How to be 'authentic'

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How to be 'authentic' by Nina Wakeford. 6 credits (scroll down to see list of participants)

January-June 2020

The term ‘authentic’ is used either in the strong sense of being “of undisputed origin or authorship”, or in a weaker sense of being “faithful to an original” or a “reliable, accurate representation”. To say that something is authentic is to say that it is what it professes to be, or what it is reputed to be, in origin or authorship. (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2014, accessible at

Each material has its own individual qualities…Stone, for example, is hard and concentrated and should not be falsified to look like soft flesh…It should keep its hard tense stoniness. (Henry Moore, Unit One, 1934)

The live act is most often privileged as delivering an authentic and “present” body… …paradoxically, Abramovic’s recent practice, in its desire to manifest presence, points to the very fact that the live act itself destroys presence (or makes the impossibility of its being secured evident)… [or is] an inadvertent parody of the structure of authentic expression and reception of “true” emotional resonance that modernist art discourse (brought to its apotheosis in institutions such as MoMA) so long claimed for modernist painting and sculpture. (Amelia Jones, ‘The Artist is Present’, 2011)

This thematic project will engage with the ‘authentic’ as a provocation within the making of contemporary art. This theme will be discussed in terms of representation and identity, political claims for recognition/reparation, the fetishism of liveness and presence as guaranteeing authenticity, as well as asking how and why ‘truth to materials’ is still mobilised explicitly or implicitly in the making of contemporary art e.g. in materials lists. If the ‘authentic’ is always already a performance of human and non-human entities and there is now only ‘nature’, as cultural theorists claim, how does this affect the decisions in the making of work? Alternatively, can we take ‘authentic’ out of its quotation marks and wholeheartedly commit to straightforward faithfulness, for example to a person, a social group, an archive or an affective event? We will address associated concepts of sincerity, accuracy, precision and validity and ponder if and why these might seem urgent or outdated or embarrassing or ideological or downright irrelevant.

The priority of this thematic will be the viewing, discussion and making of art. The format will be a series of seminar discussions plus an output based around the making of artwork to be shown in a public context. In this way the readings from the seminars will be activated through the discussion of contemporary art works and the making of new art. During the course each student will actively participate in seminars by bringing examples of artworks (their own, contemporary, historical) to the group.


-To be able to evaluate readings and document exhibitions/artworks in relation to the key problematic posed by the Thematic Project -To identify and critically reflect upon the relationship between the themes of this course and the making of your own work -To research and present works of art and exhibitions, and to us these to develop your conceptual vocabularies -To evidence your research and understanding by preparing and participating in discussions -To develop positions and arguments in relation to the key problematic, through the making of artwork -To develop collaborative ways of working, particularly in the development of public outputs.


Students must come prepared and participate in seminar discussions, group visits and the making of new work for public engagement.

All students must present work for public engagement.

Absences must be negotiated in advance and make-up work/presentations will be assigned.


Indicative Readings

Ferrara, Alessandro (1998) Reflective Authenticity, London: Routledge.

Howe, Alyssa (2001) Queer Pilgrimage, Cultural Anthropology Vol 16, No 1

Jones, Amelia (2011) “The Artist is Present”: Artistic Re-enactments and the Impossibility of Presence. TDR/The Drama Review. Vol 55, Issue 1.

Jones, Amelia (2018) Performative Afterlife. Parallax, Vol 24, Issue 1 Gopinath, Gayatri (2018) Diaspora, Indigeneity, Queer Critique: Tracey Moffatt’s Aesthetics of Dwelling in Displacement. In Willis, D (2019) Women and Migration: Responses in Art and History. Open Book Publishers

Telling, Kathryn (2014) Real Feminists and Fake Feminists, in Cobb R. (Ed) The Paradox of Authenticity in a Globalized World. Palgrave Macmillan, New York


Meetings - monthly Jan-June 2020

Exhibition viewing – student organised

NOTE - It is anticipated that this seminar will include a group trip to London, either in conjunction with a seminar and/or to present the final works created.


> > Next to your name add (credit) if you are officially taking this thematic project for credits.


  • Diana AL Halabi
  • Guillem S. Arquer (credit)
  • Junghun Kim (credit)
  • Aimilia Efthymiou (Credit)
  • Dagmar Bosma (credit)
  • Emma Astner
  • Halla Einarsdottir
  • Pascale de Graaf (credit)
  • Linus Bonduelle
  • Christian Ovesen (credit)
  • Bruno Neves (credit)


  • Josie (credit)
  • Daphne Simons
  • Jamie Kane
  • Petter
  • Lukas
  • Lucía (credit)
  • Christine (Credit)