What is Authenticity?

“Authenticity”, North York, March 2019

The OED defines authentic as “Of undisputed origin and not a copy; genuine.”

But is it that simple to determine if something is authentic?

The concrete tree I referred to in an earlier post failed, in my mind, the authenticity test: it was clearly not a genuine tree. It was a fabrication. Yet, as this instance was made of concrete, and there are no genuine trees made of concrete, one might argue it’s not really a copy as no such genuine thing really exists. Thus, it is itself a genuine article. Alternatively, one might argue that there was no original tree in the first place; it was completely fictional. So this concrete tree is not a copy of something real, but a representation of something fictional. Does that make it unauthentic?

Similarly in describing the contrived environment of the resort, I wondered whether it was authentic? The resort was designed, built and physically exists. In this instance the site is unique, a copy of nothing. So is it not authentic? There might be genuineness in its physical form, but not in the contrivance of what it represents. It offers nothing substantial, rather it is some configuration of Caribbean tropes designed simply to generate an experience that was defined by a marketing firm in some first-world location.

UNESCO, the sponsor of the World Heritage Sites, has developed Operational Guidelines based on ICOMOS’s (International Council on Monuments and Sites) Nara Document on Authenticity. In its preamble, the Nara Document takes focus on cultural identity, immediately defining what it is they want to be authentic and why.

In a world that is increasingly subject to the forces of globalization and homogenization, and in a world in which the search for cultural identity is sometimes pursued through aggressive nationalism and the suppression of the cultures of minorities, the essential contribution made by the consideration of authenticity in conservation practice is to clarify and illuminate the collective memory of humanity.

UNESCO’s Operational Guidelines offer a set of [testable] ‘properties’ to help realise the principles of the Nara Document:

  • form and design;
  • materials and substance;
  • use and function;
  • traditions, techniques and management systems;
  • location and setting;
  • language, and other forms of intangible heritage;
  • spirit and feeling; and
  • other internal and external factors.

These principles and properties are important as they give us a means to determine authenticity, however, in focusing on culture, they exclude many things, including, may be, our Caribbean Island Resort looked at earlier.

“Is this Authentic?”, Thornhill, March 2019


One response to “What is Authenticity?”

  1. Your work is impressive, keep it up!

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