[NetBehaviour] comments on blockchain, art, etc., discussion with Ruth

ruth catlow ruth.catlow at furtherfield.org
Sun Nov 5 17:42:18 CET 2017

It's a bit hard to keep up with all the threads here.
So hello Rob, Edward, Alan, Pall, Gretta, and all,

On 31/10/17 17:45, Rob Myers wrote:
> On which subject this is a very interesting book - 
> https://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/on-the-existence-of-digital-objects 
> "On the Existence of Digital Objects", 2016 • Author: Yuk Hui "Hui’s 
> work develops an original, productive way of thinking about the data 
> and metadata that increasingly define our world."
Thanks for the reminder to look in those strange places where all the 
"real" action is taking place :/
> MIT has a "Center for Bits and Atoms". Information requires a 
> substrate and will not outlive the heat death of the universe. There's 
> a degree of "so what?" to this - while there is energy left in the 
> universe we can move information to another substrate. Digital 
> information doesn't care what its substrate is. Which makes substrates 
> sad. But information does care that it has a substrate. There's a 
> degree of nervousness to information's nonchalance about this. That's 
> why it has to exist in three places at once...
Okay, playing along with this OOO based exchange (which feels pretty 
risky - and generally not to be encouraged;) surely digital information 
does care about its substrate - at least for its conductive, resistive 
qualities and for its longevity and portability to human and social systems.
> Whenever I hear "Center for Bits and Atoms" I always want to imagine a 
> "Center for Bits and Atoms and Pennies", which adds the problem of 
> paying for all that substrate to the mix.
Yes, and this is what I was trying to get at with my vulgar quotes that 
insist on accounting for money. I wonder if my long-standing artistic 
urge to assert the autonomy of art (free from the money substrate) 
connects with a wider tendency to wish for autonomy (a lack of 
accounting) from the environmental substrate.

I especially like Julian Oliver’s Harvest 
<https://julianoliver.com/output/harvest>and Max Dovey's Respiration 
<http://maxdovey.com/?page=Blog&id=financial-respiration-> both new 
blockchain artworks for tying together art, wind/breath, electricity, 
money and ethics.

This is also something that Gretta has given a lot of attention to in 
her brilliant work with /Networking the Unseen/ - remembering that 
digital networks have physical (and political) infrastructures

