Sunday, 10 November 2013

Notes on Walter Benjamin

Walter Benjamin is a great philosopher whom I greatly admire. His "Arcade Project" is a series of essays he wrote regarding life in early 20th century Paris, particularly focusing on the huge glass covered 'arcades' or covered shopping malls, the 'passages couvert'. One of the essays in this collection, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction', focuses on how reproducibility, especially of a mechanical nature. Which severs the connection between the artist and art freeing the existence of art from 'a parasite upon ritual', or where art served a social function (ex: The Sistine Chapel), to art for arts sake. Walter Benjamin wrote this in 1936 during the Dadaists movement but before the later modernist movements like Pop Art and the Post-Modernism where this notion is further expanded. He was saying that if you are able to easily reproduce copies with no real original, say a photograph, the 'Aura' of the piece is lost.

I wanted to look at his notion of 'aura' and see how technology's effect on this 'aura', and how this lack thereof effects how we, in a digitalised age, look at art. Walter Benjamin said that reproductive technology substitutes a unique instance of creation with a multiplicity of instances (7). That a painter creates a natural distance between himself and the subject, whereas an editor of a film has to delve deeply into the subject in order to lay it out to the audience and through the nature of their medium, controls their perspective. I believe that this has developed to the point where we are now very used to seeing an artworks meaning presented to us, and rarely do we have to delve deeper. We are often so bombarded by a plethora of images that our minds are dulled to drawing a deeper meaning and creating further conclusions. Duhamel stated " I can no longer think what I wish to think. The moving image have ousted my thoughts. (32) He was referring to the natural process of association when viewing images are constantly being interrupted by the fast pace of film. Added to this the camera's constant comment on the performance through the editing process, and we are now very used to the fast paced image. We are probably most suited now to taking in a large volume of information at a faster rate than Walter Benjamin could ever imagine and we find this more comfortable than being faced with say a painting or a live performance.

I found this out in my performance of "Inner Perspective" where a projected film, with few people and no real plot, seemed easier to watch than my performance as the dreamer reacting to this projected dream which was what gave it depth and character. Regardless I found that people seemed more comfortable just watching the film than paying me attention even though it was a balance of the two that created the true story line. Have we really gotten to the point where we are more comfortable with technology than reality?

p1. Walter Benjamin's notes and personal items and his memorial where you can go into the sea.
p2/3 His notes on the Arcade project
p4. Pieces including my own influenced by Walter Benjamin's writing

quotes from Walter Benjamin's "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction": 1936
image links at

No comments:

Post a Comment