Toward truly rare protocols: art and blockchains beyond scarcity

Amidst the volatility and effervescence of the cryptocurrency market and with the mushrooming of blockchains initiatives, the practice of tokenization (i.e. the issuance of new crypto-assets in order to self-fund decentralized projects) has been critiqued as a way to reinscribe and proliferate current financial logics in the digital realm, for instance by providing more granular means for the monetization of digital content while leveraging the speculative nature of markets. Acknowledging such critiques, this presentation aims to show that the blockchain protocol does introduce differences in kind in the ways in which value generation and distribution are expressed and accounted for in digital environment. Specifically, in contrast with the commodity-based approach inherited from the industrial era, the new affordances of the blockchain architecture acknowledge and leverage the processual character of digital production – as networked and shareable – opening up new ways to reimagine and reprogram social and financial relations. In order to illustrate this, I explore how artists are operationalizing such affordances toward the disintermediation of art production and its networked value from the current institutional-financial milieu, gesturing toward new forms of value generation and distribution that blur the boundaries between art project and business model. Thus, in spite of recent attempts to extend the current scarcity-based paradigm to digital art through blockchains, I argue that it remains essential to leverage art’s differential position in relation to the startup milieu and keep exploring the field through artistic experiments with the technology.

 

Laura Lotti is an independent researcher and practitioner investigating blockchain cultures. With a background in economics, media studies and philosophy, Laura completed her PhD at UNSW, Sydney, in 2016, exploring the technical, economic, social and political affordances introduced by blockchain protocols and smart contracts. She is currently collaborating with the Economic Space Agency, an Oakland-based startup developing p2p financial-organizational tools, and advising on a few crypto-related projects.