I have spent a happy summer getting to know the work of Walter Benjamin on the impact of technology on art. I started to read Benjamin properly and thoroughly and in a sustained way because of my work on my EdD at Bristol and the unit on visual inquiry. Simple start but it knocked me sideways.
I will no doubt come back to this theme as it has quietly and not so quietly obsessed me for weeks. But one of the things that I love about Benjamin is the way he understood the implications of new technology in a way that can be applied to technologies that did not exist when he wrote. He didn’t predict them, but he could see where things were going and their logical developments. So I think he would have been fascinated and delighted with iPhones for example.
There is one tiny little bit in his best-known essay, ‘Art in the Art of (its) Mechanical Reproduction’ which he wrote in the 1930s, where he comments on the impact on the artist of seeing his/her work in close-up. He was absolutely right. When I see my work in close-up I see something quite new and different. It takes on sculptural qualities. I made it, but it is strange to me. I was totally delighted the first time I took a close-up picture of it. I could see every stitch and every fibre of many stitches. It must have been looking down the microscope for the first time and seeing microscopic organisms. It changed my relationship with my work, and made me a viewer as well as a maker. Really fascinating. And Benjamin saw that coming.