Walter Benjamin – Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

As I have moved away from focusing on my subject, throwing myself into a period of dissertation writing, I am considering how I am able to draw these two things together. On the surface, the two subject areas seem quite different, in my dissertation, I am exploring the Crucifixion in the Western imagination, and in my practice the relationship between information and digital search technologies. The biggest crossover that I can recognise, and one that has definitely fed into my subject work, is the reading and analysis of Walter Benjamin’s text ‘Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’. Benjamin comments on something that can be recognised as one of the most fundamental changes in the way we understand art, that is the introduction of mechanical reproduction, which allowed for the widespread distribution of art and removed works of art from a relationship with a direct space. The growth in such technologies meant that the ‘aura’ of an image could be removed, the aura referring to the unique attributes/weathering/placement/history of an artefact, and rather the image could be taken and moved into multiple contexts, meaning it could be re-contextualised and thus have its ‘essence’ reduced and manipulated.

Tying this into my subject work, I am able to recognise the significance that Benjamin’s observations on the changing nature of how the operation of the image has allowed for new ways of looking at the image to open up. A large part of my project and  ‘internet art’ in general is how content operates within a space that is constantly open for re-contextualization. This recontextualization is allowed by the technologies that reproduce images on a mass scale and allow their endless distribution. Benjamin’s writing specifically addresses art objects, this could be investigated and questions asked of the ‘presence’ or ‘significance’ of the art object within a digital context, where an art object may be viewed millions of times from millions of places within one day.

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My specific interest in this project is to consider how the digital reproduction of images and, more generally information, has changed the nature of such ‘objects’, our relationship with them, and our consumption of them. Although the objects that my attention is drawn to aren’t necessarily art objects (though my generative approach means that art pieces may be incorporated), it may also be worth noting that another achievement of mechanical reproduction is the blurring of the boundary between what is and what isn’t art. This is why I am able to appropriate and the content that I use as part of my practice, as there is no longer a line drawn between the ‘sacred’ art object and the everyday.

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