By Marie Chatel
Traditionally speaking, the aura of an artifact grows with rarity, which may result from the provenance of the object, the medium used, craft, expertise, and level of recognition of the artist, as well as market trends, following the general law of supply and demand. Computer-produced artworks, however, inherently depart from this economic model, making it either painstakingly adjustable to the existing scheme or persuasively innovative in its consumption and usage.
If you look into digital art exhibitions as we do, you might have noticed that some artworks repeatedly appear, while exhibition themselves focus on the same trending subjects such as artificial intelligence and post-cyber-feminism. Conspicuously, these shows happen concurrently or close enough in time as to make evident that many versions of these artworks exist and that if not screened they could be produced locally for the show, bypassing the usual insurance, and transportation of a unique piece. This situation asks about the relationship between the artworks’ mother file and its physical copies. Should the physical versions be considered of high commercial value or should only the original file retain value? Does the object lose its aura as it is made more accessible to institutions, the web, and other networks? Or, is the definition of aura changing?
In the 20th century, sociologist and critic Walter Benjamin decried that art objects lose their aura as they become more easily accessible through mechanical and industrial production. While painting and sculpture retained rarity throughout the history of art because of their uniqueness, emerging fields of the time such as photography and design asked for new ways to create value so that they wouldn’t fall into anonymity and end up commodified like other everyday goods. The most common (yet partial) solution to generate value for such art was to limit the number of editions, that is, in other words, opposing the objects’ reproducible nature to make it appear more luxurious (and sell at higher prices). Of course, when galleries now present digital art such as the works of Jon Rafman or Tabor Robak, they rely on similar schemes, producing limited editions with high-quality materials and technology to support the idea of an — apparently — rare piece.
But digital art is primarily meant to be seen, experienced, and shared. When thinking of internet art, for instance, the art form was endemic, and its first intent was to reach small online communities with tech-savvies benefiting from more of privileged access than the elite ever did. Such works gained recognition through increased visibility on the web and social platforms, and endorsements from the general audience and institutions — all of which became more critical for attention than the notion of scarcity. This attitude marks a substantial shift in perception whereby the accessibility, previously undermined, becomes a source of value. As media and online networks reinforce the social power of the general audience, distinctiveness acts as more of a criterion than rareness in assessing the object’s aura.
The main concern linked to the original copy is thus not the lack of aura but the licensing and protection of artists’ copyright, asking how to help creatives earn from an art form which places openness and participation first. Several ventures rethink collecting in the digital age and disrupt the art market to embrace these new realities. At Danae HI, we stand to protect the mother file through a blockchain protocol which is subject to tokenization and trade. People can invest in the art by purchasing tokens of artwork which indulge them in receiving royalties anytime physical versions are bought, produced and exhibited. This way artists earn money from their artworks’ exploitation and the primary and secondary market of their artworks’ tokens. Because each art piece has a limited number of tokens, it can gain market value (just like a share would) while allowing artists to maximize accessibility to their art.
Licensing the mother file also allows for the varying of features in the physical versions of artworks. Editions can come in different sizes and involve various media (alone or combined) such as VR, AR, video, and prints. This complex set of parameters means that each edition provides with a new way of seeing the same work. It allows artists to make their project evolve through time as part of an ongoing process — something which might involve aesthetic changes but also technical ones as technological obsolescence requires artists to maintain the art pieces consistently. With mother files acting as work in process while physical versions present records or states at specific points in time, perhaps the two types of artifacts will one day be considered as complementary in forging artworks’ aura?