by Liza Montgomery
In his influential 1936 essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, German cultural critic Walter Benjamin examined the effects of a changing technological environment on the status and function of art. While Benjamin’s predictions—that new reproductive technologies would diminish the symbolic and ritual authority of the “original” art object—have since been contested by art theorists, his work continues to highlight the need to attend to the relationship between changing technologies of representation and the value and function of art in a society.
Seventy years later, the development of the internet along with a rapid succession of new digital technologies has ushered in a new technological era: a digital age in which the “original” has become conceptually indistinguishable from its copies. Characterizing this new culture, and reflective of the internet itself, is the increased accessibility and free flow of information and images that threaten capitalist notions of space, private property, and ownership.