Blocumenta: An Experimental Art Project on the Blockchain

paper, specified "short paper"
  1. 1. Denise Thwaites

    University of Canberra

  2. 2. Baden Pailthorpe

    Australian National University - University of Canberra

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From ‘Bitchcoin’ and ‘CryptoKitties’ to distributed ledgers for nuclear non-proliferation, feverish adoption and experimentation with blockchain technology is matched only by the promissory hype that accompanies it (Gloerich, Lovnik, et. al., 2018). This paper presents the aims and background of
Blocumenta - an experimental blockchain-based contemporary arts project that deploys creative methodologies to investigate the poetic potential of blockchain, while exploring alternate models for funding, archiving and historicising the creative practices of our era.

Since the Satoshi Nakamoto Bitcoin White Paper in 2008, blockchain has ignited public debate, carving out a distinctive place in the cultural imaginary (Catlow, 2018)
. However, current research recognises that the celebrationist discourse surrounding ‘the Blockchain Revolution’ (
Radziwill, 2018) must be matched with rigorous critical interrogation to ensure the positive development of this technology for human societies. The
Blocumenta project thus distances itself from the crypto-libertarian blockchain evangelism that is commonly associated with this field of tech development (Golumbia, 2016). Instead it builds upon research emphasising the cooperative properties of this technology, and its potential to enable decentralized governance of community assets (Scott, 2016).

Departing from an initial stage of creative engagement and aesthetic experimentation across local arts and tech communities in Sydney and the Yirrkala (Australia), São Paulo (Brazil) and Guangzhou (China),
Blocumenta interrogates whether a distributed, autonomous and trustless contemporary art archive can in fact overcome the limitations of centralised and often exclusionary art historical narratives, or whether the cultural and historical biases simply find new iterations and determinations that can be expressed through this emergent technology.
Blocumenta does this through the design and implementation of a distributed autonomous arts organisation (DAAO), that prototypes:

[1] A new technical and economic model for cultural exchange addressing material inequalities that pervade artistic production, using a cryptocurrency crowdfunding structure that builds upon existing financial, social and cultural applications of blockchain, including Bail Bloc (The New Inquiry, 2017) and Game Chaingers (UNICEF, 2018);
[2] A distributed application (DApp) and blockchain architecture for artists to document, present and archive their cultural practices, cooperatively governing this cultural asset that serves as an alternate resource to circumvent the digital clutter and corporate biases of the Web 2.0.
A future-oriented cultural heritage project,
Blocumenta distinguishes itself from current explorations into blockchain’s promise as a tool to revolutionize artistic practices and communities, as seen in programs delivered by EU funded initiatives such as DAOWO (Myers 2015) and State Machines (De Vries, 2018). Its distinction is found in a commitment to decentralizing the historic eurocentrism of ‘global contemporary art’, and in arguing that conversations regarding the cultural development of Blockchain as a decentred technology should equally strive to realise a globally decentred human approach to cultural heritage.

Blocumenta serves as a counterpoint to long standing approaches to the digital museum, which are underpinned by an ethos of open access to data, as exemplified by institutions such as SFMOMA (Winesmith & Carey, 2014)
. Rather than providing a window into the content and organisation of traditional collecting bodies,
Blocumenta intervenes in the composition of an immutable archive governed by artist collectives based across the Global North/South divide, experimenting with archival protocols and formats that challenge the stasis and rigidity long associated with the museum as mausoleum (Adorno, 1967). Through its decentralized governance structures, it raises questions such as: What kind of work merits archiving? How could the immutability of blockchain archiving provoke a different kind of digital activity, through its ‘trustless’ accountability? How might such technical architectures create distinctive exhibition, performance and reception spaces for contemporary art practices, from new media to performance to literature?

Finally, in this paper we will consider how
Blocumenta exemplifies a shift away from a digital age characterised by an ethos of free and open access to content that is, in reality, underpinned by hidden centralised informational systems mediated by corporate interlocutors. Building upon Birchall’s discussions of ‘shareveillance’ (2016) and Glissant’s concept of ‘opacity’ (2009), we will question whether digital systems in which archival participation and access must be ‘earned’ through the cooperative labour of a decentralized community of stakeholders, may be an appropriate antidote to the implicit power dynamics of traditional archives, as well as the chaotic transience of Web 2.0 digital culture.

Subverting the original aims of the quinquennial survey of contemporary art
Documenta (to document significant examples of modern and contemporary art in order to overcome Germany’s cultural isolation after World War II),
Blocumenta challenges the homogenising and colonial processes associated with the encyclopaedic museum, archive and exhibition, envisaging new forms of cultural heritage grounded in dynamic collaboration and equitable exchange between members of a globally distributed community.


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(Accessed 27 November 2018)

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(Accessed 27 November 2018)

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(Accessed 27 November 2018)

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(Accessed 27 November 2018)

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