Magazines don’t get to work much with an artwork’s aura. We’re about the reproduction rather than the original. The paparazi of the art object, we dedicate ourselves to disseminating ghostly impressions of things that are usually busy leading more fully embodied existences elsewhere. Indeed, we’re the reason Walter Benjamin wrote his much-quoted essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, asserting the unique authority—the “aura”—of the original over the ephemeral, debased nature of the copy, in the first place.
So it’s a privilege for us to be unveiling work that we have actively helped to birth as West London photographer Maisie Cousins’s new series, Dipping Sauce, makes its debut at Elephant West. The installation has real aura, even if the concept of the “original” is an awkward one in relation to photography; Walter B had paintings and works bearing more direct physical traces of the artist’s hand in mind when he was doing his theorizing in the 1930s.“[T]here is no mistaking the difference between the reproduction … and the picture,” he wrote in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction; somewhat glibly, it turns out. “Uniqueness and duration are as tightly intertwined in the latter as are transience and reiterability in the former.” Good luck with upholding that tidy distinction where the original in question—the “picture”—is a photograph.
An exhibition that brilliantly blurs the distinction between original and copy is Bob Dylan’s Mondo Scripto at Halcyon Gallery, which presents many walls’ worth of handwritten lyric sheets and pencil drawings by the musician. The words, neatly written out on headed paper that looks as though it was purloined from a hotel in Ohio, are drawn from some of his most famous songs. The words are familiar—and new. The writer might have simply copied them out of a collection of his lyrics, except that he’s changed them in some cases—so that these copies are also originals. “Tangled Up in Blue” and “If You See Her, Say Hello” are among the classic songs that emerge simultaneously the same and quite changed. Bob D has never really bought in to Walter B’s notion of the “finality of the original” anyway, so perhaps it’s an effect that should come as no surprise.
Just as there is no longer any such thing as the final word (look at the comment thread on any article published online—the chatter never ends), so there is no final image. And there never was. An unbroken chain binds the Apollo Belvedere to Reynolds, Raphael to Manet, Leonardo to Duchamp. In the endless digital Now, fresh links are being forged with ever greater rapidity. There is no single “final” image, only images in the process of multiplying and becoming other images in an endless visual flow, expressing new ideas, taking new positions, by appropriating and remixing the cast-off materials of the past—not least one’s own.
31 October 2018: A Theme Tune for Elephant West?
Next week we launch our pioneering new project space, Elephant West. As showtime approaches, Robert Shore wonders which theme tune might suit us best—and, in true democratic style, invites you to vote for one out of a selection of four rousing elephant/west-themed classics.
“It’s time to play the music,
It’s time to light the lights…”
This must be how Kermit and Miss Piggy feel just before showtime. Next week we raise the curtain on our first project space: the band are busy tuning up backstage while out front the dancers in their animal costumes are practising their pirouettes and the scene painters are applying the final daubs of gilt.
Launching Elephant West is an exciting prospect, not to mention a terrifying one. Are we ready? Have we got everything we need? Inspirational opening artist—check (Maisie Cousins). Irresistible events programme—check (you’d be a fool to be anywhere else on 11 November). Lip-smacking baked goods in the café—check. So far so good then—but when we flick the switch, will the lights actually come on?
And what music will accompany us in our opening routine? All good shows need a memorable theme tune. The Muppets had a great one. BBC One used to close down with a nightly rendition of the National Anthem. Elephant West could do with something along those lines.
A core proposition of Elephant West is that East London’s hegemony over the visual arts is at an end and it’s time for creatives to Go West. Hackneyites giggle when I announce this but, as Kermit’s meme cousin likes to say, that’s none of my business. This is a pioneering moment.
As it so happens, “Going West to See the Elephant” was a popular expression in the US in the nineteenth century, associated with the California Gold Rush and the amazing sights and splendours that awaited those who ventured West in search of hidden treasure. Since Elephant West promises to be full of unwonted sights and splendours, “Go West” would obviously be a good fit as our theme tune. If the Pet Shop Boys happened to be free to perform it for us on 7 November, we’d be happy to host.
Of course, the Toy Dolls’ take on “Nellie the Elephant” is a great party starter. But otherwise I’m tempted to go with something from the new Cypress Hill album, Elephants on Acid. “I see Elephants all of the time,” B-Real raps on “Crazy”. We hope you’ll be seeing Elephants all of the time too as a result of making Elephant West your new home from home.