In an age where information is a globally accessible currency, quantity outweighs quality. The widespread access to an unprecedented volume of audiovisual media has neutralized our ability to appreciate the uniqueness of our time. Digital formatting has allowed us to experience more content than ever before. Temporality no longer affects how we interact with art and media. But at what cost? In this essay, I will examine our ability to digitally reproduce media and its impacts on immortalizing the original quality of the media in question and altering its inherent value. Whether that reproduction is positively or negatively received depends on the popular aesthetic understanding of the time it’s viewed.
     In Hito Steyerl’s essay In Defense of the Poor Image (IDPI), Steyerl writes about our fetishization of resolution in a time when low-quality images are the standard practice. In “capitalist studio production” culture, it’s an offence equal to castration to not participate in their “cult of mostly male genius.” Steyerl argues that the standard of replication is set so high that “insisting on rich images also had more serious consequences”(IDPI) it repressed the expression of experimental media. Our obsession with mimesis resulted in a narrow band of commercially “acceptable” visual media governed by representatives encompassing an even narrower subset of the population. The desire to strive for a realistic imitation is only one perspective of representation. As Nelson Goodman wrote, “A picture must denote a man to represent him, but need not denote anything to be a man-representation” (25). The fetishization of resolution does not represent the experience we all strive for. Audiovisual media was born out of experimentation, and the artists' desire to recreate their experience allows for many forms of representation outside of resolution. Mimesis in the audiovisual art world is wildly different than the mimesis of the painters in Goodman’s time or the sculptors of Ancient Greece.
     Realistic representation isn’t the only form of imitation that is appreciated. As a result, we have achieved a mimetic standard that goes beyond human senses' limits, thinking of 8K visual and lossless audio media. We are witnessing a shift in art and culture that extends beyond reality into a dream world[1]. There is an acceptance that we are not a part of anything more than a simulation, and artists are creating content that reflects these thoughts. Alternatively, in my 35mm film photography practice, I started because of the allure of a “guarantee of pristine visuality” (Steyerl). As a reflection of the wider culture, I, too, grew tired of the perfect image and now covet the idiosyncrasies that can only arise from an imperfect analog system. Perhaps this is because, as Steyerl puts it, “[p]oor images show the rare, the obvious, and the unbelievable” (IDPI). I still see the likeness of what I was attempting to capture in my poor images, but it arrives to me unexpectedly and excitingly. The poor image is a less likely culprit for my affection. Sometimes, we can’t help but cheer for the underdog.​​​​​​​
Personal photos taken over the years that still capture the essence but lack the resolution.
     There are two sides to the equation in the quest for resolution: the artist and the spectator. The producer and the viewer. Does resolution or fidelity matter if the spectator can’t experience it? The immortalization of audiovisual media is limited by the technology on which the spectator receives the media. Denis Villeneuve may have poured his heart and soul into creating a cinematic masterpiece[2], but what if I’m streaming it on slow internet and using a low-quality projector in a bright room in the middle of the day? Digital formatting allows audiovisual media to “lose matter and gain speed” (IDPI). We have opened the door to accessibility at the cost of quality. Our ability to digitally immortalize great works of art has come at the cost of the art itself. I want to be clear that I am not speaking about Hollywood blockbusters as great works of art. I am speaking to the databases like Without someone diligently gathering the ephemeral pieces of early new media, we would lose them to the degradation of time.

Zen for Film.

