Category Archives: Week 9

The importance of meaning systems of interpretation-Chatlani


By Shalina Chatlani

Though it sounds cliched, artwork as a format and a practice is entirely subjective not only for the artist, but for the audience. I started thinking about this idea when I was back home in Jackson, MS this summer.  

I had met an artist named Daniel Johnson, who had articulated his concern with the idea of messaging and its increasing inescapability. This anxiety shone through his art shows. He had produced this shield-like metal structure upon which he projected an onslaught of images from pop-culture and media–cartoons, tv shows, music videos–with a deafening white noise to surround the room. He stood behind the shield, while the audience was inundated with the noise and the images–a symbol of how we are constantly victims to messaging on tvs, our phones, advertisements, everywhere. The show was an interface of interpretation to the interface of technology to the interface of the contents of our thoughts–which was both confusing and overwhelming. I immediately interpreted the show as a nod to the effect of all that is digital on what it means to be human.

However, what stood out to me the most was not the show itself, but the conversation I had with Johnson afterwards. I had told him how I had interpreted the artwork– that I saw it as humanity’s inability to create “original thought” due to technology. And he responded that he appreciated my interpretation because he had “never thought about it that way.” I thought this response was so interesting, because this reaction seemed to me to be the most obvious analysis.

He responded that the meaning of his artwork is a product of acquired interpretations. He continued to understand his own art based on how others understood it, and how they understood him.

For something that seemed so literally and metaphorically pointed– a shield to block images from media–it’s interesting to think that even this type of artwork can be interpreted in so many different ways. What seemed obvious was actually more of a collaboration of thoughts and views from the artist himself and the individual’s own background and subjective, contextually created interpretive methodology.

And it’s for this reason the act of considering artwork requires the development of theories in media and mediation, in order for the audience, researcher, or individual to understand how art and all forms of cultural expression can be presented in an interpretive framework.

This reality exists for all forms of artwork no matter how obvious or abstract it might be–without a methodology we run the risk of losing valuable meaning.

This sentiment is the foundation of the concept of an art museum, which seeks to organize artefacts in such a manner, and provide a meaning system, for the audience to more effectively understand and interpret the artwork on display. These institutions provide a venue for the individual to understand an artefact in its truest form, a form that is not detached or reproduced, and organized in a way to provide context.

Had I not spoken to Johnson about the meaning and background of his artwork, absent a museum or meaning system to guide me, I would have almost certainly lost value in my understanding.

Irvine writes about this idea in his discussion on André Malraux, a photographer who sought to organize his work in a universal matter by styles. He wanted to tackle a question of artwork in the modern age, as writes: “If photography as a technology is defined by reproducibility, how can mass reproduction represent art and artefacts understood to be unique objects in a material place and time?” (Irvine) In other words, how can we possibility understand the meaning of something, if we are becoming increasingly detached from the implicit context. How could I have understood Johnson’s artwork practically if I failed to gain the background?

Maulrax saw that photographical representations of art resulted in the issue that “dissociated cultural objects from their material origins (a feature that troubled Benjamin in the 1930s)” demonstrated “an important cultural truth…in the modern era of mass mediated images” that there are “misrepresentations when artefacts are reduced to reproductions” (Irvine).

For him the concept of the museum addressed the reality of misrepresentation by helping the viewer see the artefact, regardless of whether the interface is digital or physical, by “assign[ing] to established categories (periods, cultures, genres, styles, movements, etc.),” to the artefacts. As a meaning system, the “musée imaginaire” generates  is an abstract, ideal meaning system: it generates implementations of the conceptual and ideological system that actual museums and art history books realize in their selections and structures of organization and validation” (Irvine)–an organized manner of answering the questions through a given meaning system that we are unable to ask the artist or cull from the collective interpretation of other observers.

What’s further interesting to me is that my quickness to interpret his artwork, which I perceived to be a take on “remediation” in contemporary media as described by Bolter-Grusin,  was also a product of this remediation being so prevalent in society! While he was representing the idea of interfaces in human thought on the shield, I realized after our conversation that my interpretation was a product of my understanding of technology and artwork in other books, tv shows, and media that I had experienced. I realized this when he explained that the shield was in its truest form “his way” of understanding his place in how he deals with technology and media, rather than necessarily a way of confronting it.

As Bolter-Grusin writes: “The process of remediation makes us aware that all media are at one level a “play of signs,” which is a lesson that we take from poststructuralist literary theory. At the same time, this process insists on the real, effective presence of media in our culture” (Bolter-Grusin). The effect of other forms of media on the formation of my thoughts, even on a piece of work that tries to tackle this idea, is even more apparent to me now. 

Ultimately, I think that this analysis serves to show that the in-person observation and ability to receive the background and contextual information is absolutely critical to the development of any form of valuable meaning system that is not biased. In a sort of meta way, I realized this through a piece of artwork that seemed to tackle this idea, but actually had a different agenda.
Works Cited:

Martin Irvine, “André Malraux, La Musée Imaginaire (The Museum Idea) and Interfaces to Art

Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin,Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2000

The Next ?!

