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Title: ‘The Arts Make Us Richer’™: Propertization of Digital Art Using Cryptocurrency Technologies
Authors: Zeilinger, Martin
Issue Date: 14-Jul-2016
Abstract: This paper explores recent efforts by cultural institution and private start­up companies to engineer digital art markets using cryptocurrency technologies in order to propertize digital artworks that were previously presumed to be ‘uncollectible’ and ‘unsellable.’ I argue that such developments are heavily suffused with neoliberal perspectives that counteract media artists’ efforts to situate their work outside the cultural and economic logic of property­based exchange. The ‘virtual,’ the ‘digital,’ and the ‘immaterial’ hold special significance with regard to media artists’ ability to shield their creative practices from the circuits of property­based art production and dissemination. Media art frequently invents new digital contexts of creative expression that disrupt capitalist technologies of commodification and monetization. But because digital culture also holds the potential of representing hugely profitable markets, digital art practices are under constant threat of being assimilated co­opted by digital capital. Tying digital art works to cryptocurrency blockchain entries could render them as truly ‘unique’ digital artifacts – as commoditized artworks with a clear, indisputable ‘pedigree.’ Such efforts are purportedly guided by a desire to protect artists’ ownership rights. But in stemming the uncontrollable diffusion of inherently copyable, malleable, and recombinable digital artifacts, these efforts also share the economic agendas of our current, expansive intellectual property regimes. Discussing relevant commercial and critical projects driven by,, and, I argue that the regulation of digital art markets through cryptocurrency technologies fundamentally contradicts the dynamic nature of the digital and the ideals of openness that guide many media artists. The fencing in of digital art in tightly controlled virtual marketplaces can serve only to undermine – not to embody – the ‘value' of the works to which such technologies seek to attach themselves.
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