After understanding the materiality and subjectivity of our objects we moved on to the relationship between the physical and the digital. The primary focus this week was on authenticity, reproduction; and debating whether there really is a difference between the real and the fake; the original and the copy.
In order to understand the copy we first need to understand the real. In mid 20th century, Benjamin released ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ which largely dealt with modern art and its perception (Robinson 2013). He stated that original works of art had an aura around them i.e. a majestic appearance providing the onlooker with a sensory experience, bringing him/ her closer to the artist. He also claimed that the aura was disappearing in the modern age because art had become reproducible. Even today, an entire century later I’m able to relate to his theory of authenticity. Today, a classic literature can be bought in the form of a marginally less expensive paperback. The experience of reading the paperback, or watching television (i.e. new form of art) would be radically different as opposed to observing an original piece of art in say a historic building.
However, it can also be argued that this loss of aura brings new meaning to the piece of art, depending on the onlooker. “When people and objects collide, new spaces are opened up in which novel understandings become possible, and deeply entrenched preconceptions may be revealed and challenged” (Hogsden and Poulter 2012: 266). As anthropological beings our gender, sexuality and embodiment make a difference to our perception of the world. The original work of art can be disconnected from its past existence and brought into new combinations by the reader. A great example would be memes – the ever so popular lovechild of millennials. Great artistic creations can easily be changed and recreated endlessly, like the Mona Lisa, a passage from Lord of the Rings, and so on. So, how authentic are these creations? Moreover, where does the authenticity pass when a physical materialistic object becomes digital?
Hogsden and Poulter (2012) argue that tangibility is essential in order to interact with a real object, as well as a digital object. Van Doorm (2011) states that it is necessary to consider the existence of the virtual in addition to evaluating the digital with regards to common concepts of materiality. He states that digital spaces are inevitably mixed with material traces of embodiment in the form of “various textual, pictorial and cinematic artefacts” (2011: 538). Basically, our daily interactions get materialised in the digital world.
I believe that all our materialistic objects and mementos vary in the degree to which they rumble and sway within us. Although there is something a bit unsettling about digital objects as memorable objects. Firstly, where is the object? Does its intangibility make it less important? A digital object on its own can not sit in plain sight i.e. it would require a medium to be viewed like a laptop, smartphone etc. Secondly, the digital object probably lives with thousands of others in a virtual environment that may be difficult to navigate or identify. There could be multiple copies of the digital object – which again brings me to consider Benjamin and his theory of authenticity.
It could also be argued that since digital objects are stored in machines and media, they seem vague to the naked eye i.e. can only be seen if one is particularly looking for them. As a member of the digital age all the photographs I click automatically get stored in my computer. I do not have any physical copies of these photographs. So on days when I wish to walk down the nostalgic path I need to open my drive and search for say, a particular photograph. One could say it’s an odd quantum mechanics effect: the digital object only serves as a memento when I look for it particularly; otherwise all the potential memories exist in vast clouds of data. So in such a scenario, how difficult is it for an individual to form an emotional connection with this cloud of data as opposed to another familiar (physical) object kept close by in a bedroom or a wallet?
Now coming to my own object – the diary. I have remixed a photograph of my diary into three different images with different effects. I chose these particular effects because they manage to completely change the look of the original object. In all of the remixed images my diary, though pretty, looks fake. It has an unreal identity – one that can only be achieved in the digital world, due to the luminescent colours of course. When I look at these images I’m unable to get the same sensation I do when I go through my own physical object. Probably because the diary provides me with an empowerment based on what’s written inside. From the outside it’s as good as any other object.
Its safe to say that an object, or even a piece of art, may be given a new life by every viewer as each individual has the capability of drawing from their own life. This may be viewed in both a positive as well as a negative light. Positive because the object may receive new meaning; negative because the audience may themselves be trapped in an alienated subjectivity, thereby truncating the power of the respective object.
- Hogsden, C. and Poulter, E.K. (2012) ‘The Real Other? Museum Objects in Digital Contact Networks’. Journal of Material Culture 17 (3), 265-286
- Robinson, A. (2013) Walter Benjamin: Art, Aura and Authenticity [online] available from <https://ceasefiremagazine.co.uk/walter-benjamin-art-aura-authenticity/ > [22 February 2016]
- Van Doom, N. (2011) ‘Digital Spaces, Material Traces: How Matter Comes to Matter in Online Performances of Gender, Sexuality and Embodiment’. Media, Culture and Society 33 (4), 531-547