Marius Von Brasch
‘Distance, however near it may be’: Revisiting ‘aura’ on the axis between painting and digital technology within a Deleuzian framework of ‘Becoming’
This practice-based research sets out to explore new ways of visualising and conceptualizing the notion of ‘aura’ in art.
It departed from Walter Benjamin’s conception of ‘aura’ as ‘uniqueness’ of an artwork being in possession of what Benjamin calls ‘a strange tissue of space and time: the unique apparition of a distance, however near it may be’ (Benjamin 2002, 104). What could ‘aura’ mean in contemporary art practice, especially on an axis along unique, ‘handmade’ painting/mark making and its involvement with the dispersive and multiplying qualities of digital technology?
The outcomes of this research are paintings, works on paper (both involving the input of digital sources), digital films and writings. Visuals and text built upon each other, interweaving results of reflective, critical and intuitive approaches.
With Benjamin’s diagnosis of the decay of aura in works of art from the late 1930s (in The Work of Art in the Age of its Reproducibility), congruent with the rise of technologies of reproducibility, ‘aura’ has been introduced (as much as an concomitant ambivalence) into critical theory.
Benjamin saw the potential of technologies of reproducibility in liberating imagery and their public availability from their pseudo-religious function to support a promise of happiness based on the submission to veiled and aggressive power structures and their foundation on a Christian teleology of progress.
This problematic aspect of the ‘aura’ has kept its actuality; but, on closer viewing, also Benjamin’s critique reveals itself to be deeply rooted in a theological - even if radical messianic -framework.
Thus, adopting Benjamin’s critique of the aura will continue exactly the dialogue between the fascination of works of art (and making art) and religion it seemingly strives to avoid, as it clearly depends on transcendent categories.
Yet, despite its alleged decay, the ‘aura’ survives as an experience with art (and within art practice) and in critical theory as a notion to be touched with great reservations concerning a relapse into religious structures.
The hypothesis of this research has been that the reasons for these reservations mirror the fact that the experience ‘aura’ tries to capture is left untouched or ‘territorialized’ in a regime of transcendence in art.
A leading question of this research has been how to conceptualize ‘aura’ outside of a religious framework without negating a potential of ‘auratic’ experience.
It asks: what potential has been trapped under ‘aura’s’ mask imposed by religious interpretation?
A contemporary philosopher whose main project it was to critique metaphysics exactly at the point where a separation is maintained between the immanence of life, experience and transcendence, is Gilles Deleuze. His metaphysic of an immanent unfolding of forces and emergence, especially his notions of ‘Becoming’ and ‘Event’ are based not on ‘origins’ or ‘essences’ but on the perpetual – if ruptured - repetition of difference itself i.e. a continuous and complex flux of emergences and transformations.
In this scenario, the role of the artist and the creative act are personal only to a degree, being a multiplicity within fields of other multiplicities (materials, forces, sensations, affects, the mask, the volcano, the wound, the concept). However, the unfolding of the ‘new’ – which emerges as a ‘disjunctive synthesis’ of multiple forces - posits a responsibility for the artist toward the new and its micro-political implications: because it challenges, despite an emphasis on the ‘rhizome’ and spontaneous, uncontrolled growth, exactly an infinity of ‘openness’ that is nothing more than the plain reproduction of probabilities. It actualizes – so the hypothesis goes – the affects and strands of a wound that exists ‘before’ and with the artist; a fissure (or ‘caesura) between an intuitive experience of unfolding of difference and its fragmenting re-presentation, between potential metamorphosis or incrustation of identity. Production of the ‘new’ proposes with its dynamics of the emerging multiplicity that art/practice mediate not yet explored forces and virtuality of (societal, individual) life.
Could the qualitative dynamics of the event, of Becoming, and their traces in art/practice be what ‘aura’ circumscribes? This position is developed with key texts and references by Deleuze, Walter Benjamin, Giorgio Agamben, Mario Perniola, Hervé Guibert and Friedrich Hölderlin.
Before this research, I have focused for a long time (in a more psychoanalytic framework) on the experience of transformation, in the sense of psychological and material transformation during the process of making that has been experienced as intuitive. Deleuze’s model suits my art practice very well, and his approach supported at the same time my decision to avoid psychological ‘explanations’ of ‘aura’ that I perceive to be too limited.
In the practical research I have contextualized the key concepts ‘aura’, ‘transformation’ and ‘immanence’ with various visuals elucidating new ways of readings. Primarily I have been engaging with Splendor Solis, a series of Renaissance book illuminations for alchemical treatises; with Mathis Grunewald’s Resurrection and Cy Twombly’s Ferragosta.
A heretic work, Splendor Solis subversively presents the immanence and equality of body (darkness of the earth) and spirit. ‘Aura’ appears here not as a static religious merit of separation from the world (as the traditional halo) but as the result of a continuous process of layered transmutations based on the dynamics of the potential of fluent oppositions, for example the one between the abject and the precious.
In my practice, I have built upon such ambivalent oppositions in various ways, fragmenting the source images and quotes and layering them in a painterly way via digital projections, all in a set-up that could be seen as ‘being suspended’ into a flux of strategy, spontaneity, affect, and emergence.
Works on my website (‘Current Works’): http://www.mariusvonbrasch.co.uk
Benjamin, W. 2002. Selected writings vol. 3 1935-1938. Cambridge, Mass. & London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press