Saturday, April 21, 2007

reactivating cult status despite mass liquidation of aura, authenticity

i am spending lots of time these days w/ Walter Benjamin's The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. it's something we do, i hope -- go back and reread w/ greater care and investment those things that we glossed in grad school because of time, pressure to perform on tests, etc. the piece is so rich. i'm wondering (and maybe this has been explored): can good design reactivate the rhetorical magic of "the original," w/ its place and history-bound associations and ritual status? can good design involve placement and articulation within limited networks of circulation (well, of course, right?)? can this happen even in light of what Benjamin considers to be the "liquidation" of a work's aura of authenticity (and thereby its magic)? he points most directly to film for evidence of the massification of a work of art to the extent that it is diminished in its magical (ritual-oriented) nature. this is what people remember about Benjamin's piece-as-critique (thus, the title) . . . but reading carefully, can we discern contradictions that point us in the direction of something more promising? i'm thinking about certain films, the ways in which they are historicized and how they evolve within certain networks of association (i.e., the "arthouse," which in an odd way invokes the "outhouse," and all of its marginal associations with the [underground or unseen or hidden] real, or maybe it calls up a notion of art-as-home, which underscores a sense of the real . . . we also have, "the French New Wave," which has its own distinct aura and sense of authenticity and cult status . . . "one of us"). i'm also thinking about how maybe good design can reactivate aspects of a work's earlier aura . . . how Andy Warhol's interview footage, now playing on YouTube, can recapture a sense of the playful and irreverent attitude of artists working in Warhol's factory, and how, by emailing a link to that video we participate in a sense of the original, a sense of belonging to a cult of carefree rebels, a band of outsiders . . . i'm thinking about M Dot Strange's work and especially his YouTube stuff, its cult status . . . thinking about how, every year, at the Sundance Film Festival, people line up hours before a screening, hoping to get tickets, largely for the sake of "bragging rights," as in, "oh yeah, i saw it at Sundance" (an "origin" . . . remember The Blair Witch Project?). so, maybe it's about how certain digital and media exhibition networks enable us to reactivate scenes of authenticity despite the massive shift from an original state to a digitized or cinematic version . . . or how film can situate itself in webs of discourse that carefully surface or recuperate a sense of the underground (Sundance Institute members are very careful, planning all the time, to keep Sundance Sundance . . . to keep it indie, despite the Paris Hilton sightings, the SWAG, . . . and I believe that there is in this an earnest devotion to an ideal, but there is maybe also very smart marketing at play, as well).

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