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  • Writer's pictureChiara

Aura, Authenticity, Attraction

I've been trying to get my head around Walter Benjamin's essay, The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction. In particular the relationship between what he calls aura and the types of reproduction involved in fine art printmaking.

  • Clare Humphries says that as a printmaker embarking on her doctoral work she "found his work to be a bone in the throat, something (she) could neither spit out nor swallow whole." (Humphries 2018, p. 155). I can see her point.

  • For me as a printmaker materiality is vitally important. The way the ink sits on, or embedded in the paper is a critical factor in my choice of medium be it screen printing, lithography or intaglio for example or my choice of paper and ink. I want to think about the relationship between materiality and Benjamin's aura.

  • Even when making digital work I worry over the surface qualities: gloss, satin or matte paper, light or heavy paper for example.

  • Pelzer-Montada (2008) discusses the surface of the print and the concept of the haptic, which again relates to materiality and the manner of looking.

  • I think of an intaglio print as being an extremely shallow bas relief, so the sense of the haptic is tangible not just theoretical. In dealing with my problematic rice paper and kozo prints my desire to maintain the embossment of the image has limited the range of rescue methods I am willing to use.

  • Benjamin's discussion is based in Marxist theory and the rise of the mass media of his time. How much does understanding of "mechanical reproduction" take account of the older technology of intaglio prints? But then I wouldn't be satisfied with settling on an understanding that exempts intaglio, but not other forms of printmaking.

  • Is there a loss of aura inherent in making (art) prints? Is so, how much does the concept of loss of aura as defined by Benjamin matter to me?

Incomplete Bibliography

  • Benjamin, A 2018, Walter Benjamin and Art, Bloomsbury,

  • Benjamin, W 1935, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Hannah Arendt (ed.), Underwood JA (trans.), Penguin, London. * currently missing from RMIT library. Audiobook is here

  • Bratu Hansen, M 2008, "Benjamin's Aura", Critical Inquiry, vol. 34, No. 2, pp. 336-375.<https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/529060>.

  • Humphries, C 2018, "Benjamin's blindspot: aura and reproduction in the post-print age", in Pelzer Montada, R (ed.) 2018, Perspectives on contemporary printmaking: Critical writing since 1986, Manchester University Press, pp. 155-161.

  • Pelzer-Montada, R 2008, "The Attraction of print: Notes on the surface of the (art) print", Art Journal, vol. 67, pp. 75-91.

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