Smash the Screen

Hal Foster

  • Duty Free Art: Art in the Age of Planetary Civil War by Hito Steyerl
    Verso, 256 pp, £16.99, October 2017, ISBN 978 1 78663 243 2

More than a hundred years ago new technologies transformed the aesthetic field, as painting and sculpture were pressured by photography and film, and modernists like Walter Benjamin and László Moholy-Nagy redefined literacy as the ability to read both. For Benjamin, the reproducibility of these media not only shattered the auratic power of the unique work (this was mostly wishful thinking) but, in doing so, opened artistic practice to other purposes, especially political ones (this came to pass, for good and for bad). What’s more, the camera revealed the existence of things, at levels both micro and macro, beyond the limits of human vision, which Benjamin called ‘the optical unconscious’. Although photography and film captured the real in impressive ways, gradually, as they were woven into the fabric of things through advertising and the like, they served to derealise the world too, and by the 1960s terms like ‘simulation’ and ‘spectacle’ were needed to grapple with the effects.

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