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reading “The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction”

Benjamin describes the ‘aura’ of a work of art as its uniqueness, its authenticity. Moreover, he describes the ‘aura’ as the “unique phenomenon of distance”. The unique distance to an objects physical location, its history, its life and afterlife. We experience the ‘aura’ of something that is not in our immediate reach, both physically and conceptually. According to Benjamin, the increasing significance of the masses in contemporary life, and the desire of the masses to bring things closer created a demand for mechanical reproduction. Benjamin does not say we should go back to the ‘auratic’ age, he is amazed by the opportunities that mediums as photography and film can bring to art, both of these fields are reproducible by nature.

It is interesting to think what he would say today. The desire of the masses to bring things closer created an enormous network that connects our minds – the Internet. Everything is extremely close now, the ‘unique phenomenon of distance’ had been almost vanished. Its the age of digital reproduction, much cheaper and much faster then what possibly Benjamin’s had imagined.

Sometimes it seems like everything we do is reproducing. We constantly reproduce ideas. We read a blog post, watch a video or listen to music and in a split second we share them, replicating the ideas digitally, spreading them as far as we can in our facebook account, twitter,  blogs, or whatever. Every blog post that we publish and every “Share!” gets copied by multiple computers and later – on demand, to the reader’s computer. Special websites were created for this specific purpose only, like There, you search for a topic and get blog posts about that topic. One of the most dominant features of this website is to let you compile the search results into your own blog post. Pure reproduction.

I wonder what is the reason behind this social behavior. It is clear that we aspire to share as much information as possible because by doing so each one can build on the work of others, and the humanity can develop faster. But can it be dangerous? Don’t you feel sometimes that it strange that we all think too much alike? Same ideas for mobile apps, global taste in music. Maybe being so connected, by means of digital reproduction, can damage us in the future?

What do you think?

4 comments to reading “The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction”

  • aml742

    Internet has created the impression of closeness and nearness, without any doubt. Our body is only two steps away – and pretty often no steps at all – from being connected to the online and shared database the Web is. We use it to see, to order goods, to communicate realtime with anybody and anywhere. It feels like Internet has abolished distance and time.

    But to which extend? Internet is also the thickest filter we have ever build. Internet is made of code. And humans are coding it. And most of those humans are paid to code it. Paid by companies who have to profit from the code usage. Internet is running on servers. Those servers are kept in warehouses, somewhere. Internet is a complex architecture of stored codes. And we access them through a screen.

    The nearness and closeness created by the access we have of the stored codes is most of the time an illusion. We feel, read and share real time what is going on. But we do not see. Our body experiences a screen. A device.

    It is important we distance ourselves from the screen and the closeness illusion to remind us that Internet creates its own vibe, its own framework. A framework that is just another framework. Not a framework that encapsulates everything.

    Meaning, we feel closer to things and people, but most of the time, we are not that much closer. We just analyze and learn about them in a different way than before Internet. We learn about them more often than before. We simply have more access to data and information. And we learn more by sharing. But it does not brings us that closer to the world itself.

    Reading this article your friend has just shared on Twitter about the amazonian forest is not that much different than ready an 1817 encyclopedia article. In 2012, you read the article in the Subway, in 1817, at the Library. Your body is far from the reality in both period.

    In 2012 you know more about Amazonia because you have access to data but that is it.

    Experiencing the world thought the Internet filter is not the same as experiencing it with our body. Being closer to data is not the same as being closer to reality.

  • agq202

    So what is the Aura of reproduction? Does the original live on? Does it change every time it is reproduced? I once had a thought that, in 2080, will they have an 80’s party, where they dress like they did in the 1980’s? Will the 80’s live on? And then, in 2180, will they have another 80’s party where they dress like 1980? Or will it be just a copy of how they dressed in the 2080’s, which was the copy of the 1980’s? How about cultures that are self referential? Ones that are blatant copies of copies? Hipsters? Self referential and ironic copies of things that are only known to the in-group, and just ‘fucking hipster’ to those who aren’t in the in-group. Andy Warhol? The original hipster? The original appropriator, or at least the one to do it en masse. Perhaps advertising is the truest form or copy/paste… taking art, and ideas, and reapropriating them over and over and over until the masses buy the product. It reminds me of this dying exec’s last thoughts on advertising… it was not worth it…

  • dm1346

    I’ve read this essay a few times in contexts of film study and critical study and I am still struck by its denseness. I don’t know that it is exactly relevant to discussions of Internet technologies and experiences, but I do think it’s interesting that discussions of art and technology more and more frequently morph into discussions in which technology and art are conflated.

    How would I apply Benjamin’s perceptions to the Internet and its fascinations? I think that while the “unique phenomenon of distance” Benjamin attributed to the aura appears to have been erased by our digital connectedness, that distance actually persists, in new forms on the Internet. These forms are not necessarily art (though some games might be called art or art experiences), but they turn Benjamin’s participatory ideal of art experience inside out: They are participatory experiences.

    There is still plenty of “aura” to go around, and I don’t mean that in a good way. My (limited) understanding of Benjamin’s idea of the aura is that he perceives it as a regressive, societally-ingrained, distancing means by which an audience – “the masses” – perceives a work of art – outside of its context, beyond the reality of its making. Benjamin’s ideal participatory mode of art is film, and in particular, certain types of film. The potentially revelatory participation or empowerment that comes with viewing a film happens because the viewer is “empowered” with the same vantage point as the camera. The viewer can look into the eyes of an actor who is five inches away. The viewer has some sense that a film is constructed, not natural, not sprung from the ether. This was not possible with staged entertainments that were the popular entertainment norm.

    As this relates to interactive experience on the Internet, we participate, but how much has our participation become what Benjamin might describe as “ritualized” – habitual and unthinking? How much do we perceive the Internet and our connectedness, and the kinds of experiences and communications we have as always having been there, as existing beyond reality–just “there”–“always on, always connected…”? Probably it does not matter, except in cases in which communications are used for the overthrow of repressive regimes as in the oft-cited example of the Arab Spring, or for control of communications in populations, through various Internet shutdowns and surveillance.

    I think that many people experience a positive form of “closeness” with participatory Internet experiences. Their Internet experiences mostly involve connections with family and friends, consumerism, convenience of access to knowledge, participatory perks that become almost invisible as technology. I’ve always thought that the best interface design should be invisible. Now the frequency, familiarity and closeness with which people use certain popular Internet experiences and applications have made the technologies almost invisible in users’ daily experience.

    As such, we may see more Internet and technological art emphasizing the unnaturalness of technology, the complexity of technology, the closeness and the distance it offers us and denies us. I’d like to see more experiences that invite people to look within and understand technology-based art experiences and projects, to understand how they serve us, as well as how we serve them.

  • Nancy

    You should all read all the comments on Benjamin’s essay…a very interesting and multi-faceted collection of discussions.