Wanyu Zhang

“We must expect great innovations to transform the entire techniques of the arts, thereby affecting artistic invention itself and perhaps even bringing about an amazing change in our very notion of art” – Paul Valery

From our previous classes and visits to variety museums, there are lots of evidence which are the great masterpieces helps to improve the concept above from Valery, we saw many transform or remix arts exhibition collaborates the new technology and concepts to gradually develop their own and unique interfaces presentations to the public. The Toulouse-Lautrec was a great example to embrace the lithography technology to reproduce the new format from traditional graphic art and its popular since 1990 from Paris, it’s apparently leads the art from elite to the street, from the untouchable theme to an easy-going condition. “Lithography enable graphic art to provide an illustrated accompaniment to everyday life

It began to keep pace with movable-type printing. But only a few decades after the invention of lithography, graphic art was surpassed by photography” (Benjamin, 252) Obviously, it’s shows the development of the art in general, people does not satisfy by the current model of art and continually developed the new format to present their ideas, as a big fun of photography, I always appreciated the people who develop this magical technology can help people to instant catch the moment which they want. When we have begun use the eye to looking into the lens, the whole world going to change, no more brush or sketch to let you record and save the scene, this “black box” as part of the most valuable innovation from last century will being unforgettable for as long as they can.However, keeping the authenticity is a major concern when the new technology begins to reproduce the original art or way of thinking. Since when the changes in the medium of the present perception can be understood as a decay of the aura, it is possible to demonstrate the social determinant of that decay (Benjamin, 255). That part never has the same opinions on it, people has different concept of the aura, usually people define “the aura of the latter as the unique apparition of a distance, however near it may be.” It’s not profound or solid formula can be insert to any art, personally the aura is like an intuition from the viewer to appreciate a specific art or artist, it indicates another fact that is always has the social basis of the aura’s present decay. I always think the whole social function of art is revolutionized, the reproduction of a work designed for reproducibility will never nailed down to a single and plain definition. Photographic itself has many details can be evaluated even judged according to the traditional concept. From the historical perspective, the art of photography do not meet the long history like traditional art, so it’s still under the cultivation of art for the public because they do not develop a complete appreciation function to support.” Pictorial language has not matured, because our eyes are not yet adapted to it. There is not yet enough respect, not enough cult, for what it express.”  (Benjamin, 259) img_5632In addition, many people appreciate the photography it’s often because the photo portrait themselves in a better way or there is some special character from the photography attracted the viewer, and no one can say their empathy is from the camera itself, you only can see its approach of the new testing, in a relatively independent way, the photography got the attention from the group of certain people. Because of the camera provide an object of simultaneous collective reception, it’s easier rapidly catch people’s eyes and focus to the representation. “photographic reproduction can only provide decontextualized, disassociated views of artefacts isolated from complex and widely differing cultural functions; photographic reproduction technologies need to mobilized for democratic principles, and used with an awareness of the dangers and misrepresentations when artefacts are reduced to reproductions.” (Irvin, 3) That condition it’s as same as the lithography going to the street, the “fatal nature of technologies means that art is going to the masses.” (Benjamin, 292) We have to admitted the art or production of photography indeed open a window to the pubic which is vital to the masses to understand multiple version of art expressions and even “easier” for them to produce the art by themselves. Up to now, the artworks continued to be received the further technologies and employed by cultural institutions. (Irvine, 11) The digitization technology and online digital platforms support a new scale of the art, the context of the art and “art history” is no longer like before and they all translate to the digital language. Even museum, library still exists and embrace all over the world visitors to see the authentic works. But there are tons of people can directly go to see these art pieces online and zoom in and out to see every detail of the art works. Can you say no to this new method to approach your favorite art? I don’t think so.

“Photography, which started in a humble way as a means of making known acknowledged masterpieces to those who could not buy engravings, seems destined merely to perpetuate established values. But actually, an even greater number of works is being reproduced, in ever greater numbers, while the technical conditions of reproduction are influencing the choice of the works selected.” (Irvine, 12) I love this quote from Professor Irvine’s paper, when camera just like service or tool to help the art work be promote, perhaps no one recognized this tool can changed the world in future and almost in every industry, whether professional or unprofessional fields, it’s no longer just belong to the “tool” category, it’s updated and improved to the art and unnecessary part of the people’s life. This is more fascinating and the artistic value beyond the imagination, who knows what’s the next, but the future worth to wait.


Benjamin, Walter, Michael William Jennings, Brigid Doherty, Thomas Y. Levin, and Edmund Jephcott. 2008. The work of art in the age of its technological reproducibility, and other writings on media. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Martin Irvine, “André Malraux, La Musée Imaginaire (The Museum Idea) and Interfaces to Art“.


