What is the weakness of the digital artist

Contact blocking: the weakness of reproducibility

Museums, exhibition halls and galleries are not systemically relevant, but, as we have learned in the last few days, are not part of the event institutions, but rather - like libraries - part of an educational sector that allows individual (not: collective) immersion in things or spiritual good.

As if we hadn't known for a long time, or, better said, we had wished for what the political decisions of the federal and state governments have now expressly confirmed. Because the attribution to the entertainment sector has increased in the past decades - and if one remains realistic: it will be the same again after the "victory" over the virus. One may doubt whether we are really witnessing a change of times.

However, what will remain particularly noteworthy and perhaps worth remembering in the state of the temporary ban on contact with society as a whole with regard to the exhibition sector is the peculiar shutdown of the effect of works of art. You can notice a real slowdown here, not just a slowdown. Although the museums and (mostly with even more professional means) the galleries try to keep those interested in memory through digital events, this is usually only done by actors who mediate. It is the technical form of the mediation and the (more or less theatrical) appearance of the mediator that sometimes captivates, but the aesthetic effect of the respective work of art is almost completely lost. In these monological events of the contact blocking there is no possibility of dialogical exchange, no chance of looking at details or even texture or the materiality of the object. And in addition to the specific spatial location, the work of art, in contrast to other objects or things, lives from it, which becomes abundantly clear once again as a positive element of art in the experience of the absence of a form of aesthetic experience.

Although the great theorists of photography - starting from Benjamin to Barthes etc. - have repeatedly emphasized the reproducibility of photography and praised it as a positive aspect of the medium, the digital result of a presentation of artistic photos that can be accessed via e-mail fails to a “viewing room” because of the inadequate presence of these reproductions. The sufficient documentary function of the photographic image in the context of the digital daily press is not convincing in the context of artistic discourse even in the context of any conceptually oriented Appropriation Art.

Museums are well advised - and it is significant that no institution has so far been given this idea - not to “set up” photo exhibitions on the digital level. As we have just seen from insufficient art "experiences" on the internet, this can only fail. Because the differentiation between art and non-art, which was not yet given during Benjamin's lifetime and which is nowadays fashionably leveled again with reference to various borderline phenomena, cannot be denied. And in this context it is also logical to see the reproducibility of artistic photography not as its strength, but as a theoretical misunderstanding or misunderstanding of its aesthetic dimension.

Stefan Gronert

... is curator for photography at the Sprengel Museum Hannover

Caption: Unknown photographer: Walter Benjamin, 1928