Even if, according to Benjamin, the aura is an intimate experience, he identifies in the circumstances, rather than in the subject, some elements creating it. First of all, there is the idea of the “here and now”. As Benjamin said, “even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space”. But, let’s say someone goes to a museum and sees a perfect reproduction of a work of art he loves: he doesn’t know that it is actually a reproduction, and goes on to experience the aura. The spectator believes in the moment he experiences the genuine work of art. The “horizon d’attentes”, (horizon of expectations), is, I believe, the most relevant element regarding the aura. I also consider the notion of presence (here and now) and the notion of authenticity as being transformed along with the mechanical reproduction and the technologies of the virtual.
Benjamin argues that the traces of time present in the work of art (scratches, wear and tear), contribute to the aura experience. The traces in our memory are even more important as aura is perceptible only for the initiate. The aura of the artwork is never “entirely separated from its ritual function”. Rituals are everywhere in our lives, religious or not, and they certainly participate in our appreciation of an artwork. Here, I am thinking of museum rituals, but also, rituals of interactivity (Lalonde, 2007 and Mackrous, 2007). Furthermore, the interactivity and ubiquity of the hypermedia artwork both create an intimate relation with the artwork, which, in return, is required to experience the aura. We can have an intimate relation with any reproducible work of art. For example, Barthes says he prefers to look at pictures when he is alone (Barthes, 1980, p.81) .
The aura occurs when the spectator participate in the work of art, particularly when he feels he can invest it and not only look at it. Of course, different strategies tend to help with this process, but there is more. It needs something that reflects what we are. Vanevar Bush (1945) thought, more than 60 years ago, of a machine operating just like our mind :
[…] by association. With one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts, in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain. ».
His predictions are quite near the Hypertext Transfer Protocol used on the Internet today. The similarities with the mind’s process give us a considerable illusion of freedom. Internet, then, is a productive platform and/or tool for artists willing to create participative works of art. In some artworks you may not only interact physically with, for example, movement induced by the mouse, but actually invest it with your own desires and your own memories. This, in return, creates a “unique phenomenon of a distance” called the aura.
The actual sophistication of the device is not significant for this experience. As Bush says, for technology in arts, “it is difficult to say which is more fascinating, its artistic value or its value for science.” Both seems to merge and that creates a deception. I have seen and indexed around 1600 hypermedia works of art and the funny thing about it is that I always think of Net Art as being, in general, low-tech. But, the moment I want to show people what it’s all about, they tend to have the horizon of expectations of something very sophisticated and immersive. Often, they end up being deceived. The phenomenon called “rezzing” (you see the elements of the virtual world appear very slowly) in Second Life is quite annoying. Well, in my opinion, it is part of the experience. We experience not the presence, but the effect of presence’s paradox: we feel a presence, but we are aware of the device. This creates the necessery distance to invest the work of art.
I believe the aura has not disappeared, despite the flourishing possibilities for everybody to create and to critic. We all have at least tree possibilities. As Barthes says for photography, you can either make the thing, be subjected to it or look at it (Barthes, 1980, p.32). You can easily learn how to make the thing and then understand it from the creative point of view. You can be subjected to it and because you are conscious of the device, you can choose to be absorbed into the artwork or, in return, absorb it (for me, there’s not much of a difference). With detachment you can look at it and criticize it! There are certain predispositions to these appreciations, but it is mostly a choice 🙂
Barthes, Roland, La chambre claire Notes sur la photographie, Paris, Seuil, 1980.
Benjamin, Walter, « The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction », 1935.
Bush, Vannevar, « As we may think« , 1945.
Lalonde, Joanne, « Rituels de l’oeuvre hypermédiatique », Archée, mai 2007
Mackrous, Paule, « The Mythical Figure of Mouchette : Effect of Presence and Ritual, » Etc., may 2007.
Sconce, Jeffrey, Haunted Media, Electronic Presence from Telegraphy to Television, Duke, Duke University Press, 2007.
See also :
Gervais, Bertrand, « The Myth of Presence. The Immediacy of Representation in Cyberspace. », Image and Narrative, no. 23, November 2008.
and another post I wrote about the « aura » in 2007