The Mural Debate: The Stolen Aura

Like Siqueiros, mural artists should be cautious in advocating innovation for the sake of innovation

By Jimmy Centeno
Published on LatinoLA: September 10, 2012

The Mural Debate: The Stolen Aura

In this essay I question the dead labor advocates of digitalized murals. A careful consideration as to whether the mural ordinance should include digital murals is a must.

Is it really about the freedom of expression or is it about using technology as an advantage over others?

The mural debate once again stalled. Rumors are that a monkey wrench back door deal stopped the previous mural ordinance draft from continuing. If that is so then let me attempt to bring to light the impact of digitalized murals could have on traditional methods of mural painting e.g. brush strokes, ladders, spills, boom box, improvising, spontaneity, hot sun, dry days, sweat, first timers, engaging, inviting, many, a few and so on. Hence an outdoor experience, a performance by all and for all.

In response to digital murals: David Alfaro Siqueiros is often quoted as pro-technology when it comes to experimentation in the arts. He is cited with frequency by those in favor of digital technology as a new means of creating mural art. The difference today and by those who misuse Siqueiros's argument in experimenting with technology as a form of new art is that he saw it in no way as an outsourcing method that eliminates labor (living labor) by those who today own such digital means of production.

What is not put in context is that Siqueiros departed from a socialist point of view and not from a capitalist. Labor for Siqueiros, [is] the fundamental element of production. He's concerned was with that of the Wretched of the Earth. Siqueiros was cautious in advocating innovation for the sake of innovation, nor was he in favor of technology for the sake of technology, he's relation with technology was never fetishist.

The use of digital technology to replace traditional methods of mural production is another means of gaining an edge on those who don't have the means to acquire such technology. For Karl Marx "the perfection of machines left many workers without bread." In other words Siqueiros did not advocate the exploitation of living/ human labor by technology much less the shrinking of labor by technological advancements such as with digital innovations.

Technology in his eyes was in no way disconnected from the social and collective construction for a better society via the arts. Siqueiros did not depart from the selfish I nor from a competitive personal ambition at any cost. Technology was to be shared for the greater good of all humankind.

Anyone can pick up a brush and partake in painting a mural. In no way did he refer to new means of production to be at the expense of the worker, or muralist working on a wall. In contrast, the digital mural making method turns into a specialized technique limited to a few (with a possibility of a selected few) that excludes your most basic simplified social process of painting, that of using a brush or a spray and a group of people gathered together to paint.

It robs the space, wall and opportunity to do so. In other words it impedes (stamps out) a community of people from all walks of life from becoming authors (participants) of their own concerns and creations to be expressed directly on a wall. Technology in his eyes was to be put at the service of life and not at the service of a few. The difference today by those who advocate digital murals and have the facilities, equipment and the capital to manufacture digital banners is their distancing from an art form that is centripetal, (one that brings together).

For Siqueiros, the experimental use of spray cans, air compressors, cement, welders, and carpenters etc. in mural production as in the poly-forum and the innovative use of technology did not mean given way to the alienating experience that comes with the advancements of digital technology.

The Poly-forum a star like structure was dedicated to the liberation of humanity not to the elimination of it by technological advances.

Siqueiros and Jose Clemente Orozco constantly warn the spectator thru their paintings and murals that technological advancements de- parting from power and privilege brought destruction, greed, displacement and alienation. By alienating I refer to the following: separated from the right to partake in the production process as a whole, (hundreds of workers were involved in the making of the poly-forum from beginning to end).

According to Alan Burnett a "mural by its sheer scale and location invites collective viewing and brings people together. It assumes and cultivates community, projecting its values and traditions: a mural is "social art," proclaiming the bonds that make a society.

In an essay by Jose Ortega y Gassett titled "Art is Not Accessible to Every Man" he state:

"The degree of closeness is equivalent to the degree of feeling participation; the degree of remoteness, on the other hand, marks the degree to which we have freed ourselves from the real event, thus objectifying it and turning it into a theme of pure observation."

Traditional methods of mural production make it accessible to every man and women, to every child and teenager, the young and old. Outdoor mural painting advances the idea of democratic participation; any community member (experiences or not) either from within or from outside the neighboring vicinity can participate in the making of a mural.

Siqueiros did not refer to the use of technology as removing "experience" out of the process much less deleting the social solidarity in traditional methods in mural production. Given Siqueiros revolutionary socialist convictions, it is inconceivable that he would lobby for such use. Nor did he imply that in a distant point in time technology (digital era) to bring about "a world of qualities without man (mujer) to them, of experiences without anyone to experience them (Jeane Balldiuard)."

