Essay: Does Fabrication change the aura of a digital piece?

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  • Does Fabrication change the aura of a digital piece?
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In the turn of the century, there has been an advancement in technology that has shaped the way creatives go about making work, distributing it and presenting themselves. With the development of technology, it has a caused a friction between two ways of working – those being digital and analogue ways. Though an artist will use both digital and analogue, both will end up side by side on the same platform – the internet. Regardless of how the image was made, the original will ultimately be shared online among peers. The idea of the original, is still a term that is used in regards to artwork, but becomes polarising when discussing digital art working. A solely digital illustrator makes a piece that is created and displayed in an online space, sometimes printed. Is printed matter, or tangibility relevant in the age of the digital? An artist may work in an analogue medium and share this online, thus displaying and archiving it digitally, instead of appreciating its value as an original drawing. Though only one exists, it’s digital counterpart is available to everyone who can access it. In this essay, the discussion is whether fabricating something into a tangible object, such as print, makes it better. The term better has potency in an age where iProducts and those alike are consistently upgraded and made to make the digital native work more seamlessly and fluently. A true representation of the original is when an artist makes one object or drawing that is unique; in terms of a multiple, one of two hundred (Arday. D, 2012). However, for it to exist outside of where it was made and for it to be seen by others is at the hands of social media. Instagram provides a vital service in networking and displaying work, especially the difficult. Concerning this contrast what constitutes whether something is better? Is it its cult value or exhibition value? (Balsam. E, 2015). Walter Benjamin’s essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction resonates now in the 21st century more than ever. His argument that mechanical reproduction destroys the aura of an object relates indefinitely to how creatives make and display their work online; an artist makes an original, shares it online, communicates in a fast metabolism process and repeats. The aura of an object is defined by its distinct quality that gives it a certain atmosphere or feeling to its viewer (Benjamin.W, 1935). Pertaining to how Benjamin’s essay relates to this argument, is whether a piece that exists in an online space, where reproduction is champion can have an aura. To interrogate this question, the chapters are summarised to particular themes: Fabricate, Display, Preserve. Fabrication is an important part of discussion due to the over arching theme of the physical object and how the consumer interacts with it. For an object to have physicality and be original, or of an edition, is to give it an aura. This leads to Display, which addresses the way an artist presents their work and themselves online. The online persona is an increasingly pertinent to an artist now more than ever, with opportunities spreading outside of the artist’s native country. Many artists approach social media accounts, such as Instagram, as a way to curate their best work in an online gallery style. This is crucial to the discussion due to physical spaces becoming limited in their affordability and accessibility for new artists. Finally, the preservation of the fabricated. With the aura being a quality the object holds, its critical to understand how to preserve an object, or sometimes not. The preservation of an object is integral to the survival of its aura. However, it could be argued that an artefact damaged by the result of conflict has an aura that has been re-contextualised.

An artist now moves through a different climate in the online space where their work is able to be viewed and shared all around the world by the consumer. At the click of an application someone, somewhere is able to access the profile of an artist. Once the original image is shared, it becomes one of an infinite amount of images as its existence on a public domain allows it to. A work of art that is posted is now able to be re-contextualised by the online space it resides on; an image anarchist removes the need for artist authorship as the work is spread across the internet. This poses the question: is the unique quality of the original is lost in the digital cloud? and will fabrication of the digital bring back the aura of an object?


To Fabricate is to construct or manufacture a product from different components. In regards to my essay, to Fabricate is to give life and physicality to something which only exists in a digital cloud or on a digital platform. A digital Illustration is created in a computer, by the artist. Using the computer to create illustrations and graphics is now a vastly diverse and ever evolving practice. The artist is able to embrace the aesthetic of computer based graphics, using 3D rendering programmes to give the appearance of a physical object, such as Cinema 4D. In other instances, digital illustration can replicate physical media through the use of brush tools, to create illustrations that appear aesthetically like a screen print, or a pencil drawn piece. So when fabricating a digital illustration, created on photoshop with digital brushes, into screen print or digital print, does this give it greater value, or potentially make it better? Or is value disregarded due to the synthetic process of how the illustration was made?

