An Explanation of Sensus (working title)

This project will prototype a technology for tracking art objects that circulate in the art economy. By linking blockchain-backed smart contracts to GPS-tracking sensors, artworks can become instruments to promote transparency for the markets in which they circulate.

Our prototype will be built around a base art object: a stretched raw canvas. The stretcher frame will support three GPS micro-sensors that report location data. A blockchain-backed contract will stipulate the terms of the sale based on spatial and temporal criteria. These and any other terms would be tracked through sensor technology. For instance, a contract might dictate that the artwork be stored in a freeport for a limited duration, or simply not be permitted to enter the tax-free shelter at all. Again, these parameters can be defined along a spatial axis (the painting is moved to a forbidden location) or a temporal axis (if a painting is neglected in storage).

Any violation of the contract would trigger a rupture of a connected ink security tag to explode and stain the raw canvas. The ink marking would be an automated albeit abstract expression: both destructive and productive. The security tags, which are typically used in retail applications, would be discreetly attached with the sensors to the stretcher. (In researching this project we came upon a product that uses an ink-exploding device that triggers when the glass is taken too far away from its sensor)

In addition to violating the (space/time) contract terms, the broken sensor and ink explosions would be held as a violation of our rights in the US under VARA which states that the artist “shall have the right to prevent the use of his or her name as the author of any work of visual art in the event of a distortion, mutilation, or modification of a work of art which would be prejudicial to his or her honor or reputation; and to prevent any intentional distortions, mutilation, or modification of that work and any intentional or grossly negligent destruction of that work is a violation of that right.”

An ink rupture would violate the original work’s integrity (the work is comprised of the contract and the art object) and by law the collector would be required to return it to the artists. As the initial artists, we would recognize the ink markings as the production of a new painting altogether (while the broken sensors could be sited for the VARA violation). The sensors would be replaced and the art object would be put back into market circulation and made available with the evidence of previous contractual violations, and so on. We imagine that the prototype for this project as a provocation operating with contractual terms that advocate for an ethics that could then scale once adopted by other artists and creative producers.

The asymmetric and extractive market between artists, collectors, and institutions is unsustainable, yet it persists through opacity and a lack of systemic regulation. Over decades, as traditional qualitative criteria have unraveled, the infrastructure of artistic value has been increasingly floated on the quantitative logic of price. It is no longer a debate as to whether the art market has been financialized; the question is to what extent? The artist and writer Hito Steyerl has called this recent turn "derivative fascism." Any attempt at transforming the existing model must therefore operationalize financialization as a means to move beyond it. New economic spaces can now be formed out of flexible, enforceable contracts that ensure transparency and accountability. This experimental model will be anchored in an artist’s moral rights as outlined in the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA) of 1990.