The original is the copy

It will not be possible for you to get original works by Zazie, hence you will not be able to get any copies of them either, because such things simply do not exist. One should rather speak of instances*. Because in the relationship between the original and the copy remains something like the idea that a copy is a sort of ersatz of the original work. Such an idea does not come to the mind when speaking of, let's say, an instance of the Buddha or of one of the persons of the Holy Trinity, as none of them might in any way be inferior to another, since each one of them is the Holy Trinity as a whole, or the Buddha itself. 

Offered to all possible winds on the world wide communication network, the digital work of art is now granted an almost total ubiquity. Potentially it is everywhere. Everywhere, yes, and with a quality of presence that is more powerful than it ever was. If you load one of Zazie's images in your favorite image processing software, you will be able to explore its entrails just as you like, and this, at any possible scale you like. Worse.  You will be able to correct it if you want, and even to act as a vandal and this down to the void wide open heart of the very last of its pixels. Yes. If this is what you are inclined to, you will be able to possess what is left of the materiality of these images down to a degree that was never reached before. And yet, this will not reveal you anything of their magic and their mystery. Because those things are in you, you see. Or nowhere.


I once showed an innocent Korean student some works by a surrealist friend from Florida. "Oh Oh ! she said, your friend really has quite strange ideas". "Ah ? did I reply, I personally think that you have quite strange ideas". "Why do you say such a thing ?" said she, while blushing in the most delicious way. "Because I just received these images by e-mail yesterday evening, and hence, what you are looking at is obviously nothing else in its deepest essence than a rather long sequence of binary digits. And this is something I would easily agree with you to be quite boring but certainly not strange. So, you see that if there is anything strange in my friend's images, it has to come from your own mind and certainly not from these colors stains we are both looking at, since they are nothing else than a plain translation of a plain mathematical artifact. 
Of course, my arguments - although they tell the very heart of things in their way - left her a bit disconcerted and made the nice red on her cheeks even more delicious. 

Yes. What you see here is in you. Or it is absolutely nothing else than the visual translation of a rather plain binary number*

And you now understand in which way the old story about the original and the copy could be inaccurate and misleading. By putting the stress on the materiality of the work of art, it made you believe that the magic was located in the original and that the power of it could only get weaker in the copy. But in fact, this magic is in you and its essence is the essence of an encounter, that is to say, it is made of this part of you that is unique, and of what was unique in this particular historical moment when you first saw the work. In other terms, what is actually at stake is by no means anything that anyone may ever hope to copy


As soon as the artist stops working with the traditional material media and starts creating a completly digital work of art, this work may be duplicated into as many instances as one likes. And these instances are as perfectly and as exactly equivalent as one may want them to be. And each one of these particular instances really are the work itself. Moreover, the world wide communication network enables anybody to create such equivalent instances anywhere. From this moment on, the surprising archaism of a sort of spirit or mana that would be attached to the original and would fade out in the copy crumbles down. Although this archaism is the root of the important and mysterious Art Market

This is, however, not so surprising after all. There has never been such things as originals and copies in the music area. And it has never been really sensible either to speak of originals and copies as regards litterature. At least since Gutenberg came to put an end to the copists boring task. Of course, you may still find here and there some people who put their pride in possessing the manuscript of a specific book or piece of music, but such errings shall ultimately disappear as authors and musicians forget the thrilling anguish of irreversibility in front of the blank page and the very smell of ink. 

The alert had been hot already when photography broke in. But, all well considered, photography only stressed even more the prestige of the original as something that would contain a specific kind of soul that photography would essentially fail to capture. And it is true too, that some technical problems were still left. High fidelity exists for music (or at least may be measured), but one would look in vain for anything equivalent regarding painting. The point here is not only that whatever precautions you may take, reproductions of painted works are usually disappointing, but what is worse, is that originals tend to be not that faithfull to themselves either. We - surprisingly - tend to deal with such questions reasonably easily as far as ancient works are concerned, but as regards recent paintings... One only has to observe what happened to some reds in Van Gogh's work to get an idea of the extent to which original pigments betrayed the painter.


