Wanting the artists aura…

Exploring the relationship between the performative, the reproducibility of the work of art and Mitchell’s work….

Clare Gosling: Mitchell draws from Walter Benjamin’s ideas and argues that performance art is only ‘unique’ and special if you experience it first hand, and that the ‘aura’ of the performance when reproduced is lost.  This is not a new idea, for centuries this has always been the case, and still is the case. It doesn’t matter if the performance is called ‘a musical performance’, ‘a theatrical performance’, or ‘an artistic performance’. In the past the viewer had a unique experience if he saw a Shakespeare play at the Globe, where he experienced the actors perform in the flesh, rather than reading the script in a book which was more accessible and therefore more removed from the ‘real’ experience. These days people still want to experience the ‘aura’ of the performer as much as possible. The ‘unique’ experience is ranked in order of how much ‘aura’ of the performance and the performer the viewer gets to experience in the flesh, or how little ‘aura’ the viewer experiences when reading about the performance afterwards. That ranking goes something like this, for example: 1. I am close to the artist and he discusses his performance ideas with me. 2. The artist performed a unique performance especially for me at my home. 3. I met the artist after the performance and briefly discussed it with him. 4. I saw the performance ‘live’! 5. I saw a photograph in a review of the performance or I read an interview about the artist and his performance. 6. I heard the artist mentioned in relation to several performances that took place this year.

“Walter Benjamin (1999) identifies that there is something unique about live performance; it has an aura, which is lost in the repeated reproduction of a ‘live’ art experience where the audience are repositioned, no longer as components of the moment, they instead become critics and removed observers. Phelan also affirms this radical component of performance when she recognises that “performance in a strict ontological sense is non-reproductive”. It is for this reason that I have produced a live performance poetry” (Chris Mitchell /William Stopha 2009)

What I find interesting in Mitchells writing is his exploration into artistic freedom:

“I had to make the show saleable in order to ensure the performance could go ahead but I was also conscious of resisting the need to serve a market. Williams (1989) talks further about this in his book ‘Resources for Hope’ where he discusses the ‘limitations’ on artistic freedom. “Freedom in our kind of society amounts to the freedom to say anything you wish, providing you can say it profitably”. (Williams. 1989: 88).” (Chris Mitchell /William Stopha 2009)

In the UK we grow up with this passed around notion of ‘the freedom of speech’ however we are equally aware of ‘what we should and should not say’. For example people in the public eye often say certain things because they have the freedom to ‘say what they want’, however if the general public deem these words to be an ‘unsuitable’ thing to say. This results in two options, one they make a public apology retracting what they said to redeem how they were seen before they said it. Two they instantly become extremely unpopular and make a huge financial loss as a result. Gerald Ratner is a perfect example of someone who took away his own ‘freedom’ by exercising his ‘freedom of speech’:

            “I had worked bloody hard for 30 years, making millions of pounds for shareholders and creating thousands of jobs for a company I loved, and I had suddenly had it taken away from me. Not for doing anything criminal. I hadn’t embezzled. I hadn’t lied. All I had done was say a sherry decanter was crap.” (Source: http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/book_extracts/article2701311.ece)

When I was in China, I was aware that the internet was being censored by the government, I was not able to use certain internet sites I had used outside of China, some might see this as ‘freedom of speech’ being taken away from the general public. In Nepal, in a village in the far north eastern corner of the country, I asked a group of girls what they wanted most and they replied ‘freedom’. Living in the UK we are aware that we have ‘freedom of speech’ but what freedom is it when at the same time we are just as aware of ‘what we should and should not say’?

By Clare Gosling

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