In our individualistically minded society, the notion of intellectual property has become extremely important. Yet this was not always the case. The view on terms such as original, copy and intellectual property greatly alters, says Berlin –based designer Laura Strasser, depending on which side you are standing on, or what era you live in.

In today’s western society the notion of copying comes with a lot of negative connotations. And hypocrisy. No one likes to be suspected of doing it – particularly artists or designers. Yet, in reality, every designer runs the risk of being copied in the course of his career.

The history of European porcelain manufacture has been strongly marked by copying. With China being the birthplace of porcelain, the valuable material reached Europe via the Silk Route, unleashing a real porcelain mania. Porcelain, known as white gold, was traded at high prices, and because deciphering how it was produced was of such huge economic significance, many people in Europe diligently attempted to reinvent it. Scouts were sent to Imperial China for the purposes of what today is called “industrial espionage” and to resolve the puzzle of porcelain manufacturing. When about 300 years ago, porcelain was finally successfully reinvented in the German town of Meissen, the first porcelains produced in Europe were copies of Chinese models. For after all, their buyers, European monarchs and wealthy aristocrats, were obsessed with Asian-style porcelain. It took some time before Europe developed its own formal idiom for porcelain.

All this is quite ironic in view of the present situation, in which especially China is accused of copying, even German porcelains.
With China being one of the largest manufacturers of commodities for the global market, many European companies also have their products produced in China or buy them there at more attractive prices. An army of cheap laborers deals with this quasi-infinite demand, on the Chinese and on the global market. Yet at the same time, China is one of the largest producers of copies and counterfeits. The liberalization of the market, the globalization of production, and the Internet, which allows to send data and link markets in mere seconds, have enabled counterfeiters, both Chinese and European, to buy and sell their goods easily and swiftly. The volume and the number of copies are enormous. With the very perception of copying greatly differing in China and in Europe, the Chinese don’t really have a problem with it.

In anticipation of her work being copied sooner or later, Berlin-based designer Laura Strasser commissioned her first copy myself. The 300 identical busts –in porcelain, and 21cm high- that make the With Love from China installation, and of which 64 copies are shown at Refugium, are all copies of herself. All the copies were produced in China. The way Strasser made contact with her copiers was up to the present day situation: through the Internet. All the Chinese modelers were given were emailed photographs. The result is a highly original installation. (mb*) (* To remain in the spirit of Strasser’s work, this text was largely copied and pasted from Strasser’s own press-kit. ) REFUGIUM (BERLIN AS A DESIGN PRINCIPLE) – JUNE 5-9 / BERLIN TEMPELHOF.