Lee Sparks Pembleton

Lee admiring “Earthbound Moon Site 0001: Welcome by Heidi Hove”. Bledsoe, Texas, USA, Earth, 02010. Photo by Lee Sparks Pembleton

Lee Sparks Pembleton is an artist and musician based in Chicago, IL, USA, Earth. Pembleton is a member of the art/sound troupes 23E Studios, My Special Porpoise, SleepWalks, My Daddy Ate My Eyes, Forever What?, Premenstrual Vampires, and The Museum of Viral Memory.

He is the Director of Earthbound Moon, a non-profit arts collaborative he co-founded with Carson Murdach in 02010. Their mission is to create publicly accessible contemporary sculpture by international artists in communities around the world. The group has installed public art works in Texas, Illinois, and New Mexico. In the coming year they are preparing installs for Greece and Mexico. They have worked with artists from Denmark, USA, Scotland, and France. Eventually the artworks will morph from an opportunistic and seemingly random assortment of odd international locations into a web of coherent and giddy gathering places. They will be sites of curiosity, engagement and wonder on a local and global scale.

“Earthbound Moon Site 0003.01: Cloud Vessels by Nova Jiang and Jamie O’Shea — Residue”. Los Lunas, New Mexico, USA, Earth, 02012. Photo by Lee Sparks Pembleton

“Earthbound Moon Site 0003.2: A Thirsty Person, Having Found A Spring, Stops To Drink, Does Not Contemplate Its Beauty by Jessica Segall — Film Still from The Earthbound Morgellon Pop-Up Drive-In”. Moriarty, New Mexico, USA, Earth, 02012. Photo by Lee Sparks Pembleton

Lee Sparks Pembleton, Stel Valavanis, and Jon Whitfill shown installing “Earthbound Moon Site 0002A: Keystone by Jon Whitfill”. Evanston, Illinois, USA, Earth, 02011.Photo by Libby Reed

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Lee Sparks Pembleton

The Work of Art in the Age of Digital Reproduction

In his seminal 1936 essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Walter Benjamin suggested that film might be a technology of reproduction that could give voice to the masses, and that the “aura,” or power, of original artworks would subside in the new era. His prediction was highly influential, but history has proven the second part to be completely wrong. The traditional power structures surrounding the production and ownership of art only grew stronger in the 20th century. In 2006 in a mere five companies controlled nearly 80 percent of the media and information produced and distributed worldwide.Benjamin’s belief in the power of technology to give voice to the people, however, may have just been 70 years too early. In the age of digital reproduction, more and more individuals have the tools at hand for producing and distributing art and information. And as this technology grows and spreads, the cartels that monopolize art and information are attempting to redefine digital media as physical property.Among the most ubiquitous tools in this battle are the commercials the Motion Picture Association of America attaches to most DVDs and movies distributed in America and England. These commercials show “regular people” engaging in acts of physical property theft accompanied by statements such as “You wouldn’t steal a car” and “You wouldn’t steal a purse,” finally ending with the declaration that “Downloading movies is stealing.” This assertion—that to copy a work is to steal it—is problematic in the digital age, when every act of sharing, creating, and viewing is also an act of copying. The copyright owners’ transformation of information into physical property has led to the criminalization of acts that most people took for granted only a few years ago, such as sharing, critique, and parody.

The digital world offers the hope Benjamin held out for film. It allows, as he said, “for the formulation of revolutionary demands in the politics of art.” The emerging infrastructure of the digital age has made possible many sorts of responses that were nigh on impossible before. For the first time, the messages of dominant media are becoming fodder for mass reinterpretation—frequently readings that are negotiated and oppositional. We encounter these readings in the many responses to the MPAA ads on YouTube. In the comments section for one instance of the official video there are 32 responses, none accepting the ad’s intended meaning. The comments vary from the asinine to the technical, but they all point to a larger discussion of how the MPAA’s argument is misleading.

The MPAA ads have also spawned diverse response ads that contain illegally reconfigured and recontextualized components of the original. These oppositional readings are far and away more popular on YouTube, and in some cases they have spawned long discussions in the comments. One has nearly 1000 comments, most earnestly discussing the complexities of property rights in the digital age. Thus, in this and myriad other ways, by permitting and encouraging alternative readings, the digital age truly does enable the formulation of revolutionary demands in the politics of art.

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