You had to be there. That is not a good way to start out a description. Because it doesn’t tell you, my reader, anything. But it is also true. However, I will try to describe my experience this morning the best and can and explain what it meant to me.
I closed at the coffee shop last night. When I left, nothing was amiss. When I arrived this morning and unlocked the door, there was something noticeably out of place. Within a direct path from the door to the cash register there sat a pyramid of coffee cups, and atop it, a construction engineer action figure who looked like a cross between Bob the Builder and the Village People guy…
That was definitely not there when I locked up last night. I thought it was strange, but kind of cool. The sun was rising higher and shining directly on the little man and and his mountain. As I began to think that I may be dreaming, or crazy, my co-worker arrived and he saw it too. He wanted to know if we could leave it up as installation art.Then he took a picture of it with his Poloroid camera. He wrote a caption that was a poem and a piece of art in and of itself.
I drew a sketch of the sculpture on receipt paper. The poloroid, the poem, the sketch…it got me thinking about a piece I had read a couple years ago, and written much longer ago, called “Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” This is a work by German cultural theorist Walter Benjamin, written in 1936. In it, he discusses the distance between an original piece of art, or even a landscape, and it’s reproductions, and reproductions of reproductions. He says, “Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.” This applies with me trying to tell you about the experience as I had it when I first discovered the cup montain with the builder action figure. The “you had to be there” element. Benjamin also says that a piece of artwork or even a landscape, “is jeopardized by reproduction when substantive duration ceases to matter.” He talks about the “aura” that an original thing has, and how it is depreciated the more it is reproduced. But what if it becomes something else? For example, the poloroid of the sculpture with my co-workers words scrawled on it. I think that is an original piece of art in and of itself. And maybe it is true that a reproduction of anything is not the same as the original. But it is better than not getting to see it at all. Reproduction brought art to the masses, made it accessible. I could never afford a Rembrandt, but I can get a print of it to hang in my living room. And if I appreciate it and I enjoy it, then….maybe something is lost, but something is also gained. And sometimes with a transformation, like the poloroid, happens. Then doesn’t that have it’s own “aura” so to speak? You can read the whole text, translated, of Art in the Age of Mechanical reproduction here: http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/ge/benjamin.htm
Afterward: When the perpetrator of this sculpture arrived he said that he was so happy there was an action figure of a regular person he had to buy it. That it looked like someone’s Dad. Ah, the beauty in the ordinary.