Raqs Media Collective & Mritunjoy Chatterjee


One of the most empowering foundations of present and future creative practice was cleared up for us in New Delhi (at least) about a decade ago via much debate and acrimony, under the term "appropriation" ~ something that had already been hammered through some years before then in other parts of the world.

Briefly, appropriation holds open a small window upon limited but legitimate usage of materials created by other folks in a work of art. Collage obviously comes to mind as an art-form that had already been based on such usage for years already, but technology certainly carries this potential a lot further.

It's something we have always supported as an extension of creative liscence, and we were therefore more than delighted to witness an exhibition in New Delhi (Max Mueller Bhavan, August 2000) wherein a participant-group showed a complex HTML-based piece of work on a computer made up of 559 digital files, of which most had been trawled from the Internet to interface with materials they'd generated themselves.

Here's the statement they put to it, alongwith some of the files used in the work:

"In Principle A Work of Art has always been reproducible" - Walter Benjamin

This work wants you to suspend conventional notions of authorship while you interact with it. Just as the artisans of the popular prints of the last two centuries often used images and motifs from the visual universe around them, so too we have gathered materials from the World Wide Web to constitute the different layers of this work.

This is as much to bring to attention the inherent extensibility and reproducible nature of art work in the digital domain, as it is to reclaim the knowledge-sharing imperative of early printmaking. This is why we have chosen the covers of a manual, a primer of public health, as our point of reference.

In the later nineteenth centure, prinmaking entered the public imagination as a cheap accessible and popular means of producing and circulating pictures, stories, information and rumour. This was a culture that eluded censors and skirted copyright. Today, a hundred years later, a cluster of technologies centered on the computer and the Internet has made possible the birth of a new folklore of images and ideas. Which, like its print ancestor, is also busy eluding censors and skirting copyright.

Pictures, stories, news and rumour, speculations and skirmishes in info-wars, databases and image banks, hard facts and harder fiction are all streaming into our desktops, just as cheap paper prints once piled up in our great grandparents' closets, or crowded the walls of the cities they walked in.

This work wants you to bridge the distance between the data stream of the present and the fading imprint of the recent past. It asks that you look through yesterday's web of images at the bitmap of where you are today.

We have used reprints of nineteenth century Calcutta woodcuts to build the interactive interface. Contemporary elements have been taken from an array of sites on the World Wide Web. They have been edited, re-framed, rendered and transformed to embody the new sensibility.

The artists, coder and writers who generated the materials that we have used here are our co-workers on this work. In this sense, and in other senses that you will discover as you navigate through it, this body of work is a work about work.

Raqs Media Collective, August 2000


Credits ~ This work has been made by Raqs Media Collective (Jeebash Bagchi, Monice Narula & Shuddhabrata Sengupta), in collaboration with Mritunjoy Chatterjee

Work in the Age of Virtual Reproduction, Version 1.0 was created in August 2000

Acknowledgements ~ This work began life in the course of an engaging discussion with Amit Mukhopadyay on databases, narrative and Benjamin.

We would like to thank Ravi Sundaram and Ravi Vasudevam for their regular inputs of coffee and conversation. Thanks as well to Pankaj Kaushal, Supreet Sethi, Jaswinder Kohli, Dhruv, Mridul Jain and M. P. Anand Babu for their technical support.

The work was designed, created and assembled at the Media Lab of Sarai: the New Media Initiative, a programme of the Centre of Study of Developing Societies, Delhi.

The Sarai Media Lab is being set up with the support of the Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science & Technology.

The Central Interface uses illustrations from "Printmaking by Woodblock up to 1901: A Social & Technology History" by Pranabaranjan RAy, an essay in "Woodcut Prints of Nineteenth Century Calcutta" edited by Asit Paul, Seagull Books, Calcutta 1983.

Black and White Photographs have been taken by Monica Narula

The remaining visual materials, sounds and texts have been assembled from an array of websites, which are listed below (see after the images):


Raqs Media Collective
15/31 Old Rajendra Nagar
New Delhi 110 060 (INDIA)
tel: (91-11) 3960040