Documenting the Aura

Text by Suzana Milevska, related to the V2_East Meeting on Archives and Documentation (1996).

"The hot, sexual obscenity of former times is succeeded by the cold and communicational, contactual and motivational obscenity of today. The former clearly implied a type of promiscuity, but it was organic, like the body's viscera, or again like objects piled up and accumulated in a private universe, or like all that is not spoken, teeming in the silence of repression. Unlike this organic, visceral, carnal promiscuity, the promiscuity that reigns over the communication networks is one of superficial saturation, of an incessant solicitation, of an extermination of interstitial and protective spaces."(1)

There are several aporias and paradox hidden in the question about the need and the change of the ways of documentation within the contemporary art field. I have no intentions to overcome them within this text but I will try only to point to the most important ones, especially to the problems of selection, evaluation and the different speed of the means of technological development in East and West.

The most of those problems originate of the fact that contemporary art has changed the basis of its relation toward the matter, materiality and the objectness. It is already a fact of general knowledge the claim that in contrary to the hard materiality of the art in the past today art has shifted to the field of ephemerality, immateriality and thoughtfulness. It seems that the loss of aura of the work of art in the terms of the famous essay by Walter Benjamin is not the central problem any longer but its place is taken by the new condition: the fact that the work of art is identified and reduced to its aura, it tends to the stage when it won't be anything else except aura.

It is not easy to answer the question how to document the aura of the work of art that does not exist as a physical object, when, in the words of Victor Hugo, the mask of the visible is not put on the invisible any longer?

When I say that the work of art is reduced to its own aura at first I think to imply the act of naming and proclamation of a work as a work of art. According to the vicious circled argumentation of the definition of an art work given by the institutional theory the works of art are the works that are collected and displayed by the art museums and galleries. In the aesthetic system of Max Bense the act of naming something as an art work implies even an act of aesthetic evaluation (2). Knowing the fact that it is impossible to document the whole art production of an artist, his "real" value or level of establishment and being aware of the problems of the selection of the works to be documented we came to the first of the paradoxes mentioned at the beginning.

The first approach to this problem is to avoid the selection while documenting and to try to document as much material as possible. The best side of this approach is that it means preservation of the information and leaving the possibility to select to the user of the documentation. This leads to the postponing of the act of the evaluation and leaving the possibility to the users in the ages with different criteria to make their own choices but sometimes the effect is the simplification of the information.

The second approach is a little bit more critical and cautious toward the advantages of the new means of documentation and toward their huge capacities.This stream suggests more selective methods and also more profound manipulation of the information. This scepsis is due to the fact that in the case of a complete documentation of each work of art we are going to be fed with "piles" of information with enormous velocity. The bigger becomes the unsated hunger of the new media, the less that is realized can be destroyed and disappeared according to the critical selections which worked for ages. Like the artificial materials which withstand the natural decaying and thus jeopardizing the settled cycles, now even in the arts remains documented and conserved what is maybe bad and mediocre.

Comparing the two approaches we can see, paradoxically, although both of them are totally opposite, at the end they rise the same question: who is to be the documentator and the user of the documentation. The commitment of the both is more complex than it seems at the first sight. Namely, the documentator and the user himself are forced to choose what is to be documented or used from the already documented material which mean that the mnemonic or the amnetic function of the documentation will depend on their own criteria.

The biggest guilt lies in the promises of the analytical philosophy and aesthetics for new openness which, denying the validity of the normative discourses and insisting to the neutral and descriptive term of the art, become a dogma. The question what is art cannot ignore the relation between classification and evaluation: it is not of a semantic or empirical nature but it is a question of judgements. If in the past the term art did not exist as an isolated idea today it is dangerously coming to the stage of being only term and concept. All the comments, discussions, critics, receptions and interpretations are becoming part of its definition.

During this broadening of the connotation of the term itself the danger of loosing the information about art is bigger: the phenomenon of erasing the edges and boundaries among different genres and media directly affects the ability of the documentator to classify and to make readable the information. The aura of nomadism of genres, materials and ideas moves with the same speed as the society itself and the methods of documenting are facing the problem of parallel following.

In the Eastern European States, where the society moves slower but the individuals accept the new media easier and faster, there is another problem: almost all the archives and documentation are private and fragmented without any link among them. Although they are realised through experiments with the means of new technologies they are still hot, as Baudrillard would say "piled up and accumulated in a private universe". All those documents about artists activities, especially during the late 70s and 80s, had not been taken seriously and still are not present in the institution al framework of art history because of different excuses.

The most common excuse for avoiding of documenting those private archives is the proclaimed lacking of the professionalism of this material and art work which rigid opinion actually is a due to the late imported and very narrowly understood modernism. The art institutions as museums, galleries and research institutes usually do not take account of any alternative practice (the new media are always treated as alternative) and do not care about the very specific contexts and conditions which caused the unfinished and imperfectional look of the most of this works.

It is again the question of the choice of perception, in the terms of Paul Virilio's dromoscopy and his doubtfull thinking if this choice really exists (3). The only way to avoid the danger of disappearance of the art and criticism, whether because of the enourmous speed in the progress in techniques of transmission and represent-ation, or because of discordance of the individual and social acceleration, would be the treatment of art criticism and art as one: inherent to each other rather than isoleted phenomena which only reflect each other.The computers, CD Roms, Internet, are only means which maybe approach to the speed of artistic perception in the most successful manner in order to document it, as the artists themselves were trying to "document" the nature: they do not overcome the everlasting problems like the criteria of selection, evaluation and preservation of the art work. The case of The Tate Gallery and the forged documentation about Ben Nicholson is the most evident example.

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