Reality, Rothko and Reproductive Technology

The painter Mark Rothko painted few murals, among the best known are those from the penthouse of Harvard’s Holyoke Center installed there by the artist in 1964. Although precautions were taken by Rothko and others, the murals began to fade and by 1979 the university removed the paintings. Rothko had created translucent colors by using dry pigments with animal skin glue and whole egg. These were absorbed into unvarnished canvases and made the surface quite porous. As a result traditional ways of restoring paintings could not be used. Narayan Khandekar, Senior Conservation Scientist at Harvard came up with the notion of projecting lights onto the canvass using a camera and a software algorithm thus restoring the paintings without touching them. When looked at in this manner the murals now look the way they originally did. As of last November they are once more exhibited. Each day the lights are turned off for one hour so that the difference can be appreciated. But with or without the lights the technique has led to discussion and even debate as to what is the nature of a work of art and what are the implications of such technique for art in general. But the questions raised do go beyond the art world, to the use of technology certainly, and to the definition of reality. If technology can reproduce a unique work of art, where is reproductive technology taking us? Similarly if reality or what is tangibly real can be cleverly reproduced, do we need to redefine reality, or extend its meaning to include the reproduction thus obtained?