Adam told me how his work with Factum grew out of his interest in print making and digital printing, which has since progressed into the reproduction of three-dimensional surface. At this point, I began to see the objects around the workshop as images which have escaped from the pages of a book – prints rebelling against flatness, finally able to show their three-dimensional form. With it, my perception of the objects also changed. As with the printed images in a book, they exist to illustrate an object within a wider context. Within the history of printing, images have been reproduced with the technological means available, be it woodcut, copperplate etching, or chromolithography, each with a varying degree of loss of information or necessary subjective intervention as part of the process. The printing process at Factum then follows that pattern. The technological processes allow for accurate, detailed reproductions, which in three-dimensional form receive the label of ‘facsimile’. Adam explains:
The facsimile is trying to achieve an objective proximity to the object that it was derived from, so that the ability to identify and react to the other material evidence of the surface – whether that’s a colour mixed with a surface or whether that’s the surface of an alabaster or something else, gives you an ability to read that object.27
I learn that Silvia’s interventions are a necessary part of that process, in striving for accuracy. Total objectivity is an unachievable target, which Adam acknowledges:
Of course, there are subjective decisions, but they’re subtle. And the subjective decisions are not the subject: The subject is proximity. The subject is correspondence. The subject is making the facsimile have the qualities of the original, or appear to have the qualities of the original.28
Silvia too knows her role in the process should be a mechanistic one, but she is a little sceptical of Adam’s ideology of the perfect facsimile delivered entirely from the machine:
He calls me Cyborg sometimes, like a robot! Sometimes he likes the idea of a combination of handmade and machines, and at other times I think he loves to have the machines make everything, I don’t know. The technology can probably change everything, but the things that humans made I think a human has to make.29
Silvia evidently believes in the human experience of seeing, making, and creating. From a conservator’s perspective, her position differs from Adam’s, an artist who places his faith in the objectivity of machines for the accurate reproduction of art. Despite this slight tension, they agree on the purpose of the objects they are creating. Silvia had also told me:
It’s not just only to recreate the visual aspect, it’s to recreate the whole object and also to document the history of that object. Because the idea of Factum is not only to create a facsimile, it’s also to keep the information of that object. I make the possibility that people can consult that information.30
They are not intended as fakes, but facsimiles.31 What is the difference, if any? A fake might aim to deceive us into believing it is an original. But as I experienced, a facsimile can also do the same. Is then the only difference that we are told that a facsimile is a reproduction? In their manipulation of material matter, Adam, Silvia, and the rest of Factum’s production team create the illusion that we are looking at an original object. A master forger may be said to be doing the same. However, Factum’s objects are not made to deceive an observer but to convey information to them, and Factum’s struggle in doing so is in confronting the prejudices against non-authenticity. Their facsimiles are made through careful observation, reproducing its surface with the honest intention of telling us how an object is and to allow us to see it in a place it is not or cannot be.
Here I recognise Ruskin’s clear observation and his ability to describe and reproduce. “If Ruskin was around now, he’d be in Factum!” Adam declared confidently. “Ruskin’s obsession is things should be allowed to be what they are, and in them being what they are, you read not only them, but also their trajectory.”32 This could be said both of Ruskin’s etching of the weeds growing amongst the carved crockets of St. Lô, and of Factum’s Seti I sarcophagus facsimile, showing its discolouration and worn edges. As we talk, Adam recites further references from the pages of Modern Painters or The Stones of Venice. Ruskin is among many thinkers who he can draw upon from memory, traceable amongst the many influences forming his vision for Factum’s work.
One afternoon, a group of guests arrived for whom a tour of Factum’s premises had been arranged. The delegation of museum curators and art historians were as astonished as I was on first viewing the random collection of familiar objects assembled in this dusty factory. I was especially eager to see their reaction to the Raphael Cartoon facsimile. Adam stood before it and explained the process of its reproduction, as well as the new conclusions being reached through the study of the cartoon’s surfaces.33 The surface textures revealing the pouncing marks can be isolated from the colour in the online viewer, revealing the way in which the images were transferred to derivative cartoons before being transferred to tapestry. The original cartoons are then themselves a surviving artefact of a reproduction process. Whilst there was some initial suspicion amongst the group towards the idea of a copy, it was quickly appreciated that in this copy, there exists a close study of the surfaces and an intense interaction with them which had the potential to reveal something previously unseen. In that moment, in truly seeing the surfaces of facsimiles, scepticism had turned to unanimous approval.