The Copy Room (2019)
The Copy Room was commissioned by the Museum of Applied Arts Vienna (MAK) for the “Global/Local” section of the MAK DESIGN LAB curated by mischer′traxler studio (Katharina Mischer, Thomas Traxler), Janina Falkner, and Marlies Wirth. The work engages with the intricate story of one particular product: the Hereke carpet of Turkey. Conceived and titled in reference to the petit and dimly lit room it was intended for, the work deals with the complexity of the notions of authenticity and locality of hand-made products today in our overly globalized world.
Hereke hand-knotted silk carpets were first made in the second half of the 19th century at the Imperial Manufactory of the Ottoman Empire. They are extra fine and high-density carpets with above a hundred knots per square centimeter and typically made of pure high-quality silk from Bursa, Turkey. In 2012, the Hereke carpet became the subject of some particular news that spread across Turkish media. According to the reports, the carpets were being copied and distributed to the global markets by Chinese manufacturers, but an interesting detail carried the story beyond a typical case of counterfeit. The town of Hereke in fact no longer officially existed as a municipality in Turkey since 2009. The people of Hereke had immigrated to larger cities in Turkey and abroad and Hereke’s status as a “town” had to be terminated due to its low population. The news that spread argued that the Chinese manufacturers not only copied the product but also made use of the inexistence of the town of Hereke on paper. They named one of the Chinese industrial zones the “Hereke Industrial Zone” and started to label their products as “Made in Hereke”.
Had China really copied a town just to be able to label a product? Digging deeper into the story to find the answer, the research process for The Copy Room unraveled many other questions concerning the notion of authenticity today when it comes to hand-made products: What is authentic and what is a copy in handcrafts when copying means having to actually learn the handcraft? Is it really possible to identify an “ideal” version of a hand-made textile product, if such products are the results of a centuries-long interaction between cultures across the globe? If textiles had never been fixed in time, how can it be decided that “now” is the right time to cut the cords and freeze a product in time and in space? And, who gets to decide? What is a local craft in the age of global human migration anyways, when many skillful people are forced to leave their homes? Why do we need a product to be authentic, when we know its physical qualities are the same as the original? And, what does this need tell about us consumers in the Western world?
Inspired by the intricacy of labeling a product of craftsmanship as “authentic” or “local” today, the installation The Copy Room brings together all information, tools, and materials necessary to be able to create one Hereke carpet right then and there in the midst of the MAK in Vienna. The only thing needed in addition to what is provided in The Copy Room is the person who has the rare skill, knowledge, and craft.
*This text is an excerpt from Ebru Kurbak, “The Copy Room: Tracing a Local Product in a Globalized World,” MAK BLOG, Museum of Applied Arts Vienna, July 24, 2020, https://blog.mak.at/copy-room.