Friday, May 7, 2004

Smiling at Me

Art preservation isn't exactly my bag.  I understand the great pains museums go through to fight the agents of time.  But everything ages; the art object, in effect, can never be construed as materially permanent.  Right?

This article from earlier in the week started me thinking about the possibility that DaVinci could have imagined transformational deteriorations in his most famous painting, Mona Lisa.  So she's warping; the wood is bending, with it her expression, her "look": skew. Time has its way.  The certainty of decay evades the most technologically zealous efforts to counteract imminent physical forces.  What will Mona Lisa's expression be in thirty years?  three-hundred years?  three-thousand years? as she peers from behind the Lourve's sealed container and untold layers of varnish.

The material alteration--a warped original--is less concerning to me than the unmentioned details about the numerous ways in which her image has, through reproduction, been simulated and processed, pasted on t-shirts, etc. John Berger touches on this in "Ways of Seeing"; Walter Benjamin, too, divides the cult value from the exhibit value, differentiating between the object and its original. The cult value is more interesting to me; perhaps the diminishing of the exhibition value arouses the cult value, and, in turn, the cult value shifts the exhibition value into a grotesque copy of itself, as a sort of popular distortion. These value shifts underscore political revolution, too, I suppose, turning Fascism on its head. (Yep.  I need to go back and brush through Benjamin's "Mechanical Reproduction."  And all of this--Berger included--is in the Ways of Reading anthology, 6th ed.)

This brings me to a confusing mix of issues that I find fascinating.  Where Benjamin discusses "unconscious optics,"  I wonder about the extent to which conscious optics are akin to copyright infringement, to the controls creeping counter to the CC movement and twinkles of liberated IP.  Technologies are making mechanical reproduction--via fragmented pixelations as frequently as film photography or film-based moving pictures--more popular and accessible than ever before. I imagine conscious optics lining up with comp/rhet in ways they seek for students to engage in the -graphy that is openly, visually reproductive.  And this call for a mix of visual rhetoric, image and design is not new, nor should it ever be entirely divorced from the construction of meaning and its pal, hermeneutics.  That is, rather than leaving aesthetic making to inaccessible technologies and their expert operators, we ought to engage students in aesthetic reproductions tuned rhetorically, tuned textually. No doubt, this approach to composition is catching on in a few exciting places.  

This turn is also playing out against IP tensions, intractable media ownership issues, and Paleolithic systems for sharing (or not). It makes me wonder whether the fight for Creative Commons can buck the fangs-sunk-in monster of sole proprietorships in new media.  We have systems--albeit arcane--for documenting text, attributing origins(!), and giving credit when we must.  But systems for attribution in new media seem far less wieldy.  What are they?  Do they come in the form of a Works Cited at the end of a flash clip?  Consider this excerpt from an article in the NY Times this week (link via unmediated):

Mr. Routson's work, which is not for sale, is the latest to find itself in the murky zone between copyright infringement and artistic license, between cultural property rights and cultural commentary. On Oct. 1 a new Maryland law will make the unauthorized use of an audiovisual recording device in a movie theater illegal. Last week two people were arrested in California for operating camcorders in movie theaters. One was apprehended by an attendant wearing night-vision goggles.

It's not definitive (nor am I carefully read in these matters--sincere apologies!), but there comes a convergence between mechanical reproduction, media proprietorship, reproductive rights (as in copying media rather than making babies), and this business of conscious optics.  I have suspicions that as the gulf between technology and humans narrows, as assistive devices help us see, hear, remember with tech-stimulated consciousness (recorders, amplifiers, etc.), the boundaries between experience and mediation will blur and with them, the battles over IP will flourish, perhaps even crossing over into our minds (you can't think it if you don't have the rights!).  Mona Lisa's warp and laws against filming in a movie theater: pieces of a fascinating series of media twists.

Bookmark and Share Posted by at May 7, 2004 3:13 PM to Media