Some things contain an aura. They attract your attention; they remind you of something or someone or somewhere (or someone you used to be), and you feel an immediate connection with them. They are magical. They are not necessarily beautiful, but they provide you with a delightful and sensual experience. You feel an intimate connection with them. Instantaneously.
But since the mentioned aura-experience is closely connected to sentimental value, is it then possible to create new objects that can provide the viewer/ user with the described sensuous delight?
In the essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (published in 1936) Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) uses the term aura. Benjamin differentiates between cultic and profane aura, and discusses how the modern reproduction techniques imply a cultic aura loss. However, an aura-experience, cultic or profane, is an aesthetic experience (see my previous posts on more on this topic). And aesthetic experiences provide insight. The aura-experience can be described as a sudden experience of fusion between present and past, or between closeness and distance. The “has been” and the “here and now” are momentarily one. A passage is created between “then” and “now”. Such experiences may lead to an insight in events from past.
Many authors have written on magical things that belong to, or have been worn in the presence of the beloved (often unattainable or lost) other. Goethe (1749-1832) in The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774) describes how the main character Werther creates an auratic vibe around the blue coat and yellow vest he wore the first time he danced with Lotte. Every time he wears these items of clothing he recreates the feeling of the magical first dance – and thereby he creates a instant passage to the past. The blue coat and yellow vest unite the distant (romanticized) “then” and the (painful, lonely) throbbing “now”.
And in Roland Barthes’ (1915-1980) A Lover’s Discourse (published in 1978) the beloved other’s body and clothes are objectified and fetishized and thus given mystical qualities.
Recently I read Orhan Pamuk’s novel The Museum of Innocence (published in 2008) in which the main character Kemal spends his life collecting things that belong to, have belonged to, or in some way remind him of his beloved Füsun. These things (e.g. cigaret butts, an old ruler (that he sometimes can’t help tasting), hair pins, porcelain figurines, pieces of clothing) provide him with an aura-experience; while touching them, a passage from the unbearable present to the wonderful, yet lost, past is created. Momentarily the distance between “then” and “now” is removed.
I guess we all know the aura-atmosphere that surrounds our loved one’s favourite clothes. They are so closely connected to their owner; smell like them, feel like them; they are nearly a part of them. And therefore they are magical.
How can you as a designer work with aura? The aura-experience is very subjective and refers to personal memories, and to intimate life details, so is it at all possible to create items that can provide many different individuals with an auratic aesthetic experience?
I work as a lecturer at a design school in Copenhagen (I primarily teach the students that specialize in Fahsion Design), and my students have recently worked with creating magical items of clothing that can give the receiver some kind of aura-experience. One of my students, Trine, worked with creating references to being a teenage girl; the secretive, melancholic, and naive universe that characterizes the essence of teenage life. Her clothes are not targeting teenage girls, but by referring to feelings and atmospheres that a lot of women (or at least the target group for this collection) would recognize, Trine worked with creating sentimental value that could provide her receiver with an aura-experience. The clothes link to a lost time of teenage wisdom and girly melancholia.
By referring to certain life phases (e.g. teenage life), to common memories (e.g. childhood summers), to cultural rituals, or to certain decades and attitudes (e.g. the 90´s grunge) you can seek giving your receiver an aura-experience by creating a passage to past influential experiences.