YAIR was invited to present our project at ARS Electronica in Linz in September. We had a station in the shadows of the “Bunker”. When we weren’t presenting our project we were roaming the dark cavernous chambers of “Postcity” and exploring locations all over the city, looking at generative, responsive, robotic, psychedelic, 3d printed and freaky artworks of every form.
We attended several talks on the future of the media art market and the issues facing digital art.
We stumbled on several statements that challenged us. “Digital Art is a ghetto” saidAnne-Cécile Worms from Artjaws. “One that we are happy to inhabit.” she says but nonetheless a ghetto. The implication is that digital art has been around for years but has not been gentrified, always remaining an outsider domain of geeks and freaks doing it for the love, without substantial recognition or financial rewards. This begs the question why? Why is there such a small community of collectors in this space? Why are prices relatively low? Why is it not more respected in art circles? We see these as problems with proving originality, with storage, with maintenance, with ownership etc. The YAIR Project has blockchain based answers to all these issues but more on that later. First we must unpack some of the things being discussed.
First what is “digital art”? The view expressed at the same panel by Steven Sacks of Bitforms Gallery NYC is that “digital art” is a term to be avoided at all costs. “Digital art” is of course just “art”. Progressive artists always reach for the latest tools to express, like the first artists mass producing their images with the Gutenberg press in 1568 or the painters using “prussian Blue” the first synthetic pigment produced (by accident) in 1703.
Steven Sacks outlined the challenges faced by those who collect the “media art” that his gallery is selling. They must sign (often reluctantly) a contract agreeing to terms of preservation and maintenance of the work. He is selling works that in our view are essentially a data construct but that have a physical medium of expression. That medium may be a simple as a standard screen but more often is expressed with specialised constellation of screens, or customised screens built or shaped into curved and distorted into sculptural forms. The physical expression of it is important but it is also interchangeable, and is in reality often interchanged when parts break down. When a screen malfunctions it can be replaced. A whole piece can be reconstructed from a set of media files and schematic plans. Where then does the art lie exactly? It is almost a metaphysical a question similar to a question about the location of a human soul in the body or the relationship of human consciousness to the brain.
For an artwork where the physical expression is interchangeable, we are in the special territory for the YAIR project. Our view is that the art lies in the form and content, and if that form and content can be expressed purely as a data package, then it is ready to be married to the blockchain.
For example if the artist intends their piece to be displayed on several screens, all that have a specific spatial relationship to each other, or if a screen should be distorted to a special curvature or unusual form, or if the artwork involves a projection onto unusual surface forms, there exists the possibility to recreate such a work Virtual Reality and preserve the spatial specifications of the work. A VR version of the work can preserve all the forms, and allow the viewer to move around the piece and appreciate it from every angle. Indeed the VR possibilities in some ways can go even deeper and be more powerful than a physical version of the work, as VR allows a form of sensory immersion where the only things visible to the viewer are things the artists has created. There can be no other unwanted light or distractions present in a physical gallery space. Of course a VR experience can offer even more in terms of interactivity an generative techniques if the artwork is designed primarily as VR, but even in the case of reproducing or archiving artworks designed for physical space it is a powerful tool. Perhaps the most powerful feature it offers is its “decentralized” nature. The viewer does not have to got to a particular gallery in a particular city on a set of fixed dates to see the piece. All they need is the display technology and a way of access the source files.
Here is where things break down, and there is a disconnect between the fluid futuristic technical possibilities afforded by digital art combined with tech like VR and blockchain and the current high friction reality of how digital art is valued, collected and displayed.
Several times during discussions at ARS Electronica there was much hand wringing and almost visible pain in the public talks as people talked of the difficulties in maintaining, storing, archiving, and even the basics of finding a market for digital art. I wanted to jump in and start raving about the solutions YAIR is developing to address all these all these things. In fact I did so on the Sunday talk on the Digital Art market. In response to a question about how to preserve the video files of an artwork and whether we could trust them to a corporate entity like Google’s Youtube or Amazon’s AWS cloud services. I stood up and ranted for a couple of minutes about our decentralised approach. I described our use of the system developed by Protocol Labs in Portugal, called I.P.F.S. or the Interplanetary File System. It is a suitably sci-fi visionary name for a very powerful system that can allow digital files to be stored with massive redundancy incentivised by earning token rewards. A file can be preserved by “backups” across thousands of servers rather than just a few servers offered by current commercial services. Also your files are not subject to the business fortunes or changing terms and conditions of corporate entities, but held up by a network of peers. The Interplanetary part of the name implying the open ended future of a decentralised network where the rewards are baked into the protocol and files can live on perpetually.
In short, it was interesting to see the level of need in the digital artworld for good solutions to own, trade, experience and archive art. Blockchain has many of the answers and the YAIR project is shaping those solutions to the specific needs of artists, enthusiasts and collectors all based in a unified token economy, where the token is the product and the product is art. Our first task is to communicate our solutions in a way that the participants in the space can grasp what we are doing. As we refine our communication our traction only grows. See you next year in “Postcity”….