Digital artwork has seen a great development in past years through constant progression and innovation from artists, but also the development of the platforms we are able to share images on. Where prior to platforms like Instagram, an image based sharing platform, digital illustrations would be viewed on the artist’s website, in a Newspaper, or in a publication like Pen and Mouse: Commercial Art and Digital Illustration, which showcased illustrators and their work and spoke about their practice. However, in contemporary culture with the advance of how the artist shares work and communicates with others, its easy for the artist to become complacent in creating, posting and sharing. Where Digital Illustrations and Digital platforms allow instantaneous and infinite uploading, the work is shown parallel to the vast amount of other images that are uploaded by other users too. With Instagram effectively being a gallery platform of the artist’s work, it is a gallery of work displayed digitally to the consumer.

With the internet containing such a vast realm of information to consume from photos, films and other forms of media, its easy to approach it in a hedonic way. As we read through endless timelines of information on various social media sites, its effortless to continue a process of scroll, consume, scroll; yet, as Charles Spurgeon, a great English preacher said, it is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy. (positive psychology)

Understandably, the digital platform has aided in bringing a community of strangers closer together through conversation and mutual enjoyment of particular images. The seamless structure of Instagram promotes further use and consumption of images, however, it does not give the artist true authorship of how they would present their work physically. The solely digital process allows perfectionism, rather than embracing the tactile and sometimes unpredictable nature of some analogue mediums.

When approaching a screen print of a digital drawing, the artist is required to understand the complete process of the particular type of printmaking they are going to use, which then informs them better how to approach the digital art working process. The same can be said for most analogue mediums and how they translate to digital drawing. Though replicas of the original, analogue mark making, they still translate closely to how the material reacts in a physical form.

To Fabricate the digital piece is to give the artwork its place in the physical world, where it can be enjoyed by others through display and preserved through ongoing conversation.

In Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, he critiques the

technological advancement of reproducing artwork regarding art and design. Benjamin was a German literary critic actively writing during the first half of the 20th century. His work looks at issues in society, particularly in mass reproduction during the 20th century and it’s affect on the work of art. His work is particularly critical of reproduction due to the progression of printing, then to chemical photography which both lose the essence of the original through mass production (Brittanica). The reproduction of artwork has been existent for as long as the art itself has existed, whether master or pupil creating or copying, the concept of reproduction has been integral to development in art (benjamin). Printmaking as a form of reproduction is addressed heavily in Benjamin’s essay and up until Lithography’s replacement of photography, is considered fondly by him. With printmaking existing from early as the 8th Century in Japan(Met Museum), Benjamin discusses the importance of reproducing artwork to reach the masses but its contrasting effect on the aura of the original. The aura, by Benjamin’s terms, means the atmosphere and quality that the original creates. The original being a shadow casted by a tree on the beholder in a mountain range, or the distinct qualities of an object from the 18th century. In short, an aura is found in small moments, or physical things that we interact with. The idea of the authentic in Printmaking is different to that of a painting displayed in the National Gallery, for example. Where as the original painting is singular and is only viewed in one place at one time, to own the original of a screen print would be to own the positive/negative sheets for a screen print; This also applies to woodblock printing, where the block of wood that a woodcut print was made from is the original. Though these individual components integral to the print reproduction can be regarded as unique, they embody the process of reproduction as they create individual prints – each with their own authorship from the artist. Benjamin writes permitting the reproduction to meet the beholder… reactivates the object reproduced, which can relate to using Printmaking as a medium to realise work. Printing a run of 50 screen printed images retain the aura of an object with each individual print being unique, though one of 50. An aura is experienced from the original, where the print made with ink and the artist’s hands were ultimately the artists intention. The aura is then experienced by those who consume the piece in the physical surrounding of where the print is shown. (Benjamin)