     There is a piece by Nam June Paik, a Korean American artist active in the 1960s and a participant in the anti-art group Fluxus, called Zen for Film. To me, this piece perfectly sums up the dichotomy of the digital reproduction dilemma. If you are unfamiliar with this piece, it is a part of an interactive art experience called a Happening. The inspiration is directly tied to John Cage’s famous composition 4’33”. Using a blank roll of film, Paik plays his movie in silence, and the audience becomes a part of the experience. As the film is shown, dust particles end up on the roll, the film gains wear and tear over time, and the audience is different every time, leading to a unique experience. One that would not last for future generations without the ability to capture at least a likeness of the piece. But we lose the slow degradation of the film over time, and we watch in isolation in our homes with no one around to contribute to the experience. But we can watch it. To use it as historical material culture that influences our contemporary experimental practice. At the core of Steyerl’s argument lies that exact dilemma. I am entirely in Steyerl’s corner when she pleads, “[o]ne could of course argue that this is not the real thing, but then – please, anybody – show me this real thing” (IDPI). We no longer have access to the original, but it is no longer about the original. It is about taking what we can get. There is a joke in there about all of us turning into the Barthesbrain meme; death to the author because we can only infer our contemporary ideals from a tiny portion of the original intention of the work.  ​​​​​​​
     Up to this point, I’ve established that having the ability to create and immortalize audiovisual media through digitizing it and storing it on a network has at least given us the ability to experience it outside of space and time. But I have yet to speak to the shift in value that this has on said media. Walter Benjamin would refer to this as “exhibition value” vs “cult value” and the impact that the aura of the art has on its value. In Benjamin’s book, Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (second version), he believes that “[i]n even the most perfect reproduction, one thing is lacking: the here and now of the work of art- its unique existence in a particular place” (21). In his aesthetic understanding, the uniqueness of art is tied directly to its authenticity. Authenticity gives the art its value and impacts the aura of the experience. But Benjamin could never have fully understood the extent to which reproduction would become intertwined with our expression of art. Steyerl thinks that there is a new aura developing around the reproduction of images, one that “is no longer based on the permanence of the “original,” but on the transience of the copy” (IDPI). In this new aura, “cult value” is a badge of honour and respect. This can be seen in how we spread memes or videos of people dancing to catchy tunes. The viral nature of reproducibility intersects with “affective attunement” (Steyerl, IDPI) to create an aura where participating in the knowledge or ritual of the trend ranks higher than the realized result of the trend.
     We’ve created a world that falls directly into the teachings of Roland Barthes. The author of the text (or audiovisual media) does not matter in a viral world of reproducibility because “a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination” (148). The audiovisual media that is “propelled onto new and ephemeral screens [are] stitched together by the desires of dispersed spectators” (Steyerl, IDPI). The author is not a part of the equation anymore. The spectators and the algorithm are the driving forces for the value. We have come so far down this spectrum of reproducibility that the novelty of uniqueness is not what lends aura to media. Instead, our culture of mimesis lends aura to how many views and comments were received. ​​​​​​​
    However, similar to the quest for resolution, we experience a dichotomy within this value system. On one side, we have the aura and value associated with media's viral reproduction; on the other, we have the aura and value associated with exclusivity. Equally as important in our current audiovisual capitalist economy. I present to you: the Bored Ape Yacht Club. The ultra-exclusive NFT is generated by an algorithm on a decentralized network. The ultimate object of exhibition value in our culture of digital reproduction. The aura emanates from these rare and unique pieces. This is the culmination of a culture that exists to serve digital reproduction. A piece of art that has no human authorship, that exists as an original on a blockchain and has no physical form. Steyerl sums up this absurd dichotomy of values in her essay perfectly when she states that, therefore, the poor image “ends up being perfectly integrating into an information capitalism thriving on compressed attention spans, on impression rather than immersion, on intensity rather than contemplation, on previews rather than screenings” (IDPI). We have created a culture that values instant gratification and constant availability.

Bored Ape NFT.

     Our memetic abilities in the age of audiovisual capitalism are a steamroller flattening the diversity within our technological capabilities. We are too fixated on the economic value of images. Even in a decentralized system, the value of images cannot break free of the shackles of capitalism. Yes, it's essential to use our digital reproduction technology to gather our era's culturally significant audiovisual media. But we must learn to recognize the inherent value of certain reproductions over others. Our audiovisual capitalist culture encourages digital hoarding. By the nature of the illness, as the media piles up, the entire collection becomes less valuable. Choose to spend your currency wisely and invest your value into a diverse portfolio of unique media. Your mind will thank you.
[1] Season 4 of Atlanta. One of the best shows on TV (IMO) spent the entire season exploring a dream world. Realty meets the unreal.
[2] Speaking to the Dune 2021 remake. Sorry, David Lynch.
Barthes, Roland. "The Death of the Author" (1967). Image-Music-Text. pp 142-148.
Benjamin, Walter. "Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" (Second Version).
Duchamp, Marcel. "The Creative Act?" (1957).
Goodman, Nelson. "Reality Remade." Languages of Art.
Glover, Donald. "Donald Glover Talks Atlanta Season 4..." Youtube, uploaded by Pharos.
Steyerl, Hito. "In Defense of the Poor Image." e-flux journal. Issue #10.
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