MoneyLab 13

Monday 30th October, 2023 - Bruce Sterling

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Moneylab#13 Krypto: Decrypting the Artist, Limmasol/Cyprus

Sustaining its interest on presenting insightful new critical ideas on the developments of the digital domain and how that is affecting our society and economy, NeMe, and the Institute of Network Cultures, present the 13th edition of MoneyLab. The overall aim of MoneyLab is to deconstruct, and reveal the hidden machinations of the ever evolving digital economies, and speculate on radical alternatives.

The 2023, post-Covid, MoneyLab edition at NeMe will concentrate on the precarious financial existence of artists and it will investigate and interrogate the so-called decentralised opportunities that sprang in 2020 in the blockchain reliant Crypto sphere, that includes but is not limited to NFTs.

Until Facebook’s failed launch of its own blockchain currency Libra in 2019, ‘crypto’ and ‘social media’ remained separate universes. Yet in the week Homer Pepe sold for $320,000, Barry Threw cheered that “[t]he art world is a software problem now.” For this Limassol edition of MoneyLab it is inevitable to return to the 2021 ‘crypto art’ NFT wave that coincided with the Game-Stop short squeeze, orchestrated on Reddit at the height of the crypto boom when Bitcoin reached a $66K valuation. The newly created ‘assets,’ financed in the trade by superfluous cash that can be spent on trivial ventures, is the easy explanation of the sudden 2021 Non-Fungible Token boom. Before we rush to the Next Big Thing, it is important to reflect on the crypto art condition as the ‘digital money’ question is here to stay.

David Gerard explained how the hype started: “Tell artists there’s a gusher of free money! They need to buy into crypto to get the gusher of free money. They become crypto advocates and make excuses for proof-of-work. Few artists are really making life-changing money from this! You probably won’t be one of them.” And, as Brett Scott, author of 2022 bestseller Cloudmoney, and a keynote speaker at the conference, explains, the hype can only take off if we’re in it together, driven by males, destined for market greatness. “If anything, GameStop could be a reaction against the zero-sum futility of day-trading. Far from saving you from bullshit jobs, trading is a bullshit job, and the only way to temporarily win at it is not to throw yourself into battle against ‘the market.’ It’s to collaborate in swarms.”

One of the MoneyLab network premises is the assumption that a critique of social media should also have a financial-economic solution for content creators and not just get stuck in fake news or privacy complaints. We need new internet aka social media models in which peer2peer payments are an integral part. The attention economy as we know it has resulted in an army of influencers struggling to make a living. Most artists and designers are earning far less than a minimum wage—a situation that only got worse during the Corona pandemic. If the aim is to cancel the Silicon Valley ‘social contract’ (data extraction in exchange for free services), we will need another financial infrastructure that will be situated ‘underneath’ digital services—with or without blockchain, Bitcoin, Ethereum tokens or ‘proof of work.’

Moneylab#13: Krypto: Decrypting the Artist, in Limassol, consists of a 2 day conference and an exhibition.
3-4 Nov 2023, 10:00-12:30, 15:30-18:00
MAD Lab, 3rd Floor, Potamitis Building, 8 Kitiou Kyprianou st
Opening: 3 Nov 2023, 19:30-21:30
Duration: 7 Nov – 1 Dec 2023
Opening days/times: Tue-Fri / 17:30-20:30
Venue: NeMe Arts Centre, Corner of Ellados and Enoseos streets, Limassol

Participating artists:
Rodrigo Azaola, César Escudero Andaluz, Austin Houldsworth, Karima Klasen, Rosemary Lee, Agoston Nagy, Paul O’ Neill, Dipo Olaosun

Conference Programme:

Friday 3 November, 2023
10:00-10:10: Yiannis Colakides: Welcome/Housekeeping
10:10-10:30: Geert Lovink: Introduction
10:30-11:30: Barbara Cueto
11:45-12:30: Rosemary Lee
12:30-15:30: Lunch break
15:30-16:15: Joshua Davila
16:15-17:00: Inari
19:30-21:30: Exhibition Opening

Saturday 4 November, 2023
10:20-10:30: Yiannis Colakides: Housekeeping
10:30-11:30: Tara Merk
11:45-12:30: Stefan Heidenreich
12:30-15:30: Lunch break
15:30-16:15: Adam Brown
16:15-17:00: Austin Houldsworth
17:00-17:20: BREAK
17:20-18:20: Brett Scott

Conference abstracts and bios:

Barbara Cueto

Blockchain narratives have moved from obscure techno-economic circles to the mainstream art market after an NFTwas sold at a Christie’s auction for 69 million USD. The Non-Fungible-Tokens, minted on a blockchain, overnight became a speculative object of desire, only to go into hibernation during the crypto-winter. But blockchain is much more than just a gif on an NFT. The distributed ledger is still an open, adaptable technology, which can reproduce any social imaginary. It is a sand-box for institution-making.