Arguably, in regards to digital Illustration, the idea of reactivating the object reproduced comes in a different format. With Digital Illustration becoming an easier and more efficient way to work professionally as an illustrator, the concept of the aura that Benjamin speaks of, is lost in the digital cloud. To create a digital drawing is still creating an original, however, how this original is shared or spread can contradict this. With digital prints and digital files of the artist’s work being being widely available online to buy, display and preserve, Benjamin’s words mechanical reproduction withers the aura of the work of art come to mind (benjamin). With the original being shared and multiplied in a Copy and Paste nature, the digital artwork begins to lose its aura as it lacks the artist’s authorship. This is a term known as Image Anarchism, where the work of art is shared, reblogged and reformatted, effectively reproducing it repeatedly, so its original location and meaning becomes unknown. A “work of visual art” is defined by its singularity, or plurality of 200 for it to exist as original art (informed illustrator). With various social media sites allowing creatives to share their work and discuss with their followers, the “original” is now a transitory product that exists in an online space for others to consume and critique.

With this in mind, it is worth comparing artwork shared through the screen of a phone/tablet to how it would be displayed in a Gallery. Benjamin argues the aura of an object is dependent on its existence in a space. Though the idea of visiting fantastic outdoor spaces around the world are seeded in the likes of National Geographic Magazine, Benjamin’s understanding of the desire in contemporary culture to bring things ‘closer’ spatially & humanely shows clear relevance to today’s culture. The high gloss finish of a National Geographic magazine, filled with high resolution images of wonderful places and creatures from all around the world, is at the hands of many people who can appreciate the fabricated image. With a focus on the tangible being important to the aura, the magazine as an object is a transitory object that exists to display a monthly supplement of images and provides a short term idea of what the original is like. Though the aura of the place is captured through photograph, the concept of the original is on the very grounds that the photo was taken on.

David Hockney is an painter, draughtsman, printmaker, stage designer and photographer, and has created work throughout his illustrious career that is conscientious of the discomfort and harmony between the digital and analogue. (Tate) He has achieved an understanding through working with mechanical reproduction (the xerox photocopier) during the 80s, but also creating digital paintings on an iPad. In Hockney Printmaker, by Richard Lloyd, Hockney’s Home-made prints have a place among his etchings and lithographs. Lloyd curated an exhibition of Hockney’s prints from his career at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in 2014. Hockney realised that the Xerox printer was “a camera as well as a printing press” (Hockney). He went on to explore this medium through collage and photography to create vibrant prints. Shown above is an example of Hockney’s methodology to create interesting prints exploiting the use of photograph, drawn media and ink. Relating to Benjamin’s quote permitting reproduction to meet the beholder, Hockney achieves this idea through creating artwork, with artist authorship, through his own mark-making and understanding of how to reproduce it into something accessible to everyone. The print by Hockney, see Fig 1, is an edition of 60 all created by him in 1986 on the Xerox printer. For Hockney, the famed painter, to make artwork on a photocopier comes as a surprise, but is an important piece of work to address with its interdisciplinary context. It is a mark made as an original in a dark colour which is then reproduced by copying and printing to make something completely different. The colour is different to the original and the ink reacting to the paper is different to how the pencil reacts.

This means that the print itself is exists as an original instead of a copy of the original mark made and, therefore, has an aura. Hockney then went on to send these original artworks to his friend’s faxes, making artwork for the many; theoretically, the art could be spread anywhere someone had a fax. This exploitation and challenge to Benjamin’s assumptions about the reproducible object is what makes Hockney’s Home-Made Prints polarising to the analogue/digital debate.


To display work in the 21st century is now being approached in many different ways with the continued progression of the internet. The internet allows for the artist to display and curate their working drawings or final pieces seamlessly online, allowing for a new platform that is now just as valuable as curating a show in a gallery. The idea of a gallery online is something a lot of Instagram users are able take advantage of, where the footfall of visitors comes from all across the world. The internet visitor is able to view work in their own comfort and time from their mobile or laptop, contrary to visiting a physical space where an original piece of work would be shown in one place, at one time. This approach to consuming artwork in the 21st century has lead to the micro celebrity effect in different fields of art and design. An illustrator now can utilise their social media presence to have their work reach further areas of the world, allowing them to travel around and showcase their work on different soil to their native land. Yet, displaying work in a conventional setting, like an established gallery, has become more challenging for graduates, or practicing artists, it seems the internet now provides a valuable service.

