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Technology and the Postmodern

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Technology is not an instrument for or against a line of aesthetics. For the artist it is a continuously developing set of tools for imagining the world. Technology for the artist is a continuously developing set of tools for imagining the world. Technology can be an instrument either for or against most any critical agenda. However, technology also has an impact on critical thought as it helps to define the art of any age, from the first drawn images, to written language, to the printing press, to means of mechanical reproduction: photography, film, audio recording, to digital reproduction.

As Benjamin saw a schism between aura-bearing original art and mechanically reproduced art, there is likewise a divide between mechanically reproduced work and the attendant Postmodern thought and that of the Digital Age. Looking back to the concepts of the Pop artists Warhol and Lichtenstein is enlightening and key to this situation. Lichtenstein made large scale paintings, unique works presumably with 'auras' that were not reproductions of comic books, but could have been. He emulated the style. Warhol, taking Pop a step further used actual objects such as Brillo Pad boxes and photographs of celebrities to create unique work. In both artists' works mechanical reproduction was the starting point for inspiration. Technology informed the creative act.

Mechanical reproduction helped lead to a Postmodern construct in which aura is eliminated in favor of dissemination among the un-informed who will accept it as substitute for the actual according to Benjamin. Socialist intent, rampant in Benjamin, is proposed as the locus of dissemination. With the fall of Communism socialist intent becomes a starved issue. Note the Communist fall arrives as mechanical reproduction is replaced by digital reproduction. Looking closer at the prime discrepancy between mechanical and digital reproduction: a digitally created image is suffused with the aura of the actual, no matter the generation. This was true earlier in electronic music where the reproducible recording was the art form, even though mechanically reproduced. One could point to Pierre Henri, Karlheinz Stockhausen or Vladimir Ussachevsky but might just as easily point to the Switched On Bach of Walter Carlos or Sgt. Pepper.

With the digital, as per Lichtenstein and Warhol, the image is the art; the mechanically reproduced, or the emulation of the mechanically reproduced suffices... it is the actual work of art, complete with duplicate aura, or in the case of Lichtenstein, aura created through the case of emulating an aura-less principle - an homage to modern life. To re-approach Benjamin, this is no different than the host in Christianity, an authentic, religious, ritualistic object bearing an aura, yet much duplicated for centuries without dispute as to authenticity or aura... it is a matter of 'ya gotta believe' as are all ritualistic objects.

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Copyright © 26 February 2000 Jeff Talman, Saratoga Springs, NY, USA


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