwise; the practice of sculpture is dependent upon reproductive techniques, and most major museums display versions of the same famous statues. If we were to ignore the thrust of Hergé’s story for a moment, it would also be quite reasonable to believe that TinTin’s shock is unfounded, for perhaps this factory is where the museum itself manufactures replicas of its most celebrated pieces to sell. Yet even if this were the case TinTin would still need to reel with shock for without the original, the factory would be providing copies without proper authority. Sculptures proliferate, reproduce, are replicated with and without the artist’s approval, with and without the direct involvement of the artist’s hand.
Indeed it can be said that a large part of the pleasure, the sheer beauty, of sculpture lies not within what Lucy Lippard has described as its classical sense – ‘Sculpture, in the classical sense, is like architecture, necessarily stable (statue, as in stasis and status quo)’ – but in its very instability, its almost sexual ability to reproduce. This exhibition is an attempt to openly offer this aspect of the wonder which sculpture can generate to those who look at it, and those who study it. It focuses on the reproductive techniques used in its manufacture, on works where the artist has had to replicate hand movements, where the artist has not touched the work at all. It is an exhibition which spans a vast period of time. Although modest, this survey may to some extent offer an insight into why sculpture has become in the modern era such a vital and wide-ranging activity, the phenomena which Rosalind E. Krauss has described as sculpture in the expanded field. By glimpsing some part of sculpture’s hidden but long history of unstable identity, so very familiar to its practitioners, perhaps the reason why so many contemporary sculptors chose to work in materials commonly thought of as ‘not sculpture’, while never doubting that they are indeed sculptors, will become clearer.
The issues raised by reproduction in sculpture range from simple questions of technical interest to complex issues of authority, authenticity and ethics. From questions of virtue and quality to political questions relating to the availability of, and dissemination of knowledge. Picture our comic image of TinTin once more and imagine this time his shock is due to the thought that should the Arumbaya fetish prove a fake, the subsequent loss in value of the factory’s products could lead to closure, which would in turn leave its workers unemployed. An absurd image, but a real issue. Reproduction in sculpture is an economic as well as an aesthetic construct. This is not the place to expand this discussion, but perhaps a brief description of the key points around which the debate must move would be of use, beginning with that which is largely absent in the exhibition.