A group who have noticed holes beginning to appear in the gallery norm, and re-evaluated what is needed, are Tennis Elbow. Formed out of representing the unrepresentable, Tennis Elbow aims to dismantle the expectations of what a gallery should do. By creating an online presence, Tennis Elbow showcases work on a weekly basis from different artists around the world on their Instagram page. They embrace a fast metabolism approach where a solo exhibition is held for a week on their Instagram page, then showcased on a Saturday afternoon. (artsy) High-resolution images are posted, with a poster uploaded prior to them, and the description of the piece and material used are written in a description; the original format of how a gallery is presented is still present, but now approached digitally. (instagram) The idea of embracing the internet to reach a new audience is something that is becoming more common as more and more consumers become digital natives. Take for example, the Tate’s online archive of the work they own, which you are able to seamlessly browse through and read descriptions of the painting, or sculpture.

Many websites related to the Art and Design world now have vast archives that display their collections, writings or work. This level of transferring the physical to digital shows the importance of the internet in our progression towards a digital world.

Whether a click-to-buy button or a virtual reality space, the environment of the online becomes more convenient for those using it. Tennis Elbow understand this idea and though displaying their exhibitor’s work in an online space; the chance for physical interaction with work is still available to the public. Their understanding for the need for the physical experience and interaction with the work comes from understanding the context of a gallery and what it can mean to an exhibiting artist, but also the interest of collectors and fans. As previously stated, the difficulty in displaying art in galleries comes with the challenge of finance, notoriety and how the artist is represented. This challenge which has become the norm for practicing artists, illustrators and designers is now being tackled by the work that Tennis Elbow is doing.

The context and patina of a gallery space gives the piece of art a place to be shown to many and reason to be considered as art; this is also know as the aura. With online display, the context of the artwork is lost through the infinite copy paste nature of users on social media, reblogging and sharing the art work. The work of art loses its singularity as it is shared and is re-contextualised when displayed on other platforms. With many variations of sharing platforms existing on the internet such as blogs, journals, newspapers and news websites, the credibility of the image may increase if it is featured on a popular Design website such as It’s Nice That. The surge of artwork being created and posted online in the fast metabolism style as Tennis Elbow curate and display work is something becoming common place among Illustrators now. With attention to sharing on social media sites, it is easy for the illustrator to create work, post online and let their audience consume more. The stress on sharing and keeping “followers” updated with what is happening in the Illustrator’s creative surrounding has lead to Illustrators becoming Social Media Celebrities.

Jean Jullien, an Illustrator from Nantes, France, uses social media as a tool to show his work in visual communication. Graduating from Central Saint Martins in 2008, and the Royal College of Art, in 2010, his work focuses on the funny nuances that happen in our day to day lives. Unlike most illustrators, Jean Jullien clocks nearly 900,000 followers on his Instagram page, while averaging 20 – 50k “likes” on images he posts. Arguably, like Tennis Elbow, his vast following sees his work on Instagram as it spreads across the world through the use of a mobile phone. Though Jullien has such a widespread digital following, his work is predominantly analogue based, using brushes, pencils and pens. His recent work has been with fabrics, furniture and ceramics, all of which have an obvious tangibility to them, but are presented online. In 2013, Jullien had a solo show in London called “Allo?” at the Kemistry gallery. It directly commented on the involvement people have on their phones in the 21st century through visual imagery depicting certain scenarios. (Jean Jullien website)Though many of Jullien’s images are available online, there is a particular analogue quality to Jullien’s work through the continued drawing tool of a brush, his favourite medium due to its unforgiving honesty in mistakes (Handsome Frank).