In my talk, I would propose a dual analysis, one that considers blockchains as political devices that continue the legacy of digital activism, and another about artistic practices that think through the technology. The result of this double investigation proposes Critical Blockchain Art, a new artistic practice whose political agency lies in its ability to imagine and enact new imaginaries that produce counter-hegemonic orders that organise a political trans-local community of agents. Critical blockchain art conveys a new infrastructure of critique and facilitates structures of belonging that embody the same prefigurative gesture that defined the social movements of the 2010s, while generating new forms of aesthetic resistance.

Barbara Cueto is an independent curator based in Berlin. Her projects are at the intersection of contemporary art, new technologies and activism. She is currently working as online curator for LAS – Art Foundation in Berlin.

She holds a PhD in Cultural Analysis from the University of Amsterdam titled “White Papers on Dissent. Politics & Poetics of Blockchain”, which investigated decentralised ledger technology as a tool for radical imagination. She is an alumna of de Appel Curatorial Programme in Amsterdam, she holds a MA in Art & Heritage from the University of Maastricht (NL), and a BA in Journalism from the Complutense University of Madrid (SP).

She has convened and curated projects at institutions like Photo Wien in Austria, C/O Berlin, InterAccess in Toronto, Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, Fundación La Caixa in Barcelona, MMOMA Moscow, Asian Culture Centre in Gwangju, La Casa Encendida in Madrid, Bétonsalon in Paris, or Impakt Festival in Utrecht. She has held curatorial and research fellowships at Singapore Art Museum, Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul, and has also been resident at Tokyo Wondersite in Japan, Rupert in Lithuania, and Cité des Arts in Paris.

Rosemary Lee

Sales of NFTs drastically slumped after peaking in January 2022, leaving many of the promises made about cryptocurrency’s capacity to democratise the art market unmet. The idea that using NFTs as “smart contracts” could solve the difficulties of monetising digital artworks appealed to many, and platforms for brokering such sales presented creators with new avenues to make money from their work. But now that daily sales have fallen to a fraction of what they were in previous years, the revolutionary potential of NFTs for art has largely failed to materialise. Considering this phenomenon from a historical perspective, this presentation looks at the role of technosolutionism in the rise and fall of crypto art. There is a long history of proposing technologies to solve the problems created by technologies, a cycle that may help to enrich our understanding of the genuine potential that new economic models for art that blockchain technology may have but that may not be likely to be achieved. Examining the recent craze around NFTs in relation to notable instances from the past, this talk explores how artists have responded to the challenges of changing technological conditions concerning the sale of art.

Rosemary Lee is an artist and media scholar whose work considers how current developments in image production fit within larger narratives about art, vision, knowledge, and relations between humans and machines. Informed by the perspective of media archaeology, she seeks to develop a better understanding of how current methods and ideas about art and technology are influenced by those of the past.

Lee teaches at the University of Porto in the Faculty of Engineering. She completed her PhD at the IT-University of Copenhagen in 2020 with a thesis entitled Machine Learning and Notions of the Image. Her book Algorithm, Image, Art develops on the premise of that research and is scheduled for publication in 2024.

Rosemary Lee’s work has been presented in international contexts related to art and technology including at Ars Electronica, transmediale, V2_, gnration, and HMKW. Her artistic research has been supported with fellowships funded by the Austrian National Library, the Danish State Art Fund, the Arts Council Norway, Nordic Culture Point, and the transmediale Vilém Flusser Archive Residency for Artistic Research. She is represented by Galerie Gilla Lörcher, Berlin since 2013.

Joshua Davila

Over the last decade, blockchains and crypto have opened up a new terrain for political action. It is not surprising, however, that the crypto space has also become overrun by unscrupulous marketing, theft and scams. The problem is real, but it isn’t a new one. Capitalism has ruined crypto, but that shouldn’t be the end of it. The art world has also been taken by storm with the introduction of NFTs and its associated influx of capital. Do NFTs only have more of the worst aspects of the art market to bring? Understanding the technology through the lens of his latest book, Blockchain Radicals: How Capitalism Ruined Crypto and How to Fix It, Joshua Davila will discuss how the technology can be used for producing more collective autonomy in the arts.

Joshua Davila is the author of the book Blockchain Radicals: How Capitalism Ruined Crypto and How to Fix It out now through Repeater Books. He is also the no longer anonymous creator behind “The Bockchain Socialist,” a blog and podcast exploring the intersection of crypto and left politics.

Yoshinari Nishiki (a.k.a Inari)

With over 450 ecolabels operating in 199 countries, it may seem unnecessary to introduce more, especially when some with questionable goals are gaining increasing prominence. Despite “working for a better environment” being the only currently binding narrative, there is room to play with this concept. Why not take it to the extreme and create one for a product or service that was never technically produced in the first place? The “(un)made” certificate is a proposed new ecolabel that guarantees creativity in avoiding production. An example of an (un)made object is the EROI Drink, an energy drink made from invasive Japanese knotweed. Without any marketing efforts, the price of the drink stabilized at 20 euros per bottle as of 2023, earning the initiator an hourly wage of 72 euros. For some, this (un)made object might appear to be an environmental collectible, paving the way for a potential source of income for creative practitioners.

Yoshinari Nishiki (a.k.a Inari) has always explored unconventional ways of resource circulation. Projects pursued include the infinite multiplication of bananas (Banana Multiplier 2013), a legal train ticket recycling scheme using pigeons (Homing Pigeon Unused Train Ticket Delivery System 2014), a courier-free free transport system (Contingent Cycle Courier 2019), and an energy drink made from waste materials (EROI Drink 2020).

In 2023, Inari developed his art practice into a culminating concept called “(un)making” – an ultimate mode of production where technically no production takes place. He is currently seeking to establish an environmental certificate based on this concept and started his PhD (engineering) on the same subject.

Tara Merk

In her talk, Tara draws on in-depth qualitative research with the historic NFT community to foreground five roles that NFTs play in art, beyond the art market. Specifically she shows how artists use NFTs as (1) a tool for systemic change, (2) a new way to community, (3) a ritual artefact, (4) a means for preservation, and (5) a new medium.

Tara Merk is a political science PhD student working in the BlockchainGov & Metagov projects, as well as with Other Internet. Her current research, conducted mainly through participatory action research and other modes of digital ethnography, focuses on Exit to Community, DAO governance design, Web3 labour as well as NFTs and digital artist communities. She previously held various roles in the blockchain industry after studying in Maastricht, Hong Kong, and Dublin where she completed her MSc in the field of information systems management focusing on institutional entrepreneurship in Bitcoin.

Stefan Heidenreich

Initially, every new technology is used to support old content. This also counts for NFTs. Their main task was to emulate the cult of the exclusivity that currently dominates the art world. A »non fungible token« is a declaration of exclusivity. Crypto technologies could offer much more productive applications for the arts. To recognise them, one needs to give a closer look at the modernist conditions of cultural economy.

Historically, modern art emerges together with the art market in the 19th century. It promotes the exclusive and unique work of art as an apex of private property. For that purpose, artisanal non-reproductive techniques of the 18. century were being preserved. Modernism has always favoured conservative modes of production.

The art market serves the collectors. Their preferences define not only the price, but also cultural values and the selection of works in exhibitions. Public judgment was rendered completely irrelevant. At the beginning of the 21st century, the art production overwhelmingly caters to big collectors, philanthropists or oligarchs. Their cult of exclusivity has conquered the globalised art and its markets in what may best described as cultural colonialism.

From that viewpoint, there are some political and cultural tasks to which crypto-technologies could make important contributions.

Democratic modes of exhibition making should be empowered in order to balance the monopoly of the big collectors and of the curators who by and large serve their interests. The public should be enabled to decide what is to be shown in public venues and in institutions funded with tax payers’ money.
Artistic production should be liberated from the commitment to exclusivity and originality, and should adapt to new standards and formats that favour copies, imitations, and remixes.
Around the globe, artistic practices which were suppressed and marginalised by the art market should be explored, discovered, and reactivated.
Crypto-technology can support all these cases, for example by tracking viewers’ preferences and mapping public recognition. Crypto tools could help organize and promote democratic modes of exhibition making. Smart contracts may encourage artistic reuse.
Stefan Heidenreich is an author, based in Berlin. Research on media, art, and economy. Current issues are the democratisation of art (Attraction and Assembly, Merve 2023), economies without money (Money. For a non-monetary economy, Merve 2017). Most recently, he taught at the University of Cologne, the University of Basel and the Art Academy in Düsseldorf.

Adam Brown

The paper will explore the global exchange of images of architectural projects linked to cryptocurrency speculation, designed to locate a range of utopian and libertarian projects affectively and geographically within a global narrative economy. Images of Patrick Schumacher’s navigable design for the micronation ‘Liberland’ – a free territory in a ‘no-man’s land’ between the borders of Croatia and Serbia – and Ecuador’s ‘Bitcoin City’ illustrate the hyperstitional currency of the networked architectural image – not only a representation of space but of its very possibility, paradoxically pitching financial innovation as a guarantee of the continuity of established means of spatial reproduction. This paper explores spatial representation as a particular trope of ‘imaginative capture.’ (Bear, L.) and how the global exchange of digitally manufactured photorealistic architectural images functions as a key mechanism of capital generation under Neoliberalism and its successor paradigms. The residual truth function of the photographic image serves to anchor conviction in a reality-to-be, in the face of both the play of probabilities and conditions of the necessary risk to secure sufficient gains. (Ayache, E., 2015)

Cryptocurrency speculation is represented as potentially productive of both cities and states, in the process pegging its value not only to the ‘spatial fix’ described by David Harvey, which allows capital to maintain growth during crises of overaccumulation via the global relocation of production, but also to a longstanding representational/legal regime of the global North which makes value claims based in representations and the processes of their production – a mechanism that underscored the age of Northern European colonial expansion. (Graeber & Wengrow, 2022) The truth function of the blockchain, understood as a transparent and ‘omniscient’ ledger, echoes that of the vast archive of photographic images (architectural and otherwise) that underscore the production of a hegemonic ‘reality’ linked to crises of mid-twentieth century colonial power. Via images of possible and impossible cities, cryptocurrencies are similarly embedded in operations within the representational economy. The image and the story of its production encodes magnified possibilities but also the possibility of even greater failure – the lock-in of processes that virtually guarantee future acts of creative destruction, the persistence and even acceleration of dynamic uncertainty.

Adam Brown is currently Course Director for the BA(Hons) Photography and Imaging at London South Bank University, and a member of the Centre for the Study of the Networked Image at LSBU. His previous institutional positions have included photographic lead on the BA(Hons) New Media Arts at James Cook University, Queensland, Australia, focussing on immersive imaging, three-dimensional capture, and new media art. His published research explores the visualisation of urban development in the context of speculative activity and financialised economics, most recently in the volume ‘Co-Curating the City: Universities and Urban Development,’ (2022, UCL Press) In 2019 he was one of a team who won the Post-Photography Prototyping Prize, organised by the Photographers’ Gallery, London, and Fotomuseum Winterthur (Austria). During Lockdown in the UK, he collaborated with software developers Elixxier, designers Minzhang Sun and Harikrishnan, and 3D scanning company FormCapture to develop a completely socially distanced photography workflow. His artwork has been exhibited in London, Melbourne, Bristol and other locations.

Austin Houldsworth

Continuing this exploration, he has applied the counterfactual design approach for this year’s Moneylab. In his talk, he will introduce these newer projects called “trickle down” and “level up.” And give an overview of this ongoing love / hate relationship with money.

Austin Houldsworth is an interdisciplinarity design researcher and educator with a focus on critical & speculative design. His work strives to leverage change through the application of design within unfamiliar disciplines. Like redesigning monetary systems (doctoral thesis ‘For money’s sake’ 2018), building prototype human fossilisation machines (2 million &1AD commissioned by Tatton Park biennial), creating the ‘Intergalactic Estate Agency’ at the Eden Project, or founding the longstanding ‘Future of Money’ design awards. More recently he received funding to create 3 counterfactual 1970s mobile phones that embody alternative notions of identity, which challenge the reductive notion of identity that is fundamental within the identifier systems currently used within telecoms networks.

Brett Scott

“The War for our Wallets in an Age of AI: Our monetary system” is rife with contradictions. Debates about the future of money contain a confusing jumble of predictions, many of which are warped by misunderstandings and commercial interests. We’re told that a cashless society is inevitable, that CBDCs are the result of Bitcoin, that stablecoins are going to displace the banking sector, and that cryptocurrencies are competing with the US dollar. In this talk, Brett Scott will show why very few of these forecasts are accurate, and will lay out a clear framework for understanding the different layers of money in our global economy and how they interact with each other.

Brett Scott is a journalist, campaigner, monetary anthropologist and former financial broker. He’s the author of Cloudmoney: Cash, Cards, Crypto and the War for our Wallets (Penguin: 2022), and The Heretic’s Guide to Global Finance (Pluto Press: 2013)

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