The use of digital murals today excommunicates the proximity between art, process, experience and centripetal relations amongst us all. Any method that is non industrial or digital is perceived as archaic by advocates of innovative synthetic forces.

For Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe from the ethnic Igbo community, "Igbo aesthetic value process rather product. Process is motion while product is rest. The Igbo choose to eliminate the product and retain the process so that every occasion and every generation will receive its own impulse and experience of creation."

Digital production of murals risk the high concentration of capital in the hands of a few, creating a gap between the muralist and the owners of the digital means of production (hence digital banners referred as murals), it slows down or annihilates the exchange between people. The digital technological means of production in the case of mural creation becomes a competitive extension of us over others. The aura of murals lies not in the digital pixilation but within the extended "I" shaped and formed in a collective body of people at work on a wall and not on a computer screen.

For Peruvian poet Cesar Vallejo, "the most eloquent image of social solidarity is in the sight of several workers lifting a great stone." Applying Vallejo's interpretation of social solidarity I say that the lifting of a brush in unison by muralists, the young and old to paint a mural is the most eloquent "act of social solidarity" an act that is needed more so today than ever.

Great examples of this act of solidarity are the Ramona Parra Brigades of muralists in Chile. The Brigades consisted of people from all walks of life painting together different themes of unity, togetherness, and dignity in the streets of Chile. Can the digital production be a fair act of competition or will it follow the neoliberal logic that of outsourcing, cheap and a quick form of production when lobbied by well to do nonprofits ( not all non profits struggle, some are very successful then others given their political ties with the city). According to Raya Dunayevskaya, "constant technological revolutions change how much labor time is socially necessary." Can it be equitable or will it be an unfair labor competitive practice.

For some the digital mural production method implies advancement in the arts. In 1926 South American philosopher Jose Carlos Mariategui wrote:

"We cannot accept as a new type of art that brings us nothing but a new
techniqueTo do so would be to take for real that most misleading of present-day mirages. No aesthetics can reduce artistic labor to a mere matter of techniquean artistic revolution is not satisfied with victories in matters of form."

To say that the digital method of mural production is the way of the future is a deterministic argument. Advocates of such method state their premises as follows: that after going through the process of cave paintings, crayons, to hand painting, and brushes, it is time to digitalize the mural process. It is said by advocates of this innovative digital mural process, "we must move with the times.

Their argument is as follows; if you're against digital production you are against the advancement of technology." To whom's advantage given this cannibalistic competitive environment we live in today will the digital mural synthetic product benefit; those who have obtain the digital means to do so, or will it come at the expense the of those who use the more inclusive process of a so called non innovative traditional method known as painted murals? Are advocates of digital murals implying that the digital means is more innovating then the content of the mural?

I ask can the content of the mural be as innovative without a means of production that eliminates a collective labor production practice. To impede a digital innovation is to limit the freedom of expression so they say. It is not about innovative methods, but technology used as a sharp edge advantage against others. Then why come to Los Angeles and tour our city's cultural mural patrimony when mural replicas can be shipped overseas to be experienced." Why paint a mural when you can purchase the product at a nonprofit, at a graphic lab and so on.

The digital innovative method extracts the process and replaces it with a synthetic product, a mural replica hence a digital mural, a ready- made image fabricated in a far and beyond place. The following statement of "we" the muralist need to be at the center of new technology (expressed by nonprofit art center in a KCET departure blog) is no different than the "we" in the constitution of The United State of America, it did not include slaves. Those advocating innovative digital technology for mural production the "we" does not include most of the muralist since most of the muralist do not have the costly technological equipment at hand.

If technology and its innovations depart from power and privilege and not from community then those who own it will use it to their political and economic advantage. "The bourgeoisie cannot exist without continuously revolutionizing the instruments of production" said Karl Marx at one point in time.

Given that digital mural production is a representation and or a reproduction at a lab, the act of participating in making a mural becomes absent to which brings me to what philosopher Toni Negri says of representation, "representation is the absence of participation." The aura is stolen in the reproduction of an on hands collective method.

I don't want to be represented I want to participate" said the freedom of speech advocate. "It is not about limiting the freedom of speech but of participating in the process of creating along others that is at stake" added the young emerging artist.
Gestures of community outreaching by those who have the innovative digital means of production is no different than those who patronize the poor and disadvantage with donations (stuffed animals) when what is really needed is the access and distribution of technology vs. the control of such means by a few well equipped owners of such expensive equipment.

Given that state of the art technology is expensive and exclusive, it is more likely that most will not have access to it..

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