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The Future vs. Art

The ArtMoi Podcast

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Episode 1

Cryptocurrencies vs. Art

Expert: Blockchain Specialist, David Lopez, Think Big

M: Hi folks!

Welcome to the very first episode of ‘the future vs. art’, an experimental podcast series where I attempt to future-proof the art world by testing out a few scenarios.

My name is Michelle Bouchard, and I will be your host, or rather, guide on this journey into the future.

Content for this Podcast is produced by ArtMoi, the catalogue and art documentation platform for artists, galleries and art collectors.

ArtMoi is working to create a new industry standard that is controlled by artists for the long term provenance tracking of art.

The idea for this Podcast is based on the dilemma that the art world is slow to adapt to technology, and why some things continue to operate literally by the book, and on paper, when they don’t have to…

My main question is that if we know technological resources are superior, then why aren’t art companies also competing to the best in the world, and ultimately make things easier?

This is a resource thing, or is this a ‘we don’t want to deal with it’ kind of attitude perpetuated by the art industry?

These assumptions combined with the fact that many commercial galleries, and artists don’t trust technology may be doing more harm than good as the future is happening one way or another.

In fact it’s happening. Right. Now.

‘The future vs. art’ works like this: Every week, I design a scenario in the art world by looking at current trends in the tech world.

I look at the impact of tech, and then imagine how these changes, and resources may impact the art world.

Each week, I call on artists and experts to help construct this future.

Every episode, I set the scene with a short story, kind of like a ‘what if scenario’.

This week, in our very first episode, I explore one of the most popular tech trends of 2017, cryptocurrency, with David Lopez, a part-time artist, and big data architect at Think Big London.

We look at the things being done today that may or may not change the way really expensive art is bought and sold.

Before we dive into our story and speak with David, it might help explain to you listeners out there that our topic today, cryptocurrency, cannot exist without the blockchain.

The blockchain basically is a giant digital record book of all cryptocurrency transactions that are logged by date, time, participants, and amounts.

Recognize the word Bitcoin...if you do, that may be because you read something about how this currency is going to take over the world!

This is because the blockchain is a shared digital accounting ledger, where digital currency like Bitcoin can be applied across multiple applications.

The value of Bitcoin is down to the number of units assigned in each digital coin, by the way, that’s 100,000,000 possible units of value you can store in just one Bitcoin.

So...without further a do, and because our time today is all about money, let’s begin our story…

We’ve jumped 30 years, and we are now living in the year 2048.

Bitcoin is the world’s most valuable currency. There are no banks, no trusted third parties. The world runs on blockchain.

That means every digital and physical asset in the world is being freely and securely traded online.

Each asset has identifiable Bitcoin units of value. When you reach for your wallet, you reach for your Bitcoin wallet.

That means Art Fairs, Auctions and Commercial Galleries in 2048 might look more like stock exchanges where every type of art is assigned to a particular unit of value.

For example, to buy a large photograph with a 10 year provenance and lots of great exposure, there are Bitcoin platforms that validate the value of this transaction.

So, if you decide to buy art the old fashioned way, and go into the gallery, your sales transaction will be measured by Bitcoin unit value, and logged in the blockchain.

In conclusion, the art world is now regulated down to the unit of value. It is trusted, more secure, and transactions are easily tracked.

When I got back from 2048, I met David Lopez from Think Big London via Skype, and please bear with me the connection wasn’t so great!

But we managed to sort out how this scenario would or would not work...

M: So we're live now, we're recording.

D: Yeah.

M: Cool.

M: Hi David again! Welcome to...

D: Hi how are you?

M: Good, good. Welcome to our very first podcast The Future vs. Art. We're happy to have you just because you're a musician, you're an artist yourself, and you're also a big data architect in London.

D: That's correct.

M: So I'd just like to ask you first about your music and if you can describe your music for our listeners.

D: I've been making music for several projects. At the moment I'm working on electronic music, with a focus on techno and electronic in general. The middle ground is all the way from pop punk, noise rock, all types of things.

M: Yeah so it's really different stuff, I actually have listened to it. It sounds really really different and really futuristic. Has tech always influenced your music?

D:Well on the one hand yes. But I guess it's really hard to answer that question because the concept of tech, what does that really mean? Are we talking about technology, are we talking about computers in particular? Because surely if you ask someone 80 years ago, a photographer, that would be considered technology right? And now we don't consider that part of the tech world, so I guess technology has been there as part of the creative process since always probably. Now we see tech as many computers, internet, blockchain technology, all these types of things. But I think to different degrees, technology has always been directly related to the art world in my opinion.

