The Object in the Digital Age

Lisa Koenigsberg, President at Initiatives in Art and Culture, New York will present her thoughts on the importance of objects and how the digital age is impacting them.

We live in the age of Instagram, cinema, tiktok, and billboards – all media that allow objects to be seen in many ways by multitudes of viewers. And yet … these images are robbing the objects of their power. To borrow from linguistic theory, the object is the signified and the image the signifier. As the images are further distanced from the original object – images of photos of paintings which are themselves housed in banks of digital images — elements of craft, quality, nuance, texture, size and feel are eliminated. What dominates is the logo or an iconic artistic object that becomes synonymous with the brand or the purported contemporary maker, the interlocking CC’s or the Mona Lisa as co-opted by Jeff Koons, for example. Rather than affirming completion of process and mastery of craft or artistry, such logos and visual appropriations have become ends in themselves —  and thus have acquired inverse stature. Such symbols and icons have become public “signified” rather signifiers. In a world dominated by the fleeting glance at several removes, this is what has come to matter. At the same time, voices in the culture are calling for a new era in which quality, craft, the bespoke, and the sustainable are prized; or as one commentator has noted: “fewer better things.” To conclude, we consider some strategies that might restore power to the object and to the artisan.