CHRIS THURMAN: A swirl of bodies in the age of digital reproduction

Articles, News
21 Feb 2020

When it comes to Philiswa Lila’s exhibition Skin, Bone, Fire, a virtual experience is not quite the same as being in a room with the art  


Long-term readers of this column will know that an old favourite of mine is German philosopher Walter Benjamin’s essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. First published in the 1930s, it remains a valuable point of reference in cultural criticism.

Benjamin observed that works of art in premodern societies were usually linked to rituals or sites of pilgrimage — they had a particular “aura” because they were unique, which secured their sacred or spiritual role. But when, say, cheap prints of the Mona Lisa or miniature knock-offs of the Pieta became available by the thousand, did this diminish the originals?