Grasping for the entire iceberg

Without a comprehensive theory of media and mediation, we risk a misunderstanding of art — that is, we risk believing that the tip of the iceberg is the entire structure, whereas in reality it only represents a tiny percentage of the content and context that constructs an artwork. The readings for this week, coupled with the readings for last week, construct an argument that warns us against such a cursory understanding of art. The readings also explain how, in our technologically-mediated and museum-oriented world today, it is increasingly difficult to grasp the complexities of art and to keep in mind the nodes of the larger network that are abstracted, obscured, or made entirely invisible to us today. 

Benjamin makes clear that this process of abstraction and destruction of the nodes that constitute the network of the artwork are not intentionally obscured. Rather, the process of reproduction – and specifically of technological reproduction – commits an act of erasure and violence that is generally overlooked. Benjamin argues that “the technology of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the sphere of tradition. By replicating the work many times over, it substitutes a mass existence for a unique existence. And in permitting the reproduction to reach the recipient in his or her own situation, it actualizes that which is reproduced.” Part of what makes Benjamin’s argument so compelling and so crucial is that he sees this destruction as extending beyond the individual artwork. Our very mode of perception evolves over time with changes in the way that we interface with information: “the way in which human perception is organized — the medium in which it occurs — is conditioned not only by nature but by history”. 

Professor Irvine’s (Meta)Mediation, Representation, and Mediating Institutions was a really helpful way of contextualizing and better understanding Benjamin’s main arguments. Professor Irvine’s essay further emphasized the importance of understanding what is at stake when we interface solely with a technological reproduction of an artwork. Once again, the violence of this act occurs not only on the individual scale (the individual person’s interaction with the artwork, and perhaps the inability to grasp the tactile, material, supernatural qualities of the artwork, the size of the canvas, the physical interaction of the paint with the eye) but also, and perhaps more importantly, on the international and historical scale. The historiography, the provenance, and the cultural, political, and social networks that the artwork has engaged with up until the point of reproduction are lost; what is at stake is far greater than our individual interpretation of the artwork. However, if a database like Google can aggregate all of this information, can it not also help us to connect these points? 

Professor Irvine’s discussion of the role of museums as related to this iceberg metaphor of misunderstanding the depth and complexities and historical possibilities of art was also really important to my understanding of the readings for today. The museum, I came to realize, cannot simply be passed off as a passive aggregator of information; the museum institution is actively constructed and created. and it is deliberately formed and assembled with certain goals and ideas in mind. Just as our perception evolves with how we interact with art (Benjamin), our perception is also shaped by what we are able o interact with. Our understandings of what is important is historically informed, but this historiography is not comprehensive and is not ubiquitous; rather it is the product of a really specific perspective and orientation of viewing the world. Further, one that is outdated and would be explicitly accepted in today’s world, but we miss that it has determined what is housed in the museum.


Martin Irvine, “André Malraux, La Musée Imaginaire (The Museum Idea) and Interfaces to Art“.  Introduction to main concepts with excerpts from Malraux’s text.

Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Era of its Technological Reproducibility” (1936; rev. 1939). (From the new edition of Benjamin’s writings, Harvard Univ. Press, 2003, with the revised title.) Focus on sections: Pref., I-VI, X-XII, XV.

Gerhard Richter, Eisberg, oil on canvas, 101 cm x 151 cm, 1982.

Mediation in the digital context_ Jing

The theory of Media and mediation

To discuss the essentialness of media and mediation theory, first look at Debray’s Transmitting Culture in which he researches on “mediology”, the study of mediation and anything that functions as a medium in all its forms. In the early chapters, Debray emphases that one mission of the media is to transform. The transportation of information is distinguished from communication. Debray also links it to transportation through time, ‘if communication transports essentially through space, transmission essentially transports through time’ (Debray, 2000, 3).

He summarizes the relationship between “higher social functions” and technology ( “technical structures of transmission”), that “the act of transmitting adds the series of steps in a kind of organizational flowchart to the mere materiality of the tool or system. The technical device is matched by a corporate agent.” (Debray, 2000, 5) He suggested that “a modification of the networks of communication has the effect of altering ideas” (23). The technical devices here became the presence of these social functions. Hence, we should not separate the technology (acts as medication) when we experience and interpreted art and culture.

The changing relationship between the masses and art

In the Work of Art in the Era of its Technological Reproducibility, Benjamin provides a general history of changes in art in the modern age. He sees the transformations of art as an effect of changes in the economic structure (In a Marxist historical theory) When discussing the changing relationship between the mass and arts, Benjamin’s prospective seems not that into Marxist theory. The technological reproduction of artworks is something new at his time. He argues that the technological reproducibility of the artwork changes the relation of the masses to art. (Benjamin 2003, P265) When art become reproducible, the aura of art has disappeared. The traditional work of art is experienced mainly through distanced contemplation. The masses contribute to the loss of aura by seeking constantly to bring things closer

He uses the paintings and photographs as an example. Before the born of photographs, the simultaneous viewing of paintings by a large audience, as happens in the nineteenth century, is an early symptom of the crisis in painting. (Benjamin 2003, P264) The painter shows the whole; the camera shows fragments. So even though photographs meet the purpose of establishing evidence, (Benjamin 2003, P258), it lacks the “free-floating” which paintings invoke. What I find interesting here is for Benjamin, the loss of aura not only have negative effects but also positive effects. through the absolute emphasis placed on its exhibition value, the work of art becomes a construct with quite new functions. (Benjamin 2003, P257)

