In The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Walter Benjamin argues that artwork have its own “aura”, which is the speciality of that very art piece as a result of the space and time the work is created. In that sense, an art piece is a product of not only the artist’s efforts, but also a product of history and space. Therefore, an artwork seems to be unreproducible in the sense that any attempt of copying an art piece, despite how perfect it could be, will lead to a difference in time and space. In that sense, a reproduction of an existing artwork can become harmful for the original work. But what does reproduction mean to the reproduced work? A fake work is only being recognized as a forgery when the real original work is recognized at the same time. Otherwise it is just a work by itself, potentially gaining the same kind of reputation as the original work.
So it seems that our understandings of “real” versus “fake” also lie heavily on our knowledge and perspective. When one knows something is fake/unreal, but still cannot help but being persuaded by it, that thing creates an illusion. However, when someone is being cheated and believe in something, that thing becomes a pure lie.
I feel like films fall into the former category. Films, even documentaries, despite how “real” they seem to be, are still fictional worlds created by the artists. The director is kind of like a magician who is trying to amuse his audience with the best illusion he could create. An art forgery falls into the latter category as a totally lie.
Interestingly, Orson Welles’s film “F for Fake”, while revealing the fake aspect of the great forger Elmyr de Hory and his biography writer Clifford Irving, also is an great “illusion” itself. That means, the content provided by the film itself is not totally liable as well. An non-liable work telling a story about the fake, how much should we believe?
In addition, does fake remains existing because people have not realized? In the film, when a lady is talking to Irving, she mentions that the fake exist because there is a market. Even if people know something is fake, they long for it because they want to see “the excellent’s talents made fun of”. It is interesting to me that not only forgers have the intention to create fake projects, but the audience might also have a desire for that.