By Giovanna Culora
As part of the Courtauld Institute MA in the History of Art students are required to sit ‘Methodologies’, a course that addresses theoretical themes related to art history. This week’s theme of reproduction considered how various texts, including Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility, connected to images within our specific course sections. Benjamin writes about the loss of the aura, or the embodiment of the originality and authenticity of a work of art through its mechanical reproduction, namely photography. For Benjamin a painting has an aura because it is utterly original however a photograph does not as it is a reproduced image of an image. Whilst studying this text I began to consider how this played out in relation to the topic of my undergraduate dissertation, the Louis Vuitton and Yayoi Kusama collaboration (2012).
The collaboration was a huge global project for both the artist and the brand, which lead to seven concept stores being set up and windows in existing stores being overtaken by Kusama’s polka dotted sculptures and products for the collaboration. Kusama’s polka dot and the Vuitton monogram are pertinent to consider when considering the theme of reproduction. According to creative director at the time, Marc Jacobs, the ‘logos’ are similar in spirit as: ‘they are endless, timeless and forever’. Within the collaboration space the signs had no end point, they were serially copied to cover both surfaces and bodies. The polka-dotted and Vuitton logoed products became vehicles through which Kusama’s motif travels within the fashion world. This led me to consider how the mass-produced Kusama x Vuitton items of dress were reproduced in contemporary fashion and art photographs, and therefore connect to the idea of Benjamin’s aura.
Two images that were pertinent to this discussion were by fashion photographer Viviane Sassen, and artist Jordan Donner. Sassen’s image originates from a series for Pop Magazine based on the collaboration (2012), and Donner’s is from his Revolution Series (2014), for which he exploded Louis Vuitton collaboration bags. The process that was taken to achieve these images support Benjamin’s quote: ‘the work reproduced becomes the reproduction of a work designed for reproducibility’. Both images were eventually displayed in solo gallery exhibitions, yet featured mechanical reproductions of Kusama and Vuitton collaboration pieces, which were made purely for the store space. In these images the mass-produced handbags, essentially wearable copies of Kusama’s artworks, subsumed by continually reproduced polka dots, were taken out of the manufactured context and presented as unique artworks; thus gaining their own individual aura through gallery display. The layered process of production and reproduction to create these images shows how items of dress can be displaced and reproduced to create an artwork in their own right.