Time passes and colors fade out just as the emotion of the first look. There are no examples that anyone ever succeeded in locking such things into a safe. And that's exactly what Duchamp thought about it: "To my opinion, every painting dies after some years, like its creator. And after that, one speaks of History of Art. There is a great difference between a Monet today which has become dark and a Monet 60 or 80 years ago, when it was still fresh and shining. It now belongs to History and is appreciated from a general point of view, and it is just as well the way it is, because nothing changes anyway. Men are mortal and paintings too"

["Gespraeche mit Marcel Duchamp" by Pierre Cabanne. P101]

Yet, although nothing can give us back the taste of a radical jamais vu once it has passed, there are some reasons to think that digital art will be more faithful than oil painting. Because digital art does not register the color itself, but rather, in the form of numbers, what is necessary for its reproduction,  hence - so to say - its genes. 

And we should not get sad about that, because we know that regarding memory, we can trust genes much more than marble or bronze. Indeed there are lots of examples of living species that managed to stay almost intact until today, although during the millions of years of their history, they could witness the rise and decay of entire chains of mountains.


 But - shall someone inevitably say - is this still painting ? Maybe or maybe not. But anyway as Duchamp used to say long before digital art emerged : "That does not mean anything "to do painting". What actually means is "to do something". It has been oil painting for eight hundred years, but it won't be oil painting any longer : it will be ceramics, or colored light, or whatever you want.  You know what happened in music : each time someone has invented a new instrument, there has been a new kind of music created with the new instrument. Yet that was still a new aspect of the same thing from a metaphysical point of view. So, it will be the same thing. Even if oil painting is totally suppressed it shall be replaced by something else, but it shall always be the expression of an individual or of a group of individuals who will let their unconscious speak"

["Entretiens avec Marcel Duchamp" by  Georges Charbonnier.  P34]

The disappearance of the very concept of original gives the work of art a versatility and a flexibility that previously only belonged to life itself. And maybe we are witnessing the time of the last museums*. Maybe will it be neither necessary nor possible to make dead letters out of works of art. Maybe the work of art itself, if it wants to last, shall have to care about its own reproduction and propagation in some way, based on the power of its own magic, like some sort of computer virus that would multiply by the strength of the emotions it creates and by the sole power of the spectator's desire to keep the work close by himself. In other terms by the power of pleasure and for the sake of pleasure


And yet... In spite of all I just said, and in spite of the indubitable and firm part of truth it contains - at least here and there - I know quite well that you will not cease wondering and wondering again about this question of the original. And that does not sadden me the slightest, because I know too, that this question you raise again and again is, in fact, the question of the soul. The myth of the original had made you free not to ask this question by burying it in the - so said - depths of materiality, so that you were haunting all these exhibitions with your minds wide open, yes, but also quite at peace. 
But look... This old question of the soul, that artists were raising - have always been raising - from the deepest depths of their works, only required a very very small technological landslide to pop out again, and from now on, whatever your efforts and denials will be, you won't ever escape it. 

Digital art - and that is only the very first step of its grandeur - has now made you responsible for this question.



* instances...
etymologically "something in which something stands, from the indo-european root "in" the general meaning of which is "in" or "into" and sometimes "on", or "over" (latin) and from the indo-european root "sta" which means "to stand" and that appears in the English words "to stand" and "instance" (for "example"), in the Dutch word "staan" and the German word "stehen" and in the French words "stand", "instant" et "Etat".

*a rather plain binary number
Just as the moon is not a man's face, just as the shadow of a branch on a wall in Dali's house in Figueras is not a portrait of Voltaire and just as there are no dragons either in the twisted shapes of clouds... The fact that we interpret the shadows on the moon or of a branch or the shapes of clouds as forms does not indicate that these forms exist by themselves in the Real. They are created by our perceptive activity, out of - yes - an existing phenomenon, but a phenomenon that the perceptive activity of a snail or a bee would interpret quite differently, or posssibly would not even interpret at all.
More precisely, to perceive is a decision. And it is this decision that is revealed in its native state in Duchamp's ready-mades. This however we already knew in a way, because the slow emergence of the arbitrary of sign from pictograms to alphabetic writing had shown us quite clearly that any image may actually represent anything provided we decide things to be so.

*last museums
or, more precisely maybe do we witness the end of this original and primary function of museums to be places where original works are preserved.