I want to reconsider Walter Benjamin’s idea of the aura and reproduction, especially in the context of internet, where so often the concept of the original or even the creator are null and void.
My final project involves typewritten work and digital photographs of said work. In short, I’ve been writing poems on the typewriter and Instagramming them. The strange thing I found while producing is the sense that the manuscript page (MP) has little or no value for me. If you were to look at the MP, you’d find it a mess of scraps of lines, misspellings, odd formatting errors, revisions. In an attempt to save paper, I’ve used a single page multiple times. Now, looking at the photos of a particular poem, you’re unlikely to realize this.
It gets dicey here, because the notion of “original” is muddied. Is, for instance, the MP the original, because that’s where the language found its place on the page? Or is it the original photograph? Or, more frustratingly, is it the image with a filter laid over it? I could say that whatever image actually remains in the final project is the actual poem, the original art object. The other stuff, the MP, the unfiltered image, is just like an underpainting or a preliminary sketch that gets painted over.
The aura, if there is any, surrounds the filtered image, which is the weird thing about Instagram—it presents us with the illusion of time and place. It’s nothing new to say, but what we’re calling “instant” is hardly true; it takes a few seconds for that photo to upload. (Not to mention the weeds you get into with #latergram.) Then the addition of retro filters adds a subsequent illusion—one of artistic quality. The subtext being that one must manipulate an image for it become art, for it to gain a semblance of an aura. It’s a thin line between self-portrait and selfie.
Regardless, it’s the reproducible thing (the digital image of a poem) that holds value, because it’s the thing I’m calling the art object. But I wouldn’t call it authentic, necessarily, because of all the levels of mediation. And in age of digital content, can there even be such a thing as authenticity? There’s no “original” art object to point to, not even a negative. Again, is the original the photo on my phone? But what if it were saved simultaneously to two different folders? Which of those is the original? Is it the one hosted on the website? If we all pull up my Instagram on our devices and look at the photos, aren’t those all reproductions?