Interface in the digital age

What was new to Benjamin at his time has become “tradition” in our age. When discusses the impact on actors of performing for films instead of a human audience. He suggests it is an uncomfortable experience since the feeling of strangeness of actors, similar to looking in a mirror. Now a in a digital age, the situations for the actors changes into preforming in front of blue or green screen rather than real scenes. Thinking about the recent Disney movie the Jungle Book. The film was shot almost entirely in a warehouse in Los Angeles. The beautiful jungle and all of its animals were created with CGI after shooting ended. Films no longer serve the mission to present “a pure view of that reality” and the camera operators in the films industry have become “the Magician” Benjamin argues who illustrated their world with imagination and talent.


In the new media era,the originals didn’t disappear entirely. With the help of Internet, everyone can find opportunities to publish what he/she wants. In contrast to Debray, Bolter and Grusin argue “New digital media are not external agents that come to disrupt an unsuspecting culture.” (2000, 11) New Media emerges from within cultural contexts, and they refashion other media, which are embedded in the same or similar contexts. The desire for immediacy leads digital media to borrow avidly from each other as well as from their analog predecessors such as film, television, and photography. Media and Mediation in our age are born with immediacy and hypermediacy. Through these mew mediation, arts and  the way we appreciate arts change a lot as well.


  1. Debray, Régis. Transmitting Culture, trans. Eric Rauth (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000)
  2. Walter Benjamin,”The Work of Art in the Era of its Technological Reproducibility” , Harvard Univ. Press, 2003
  3. Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin,Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2000

Art and Cult – Ojazz

The transmission of culture argued by Debray brings to mind the Art World and social dimensions we’ve been working with in previous weeks. What’s notable is that the distinction between traditional communication and transmission is that transmission is intended to embody the message through time. Of course, this message is dynamic and changes as recipients of the message change, which ultimately changes communicative infrastructures of the communities that preserve them. However, the reinforcement of the immaterial abstraction, whether or not it has changed throughout time, is such an interesting phenomenon particularly in cultural reception. What one person might call an organization, a company, a religion, a club, another might call a cult (drawing from Benjamin’s definition here a bit). But it is ultimately whether you are an in-group member or not that will define your experience with a particular community’s cultural transmissions.

The documentary Beware the Slenderman accounts the event in which two middle school girls killed a mutual friend because a character from an online fiction community told them it was necessary. It was later found, during the court case, that one of the girls suffered from schizophrenia, inherited from her father. Though this example is a dramatic outlier of the community that supports Slenderman, there were other people who believed in Slenderman, a horrific 8-14 tall man in a black suit with no face. People began posting edited videos as “Slenderman Sightings:”

A whole community contributed to the lore of Slenderman. In the lore, Slenderman had a mansion where he invited his proxies, or servants, to live, and people started doing tasks as ways to be initiated as a proxy. While the killer’s inclinations for psychosis led her to believing killing her friend was okay to do for Slenderman, what is more interesting to me are the people who still pass as contributing members of society. At what point do we consider the belief in Slenderman a delusion? At what point do we consider this a cult? And then at what point can we call it a valid community? We certainly don’t refer to the Art World as a cult, even though undergrad art students at University can behave like one in their faux pas idiosyncrasies. All the Slenderman narratives and footage can still be found in the hub that created it – creepypasta – and YouTube. I’m not sure if there are currently any initiates, but the artifactual network that reinforced this odd phenomenon is still accessible.

Another documentary and odd community I’ll talk about through the lens of reproducibility is that of Unarius, the inter-dimensional scientific community based out of El Cajon, CA. Part of their artifactual cultural transmission is what functions as documentary films (how you define these is definitely determined by whether you’re an in-group member or not). The documentary Children of the Stars follows members of a community who follow the teachings of their archangel Uriel, someone who claims to be clairvoyant.

They purchased a plot of land on which extraterrestrial folks will come and land their UFOs to build an interdimensional university. The role of film in this context is to build a tone of the spiritual or magical. Even their website has cosmically inspired illustrations and rhetoric to support their beliefs: The way that the principle of reproducibility affected this group is this idea of the “aura.” The aura of art lost its value in authenticity and moved into social and political realms. In this case, the aura of Unarius is supported by digital artifacts. Though Benjamin talks about how the actor loses their aura in the process of being mediated by the camera, in the world of Unarius, the archangel Uriel is actualized in film.


Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Era of its Technological Reproducibility”

Debray, Régis. Transmitting Culture, trans. Eric Rauth. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000. Excerpts from Chaps. 1-2 and 7.

How can we chase the beauty in modern society?

Zhihui Yu (Yvette)

“In principle, the work of art has always been reproducible……

In even the most perfect reproduction, one thing is lacking: the here and now of the work of art—its unique existence in a particular place. It is the unique existence—and nothing else—that bears the mark of the history to which the work has been subject.”

