November 19, 2012

Reproduction and the shift of power

Benjamin seemed to have placed a special adoration for original works for their very originality. He believes that a reproduced artifact loses it aura when it has been reproduced time and time again, those reproductions taking away from the sublimity of the original product. I argue that is, in fact, not so. An original artifact does have a certain aura which is maintained through its originality. And I would agree that this aura is lost each time a reproduction of the artifact or a remediation of is constructed if that original piece. But I will not say that an original artifact has greater significance than any of its reproductions. I announce this disagreement for several reasons. Irit Rogoff makes note the power relationship between an artifact and its viewers or receivers. This relationship cannot be denied.

The power that is transferred, or shared, or diminished must be explained, however.

Each time a receiver views an artifact, they are actively, whether they believe so or are doing so willingly or not, engaging with that artifact just be viewing it. The receiver, unless that have the 'trained eye.' will not pick up on the cultural indications of the power relationships being transcribed into the psyche of the viewer(s) of the piece. Yes, some with a 'good eye' for art can make assumptions based on what they learned in the art theory and history courses in college and the use of color and placement to analyze the piece form a Marxist critique, but that does not mean that that viewer is aware of the power being exerted from the piece onto its viewers. The gaze, as Rogoff calls it, maintains an order, an episteme, from which the creator is constructing the piece. Within the artifact there are those that are included, and those that are excluded. Such artifacts guide our views, our biases, our opinions of various people, places, orders, and establishments without us ever considering the like. It is in these productions, such as  classrooms, architecture, paintings, film, and photographs that our sense of culture is created and maintained accordingly. Through these artifacts, our conceptions of truth, virtue, sexuality, race, gender, creed, success, and failure are created by our experiences with such in the physical world and reiterated, or demolished entirely, through these creations. These artifacts construct who is able to view them and understand them, and those that should not have the ability to. This power is transferred through reproduction. This is why I believe reproductions have much more power than their original work. Through reproduction, many people from various cultures, epistemes, ethnicities, backgrounds, economic status, and social status can view a reproduction of an artifact from within their own situation and make sense of it from their own cultural, emotional, and psychological state. The power of those that are included is taken away and given to those that are excluded. Anyone can view a digital picture of the Mona Lisa now and know it from its own context without ever having to see the painting in person. It is through those experiences, those from the world over, the texts produced in 30 languages about the painting of the Mona Lisa, that the Mona Lisa gains its significance. The artifact has no significance without the people to attribute its significance to them. In this sense, there is literally power in numbers, and there is not greater way to increase the number of viewers of an artifact than to make it viewable by everyone: reproduction of the artifact.

1 comment:

John Smith said...

Benjamin does not argue for the original have more power than the reproduction. He notes a "withering" of aura, but this does not refer to the dilution of power; this refers to the "withering" of a traditional value system culturally placed on art, one that values singularity, substantive duration, and uniqueness. He actually is just trying to push us to realize photography/reproductions in a similar conclusion that you reached; that reproduction is the "new" or "contemporary" mode of creating art. Emphasis here can be juxtaposed by Master (singular) vs masses(copies/reproduction), and singularity (of object) vs multiplicity (of objects).

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