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  Technical Report: The Work of art in the age of Virtual Production

The Work of art in the age of Virtual Production

Technical Report #:09-14
Author(s): Andrew Sempere


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In his landmark 1936 essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Walter Benjamin sought to sift through the burgeoning role mechanical production had on the creation and appreciation of artwork. In particular Benjamin built his argument around the concept of the original object as a prerequisite to authenticity and the way in which “original” was eroded by the advent of mechanical production. This is a seminal work, but it did not predict the impact of computation on mechanical production, nor did it imagine the creation of virtual artworks, wherein the idea of original object is not only undermined, it is nonexistent.
In short the arrival of the Internet and the application of computational concepts to the means of production has resulted in a condition of virtual production. In many ways this has borne out Benjamin’s predictions about the democratization of art, but in others the result is more surprising. This paper will revisit some of Benjamin’s original thoughts in light of the impact of computation by examining as a case study the creation of completely virtual artworks inside of a private virtual world called Second Life. In particular we will look at the permissions system, which enforces a commodity style trading system onto art practice.

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