However, in Allo?, Jullien scraps his usual watercolour fills for digital colouring. The majority of images that he displays in Allo? are all digitally printed, which poses the question; does fabrication and display in a gallery make a digital image better?

The technicality of the image is simple, to allow his use of visual communication to speak for itself. Even with the highest resolution image, the technique he has adopted can only be appreciated when displayed as a tangible object. In relation to Benjamin’s argument, the aura is in the original; the original being created and printed solely for the purpose of the physical exhibition, which would be unavailable on a digital platform.

Though there is the analogue quality to his brush strokes, when digitally coloured, printed and displayed as an individual, it lacks the phenomenology of the aura. It is more about the sheer mass of images he made for the exhibition that create the aura, instead of the technique. Through the use of curation and display in a physical setting, Allo? permits the consumer to an overwhelming array of images all commenting on idiosyncrasies relatable to them.

Alternative to online personas and unconventional gallery spaces sits It’s Nice That, a website that displays up and coming artists, designers and illustrators. It’s often a place where an artist’s work that is featured can be noticed by industry employers. Though initially starting as graduate’s way of keeping track of artists and designers he liked, Will Hudson created It’s Nice That. With the websites continuous growth and popularity, Alex Bec joined in 2009. (Itsnicethat). It’s Nice That aims to explore and connect work in the field of Design, Photography and Fine Art from all across the world so others can view and become inspired. With only 7 people in their office, the website is curated and updated regularly with new material. The universal concept of a gallery in its simplest form is a space to showcase and sell work by the exhibitors.

Arguably, the level of curation on a website like It’s Nice That achieves the same status of a gallery to designers. It raises opportunity to have their work displayed on a website that reaches other designers or industry employers across the world. The development in websites like It’s Nice That shows a new format for artists to follow and adapt to, as the online writeup could become more powerful than the physical show.

Arguably against Benjamin’s argument about the aura of an object (benjamin), an image fundamentalist would argue that the work of art is given an aura through the context of its origin, meaning a piece of work created, displayed and shared online and through digital, is a beholder of the aura due to its origin. However, to associate the digital piece with an aura is to contradict what the aura truly means. The concept of a piece of artwork having capital due to its source location online, is to lose the very essence of the work of art. As stated previously, during fabrication, for a piece of art to be considered an original means for it to be no more than 200 copies. With the infinite places this piece of art can be viewed on a mobile or computer, it renders the work of art, not.


With fabricating the digital in the 21st century, it comes with a price; physical objects en mass take up a lot of space. Where paper based products such as letters, receipts, subscription magazines used to have weight in the world, the need for them is now unnecessary. Being replaced by the digital’s e-vites, e-receipts and other promotional material, the internet provides a space for the consumer to consume, without the clutter. Though the romanticism of the physical object is being recycled for the 21st century with the revival of vinyl records, the digital still provides a compact solution to conserving space.(cite)The essence of minimalism in homes has also returned where a Kindle can contain every book on the shelf and an iProduct every CD, record or cassette. Where memories were kept in boxes full of printed film photos, the need for this has been replaced completely by the compact digital archive. The concept of archiving and preserving has changed. Using social media as a platform to network with others around, it has also become an archive solely dedicated to the individual who uses it. Where pictures are posted and shared every minute of the day, tagged with those in it, the archive of the individual continues to grow. A closed archive is a dead archive in the modern day as our privacy is pried open by third parties and cookies to improve our online experience where advertisements related to our searches are shown (abbas, 2000). The severity of the individual’s privacy is lost as our information is shared to friends of friends and further. With the pros of conserving space, it is met with the accessibility of our private lives.