——Walter Benjamin

In The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility, Benjamin mainly discussed about how technological reproduction changed traditional art interface and representation. And from my perspective, “technological reproducibility”, theoretically, is the technology standpoint of how art, or the work of art, was transformed in modern society. Technology both represents the physical devices in art invention and reproduction methods that produce replicas. “Reproducibility” became one of the existing condition of art works, and which is what Benjamin called as the destructor of “aura”, “It might be stated as a general formula that the technology of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the sphere of tradition. By replicating the work many times over, it substitutes a mass existence for a unique existence.” (Benjamin 254) and the difference and divide between tradition and modern. Modern art not only made the precise replica of our world possible based on contemporary technology development, but provided new theories to the evolution of art technique.


After the period of industrialization and with the enhancement of modern technology, it seems that hardly anything physically can be regarded as unique and ‘authentic’. Just like the satire we can see from Charles Chaplin’s Modern Times, which portrays Chaplin as a factory worker employed on an assembly line who finally suffers a nervous breakdown because of the ubiquitous repetitive life of his industrial life. Nevertheless, do reproducibility really that ‘evil’?

To me, reproduction is one of the component of creation. There are two kinds of art pieces that can be ‘invented’ due to the appearance of reproduction. The first kind is those replicas replicated based on certain art or art works, which different from original ones due to the lack of ‘aura’. However, thanks to the huge amount and the accuracy and precision, these copies break the original ones’ limitation of time, space and medium, expand and enlarge the influence of art itself. The second sort is those mechanical productions without exact origins such as films, which can be produced and distributed with exact the same version hundreds and millions of times without a tiny difference. In my opinion, in the process of art production or invention, originality and innovation are the premises or preconditions of art. Activities of reproduction are the industrializing and enlarging process of it, which change the function of art and push art to the public. We cannot deny the fact that replication do change certain ‘aura’ of art, while I regard that creation is not opposite from reproduction.


“What happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it” (T.S.Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent”, in The Sacred Wood, London, 1921)

Within the history of art, there is one significant question that will never come to a concrete answer. What can be defined as beauty?

And what is essential to the beauty of replicas?

From Benjamin’s perspective, one of the differences between traditional art, those ‘origins’, and those replicas is the lack of ‘authenticity’. “…whereas the authentic work retains its full authority in the face if a reproduction made by hand, which it generally brands a forgery……” (Benjamin 253-254). He mentions photography and films as examples. “In the case of film, the fact that the actor represents someone else before the audience matters much less than the fact that he represents himself before the apparatus” (Benjamin 260). What we cannot deny nowadays is that photos and images in the exhibitions or shot by famous photographers are not that ‘real’. Almost every single ‘finished’ photo was under a process of Photoshop or filter changes.

And as Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin mentions in their theory of remediation, “our culture wants both to multiply its media and to erase all traces of mediation: ideally, it wants to erase its media in the very act of multiplying them”. That’s the ‘reality’ we and the whole art world are pursuing. “Filmmakers routinely spend tens of millions of dollars to film on location or to recreate period costumes and places in order to make their viewers feel as if they were ‘really’ there” (Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin), it seems like that the more ‘real’ the replica depict, the more it can be accepted.

Uniqueness and permanence are the quintessence of art, origins. And precision and the new sparkle those replicas can create through coping are essence to ‘Ficticious Art’.



Martin Irvine, “André Malraux, La Musée Imaginaire (The Museum Idea) and Interfaces to Art“.

Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Era of its Technological Reproducibility” (1936; rev. 1939). (From the new edition of Benjamin’s writings, Harvard Univ. Press, 2003, with the revised title.)

Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2000.


Aura, Authenticity and Remediation – YinYing

– YinYing Chen

“The way in which human perception is organized the medium in which it occurs is conditioned not only by nature but by history.”                          – Walter Benjamin

Our perception as well as conception of art and all forms of cultural expression is shaped by the context we live in. What is worth noting is that the context includes the past, or as Caroline Bynum (1995) elaborates it, “we are, at least in part, the heirs of many earlier discourse.” (30) A theory of media and mediation offers us a framework to unveil and interpret the underlying meanings and implications embedded in all forms of cultural expressions which would otherwise be ignored or taken for granted.

Benjamin lived in a time of dramatic transformation and turbulence. The process of industrialization, urbanization and commercialization radically changes the cultural landscape as well as the notion of art. With the advent and accordingly the prevalence of photography and lithography, technological reproduction of artworks turned to be a norm and fundamentally change the relation of the masses to art ( Benjamin 2008, 264). Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters, which adopted lithographic technique to encapsulate the pulse of the belle époque and can be deemed as the mass-produced objects, are good examples of such products of the time.  

Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Era of its Technological Reproducibility projects his anxiety of the decay of aura and authenticity, as technology penetrated the works of art. It is also a reflection of the state of being in his time. While the works of art have been reproducible for a long time, Benjamin is concerned about the destructiveness of technological reproduction to true art which at core relies on authenticity, or the unique existence, and the aura of original works to preserve the quintessence of artworks. As he puts it, “In even the most perfect reproduction, one thing is lacking: the here and now often work of art-its unique existence in a particular place.” ( Benjamin 2008, 253) In this regard, he implies that true art should be organism rather than mechanism, because in the process of technological reproduction, the sense experience that a interface aim to transfer is destroyed as an artwork is totally decontextualized and isolated from the special context that give it narratives, values and “life”.

What is interesting is that issues that Benjamin dealt with are actually not unique to his time. For instance, back to the 18th century, William Blake, a skilled reproductive engraver, criticized the system of reproduction in art, or artistic machine, as a form of technology, is destructive to humanity and true art. From the Renaissance, with the development of picture reproduction, technology and economy intermediated between the artists and the audience.  He noted that under the technological and commercial pressure, a rational division of labor was introduced to picture reproduction, which caused the separation of conception/content and execution/form in art (Eaves 1977). The idea is very similar to Benjamin’s. 

One the other hand, the idea of double logic of remediation, or “our culture’s contradictory imperatives for immediacy and hypermediacy”, as Richard Grusin (1999) puts it, offer us another lens to look at the cultural expression in the media-saturated society (5). To achieve the illusion of ” liveness”, immediacy should be invisible and natural ( Grusin 1999, 9, 23). Therefore, any trace of mediation should be minimized and accordingly the ultimate goal of immediacy is ” interfaceless” interface ( Grusin 1999, 5, 23). The idea of immediacy reminds me of a rising form of artistic experiment- the immersive art, which aims to melt down the boundary between artworks, the exhibition space and the viewers.


“Transcending Boundaries”, TeamLab, the pionner in digital immersive exhibition’s work in London.

Immersive art transforms the relationship between viewers and artworks by removing the interface between artworks and viewers, and integrating viewers as a part of the artistic expression. It enables the audience to immerse in a sensual experience that is continuous and without rupture, which is exactly what transparent immediacy tries to accomplish.   

TeamLab’s exhibition “Flowers and People, Cannot be Controlled but Live Together, for Eternity” in Tokyo from 2014 to 2015

Hypermediacy is the other key feature of the media-saturated culture we live in. Hypermediacy is about using media of multiplicity and heterogeneity to deliver experiences. I think Nam June Paik’s Electronic Super Highway, which combines fifty-one programmed videos, TV screens, neon tubing to reflect on American culture’s obsession with mass media manifests the idea of hypermediacy.


Benjamin, Walter, Michael William Jennings, Brigid Doherty, Thomas Y. Levin, and Edmund Jephcott. 2008. The work of art in the age of its technological reproducibility, and other writings on media. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Bolter, J. David, 1951, and Richard A. Grusin. 1999. Remediation: Understanding new media. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Bynum, Caroline. 1995. Why all the fuss about the body? A medievalist’s perspective. Critical Inquiry 22 (1): 1-33.

Eaves, Morris. “Blake and the Artistic Machine: An Essay in Decorum and Technology.”PMLA, Vol. 92, No. 5 (Oct., 1977): 903-927

Art Interpretation in the Technological Age

“In principle, the work of art has always been reproducible. Objects made by humans could always be copied by humans. Replicas were made by pupils in practicing for their craft, by masters in disseminating their works, and, finally, by third parties in pursuit of profit. But the technological reproduction of artworks is something new. Having appeared intermittently in history, at widely spaced intervals, it is now being adopted with ever-increasing intensity.” (Benjamin, 252)

In Benjamin’s words, the work of art can be reproduced by means of the technology. The applications of this theory are ubiquitous, though I never realized such phenomenon until I read this paragraph. The reproduction of art work with new media technologies helps refashion the old works in the digital era, increasing the popularity among the audience, moreover, it expands the geographical range we appreciate the valuable work of art around the globe. “Furthermore, media technologies constitute networks or hybrids that can be expressed in physical, social, aesthetic, and economic terms…New digital media are not external agents that come to disrupt an unsuspecting culture. They emerge from within cultural contexts, and they refashion other media, which are embedded in the same or similar contexts.” (Bolter,16) It’s relatively insightful in the quotes that the media technologies constitute the networks in the art world, which get more audience involved in an interactive interface of the museum, more experts to evaluate the aesthetic values in the contemporary art world as well as more marketing values added to the refashioned art work. Additionally, the refashioned interpretation of art work is developed within the cultural contexts, thus never destroying and alternating the original cultural meaning. This reminds me of my visit to the Expo 2010 in Shanghai, where I was fascinated by the vivid depiction of the ancient painting of China, “Along the River during the Qingming Festival”.


