Walter Benjamin in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” discussed the influence mechanical reproduction has on the aura of an object. Film and photography being a central focus in this. Benjamin focused on the originality and authenticity of aura and the diminished sense of aura attached to reproductions. (Benjamin, 2, 2008). This was theorised for tangible reconstructions. What happens to the aura when it is digitised? Can the digitised object carry the same aura as the original? Does the copy contain any aura at all? Often when one is faced with the digital they find themselves at a disconnect. The weird uncanny space that Stuart Jeffery describes as often “alienating”(Jeffery, 145, 2015). Why does such a disconnect exist? Jeffrey states unlike Walter Benjamin that is it not just the unoriginality of an object that causes us to question its aura but also the lack of proximity(Jeffery, 147, 2015). Proximity is an extremely important factor here as part of what gives artefacts their aura is their proximity to the past. Digital objects seem to not exist in a constant place, they do not decay the same way as physical objects, they are infinitely reproducible and ownership is questionable. This is why, as Jeffrey states, they appear as “the antithesis of an authentic object.”(Jeffrey, 146, 2015).
Mike Rowland talks about some of the interesting implications this can have for communities in Papua new guinea. One in particular is of Malangan carving in New Ireland. Funerary carvings in this part of New Ireland are used for ritual purposes which honour the dead in a complex set of rights and help remembrance in social memory and landscape. There is an interest to continue the Malangan carving traditions but local memory of methods have slowly declined. The carvings themselves are ceremonially killed and left to rot in the forest and the return of such objects causes anxiety and fear. Many of these carvings are held in museums across the world and ideas to reintroduce the objects to cultural heritage sites In New Ireland have met much contention. Local communities have however regained and viewed carvings though digital 3D models and images in order to regain a sense. Does this mean the digital representation carries no aura? The digital images to those in New Ireland appear distant and less threaten as it cannot be touched and is perceived as less real and not of this world. 3D representations therefore forgo any fears of returning carvings and sustains the carving tradition. What then is the point in cultural heritage reconstructions? Does it serve only a practical purpose? If such a disconnect is felt why 3D print and recreate?.
This sentiment is felt as we can see with UNESCO’s stance in the rejection of the reconstruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan in Hazarajat. That “Better that the Buddhas empty niches stand as a memorial to the horrors of wanton destruction”(Sinclair, 2016). The reason why we recreate and restore is because reproductions are not void of aura. Many arguments can be made here in regards to this form of aura in reproductions but regardless some form of aura exists. The digital recreation of Malangan carvings carry their own aura which would not exist without the original copy therefore imbuing a sense of aura onto the reproduction. Digital reproduction can also be said to contain cultural biographies in which they acquire separate from the original. While living in Tokyo I often walked to Sensoji temple in Asakusa. The temple itself is of significant importance and is the oldest in Tokyo. I recall reading a sign post not far from the main entrance which stated that the entire grounds and the temple had been destroyed during fire bombings in World War II. The temple in its entirety is a reconstruction. In contrast to the UNESCO sentiment I felt that this reconstruction in its aura and cultural biography contained the proximity not only to Tokyo’s ancient past but to the war and its reconstruction. The temple exemplified this more than an absent space in the city.
Benjamin, Walter, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, http://www.berk-edu.com/VisualStudies/readingList/06b_benjamin-work%20of%20art%20in%20the%20age%20of%20mechanical%20reproduction.pdf, Accessed 28th of October 2016
Jeffrey, Stuart. “Challenging Heritage Visualisation: Beauty, Aura and Democratisation.” Open Archaeology 1.1 (2015)
Rowlands, Mike. Digital Heritage Technologies and Issues of Community Engagement and Cultural Restitution in ‘New Style’ Ethnographic Museums. https://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/digital-heritage-technologies-and-issues-community-engagement-and-cultural-restitution-new Accessed 28th of October
Sinclair, Mark. Should Museums be recreating the past?. https://www.creativereview.co.uk/should-museums-be-recreating-the-past/