More so, the archive continues to expand in the present day with social media sites like Instagram. Where before the artist would show sketchbooks and working drawings at exhibitions, Instagram exists to take the place of displaying work. To define archiving is to place or store or transfer less frequently used storage medium. Arguably, this can be said for how an artist posts online, storing work in the form of a jpeg. Any Illustrator or artist who uses social media to show work is effectively building an archive of their own work on this platform. What is uploaded is safely stored on an online platform, adding to the mass amount of images that are uploaded each day. With the capitalistic approach to the now being prevalent throughout social media, work is shared, viewed, then archived on the artist’s Instagram; the archived work still available to the public to look through online. This being at the expense of the aura of the object as the artist’s archive is a closed archive solely based online. In conversation with Kingston Graduate Joey Yu, her opinion on Instagram is a positive outlook. Joey uses Instagram in a curatorial sense, posting…work regularly allows me to see my progress and what sort of things she had been making at that moment in time. Instagram can be used purely as an archiving tool and the artist is able to curate what they archive and delete, contrary to the likes of the Tate archive that preserves artwork to maintain their reverence. This concept of reverence to an artist in the age of the digital is lost due to the fast metabolism work load. The use of social media for an artist is a sensible way to preserve their work. Though arguably against what archiving is, where documents from all public records would be kept, the artist has full control over what they post. Instagram is, perhaps, a platform for a curatorial archiving.

In 2012, an annual exhibition by dOCUMENTA held an exhibition called Brain at the Kunsthalle Fridericianum in Kassel, Germany. Among many contributors to this 100 day exhibition, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev curated Brain in the rotunda of the Kunsthalle Fridericianum. Christov-Bakargiev is an artistic director and author from New Jersey, United States (dOCUMENTA). The work featured in this particular part of dOCUMENTA 13 held great weight in the meaning behind the objects. From 4000 year old Bactrian statues to artefacts from the National Museum of Beirut, Christov-Bakargiev displayed artefacts and pieces of work that, initially, showed no real correlation to each object. However, it is the stories that the objects hold that show their resilience among conflict in different countries during different times. The Bactrian Dolls had survived 4000 years without deteriorating or facing damage, due to unknown preservation. Her curative efforts for Brain showed a unique approach to the display of art, but also the depths archives and National Museums take to preserve the objects. All the objects that feature in Brain are all within Benjamin’s permission to have an aura. Their survival and history gives them the distinct quality that is an aura (Balsam,2015). Beyond the life they hold in their physicality, to archive them as an image among a great database is to precisely decay the aura that they hold. (Benjamin)To preserve and maintain the original is achieved by archiving it. Preservation of the object is undisputedly key to an objects survival, but also its aura.

interview with ariel

The Tate archive is an open access collection of material from artists, art organisations and art figures from around the world (tate). Material has been collected and preserved by the Tate, from overalls the artist wore, to photographs of them in their studios. Their collection of work is available online where the public is able to search for and book to view at the Tate Britain. There is also a collection of digitised images, such as sketchbooks, drawings and letters from British artists such as Paul Nash and Francis Bacon. The images are shown in high resolution for the viewer, but also available to view at the Tate Britain in their physical state. From viewing prints by artists such as Robert Rauschenberg and David Hockney at the Tate’s viewing rooms, there is a clear sense of an aura to view the pieces in their physicality, rather than viewing them online. To view an artist’s print that is one of an edition cannot compare to viewing the same image online. The Tate’s website for organising viewings does not provide images from the archive; the descriptions and availability of the work is there instead. The idea of a closed archive is a dead archive is quite ironic here. If the the archive does not explicitly show what it holds, how is the consumer to know what they want to view? (abbas) Since 2012, the Tate has worked with partners and funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to digitise every piece of art work in their archive; they have titled the project Archives and Access. The importance of their work in archiving pieces of work by artists is important more-so now than ever with our progression towards a digital age. As part of this ongoing project, they aim to digitise every piece in the archive and make the images accessible to the public. Though the Tate works towards a digitised archive, the aura of the object is lost in its upload to the digital space (Tate 2017). To take the original from its origin and translate it to digital is to kill the aura. Yet, the potential for the public being able to view the pieces of art is seeded and encouraged via their website, which is a progressive step to maintaining the aura of the objects; but also the continued interaction with the physical by the public. Where anyone who posts online is now effectively and unawarely their own personal archivist, the Tate’s archive gives room for those interested in the history and significance of the piece.

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