Why the hell are there stairs coming out of the ground, I remember asking myself. Before I even walked up to the piece and read the plaque, I already knew what it meant. It’s quiet, nothing, but a cool breeze in the morning air and now murmured conversations had in a distance. As I noticed the cracks and missing pieces, my mind wondered. I visualized what running down falling stairs would be like.
Walter Benjamin’s Theory:
Now Walter Benjamin had a variety of theories on art and its modes of reproduction, but one to me stood out from the rest: “One might subsume the eliminated element in the term “aura” and go on to say: that which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art”. Aura means “a distinctive but intangible quality that seems to surround a person or thing; atmosphere.” He means simply by this that it seems once an art piece has been reproduced, mainly mechanically, the piece then loses its meaning; he feeling that can be gained while viewing, or analyzing it. Different Modes of Production:
This particular art piece isn’t as mass produced and others. However, if it were to be it would mainly be done through photography, video, even perhaps a painting. This type of production can be good because what of those who cannot make their way to California State University, Northridge? By using photography, a person that cannot make it to California, let alone Northridge. Although, it can be a bad thing because you cannot actually be con campus to see it in in person, to see it surroundings. They would not have been able to notice all the green, lively trees around it. It looks as if you have entered a miniature forest. Or able to leave your head bowed, as you walk so you can notice how the morning dew stuck to the leaves as if it were a professionally taken photo; you’d find in the already given wallpapers of your cell phone. Then paused in stride. As you watch a plump squirrel climb around these metal rods struck into the ground, no doubt another art piece, my eyes wondered to the left.
Now when you consider the possible feelings you loose out on getting, when you are seeing the fallen stairs through a photo versus in person, does it not seem more meaningful to see these sort of things in person? You will not be able to see the vast additions made to the school unless you were to do research. In this case to receive the full effect of this art piece it is best to actually be on the CSUN campus. Also consider, the effect who you are with and the environment you are at that moment in time can have. If you are for instance with others who do not allow you to focus, then how can you give the art piece in question your full attention; to be able to fully take in what the artist is trying to say. Though, the artists in the case is the Earth, I suppose the message here could be, no matter how strong something seems, if it is attacked at its weakest spot, in this case its foundation it will fall. You could apply the very same thing to people, if you think about it. Like I said earlier, interpretation of what is going on or what something represents, changes from person to person. Due to perception being effected by so many other factors than what is currently going on in that moment in time. Factors such as, education, experiences, and life style.
When I again saw the piece, however, this time through a photo, I flipped right past it. I did not pause and think of what it might have felt like to either be on those stairs when the shaking began, or to see the once standing stairs right after. I did not wonder, how the hell do you get to the next floor now? I just kept moving forward. It seems that when a photo is just plain outrageous or eye catching in some way, more attention is paid when viewing through technology, but this all depends. For example, someone can be view a plain picture of someone simply smiling and be mesmerized by the person’s looks, or be thinking that the person’s smile is just a mask for deceit and lies; as they think of all the ones they were told by them. We do not give an art piece the same attention, have the same feelings, or even pay attention to an art piece as well as we would when standing in front of it face to face. An art piece’s meaning and how it is viewed changes based on the audience member, location, time of day, even surrounding people. Making it in this day and age, almost impossible to accurately interpret what an artist is trying to convey; without already having a prepared statement as to what they were trying to say. This is all due to one’s perception. We already view things differently because of past experiences, and already gained knowledge. But when something is taken out of its original place as digital pictures virtually allows us to, it’s a whole other story.
When I first stood in front of the stairs I felt sadness and curiosity. The piece had a sort of drawing effect, which was unapparent when looking in a photo of them. The picture no longer had an aura of the same meaning to me. Stairs that before would of seemed so strong beneath my feet as I walked up them were so easily brushed away like dust and I did not question it. Technology has helped for any advances, but it can be both positive and negative, when it comes to the spread or circulation of art. It can be good when it allows a person who otherwise, would not be able to see the piece. However, technology can be bad when because of constant reproduction of a specific art piece, a person becomes desensitized toward it; before they ever learned the true message or lesson the artist was trying to spread.
This piece was created to represent what took place on January 17, 1994. A day for some that they became homeless, or financially strained. I myself can only imagine and view past images of the ordeal, considering I was born a day shy of a year later. In fact that is why I first remembered the date when I first heard of the earthquake in grade school. This just goes to show that we all may see something different when passing these unique stairs. Some may see a failed construction project, jokingly or in all seriousness. Without knowing any background information of what had happened 20 years ago in this Southern California city known as Northridge, this isn’t unlikely to be the case. Don’t be afraid to get up close with art and let it help you escape reality for a while. The aura and feeling one can get from an art piece tends to be better felt and appreciated close up and personal.
By Anna Zane, currently a student at California State University, Northridge. I enjoy writing, singing and socializing.