M:That's really interesting and yeah, as we talk about computers, you just might have heard my messaging system go off...We're so connected to the internet on a day to day, minute by minute basis. So in the future, I was thinking that things might be more regulated as a result because of cryptocurrency and blockchain as you just mentioned. But maybe we can talk more about how this relates to the art world. How would you describe Bitcoin and blockchain to an artist?

D: Okay first of all, I would say that there is a difference between bitcoin and blockchain.

M: Okay.

D: Everybody nowadays is familiar with Bitcoin, which is internet money. Right, from the media almost the whole time lately. Bitcoin is just an implementation of the blockchain technology, okay? So blockchain technologies will enable Bitcoins. How I would explain blockchain to an artist, or to whatever person really...I would say that blockchain is a technology that allows for people to exchange value between people removing the need of a trusted third party. So, for example, if you think about a transaction of value, say for example, a payment. So what we have is one person, or organization sending money to another person, and we have in the middle a trusted third party. So for example in this case it will probably be a bank. Right? So if we do any type of transfer of value it exists in that third party. Now what blockchain allows us to do is remove this third party using technology to make that transfer of value more secure to complete the transaction. And when I say value, I don't mean only money because if you think about Bitcoin we are talking specifically about currency. Blockchain enables you to exchange value. If we think about a certificate of property, we can think of for example a piece of art, we can get many many types of exchanges that involve value and blockchain enables us to remove that third party being a bank, a government. It could be Spotify, it could be an art gallery, etc. etc.

How this happens is a little more complicated, and now I don't think we have time to explain how it works. But basically that's the concept. It enables us to exchange value between people removing the need for a third party.

M: So in your experience as an artist, and producing music, do you ever worry that one day you might be paid in Cryptocurrency? Do you think actually on the other hand it could be an advantage to be paid in cryptocurrency?

D: If I talk now specifically about music, it would probably be the same for other types of art. If you think for example Spotify, which is the most the used platform at least in Europe, to play music and to consume music from different artists. Spotify pays 0.0003 dollars per play to an artist. So am I concerned about differences in exchanges, definitely not, because if you think that Spotify and all these streaming platforms if we talk about music in particular they are part of this known shared economy. We are talking about Spotify but also Airbnb, Uber, all these companies that power a shared economy, if you think about it, they are not really a shared economy. Because you have people providing the services, and people consuming the services. In this case, it can be art, for example, it can be music. But we have in the centre, a centralized organization, companies in this case, that is dictating the price and the way that the audience consumes the music and the art.

What would be great, if for example, technology like blockchain, the artists could have a more direct interaction when exchanging a piece of art the music, for money and connect with their audience. So any technology that could put an artist closer to their audiences and ensure that artists are in control of the price of the piece of art, I think that could be a good change right?

M: If artists are in control of their prices in the future, do you think Bitcoin will have anything to do with it? I know that's definitely trending in 2017 anyways.

Do you think that this currency shares almost the same principles as different forms of art in a way in that it's valuable because we think it's valuable at the moment?

D: In a sense yes. I mean, Bitcoin has a perceived value, right? For example, something that a piece of art has. Then again, that's also applied to many other things. For example, gold. What the value of gold? It's based on the perceived value and also one viscosity of the gold as a mineral, right? But there are many many many other things that have perceived value. I would say that the majority of things that we exchange the price is based only on that perceived value. If we are talking specifically about Bitcoin, and it would be a good one to talk about as it's had a massive crash, it went down about 30%. So if we talk about Bitcoin in particular I believe that Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are now in a phase of a bubble.

I think we are in a place that we can compare, for example, blockchain and Bitcoin in particular to the introduction of the internet. I think it's a phenomenon. If you went to 1999 when the prices of the shares were like growing exponentially, everyday, then a couple of years after there was a massive crash, and only after that, after 2001, it went everywhere. Companies like Google, Facebook and others are now that biggest players on the economical arena nowadays.

Only after that crash is when technology really started, providing benefits to the people. So I think we are at the phase now. I think blockchain, which is, and I'd like to highlight as a reminder that bitcoin is just one potential implementation of the technology blockchain. I think once we go through this first period of a bubble, and burst of the bubble, only after that we will start seeing very very interesting new initiatives regarding how blockchain can disrupt many industries, for example the art world.

M: You're so good at this David!

D: I talk a lot about this!