(“Along the River during the Qingming Festival”, China)

It’s a well-known painting finished in Song Dynasty (over 1000 years ago), and the above picture is just a smaller part of the whole painting. In the exhibition hall of China in the Expo, the artists utilized the multimedia technologies, e.g. 3D projection and digital animation, to recreate the whole painting, and represented this great art work in the central space of the hall with ancient Chinese music and sounds of the streams. In my memories, this representation of art work was the most appealing part of the exhibition hall of China, and even became one of the most popular attraction highlights in the marketing advertisements for the Expo 2010. Such exemplary refashioned art work has reshaped the art and social network by connecting the nodes of the audience, exhibition museums, curators and all other elements in the art world.

animated Chinese painting in Expo 2010

“Virtual reality, three-dimensional graphics, and graphical interface design are all seeking to make digital technology ‘transparent’. In this sense, a transparent interface would be one that erases itself, so that the user is no longer aware of confronting a medium, but instead stands in an immediate relationship to the contents of that medium.” (Bolter, 21)

Another interesting point in Bolter’s work is the logic of transparent immediacy. To make the audience fully immersed in the art interface and the art work with less manual interruption, the utilization of the digital technology has succeeded in enhancing the amazing sensate experience. I used to try wearing the VR equipment to watch some documentaries and short videos in the Newseum in DC, as I turned around, I found that I could see the whole three-dimensional real scene, and it felt as if I was on the spot! At that point, I think I better understand the purpose of being “transparent” when creating the representations in the interface, so that people will be able to involve into the intended situation without noticing they are just in the exhibition. The accomplishment of transparent immediacy, in some ways, achieved people’s dreams of time travel, where they are able to date back to wherever and whenever they want, only wearing a VR equipment. And another example came into my mind is the 4D simulator ride in the Universal Studios. We are used to watching movies in the theater, staring at the screen and the actors and scenes are there, just behind the screen. We are distant from them. But how about approaching them and trying to experience what they are doing? Yes, the 4D simulator enables us to gain such experience!

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is the heart of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, an expansive new environment at Universal Orlando Resort that will bring the world of Harry Potter to life. This all new adventure combines a powerful storyline with spectacular new technology so effectively that guests will be completely immersed in the experience. Film stars Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and others shot an exclusive piece of film just for the ride. Guests can experience Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey when The Wizarding World of Harry Potter grand opens on June 18.

Many people are crazy about the latest 4D simulator – Harry Potter in the Castle. Undoubtedly, so do I.  When I was on the ride, I was completely obsessed with the Quidditch competition and felt as if I was flying on the broom and playing the game with Harry Potter! Actually, I was just sitting on specially designed vehicle and wearing a 3D glasses all along. How magical it is!

In the digital media era, various interpretation of art has largely enriched people’s life and visual experience in visiting the art world. We are always exposed to more and more media technologies, however, most of us pay less attention to the art theories behind the applications. As I approach these theories after doing the reading this week, I’m even more interested in this field. That’s also one of my takeaways from this week’s reading.



  1. Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Era of its Technological Reproducibility” (1936; rev. 1939).
  2. Bolter, Jay David, and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT, 2003. Print.
  3. Video from Youtube: the Ancient Chinese Painting exhibited in the Shanghai Expo.

Mediation and Context

MC Gayoso…

For this week’s post, I want to talk about three things: memes, photographs, and anime. Without context, these concepts seem disjointed and irrelevant. I’ll be honest, they are, but I will try to make sense out of this jumbled mess of ideas, starting with the importance of context.

A big theme I got out of the readings for this week is context. Context is one of my favorite things to talk about relating to forms of cultural expression because the lack of, or overwhelming amount of, context determines what said expression means.

Memes and Context

Take memes, for example. Internet memes can be interpreted through a myriad of frameworks or interfaces. If you’re like me, and see internet memes as a form of Neo-Dadaism, you can interpret them in this way. I think memes capture that escape from the “realm of the ‘beautiful semblance,’ which for so long was regarded as the only sphere in which it (art) could thrive (Benjamin 261). There is nothing bourgeoisie about a meme, unless a capitalistic company takes hold of a meme (I’m looking at you, Denny’s Tumblr) and uses it to make a profit. Internet memes like doge, “take me to snurch,” “what in tarnation,” “the signs as…,” or whatever else are totally homegrown, organic memes that spring up on the internet and become a kind of cultural capital. To interpret memes, you need to create a framework, a kind of theory, to mediate them.

Memes are mediated through a variety of cultural lenses. The digital interface that relates the meme to the viewer, the screen, is just one part of this mediation. Your location, your exposure to other types of media, and your sense of humor play a role in how you interpret a meme.

Why am I going off on memes? First of all, I love them, I think they are simply brimming with semiotic possibilities. Second of all, since many of these articles bring up the concept of mediation, I wanted to talk about a form of cultural expression that, while mediated through cultural lenses, is not really mediated through any mediums other than the internet itself. Artists and critics cannot seem to agree on how to mediate or interpret art, and I think meme fanatics like me cannot agree on how to mediate or interpret memes, either. What constitutes art is a complex and tired debate, so I won’t go there, but I do think memes are a nice example of why context is important to understanding art.

