Art and Technology in Cyberspace: neutralization of the artwork or redefinition? Searching for an algorithm for art

When Walter Benjamin wrote his emblematic essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” in 1936, he actually predicted not only the effect of technology on art, but also the creation of a new kind of art. The prestige (aura) of the artistic object, but also its neutralization through technical reproducibility, not only affected and keep on affecting the artistic production but also redefined the role of the artist and the curator, setting in the 21st century the new vague limit between the two processes, while the concept of the physical exhibition space is about to become more variable, far from museums, galleries, cinemas or public space.
If today we consider ridiculous the audience’s instinctive leaving during the first public cinematographic projection, in the late 19th century, when the spectators panicked watching a moving image coming towards them, this happens because we have been subconsciously trained how to interpret the information, the image and the concept of space. We should certainly not take for granted the conception of the real world and its transfer on photographic paper or on screen. Even more, bearing in mind that this technique has changed forever the way that the artistic subject conceives and creates their own work, as well as the work’s raw material itself and the way and space that the work’s exhibition is taking place.
What do we consider an original work and how can we distinguish it from its technical reproductions at a time when many pieces of art are digital? And, really, what does digital-electronic work actually mean and what is the definition of digitalism in the 21st century? How is the piece of art produced on a computer and who is considered to be the possessor of the unique-authentic piece of art? Has the technique itself been abandoned? Many of the exhibition stereotypes have collapsed. A search engine of images on the internet seems to be the privileged subject of discussion about digital art and the way it is exposed, creating a museum without walls. André Malraux is verified, since a new kind of global museum has been created with images varying from Asiatic prehistoric idols to Marina Ambramovic’s performances. Here, there is a key difference: the virtual material is constantly increasing and definable, while time and space have changed radically compared to what they were like in the last century. If we type the word “madonna” in a search engine, a range of different results will appear: from images of Cimabue’s, Giotto’s and Duccio’s Madonna to photos of the popular singer’s last live concert. The tourist-traveller imprints the Nike of Samothrace with his camera and will always be the owner of this digital document.
The cult value and the exhibition value of the images are amalgamated in cyberspace and a new kind of Cabinets of Curiosities is created, more democratic than ever. The collectors’ hermetically sealed rooms before Renaissance now give their place to a new virtual space where anyone can add or delete material according to their own perspective and esthetics. The mastery’s uniqueness is under doubt or even ceases. The artist himself creates their own museum in this virtual space, while digits, metadata and algorithms are now their raw material. Private becomes public and vice versa, while what is important now is the relation and the speed developed between the transmitter, the medium and the receiver. Art does what it has been doing since modernism: learns, redefines itself, questions and is questioned.

Panagis Koutsokostas
art historian-museologist
September, 2013


Benjamin Walter, 1969, Illuminations, (trans. by H. Zohn, ed., intro by Hannah Arendt), NY: Schocken
Heidegger Martin, 1973, Art and Space, (trans. by Charles H. Seibert), Nijhof
Malraux André, 1967, Museum Without Walls, (trans. by Stuart Gilbert and Francis Price), London: Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd