Session 5

The Artennae of Finance: What’s on the Radar?

Art can pin the interlocking of imperialist, white, supremacist, capitalist patriarchy on a map. Art can redesign value, reconfigure capitalism and disrupt systems designed to consolidate power. Art can draw the lines that connect western art history, to value systems, to property laws and crypto-kitties, point to alternative routes toward collectivity and decentralized distribution, and away from enforced scarcity and deflationary speculation economies. Art makes connections between digital economy, anthropogenic concerns, precarious labor, the sex work, and climate justice. Art can interfere in the power mechanisms underpinning governance structures.

Under the sand beds of the Channel, its waters risked by migrants in an attempt to enter the UK, lies the fastest microwave submarine cable-network that connects the exchange markets of Frankfurt and London. Alexandre Laumonier details the use of the same geographical and infrastructural space by financial traders and migrants. Stephanie Rothenberg maps the explicit links between the environmental crisis, big money, and alternative forms of digital economies. Eric Barry Drasin introduces the distributed art object, a technological and legal stack that gives rise to an emergent concept of digital art forms of ephemeral property. Antonia Hernández dicusses the power politics of tokens on sexcam platforms and money-activated teledildonics. And Aude Launay talks about the various ways in which the distribution of decision-making is imagined by artists.

Speakers: Antonia Hernández, Alexandre Laumonier, Eric Barry Drasin, Aude Launay, Stephanie Rothenberg

Moderator: Patricia de Vries

A token is a token is a token: Financial Discrimination on a Sexcam Platform

Monetary exchanges in sexcam platforms often happen through tokens. On, one of the most popular sexcam platforms, a token is the name of its main currency (tokens) and its descriptor (a token). A token is a stand-in for something else. But what else, exactly? On the sexcam platform, there is not a single answer. As I will develop, tokens have very different exchange-values depending on who has them. The differences do not stop at their cost but involve the connected services that participate (or not) in this exchange. Regarding their use-value, tokens on sexcam platforms have the paradoxical role of paying work that not only is not formally waged but explicitly labeled as non-work. Finally, tokens as technologies of communication acquire a literal meaning when they are used for affecting the bodies of the performer through money-activated teledildonics.

Antonia Hernández is a Montreal-based Chilean visual artist and PhD candidate in Communication. Mixing media practice and theoretical investigation, her current research explores maintenance activities on digital platforms.

Fast traders and slow migrants in the North of France

High-frequency trading operations need fast lines of transmission. Because of the computerization of financial markets, data coming from and going to the different exchanges in the world is like gold. Prices of financial products depend on information, as has always been the case in history. The difference between the 20th century exchanges and the 21th century ones, is that speed is more important than ever. That is why, in 2012, high-frequency traders created radio networks (radio waves transmit faster than fiber cables) using towers to link different sensitives locations. In Europe, the main microwave network links Frankfurt and London. On this route is the region around the France-Belgium border. On the Belgian side, a high-frequency trading firm from Chicago purchased a 243-meter tower for 5 million dollars to be able to send their transactions a dozen microseconds quicker. This same geographic area became critical for migrants aiming to cross the Channel into the UK. Alexandre Laumonier will detail the way fast traders and slow migrants occupy the same territory, and sometimes use the same infrastructure.

Alexandre Laumonier is a 44-year old French book publisher living in Brussels, and manages his own press, Zones sensibles (he’ll publish his 100th book in November 2019). He was also a graphic designer and teacher. Since 2013, he has been working as an independent researcher on high-frequency trading, created a blog (Sniper in Mahwah & Friends) and wrote 3 books on the topic. The last one, released in January 2019, is an investigation on the radio networks created by high-frequency traders. He’s now working on an anthropological history of market microstructure, from medieval Scholasticism to contemporary computerized exchanges.

The Distributed Art Object Framework

The distributed art object framework is a technological and legal stack giving rise to an emergent concept of digital art and other forms of ephemeral property. Largely driven by the hype around cryptocurrency, the discussion surrounding programmatic economy has largely been relegated to bitcoin speculators, fraudulent ICOs and crypto-kitties. To what extent can we re-envision value, ownership and participation in terms of cooperation and alternative forms of collectivity and distribution? Can art serve as a platform for envisioning alternative structures to blockchain enforced scarcity and deflationary speculation economies? Eric Barry Drasin will briefly discuss the precedent for the distributed art object in western art history and the American legal system and connect this to the technological and legal framework that enables the distributed object to exist. He will showcase his own projects that address some of these issues.

Eric Barry Drasin is a research-based artist exploring the relationship between art and systems of value. Through emerging blockchain technologies, his current research explores digital or “distributed” processes, objects, and organizations that problematize and reprogram fundamental assumptions about how value is constructed and disseminated. Using contracts and legal frameworks as a platform for enacting collectivity, his work injects cooperation and utopian absurdity into systems designed to consolidate power. The notion of the art object is expanded to engage notions of cultural production and collective agency. Value is performed as a form of disruption, and capitalism itself is the terrain for the refiguration of the economic landscape.

The Capitalist Ethics of Decentralization: Voting Rights for Sale

Whether to machines or people, the distribution of decision-making processes is a hot topic among artists today. Of course, art history has long been keen on questioning the idea of the uniqueness of the author, but these questions hardly went beyond the sphere of art. Now that blockchain technology is in the game, it becomes obvious that those issues are inherently political. It is understood that artists act as trailblazers on the use of technologies or in the prototyping of new ways of living. Be it regarding their own practices, curating, their own funding or even the art market, the idea underpinning these blockchain-based or blockchain-inspired projects is collective governance. Can this technology allow for an emancipation of art and artists from the opaque and rigid frameworks of the art world? Could distributing agency allow them to regain agency over their practices? And of course, this reflection does not go without reflection on incentivization: how do you get people interested in sharing agency? Is there room for non-financial incentives?

Aude Launay is an independent writer and curator trained as a philosopher. A significant part of her writings and exhibitions deals with the influence of the internet (as a hyperobject more than as a technical tool) and advanced technologies on contemporary art and society. For the past three years, her research focus has been on crowdsourced and distributed decision-making through algorithmic and blockchain-based processes in art. More generally, she is interested in art that interferes with the power mechanisms underpinning governance structures.

What’s the Environment Got to Do with It?

What are the connections between our current environmental crisis, big money, and alternative forms of the digital economy? Are there ways to map explicit links within this vast landscape of anthropogenic concerns to the MoneyLab agenda beyond the blockchain’s massive energy use? Questions around how working folks and cultural practitioners are challenging the lobbying power of big money’s climate change denial and growing anti-Green New Deal coalition in the US through non-monetary actions might be a launching point. Or looking at the spaces both inside and out of green capitalism for new models of environmental justice to emerge. The goal is to begin creating a roadmap of key issues within environmental discourse relevant to the aim of MoneyLab’s research.

Stephanie Rothenberg’s interdisciplinary art draws from digital culture, science and economics to explore relationships between human designed systems and biological ecosystems. Moving between real and virtual spaces her work investigates the power dynamics of techno utopias, global economics and outsourced labor. She has exhibited throughout the US and internationally in venues including Eyebeam (US), Sundance Film Festival (US), House of Electronic Arts / HeK (CH), LABoral (ES), Transmediale (DE), and ZKM Center for Art & Media (DE). She is Associate Professor in the Department of Art at SUNY Buffalo where she was co-organizer of MoneyLab 5 and currently co-directs the Platform Social Design Lab, an interdisciplinary design studio collaborating with local social justice organizations.