> But that would be even meaner than reminding bits that they are tied 
> to atoms (or their components) and, well, information just wants to be 
> free*...
Hah! Please can someone write a history of the trouble caused, as the 
network society emerges, by the double meaning of the word "free"
> On Sun, 29 Oct 2017, at 04:59 AM, Alan Sondheim wrote:
>> Thanks, and exactly; we've got to consider the ontology of the 
>> digital, an issue which has been a problem for people for decades; 
>> it's tied to issues of reproducibility, originality, equivalence, 
>> etc. - Best, Alan On Sat, 28 Oct 2017, Pall Thayer via NetBehaviour 
>> wrote:
>>> This is a great read. Now I want someone to explain to me how a 
>>> non-material (non-existent) work of art maintains its immateriality 
>>> (its non-existence) despite a record in the blockchain. Personally, 
>>> I think we have to start admitting to ourselves that digital 
>>> existence is material. Especially if its existence is recorded 
>>> within a distributed network. It exists. We may not be able to 
>>> cradle it in our hands but its existence is broadly verifiable. 
>>> Doesn't that change things? On Fri, Oct 27, 2017 at 10:32 PM Alan 
>>> Sondheim <sondheim at panix.com> wrote: The following (which may be 
>>> difficult to follow in ascii?) is a discussion between Ruth and 
>>> myself; Ruth asked that I send to the list. Oddly, given ascii, it's 
>>> not clear that I wrote first (in response in response etc.) - the 
>>> "Hi Ruth, I'll intersperse some comments, and thank you so much for 
>>> writing back and so much to think about! We're still away, staying 
>>> for an extra day (next Sunday) and trying to decompress..." is mine 
>>> - On Mon, Oct 23, 2017 at 10:32 AM, ruth catlow 
>>> <ruth.catlow at furtherfield.org> wrote: ? ? ?Dear Alan, ? ? ?Ihesitate 
>>> to bring up issues here which themselves are problematic, but here 
>>> goes. ? ? ?Ifor one am very appreciative of your thoughts here. I am 
>>> preparing for our first DAOWO workshop on Thursday and this is very 
>>> very helpful. 
>>> http://www.daowo.org/#reinventing-the-art-lab-on-the-blockchain This 
>>> is really fascinating! I do find a problem with "Does Art need its 
>>> own blockchain?" - "art" needs nothing (can't get rid of the 
>>> italics, apologies); perhaps people do, but then which people? and 
>>> what arts? ? ? ?First, to the extent that art is a Foucauldian 
>>> discursive formation (at least as I taught it at RISD in the 70s), 
>>> labor, in the form of reading/ 
>>> writing/conversation/declamation/discourse is involved. ? ? ?With 
>>> blockchain art the financial formulation of the work - its price, 
>>> its relationship to, and operation within the markets over time - 
>>> becomes another element of its expressive form/ part of the 
>>> discourse. I think this held with a lot of conceptual art as well, 
>>> what artists were on about around the time of Piper/Siegelaub texts. 
>>> ? ? ?Second, at least again at that point, there was a tendency to 
>>> associate the value of a work in relation to the labor necessary to 
>>> produce it; in other words, an artist would be paid according to the 
>>> labor she put into the creation of a work, real or invisible, 
>>> substantial or insubstantial. ? ? ?(I remember Adrian Piper talking 
>>> with us about this, but I may be mistaken; this was early in her 
>>> career.) ? ? ?Artistic labour is still discussed in this way by 
>>> public funders, and publicly funded arts organisations in the UK I 
>>> think there might be a difference, not sure. In the States, it was a 
>>> form of identification with manual labor, that one should be paid 
>>> for what one does. This attempted even then to break the 
>>> inflationary spiral which is now of course out of control. ? ? 
>>> ?Other than that I dont see how this can possibly still hold true 
>>> (if it ever did). The financial value of an artwork by an art star 
>>> hardly correlates to either the effort or time invested in its 
>>> production. Unless we are talking about more craft-oriented work. 
>>> The idea was a form of levelling in relation to art-stardom. Anyone 
>>> who was on the way to success, I think, ran from the idea. ? ? ?Im 
>>> not sure at exactly what point in history this occurred or whether 
>>> it was always thus. Or whether being (barely) remunerated for 
>>> 'labour' has just become a way to keep all artworkers on the bread 
>>> line. In the States, artists are always statistically on the 
>>> breadline; maybe 1% can support themselves by their work. Paying for 
>>> labour means payment for all cultural workers. It never took hold of 
>>> course. - ? ? ?And third, there was within conceptual a discourse of 
>>> the invisible or non-existent work, vide for example Lucy Lippard's 
>>> The Dematerialization book. ? ? ?There was of course a heavy 
>>> critique from Haacke and others of the commercialization of art 
>>> (also of course in music, tv (Radical Software) etc.). ? ? ?Ilove a 
>>> lot of Haackes work and also of the Radical Software group. But they 
>>> were successful in generating cultural capital for themselves - 
>>> through their expressive disdain for the commercialization of art. 
>>> For me that doesn't invalidate the work at all; I never expect 
>>> purity of intent and production from anyone to be honest. I think 
>>> even Barbara Kruger (who I really loved) made some money from her 
>>> work. And with all of these people, there were long periods at the 
>>> beginning when they made little or nothing. For that matter the 
>>> Guerilla Girls aren't wealthy after all these years (I know one of 
>>> them) . - ? ? ?Ikeep thinking about the hundreds of young artists 
>>> and art students that I meet in London who are attempting to make 
>>> meaningful work and to pull themselves up into a decent world (and 
