How to imagine Walter Benjamin’s notion of Aura in the field of NFT art?
In the heart of Barcelona, the Moco Museum hosts a groundbreaking NFT art auction, igniting a heated debate about the concept of aura in the digital realm. Dr. Alexandra, a nostalgic art curator, Leo, a proud copycat artist, Max, a wealthy investor, Zen, a profit-driven entrepreneur, Sarah, a traditional art critic, and a museum manager/security guard, gather to explore the elusive concept of aura in NFTs.
As the auction commences, bidding for a Kazimir Malevich NFT masterpiece unfolds, casting an ethereal glow across the room. Max and Zen engage in whispered conversations about profit and investment, while Sarah questions the authenticity of digital art’s aura. Suddenly, the lights go out, and panic ensues as the NFT disappears, leaving the audience bewildered. The janitor ridicules the idea of aura, reinforcing his skepticism.
When the lights are restored, Max withdraws from the bidding, disillusioned by the fragility of digital art. However, Zen, determined to invest in the future of art, raises the bid, leading to an intense debate about NFTs’ synthetic aura. Dr. Alexandra emphasizes the uniqueness of digital copies, signaling a shift in the art world from modernity to contemporaneity.
Zen eventually wins the NFT, eliciting applause and contemplation. Max reconsiders the potential of NFTs, and Leo heralds them as the future of art. The characters leave with a newfound perspective on NFTs and their role in the art world.
In this dynamic narrative, the characters’ diverse viewpoints challenge the traditional concept of aura in art, highlighting the evolving landscape of digital art and NFTs.
Moco Museum (Fig 0) located in Barcelona hosts NFT Art and Metaverse based exhibitions and experiences all year around. NFT (non fungible token) is a unique digital identifier that is recorded on a blockchain, and is used to certify ownership and authenticity. It cannot be copied, substituted or sub-divided. Etherium (ETH)) are mainly used for transactional purposes for NFTs where 1 ETH approximates to 1500 Euros.
Tonight the museum has an auction set up for buying exclusive NFTs which will be on the market only for tonight . The NFTs on display triggers conversations between the characters present. These spirited conversations are based on the philosophy of Walter Benjamin , Boris Groys and Manovich Lev. During the talks the characters dive into the different perspectives of auras and the discussion will proceed accordingly.
In the heart of Barcelona, the Moco Museum is set to host a groundbreaking event, an auction night for NFT art, where the aura of digital creations will be fiercely debated. The guests start arriving in the lobby and gather in the museum hall. (Fig 1)
AUCTIONEER: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to a night where we embark on a journey to explore the concept of aura in the digital realm, “Art museums are no longer places of permanent collections and archives that can stabilize, at least these documentations of the flow”. 1 In the digital age, mediums of expression have changed so has the representation of art.
[The spotlight shifts to Leo, a young and ambitious artist.]
LEO:[Smirking] Get ready for an art revolution! NFTs aren’t just reproductions; they represent something far greater. “I have gathered and aggregated data about the cultural behaviors of multitudes to model our aesthetic self, predicting our future aesthetic decisions and tastes.” 2 (Fig 2)
[Sarah disagreeing to leo, notes down in her book.]
Sarah notes, “Do digital replicas of art have the same qualities as the original.” Does a digital copy of Beethoven’s seventh symphony hold the same aura as hearing it in an orchestra? The original is inscribed in history as this particular, unique object. The original has an aura that the copy has not. 3
MAX: You know, I’ve always found the concept of aura in art fascinating. It’s often described as a “unique phenomenon of a distance however close it may be.” 4
ZEN: I believe the so-called “aura” is a subjective experience, not an actual quality of the art. It’s what we bring to it, not what the art inherently possesses. The aura is in the price for me.
AUCTIONEER: Ladies and gentlemen , let’s begin this auction. Our first item for bidding is the stunning NFT artwork by Kazimir Malevich’s, starting at 60 ETH. This piece is a true masterpiece, a digital representation of Malevich’s genius. Do I hear an opening bid?
(The spotlight shines on Kazimir Malevich’s NFT artwork, casting an ethereal glow across the room) (Fig 3 )
(Max, whispering to Zen, leans in.)
MAX: This is our chance to make money and manipulate emotions.
(Zen, whispering back, shares Max’s enthusiasm.)
ZEN: Aura or not, the potential for investments is very real.
(The auction is in full swing, with attendees eagerly participating in the bidding Zen steps up, raising his paddle confidently making the first bid, The prices climb higher.)
AUDIENCE 1: 115 ETH!
AUDIENCE 2: 300 ETH!
MAX: 600 ETH!
AUCTIONEER: [Excitedly] Going once, going twice…….
(Just as it reaches a climax, the lights go out above the art. Panic ensues.)
(The crowd is silent for a moment, the tension palpable.)
