Should Museums be Recreating the Past? Some Thoughts on the Idea of ‘The Aura of the Original’.

In the ‘Golden Age of heritage visualisations’ (Jeffrey 144), the idea of the aura is central to the discussion of both the merits and the disadvantages of digital representation and its implications on our reception of digitally created copies of cultural artefacts. In Sinclair’s ‘Should museums be re-creating the past?’ the author discusses the merits of digital representation for the purposes of research and academic advancement, but also argues that the idea of rebuilding the past for consumption by the public serves to ‘mask the genuine, if unpalatable, past; erasing the gaps, the voids, the ruination that bears witness to traumatic events’ (Sinclair). Jeffrey discusses some of the same merits in relation to the study and reproducibility of heritage, but highlights the fact that the idea of ‘the aura of the original’ is lost in digital representations, but a new aura is formed through the relationships of those involved in the process of reproducibility.

Personally, I am inclined to argue that the aura is lost in the process of reproducibility, but the consumer of the replicated artefact creates their own concept of the aura through their consumption and distribution of their experience of that replicated object. While discussing digital reproducibility in our AFF601 class on the theories and methods of digital humanities with Natalie Harrower, the director of the Digital Repository of Ireland, she discussed a recent trip to an art gallery. She recounted how she, like many other consumers of culture, wanted to experience the familiar works and then photograph them so that she could have her own digital representation of the original. The difference between Ms Harrower’s experience and the experience of the consumer viewing the replicated model is represented in Ms Harrower’s own involvement in the creation of her replicated copy. We see this every day in the Louvre museum in Paris, for example. Almost every modern consumer knows what Leonardo Da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa’ looks like, and yet when they have the opportunity to marvel at the real painting, they decide to take a picture and create their own digital copy of the painting.

Through this idea of the consumers’ desire to create their own ‘identity’ with the original aura and to become a part of the process of distribution and recording of the original, it is my judgement that the aura of the original is an important aspect of the consumption of digital heritage, but that sometimes it is necessary to disregard the desire for the original to allow for its protection, given that so many consumers wish to create their own experience of the original anyway, through their own reconceptualization of the artefact. The protection of the original goes hand in hand with the recreation of the replicated model because, as Jeffrey states, the digital copy has no way of degrading and it is infinitely reproducible. To answer Sinclair’s question, I do believe that museums should be recreating the past for the purpose of preserving it because even though we are a society that is constantly in want of authenticity, without the digital preservation, there is a very good chance that the authentic would not be there for us to appreciate at all.

Works Cited
Stuart Jeffrey, ‘Challenging Heritage Visualisation: Beauty, Aura and Democratisation’ in Open Archaeology (2015), vol.1, pp. 144-152.
Mark Sinclair, ‘Should Museums Be Re-creating the Past?, on Creative Review (2016).

One thought on “Should Museums be Recreating the Past? Some Thoughts on the Idea of ‘The Aura of the Original’.

  1. The term ‘Aura’ applied in relation to digital representation is problematic at best, especially when discussing digital copying of cultural artefacts and heritage. The benefits and merits of digital representation for the purposes of research are indeed great, as acknowledged by Sinclair, but the key issue here is the reconstruction of the past – which becomes a fictionalisation in a virtual reality, as opposed to a representation. The parallel with Jeffrey’s argument highlighted is relevant and intriguing, as while the ‘aura’ for the original may be diminished by digital reproduction a new ‘aura’ is created associated with the digital representation and its relation with its reproducibility i.e. how it is used digitally. An example would further help to clarify and further this point, as a digital representation is potentially more accessible with easy attachment of information and associations – so when a reconstruction of, for example, a roman ruin is used in a video game with fictional characters it becomes associated with that game and its purpose rather than the original area and history.
    While the example used in the post is indeed interesting and totally relevant, it relates to experience with artefacts and heritage in the museum and direct engagement which is digitisation in a personal space in a relatively simple form. Part of the issues around digitisation are blurring of lines between personal and broadcast communication in social media – which has become a big part of daily life, and indeed memory storage. i.e. posting on facebook, Instagram, twitter etc. Say if something like the ‘Mona Lisa’ is posted or shared, as its quite well known and recognisable the context is not entirely skewed – but if I were to do something similar with an artwork less well known to the public and not include adequate information the context and therefore the ‘aura’ would change. With considerations like this in mind, the ‘aura’ becomes a much more complicated discussion in relation to the digital representation and though I would agree with the conclusion that “… museums should be recreating the past for the purpose of preserving it because even though we are a society that is constantly in want of authenticity, without the digital preservation, there is a very good chance that the authentic would not be there for us to appreciate at all” (http://dhblog.maynoothuniversity.ie/cburke/archives/22), issues around digital representation can be further interrogated.

Please tell me what you think!