Why Look at Robots? Reanimating Aura in Consideration of Live Art
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In his seminal essay “Why Look at Animals?” (1980), art critic John Berger describes how when seen by an animal, man perceives a likeness in presupposing he is seen as his surroundings are seen by him. Becoming aware of himself returning the look of the animal, man recognizes the look as familiar. Man’s tendency to seek the gaze of the animal can be attributed to his capacity to endow that which is ‘other’ with the ability to look back. In view of posthumanism, which traverses such dualisms as the distinction between man and animal, this thesis examines this capacity relative to the contours that seem to separate the human and the technological other. It proposes that Walter Benjamin’s notion of aura, a form of perception that invests a phenomenon with the ability to look back, be reactivated for the purpose of affirming the vitality exhibited by robots staged in performative situations. Through sorting out the ambiguous role aura plays in Benjaminian thought by way of a close reading of select texts, I explore the role it can play today in accounting for the liveness of nonhuman entities. I also reanimate aura by situating it amidst the theoretical perspectives of Brian Massumi (2008), Susanne Langer (1953), and Alva Noë (2004; 2012) and by bringing it to bear in the analysis of media art forms that animate a posthuman sensibility toward aura. Specifically, I locate aura in Paul Segers’s Walking the Dog (2016) and Ruairi Glynn’s Fearful Symmetry (2012) and analyze both as instances of live art despite their lack of human performers. Thus, I argue for a posthuman reading of aura that acknowledges the intersubjectivity present in human-nonhuman relations and that opens how we distinguish self and other, animate and inanimate to change.