Posted inVisual Arts

A Love Letter to Reproduction; what the pandemic has taught the art world about visibility.

Visibility, reproduction and representation are three things that have been playing on my mind endlessly during this term of working from home. As a first-year Fine artist, I would never have dreamt that my second term would be spent working from home with no studio, and having never met or discussed my art in person with the majority of the Ruskin. The pandemic has left artists disconnected, isolating their artistic practice. Of course, great work has come out of situations of uncertainty and solitude before, yet it is a well-known reality that great art comes from schools of thought and collaboration. 

Having recently studied Walter Benjamin’s seminal text “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproductability”, I cannot help but think about the importance of an artwork’s aura, meaning its materiality and presence. I argue that it is necessary that we find a new aura, an aura within reproduction (quite the opposite of what Benjamin intended to promote). The photograph, video, animation, scan or digital document all play a role in putting the materiality of your work onto an immaterial platform, such as Instagram, Teams, or perhaps The Blue’s webpage. This reproduction promises connection, and more importantly, distribution. It provides a means of making work locally but being able to share globally. Distribution today is more important than ever to discuss. 

This discourse is imperative for not only artists to consider, but for anyone who wishes to view art in this time. The screen has become everything to us – a research platform, a studio, a classroom and a social space. I have never been a fan of technology and I expect I will never truly adore it, but strangely I have always been drawn to its evolution in my own practice. Besides from personal intrigue, I have come to realise how unbelievably lucky I am to exist in a time of global connection, all possible due to technology. If this pandemic had hit 20 years ago, the isolation that is so pertinent now, would be almost unfathomable . 

Undeniably, as lockdown has minimised all forms of physicality, aura has been lost. However, maybe Benjamin had never considered the multiplicitious nature of aura when he defined what it was? What would he say in the context of the current pandemic? Why shouldn’t more than one form of aura exist? Perhaps the leaking of aura into technology is a glitch specific to 2020, but perhaps it is a necessary one. 

Art is a constant, it came before technology, witnessed the birth of technology and now must exist within it – and we must embrace this. Fundamentally, the pandemic has taught us this. Artists can no longer be entirely internet anonymous. Whether you think this a tragedy or not, it is a fact in 2021. 

The artist is now no longer just a creator of work, but also a curator of a webpage and Instagram account. Articles circulate online, advising on the “12 artists you should follow on Instagram” or “How to get your first 1000 Art Instagram followers”; this is the art of becoming globally famous. There is a new kind of pressure on young artists; the gaze of the heavenly bodies via Google. 

The artist has always been “salesman”, but now there is a new arena to sell within. Reproductability and representation are more important than ever if we want artworks to be seen. That is to say, artwork does not have to lose all aura once it is uploaded online, we must consider new ways of creating aura out of immateriality. A thought running through my own work is the translation of art to screen, and not treating the screen as a whole but as disparate parts – multiple viewing platforms equal multiple potentialities. How does the artwork look on a phone screen in comparison to a computer screen for example? This is just one thing to consider when putting art online, but it proposes the start of a conversation around visually communicating your work online. 

The pandemic has taught us that we cannot demonise the internet, despite the challenge that screens present to our intuitive sense of aura in physicality. Art can exist in both reality and virtual reality. The task for the artworld now is thinking of new ways of making art virtually present.

Image Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Art-lviv-online-pavlo-kovzhun-kraevyd-z-berezamy.jpg