The answer is that they all inhabit the world of the genuine fake – a world which Patricia Kingori explores in a fascinating new series of podcasts launched today.
Patricia, a sociologist and Associate Professor in Global Health Ethics, first encountered the idea of the genuine fake in the arena of public health. The question of how to describe a doctor who saves lives but has no medical degree, or a pill that has the same effect as its branded alternative but was produced in a sub-standard factory moved Patricia to consider how globalisation has complicated and challenged our classic opposition of real versus fake.
‘I just felt that increasingly what we're dealing with is the possibility that lots of things are neither real nor fake. And so, rather than just stick to my own world, I asked myself: what would we learn if we brought together people from across a whole spectrum of disciplines to hear their different perspectives and discover what we have in common.’
In a series of conversations with contributors from the V&A, De Beers, and the London College of Fashion the topics range from fine art to literature, and include diamonds, architecture, online dating and pharmacology. Uniting them all is the growing sense that a Eurocentric or, more specifically, Anglo-Saxon notion of authenticity as a signifier of value is problematic.
‘A lot of this research kept taking me back to my research in Southeast Asia, where they simply have no word for fake. Something is either a good copy or a bad one. And there is no ‘one’ – no concept of the pure, unattenuated original.’
In Episode 9, former Scotland Yard detective and current V&A Director of Cultural Heritage Protection and Security, Vernon Rapley describes how works by artists such as Tracey Emin are often created in much the same way as in Renaissance studios, with skilled understudies creating the paintings and the ‘master’ delivering the final touches and, crucially, a signature.
‘The really interesting tension here,’ Patricia says, ‘is that the refusal of artists like Hirst and Emin to credit their collaborators actually leads those same people to become the best forgers of their work. These forgeries use the same pigments, the same precise brush strokes – all they lack is the signature.’
A final example to whet your appetite: in the world of diamonds, the name De Beers is synonymous with authenticity and quality. So how should the people at De Beers respond to the fact that you can now synthetically produce for £100 a diamond with the same carat, clarity and chemical composition as a natural diamond that would ordinarily sell for £10,000?
Patricia feels that the question of whether something is real or fake triggers a deep, visceral response in us all. It pushes on preconceived notions of culture, value and ethics that are, perhaps, not as immutable or instructive as we once thought. For anyone taught never to copy or who tried to be ‘real’, these podcasts are a must-listen.