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Walter Benjamin’s “aura” and Screen Based Software Art: Aesthetics and Value Scrutinised. Illustrate your essay with specific examples.


In the past few decades, the ways of doing and thinking about art have radically changed due to the use of specialised technology to assist artistic practices and to enhance the experience of art. Especially after the turn of the millennium and the relief that nothing "terrible" was going to happen to our beloved digital appliances, any clouds of disbelief towards software technology gave way to a clear horizon. The art-making and art-dealing circles began to accommodate an increasing variety of digital equipment that was soon attended by an equally familiarised public.

One type of technology-supported art practice is screen based software art. The term refers to practices that are assisted by computer software programmes to process human and electronic stimuli and that have a screen output. Even though screen based software art is a relatively new phenomenon, the debates associated with it, i.e. about the nature, the value, and the use of such art practices, can be traced as back as the early twentieth century. In 1936, Walter Benjamin wrote the essay 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction', where he considered the fate of art in a rapidly industrialised world. This dissertation will offer a critical presentation of screen based software art through the exploration of Benjamin's notion of the "aura". Notwithstanding the new types of experience that screen based software art offers by challenging the boundaries between the artist and the viewer and between art institutions and private collectors, it is, perhaps more than any other art form, prone to debates about value, reproducibility, and aesthetics. Have screen based software artworks really lost their aura of originality and if so, what kind of aesthetic experience do they offer?

All the same, issues of commoditisation and value shadow software art practices. The digital and software media are extensively being used by the industry for entertainment and advertisement purposes. As a result, these media are entangled in legal ramifications of copyright laws designed to control reproduction, use, and manipulation of information byrestricting access and by censoring content. At the same time, because of the multiple function of software art and the different market needs it covers, such creative practices will become more popular and reach a wider audience. Undeniably however, as the money value of software art products increases, profit control will become more stringent. Yet, I do not believe that software art, by virtue of its technicality alone, has lost its "aura" and has irrevocably caused art and commodity to merge in a virtual space in-between the real and the digital. It is on the hands of the artists, and the art institutions, to promote software artworks as art, as the ability to challenge everyday passivity and to raise social and ethical questions.

A final point that Benjamin makes, however, has yet to be answered. Benjamin is deeply concerned with the mechanical reproduction of reality as seemingly equipment-free. With reference to the surgeon who uses specialised equipment to enter the body, Benjamin (1968) argues that the camera man relies on technology to convey images of reality that otherwise would remain out of sight. By this exposure, which obliterates the painstaking effort and the technology required to retrieve such information, these images assume an autonomous status. An example would be documentaries about documentaries that show all the crane work, camera rails, and hanging microphones that surround the protagonists. For Benjamin (1968), what one is entitled to ask from a work of art is whether it offers an aspect of reality which if free of all equipment. I believe Benjamin is asking this question because for him the artwork, shrouded in its "aura", should be autonomous and mystifying and at the same time offering an alarming experience. Screen based software art does not offer an equipment-free experience itself being in, and alluding the viewer into, the realm of technological advancement. But it would be far-stretched to argue that anything assisted by technology can never be art, and I do not believe that Benjamin's comment was intended that way. Still, the lesson to be taught is that the value of art is to remind us that we are human beings, able to create, and in need of one another.

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