Ants on a Grape Vine, Flies on a Flower Stem 


Photographs are another art form that require context to be fully understood. Dr. Irvine’s article says that, “Photographic reproductions can only provide decontextualized, dis-associated views of artefacts isolated from complex and widely differing cultural functions” (Irvine 3). I find this to be a very interesting statement. I was at the NGA over spring break and saw a painting called Still Life with Flowers and Fruit by Jan Van Huysum. I stared at it for like fifteen minutes because I realized there were tiny insects hidden in the leaves, petals, and stems of the painting. I tried to count them all. I took a picture of the painting to save for later, but when I looked at the photo I could not see any of the ants, centipedes, or flies I saw before. Maybe my camera quality was just bad, but I know that the painting did not look the same on my camera as it did in person. Many people need photographic representations of famous works because they do not have the privilege to see them in person, and I respect how valuable a photographic reproduction is, but I also understand what Dr. Irvine means. Things like scale, color, texture, and detail, are often lost in images. I am just happy I am lucky enough to live so close to places that house these great works of art…

Understanding the values and limitations of photographic reproductions is vital to interpreting art. You need to know that a photograph is fundamentally different than a three-dimensional work of art. Both are valid cultural expressions, they are just different.

Virtual Reality and The Wired

The last thing I want to talk about is anime. How does this fit into this discussion? It really doesn’t, but I wanted to talk about it. The Bolter-Grusin article mentions a fictional VR device called “the wire”. I could not help but compare this to the Wired, a fictional digital network from the anime, Serial Experiments Lain. In both instances, you have a virtual world that seeks to engross you, the player. In this anime, the Wired is a dangerous and addictive place, as are most fictional VR-like devices. In fiction, things that are “denying the presence of the medium and the act of mediation” (Bolter-Grusin), like VR technology, are usually characterized as kind of sketchy, or even outright ominous. I agree that VR tries to deny this presence, but I do not see this as a bad or good thing. McLuhan’s famous cliché “the medium is the message” is an important part of this conversation. VR is a medium, whether it likes it or not. I can say from personal experience that VR makes you forget that your experience is mediated. You feel 100% involved in the action, but at the end of the day, you can see the headset in your peripherals and you know that this experience is mediated. Understanding how VR mediates experiences is an important part of understanding VR itself. Games designed for VR are a new, unique kind of art form. The way VR mediates a gaming experience and a traditional console does the same are very different.

Just try playing a game called Super Hot with VR and without it, you WILL see and feel the difference. Different devices mediate Super Hot in different ways. Playing Super Hot on a PC is way different than playing it on the Oculus. Actually thrusting a blade towards someone is different than pressing a key to do the same thing. Looking up and seeing a gun pointed at your head is different than turning the camera and seeing the same gun. Interpreting these mediums is important to understanding how we as people engage with them.


This entire post is a little disjointed, but it describes how my thoughts are right now. I find these readings to be extremely thought-provoking, and I am anxious to talk more about them…


Works Cited

Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Era of its Technological Reproducibility (1936; rev. 1939).
(From the new edition of Benjamin’s writings, Harvard Univ. Press, 2003, with the revised title.) Focus on sections: Pref., I-VI, X-XII, XV.

André Malraux, La Musée Imaginaire

Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2000. Excerpts from the Introduction and Chapter 1.

Immediacy & Dialogic Principles – Collier

Meaning is not determined, it will evolve with culture. Utilizing media and mediation theories is essential in understanding this. I will go over two applications from the readings for this assignment. The first application is that looking at cultural expression through different frameworks can invoke creative inspiration. The second application is that exploring the different frameworks can offer a new dialog where the artwork can be discussed (dialogic principle).

Creative Inspiration

“Both new and old media are invoking the twin logics of immediacy and hypermediacy in their efforts to remake themselves and each other” (Bolter & Grusin, p. 5).

Bolter & Grusin talk about immediacy and hypermediacy in art and media as two key desires of society in the 21st century. According to Bolter & Grusin, “the desire for immediacy leads digital media to borrow avidly from each other as well as from their analog predecessors” (p.9). This supports the practice of remix and remediation for creation. Traveling through these different frameworks and interfaces can force you to look a piece of work in a different way- in turn, sparking some kind of inspiration.

In the video series, “Is Everything a Remix” by Kirby Ferguson, Ferguson offers the theory that everything we do from creating pieces of art to getting dressed in the morning can be thought of as a remix. This is not very pertinent to the conversation here, but I believe it offers a different perspective. Does taking a photo of a piece of art and posting it online count as a remix? This newer perspective offers a new dialog and leads me to my second application.

New Dialogic Principles

While my Bolter & Grusin talked about physically combining old and new media, Malraux goes deeper into the meaning behind remediating artwork. Malraux hoped that creating a cultural encyclopedia could help fight fascism in “a culture that was open to appropriation by fascism” (p.3). The main purpose of Malraux’s work was to create a democratic conversation. The remediations (photos of the artwork) can carry a different meaning, encompassing dialogic principles. Again, exploring the different frameworks and interfaces causes you to think about the work differently and this is important. Having the ability to compare pieces of work from different continents next to each other affords a whole new basket of analysis.

Actual footage of me after writing this post:


Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2000.

André Malraux, La Musée Imaginaire

Kirby Ferguson, Everything is a Remix