>>> artworld) by their bootstraps. Should they work, as Annie suggested, 
>>> from their sense of personal quest - perhaps it's none of my 
>>> business, but I have been questioning my own sense of how we can 
>>> proceed in relation to THESE QUOTES HERE ? ? ?Like Western 
>>> civilisation, autonomous art? an art that is not a means to an end, 
>>> not instrumental - would be a really nice idea If art is an 
>>> alternative currency, its circulation also outlines an operational 
>>> infrastructure. Could these structures be repossessed to work 
>>> differently? - Hito Steyerl talking about Duty Free Art 
>>> https://tankmagazine.com/issue-72/talk/hito-steyerl/ ? ? ?"Noble 
>>> people don't do things for the money they simply have money and 
>>> that's what allows them to be noble. They sprout benevolent acts 
>>> like they sprout trees" - from Hagseed by Margaret Atwood ? ? ?"It 
>>> was hard to identify with the characters. They live in an economic 
>>> vacuum. They make decisions cos they are in love, or they are angry 
>>> or they want adventure. You don't know how they afford their houses, 
>>> they never decide not to do something because it costs too much. You 
>>> never find out how much these characters pay in taxes." Willing, on 
>>> literature pre-financial-crash in The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 
>>> by Lionel Shriver The artworld now is very very different from 
>>> Atwood, traditional artschools, etc.; everything was changed of 
>>> course by the digital 'revolution' which we hardly understand. What 
>>> bothers me about the quotes is all of them are based in economics; 
>>> where would for example Carolee Schneeman fit into this? Where is a 
>>> resistance to capital? With blockchain it has to be capital 
>>> resisting capital which for a lot of people is already tarnishing, a 
>>> capitulation. I've been thinking about Kathy Acker recently because 
>>> of the biography which came out and the video we did together; it's 
>>> becoming an underground 'hit' and I think two interconnected reasons 
>>> are that it's based on the body and the confrontation with the body, 
>>> which isn't prettified, and also because it's fundamentally feminist 
>>> thanks to Kathy (in a documentary made about her, young girls even 
>>> now talk about their identification with her). I think work liked 
>>> this would either have to be economically "valued" or locked out of 
>>> blockchain... I may be way mistaken about all of this, but it seems 
>>> to me this is why a critique of blockchain within blockchain - a 
>>> fundamental critique - is so necessary. I think of comfortable Marx 
>>> in the British Library, writing from within, muddying the capitalist 
>>> waters, producing brilliant analysis at the time (although even he 
>>> couldn't see the coming digital revolution of course). ? ? ?So the 
>>> value of the non-existent work here might well be based on the 
>>> discourse; one can imagine a work which is not being discussed to 
>>> blockchained, which no one knows about, possessing a labor value 
>>> close to the null set itself. ? ? ?Iwasnt going to tell you but I 
>>> have made a trillion of these artworks ;) That's interesting! That's 
>>> also critique right there, that reproducibility of certain kinds of 
>>> works, conceptualized works, can self-deflate economically! I love 
>>> this; on the other hand I also love the Isenheim Altarpiece, no 
>>> matter what it's economic value is; it disturbs me in a way that 
>>> invades me, maybe the difference between Godel's work and his 
>>> platonism which still found substance outside the matrix of his 
>>> analysis. ? ? ?For me, what's new in the work being discussed here 
>>> is its relation to blockchain, and this places it within economic 
>>> strata and habitus that makes me uncomfortable. Not that that 
>>> matters at all, but the point is the embracing of invisibility and 
>>> non-existence in relation to blockchain and (economic) value, 
>>> doesn't this also relate problematically to neoliberalism? If one is 
>>> going to work in this direction, is it worthwhile to consider 
>>> breaking the chains of blockchain (in a way somewhat related to 
>>> breaking the chains of the male domination of the artworld, vide 
>>> Guerilla Girls etc.)? ? ? ? I think we are now in a very different 
>>> moment. I am currently entertaining the idea that the tactics and 
>>> techniques for breaking chains may need evolve to incorporate more 
>>> critical finance-play and experimentation. Yes! ? ? ?Iparticularly 
>>> like the invisibility form, less because of its eschewal of value 
>>> associated with art objects, but more because it rhymes with the 
>>> invisibility of the electromagnetic waves, currents and fields 
>>> through which our digital exchanges are taking place. Then you have 
>>> to look at Barry, who did precisely that, I think. But of course 
>>> waves/current/fields are also commensurate, not only with particles, 
>>> but also with the constituents, 'things,' of the universe. I've 
>>> worked a lot with VLF radio, very low frequency radio, and those 
>>> things are out there! 
>>> _______________________________________________ NetBehaviour mailing 
>>> list NetBehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org 
>>> https://lists.netbehaviour.org/mailman/listinfo/netbehaviour -- P 
>>> Thayer, Artist http://pallthayer.dyndns.org
>> New CD:- LIMIT: http://www.publiceyesore.com/catalog.php?pg=3&pit=138 
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>> http://www.alansondheim.org / cell 718-813-3285 current text 
>> http://www.alansondheim.org/uy.txt 
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> * - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_wants_to_be_free#History 
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