M: It's a little confusing for me as someone who works with artists and often, kind of struggles with things being done on paper most of the time.

A lot of artists I've worked with are hesitant to put their work online because they don't really know what's out there and they don't really know what's protecting it.

I guess, I kind of maybe want to ask you what you think of protection in all this? Do you think that if the future means blockchain, data systems are taking over, there are steps necessary to protect your work if that were the case?

D: There are different questions there. Are you asking about the security aspects of blockchain?

M: Yes, is it safe?

D: Okay so, from the artist perspective, and I understand, we are all reactionary to things right, especially to things that have the potential to completely reshape our society, and in my opinion blockchain is one of those technologies that we discover, create whatever, every few decades. So that really really has the potential to transform our society. And again, I would say that blockchain will do this to the financial sector and everything that has value. And the things that the internet has done in the last decade in exchange of information. Now we are not exchanging data, we are exchanging value, right?

In terms of security, I haven't come across too many technologies that are as safe and secure as blockchain. I think the fine art world in particular suffers from great opacity. It's hard a difficult to track provenance, and there is a lot of traceability issues, information is not transparent. I think blockchain is not only safe, but it's even more important to consider the transparency and that it is decentralized.

So it cannot democratize in a sense, the art world, but open a new paradigm to transparency that is totally different than it is now. I'm not going to say in detail how blockchain is very secure but I would just say that at the moment with the technology that we have as a species we don't have enough computing power to hack blockchain.

Because what we would need to do...blockchain is decentralized right, so what we could do is we could hack, let's say I'm a hacker, and I want to hack the blockchain. I want to change the value, for example, i want to change the certificate of property for a piece of art for it to say under my name so I'm the new owner.

So what I could do is...remember, the different shared networks, I could hack one of the nodes. But the way blockchain is designed through architecture, it enforces security because it is computed so even if I would hack one of those nodes, the rest of the network would have conflicting information so the only way, if I would want to hack the blockchain network, I would need to hack all the nodes. And that would be quite hard because if we're talking about hacking photography, I would need to hack all the nodes, in the network, potentially thousands and thousands of them through the internet, and I would need to do it in exactly the same second.

So I would potentially hack thousands of computers using very complex computing in the same second. That at the moment is impossible, maybe in the future quantum computing would complicate security issues with the current networks of blockchain but at the moment it's certainly not possible to hack in a conventional sense of hacking.

M: So we're a long long way away it sounds...

D: Yes. So if you think about quantum the future in a couple of decades. Quantum computing is one of those things that may impose a risk to blockchain but not only blockchain, all of our banking systems, our governments and everything, because quantum computing is going to have a computing power that is exponentially bigger to what we know now but we are quite far away from that so I wouldn't necessarily concern about quantum computing I'm just mentioning it as one of the only potential technologies that could be used to hack blockchain network.

So in very few words, I would say to the artists, yes, don't worry it's safe, it's actually safer then your gallery or your bank or certainly your government, and on top of that it's not only safer but also more transparent and also more fair!

M: It sounds like a form of sci-fi but imagining this stuff is actually kind of fun and for me anyways it makes some things about the art world that feel that there stuck, this feels like it could have amazing potential in the future and be more efficient.

D: Yes definitely! I think it's going to be a very exciting time for the art world given these new technologies for example blockchain.

M: I guess one of my last questions for you today David, first of all you've been so helpful in helping us create this world and telling us all this amazing information from your experience.

I realize you live in London, and London is one of the centres in the art world. Do you have any upcoming performances or new work that you're producing currently?

D: So at the moment we just released the Cluster Node record label we released the album of my current project which is called Outlander. I've been working with visual artists on the video for one of the tracks which is now finished, and looking really really good being released early January and I'm also working with a different record label of the next release of my band Outlander also on separate projects that will be released under the Cluster Node record label under a different name.

M: Cool! Well best of luck with that David. I'll have to have a listen and actually look at some of the visual art that's produced with your music, it sounds really really cool! Thank you so much for joining us today.

D: My pleasure!

M: So, when a big data architect and artist tells you that the art world of the future could be a lot safer, give autonomy and wider audiences to artists using blockchain…

I think I can confidently say that the future wins this week!

Cryptocurrency may be bubble that could burst any day now, but it is interesting to imagine that this could actually make art more valuable…

Like our guest David Lopez said, perhaps we just have to wait until it bursts to realise the full potential of this technology in the art world.

That’s The Future vs. Art this week, thank you for listening!