Sunday, 8 March 2015

The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction' by Walter Benjamin is a key text in my investigation, in it he explores how uniqueness, or 'aura', is affected through reproduction.

The genuineness of a thing is the quintessence of everything about it since its creation that can be handed down, from its material duration to the historical witness that it bears. The latter (material duration and historical witness) being grounded in the former (the thing's genuineness), what happens in the reproduction, where the former has been removed from human perception, is that the latter also starts to wobble. Nothing else, admittedly; however, what starts to wobble is the authority of the thing. We can encapsulate what stands out here by using the term aura. We can say: what shrinks in an age where the work of art can be reproduced by technological means is its aura.(Benjamin, 2008, p.7)

The question I see posed here is: is the uniqueness, or aura, of a work important to its effectiveness at communicating the transcendental or sublime? And, if so, can the concept of aurabe shifted from the object to the idea. This could free us to view the reproduction in the same positive light we had hitherto reserved for the original. The sublime is a metaphysical, transcendental experience; can we have a sublime experience with a reproduction or does a work need to be genuine?

In his work 'Exhibition in a box' artist Thomas Martin plays with the idea of the unique. His small scale prints are made by layering a selection of abstract patterns; this randomisation of layers and colours creates near endless possibilities, and allows him to claim that each set is unique. The 'aura' of the work is thus maintained and the material value justified, however at what cost? Some of the prints seem stronger than others, some compositions of pattern work while others are less resolved. Other sets I have seen contain compositions I'd love to have in my own set. In a hierarchy of objectives the need to make them unique has superseded the need to make them good. This raises the question, for the appreciation of an artwork is its exclusivity more important than the image itself? I see this as a key issue for my investigation.

I would like to note that I am not attacking Thomas Martins work, I'm merley using it to illustrate my thoughts about the importance of 'uniqueness', I very much admire his prints and as I have already stated have bought my own set.

My images will be constructed out of repeating elements, and I'm interested in placing the same image in different contexts, as well as reinterpreting it using different processes. If 'uniqueness' is so important to our appreciation of a work could these forms of repetition interrupt the viewers connection with the work? Or could repetition itself lead us to the Sublime?

"Networks of reproductive processes thereby afford us some glimpse into a postmodern or technological sublime, whose power or authenticity is documented by the success of such works in evoking a whole new postmodern space in emergence around us" (Jameson, 2010, The   Sublime, p.145)

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