AUCTIONEER: Ladies and gentlemen, please remain calm. We’ll get the lights back on.
(The Museum Guard steps forward)
AUCTIONEER: [ whispers to herself] The NFT has disappeared! It’s gone!
(Panic sweeps through the room as people frantically search for the missing art)
MAX: [Nervously] We need help. Someone stole the NFT!
(Janitor turns on a light that focuses at the audience.)
JANITOR: [Laughing] These guys are crazy ! What aura?? I don’t see any. 500 euros for nothing!?
SARAH: Leo, I understand your enthusiasm, but what’s the point of an aura if it disappears when the lights go out?
LEO: [Passionate] Aura isn’t just about visibility. It’s the essence, the emotion, the history that art carries. And in the digital realm, it’s about breaking boundaries. [raising his voice] Our creations have their aura, even if momentarily obscured!
ZEN: [Cynical] You both are missing the point. This is about profit. It’s an investment. The aura is in the price.
MAX: [Frustratingly] These NFTs are just pixels. Isn’t art supposed to be eternal ? What is the point of investing in something so hypothetical?
SARAH: Exactly.. (Picks her pen and quotes what Max said in her notebook.)
[Lights turn on]
AUCTIONEER: Ladies and gentlemen , we apologize for the delay , I would like to resume the auction. We continue the bidding at 600 ETH by Max.(Fig 5 )
MAX: [Frustratedly muttering to himself] “Uniqueness of a work of art is inseparable from its being embedded in the fabric of tradition.” 5 don’t know if I want to buy it anymore.(Fig 6)
MAX: I am out of here!
ZEN: [Determined] I’m not giving up so easily. The potential for investments in NFTs is real, and I see value beyond the pixels. I raise the bid to 700 ETH!
(The tension in the room rises, and the discussion about the aura of NFTs takes a more intense turn.)
LEO: [Passionate] Let’s not underestimate the synthetic aura, my friends. The way NFT’s redefine the boundaries of art is a revolution, digitized images do not exist unless we as users give them a certain ‘here and now’. NFTs are not mere copies; they are something more.
SARAH: [Skeptical] But can a digital copy truly capture the aura of a physical masterpiece? It seems… “Advances in technology have led . . . to vulgarity. . . .”6
(She argues that contemporary art sees the old as obsolete, reducible to a pure form. The debate between Leo’s enthusiasm and Sarah’s skepticism continues, reflecting the broader conversation around the `role of NFTs in art.)
AUCTIONEER: [Reflective] “Every digital copy has its own ‘here and now’ – an aura of originality – that a mechanical copy does not have. Thus, the relationship between original and copy was changed by digitalization in a radical way – and this change can be described as a moment of break between modernity and contemporaneity.” 7
ZEN: [Determined] I believe in the huge potential of NFTs. I’m not just buying any artwork; I’m investing in the future, the future of art.
(Zen’s determination is clear, expressing his confidence in the future of digital art and NFTs.)
AUCTIONEER: [Excitedly] Going once, going twice…
(The tension in the room is palpable as the auctioneer counts down. The fate of the NFT hangs in the balance.)
AUCTIONEER: Going thrice …… and sold to Zen for 700 ETH! Congrats on winning the remarkable NFT.
(Sold to the persistent bidder, Zen, the room erupts in applause, and Zen walks forward to claim his Artwork. Max, having witnessed the auction from the sidelines, is left to ponder the potential of NFTs and their place in the world of art.)
MAX: [Contemplative]Perhaps I underestimated the future of art in the digital realm. NFTs may indeed carry a unique aura of their own.
LEO: Yes!! Absolutely it is the future of art.
(As Zen takes ownership of the NFT, the debate about the aura of digital art continues, leaving the characters with a newfound perspective on NFTs and their place in the art world.)
Benjamin, Walter. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Schocken Books, 1969.
Groys, Boris. In the flow. Verso, 2016.
Manovich, Lev. AI Aesthetics. 2018.
Fig 1 , Moco Museum , https://mocomuseum.com/about-moco.
Fig 2, https://www.bloomberglinea.com/2022/02/25/ai-is-a-revolution-embedded-everywhere/
Fig 6, https://www.pinterest.es/pin/643381496752333665/feedback/?invite_code=41930a9f53f54e64bcc64ba94164033e&sender_id=579275708228971871
- Boris Groys, “In the flow. Verso, 2016”, pp 20. ↩︎
- Lev Manovich, “Lev. AI Aesthetics, 2018”, pp 6. ↩︎
- Boris Groys, “In the flow. Verso, 2016”, pp 111. ↩︎
- Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Schocken Books, 1969, pp 21 ↩︎
- Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Schocken Books, 1969, pp 6. ↩︎
- Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Schocken Books, 1969, pp 24. ↩︎
- Boris Groys, “In the flow. Verso, 2016”, pp 115. ↩︎