26 Original Fakes for Melbourne Design Week

This exhibition text was originally written by Penny Craswell for 26 Original Fakes, an exhibition curated by Dale Hardiman and Tom Skeehan of Friends & Associates as part of Melbourne Design Week.

26 Original Fakes, Melbourne Design Week

Fake furniture takes the original design and perverts it. The image in the magazine might look the same, but the object is fundamentally different – not just in quality, longevity, function and aesthetics, but also in its very essence. What makes the original authentic is stripped away and all you are left with is an empty simulation.

When photography first took off in the early part of the 20th Century, Walter Benjamin lamented that artworks, once photographically reproduced, would lose their aura. In a way, replica furniture does the same. But it is much worse than that. The replica chair doesn’t just copy the image of the original, destroying its aura, it also violates a moral code by not rewarding the object’s original designer or producer. In the end, what you are left with is an empty object, stolen from its author, and one that is certainly much inferior in quality.

The fact that, at the current time in Australia, it is legal to manufacture and sell well-known (and not so well-known) designs as ‘replicas’ is a moral outrage. The system allows unscrupulous businesses to profit at the expense of the original author, and ultimately, at the expense of the consumer. Unfortunately, due to a lack of awareness of design, and the promotion of these replicas through advertising and reality TV, the public goes along with it, none the wiser.

This exhibition, curated by Dale Hardiman and Tom Skeehan, presents a series of interventions on a replica HAL Chair, the original designed by Jasper Morrison for manufacturer Vitra. The curators bought replica Hal chairs and distributed them to Australian designers to inspire a new work. The resulting pieces vary across different media, with each one highlighting different aspects of the moral and material problems associated with fake furniture. Some modify or destroy the replica, others create works replicating the replica, using completely different materials, encompassing photography, hand illustration and more. All have clear messages about the problems of replicas in Australian society, continuing the work of the Authentic Design Alliance in highlighting these issues.

Jean Baudrillard in The System of Objects describes society as preoccupied with consumption – what he terms ‘affluenza’ – in which people gain status through a code of meaning constructed by objects and advertising. It is a bleak view of society and of consumers, and I hope that we are better than that. I hope that we recognise the value of authenticity and that we reward those in our society who have the creative imagination to design the works that we buy.

“You can’t fake quality any more than you can fake a good meal.” William S Burroughs

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