Emerging Technologies: Blockchain
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Emerging Technologies: Blockchain

Christie’s Art + Tech summits have gained a reputation for shedding light on emerging art techniques and posing difficult questions about the nature of artistic creation. The inaugural event  ‘Exploring Blockchain’ was hosted in London in 2018; followed a year later by ‘The AI Revolution’ in New York; and finally last week saw the ‘Mixed Reality’ summit take place in Hong Kong - where our very own Jacky Tsai was seen experimenting with augmented reality. 

At Unit London we keep an ever-watchful eye on emerging art trends and the artists who are driving them forward. With the trident of art technology identified by Christie’s as a starting point, we’ve taken a look at some of the artists breaking new ground in each of the three prongs: AI, AR and blockchain.

Blockchain

A year on from the first Christie’s Art + Tech summit ‘Exploring Blockchain’, the excitement around the technology’s potential to revolutionise the art world has cooled. There are several issues with blockchain that has been dissuading companies and investors from adopting the technology. Blockchain is, currently, esoteric: although terms such as ‘smart contract’ and ‘decentralised ledger’ are bandied around fairly regularly, few understand what they mean, let alone understand the nuances of a blockchain whitepaper. A lack of clarity about blockchain’s function and purpose severely limit the chances of its wide-scale adoption. 

Then we come to more specific issues: the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), implemented in May 2018, includes a ‘Right to Erasure’, mandating that institutions be able to permanently delete personal information for EU customers upon request. Because blockchain information is immutable and, in theory, accessible by everyone, there are doubts over whether the technology would be able to comply with GDPR. Elsewhere there is the issue of scalability, processing speeds for blockchain transactions are currently extremely slow and if more people begin to use the technology it would struggle to perform at the necessary level. Finally, blockchains that leverage ‘proof of work’ consensus mechanisms like Bitcoin and the current configuration of Ethereum are notorious for massive power consumption.

Having said this, there are certain issues within the art world that blockchain technology could, in theory, help to address. Blockchain can simplify transactions; increase transparency; increase trust; increase security; provide shareable data and generally empower users, all of which are thorny art world issues. Therefore, it’s not time to denounce blockchain’s role in the art world. 

In July 2018, blockchain platform Maecenas collaborated with London-based Dadiani Fine Art. The goal was to offer fractional stakes in Andy Warhol’s 14 Small Electric Chairs 1980. 31.5% of the warhol work went up for sale in cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin and Ethereum. The total dollar value of the cryptocurrency share of the work was $5.6 million. This was a genuinely new development in the art world that caused huge excitement. In theory, the future implementation of this kind of blockchain tokenisation could allow easier access to the market, diversification of investment, reduced transition costs and increased liquidity.

WIth these goals in mind, there seems to be an opportunity for a blockchain based solution for auctioning art from scratch. Building an equitable system from the ground up, to cater for a growing number of digital collectors. Collector platform ‘Portion’ have announced a blockchain-based auction house. Led by blockchain technologist Jason Rosenstein, the venture is backed with $5.5 million in funding. Portion appeals to us at Unit London as it “allows anyone to be their own auction house”, decentralising art world power structures, ostensibly making art investment more accessible.

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