APPENDIX A: Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Extract from ‘Best Practices For Conservation Of Media Art’.
Source: https://github.com/antimodular/Best-practices-for-conservation-of-media-art [accessed 23/08/2016]
DEALING WITH A COLLECTOR
- Take the video, the flash drives, the manual, the toolkit and the spares and make a BOX. Give the box to the collector explaining how important it is and warn them that replacing it will cost $750 (or choose a number that is profitable). Many collectors will quickly lose this box. When they come to you asking for a replacement make a buck for godsakes.
- Explain the concept of digital copy to your collector. Most do not understand that an original file is identical to a copy. And if they do, they are so completely absorbed with the aura of authenticity that I have heard of artists having to destroy a digital file once they print copies of a digital picture. This is absolutely absurd and unnecessary for work like mine (and yours). If a collector buys an image from me I want to give her the Tiff file with colour looking tables and printing instructions so that she can reproduce the work in the future when the UV rays wash the colours out or when a child takes a knife to the image. So long as you copy the data from the flash drive onto other future media, as USB dies, the work that you own will be perfectly reproducible, like the instructions of a Sol LeWitt or a Gonzalez-Torres. In this sense, digital prints are orders of magnitude easier to preserve than any other print.
- Once the collector understands that they have the digital files needed to reproduce most or all of the work they might panic asking how their investment is protected from reckless reproduction. The answer is centuries old: with a signature. For each of my pieces I give a certificate of authenticity that is the tradable commodity of my work. In my case, the certificate is an A5-sized doubly anodized aluminium ingot that shows the details and picture of the work. I sign the certificate by hand, adding the edition number. The certificate is also engraved with our studio numbering system, has three digital watermarks and soon it will also have a blockchain unique signature. This is what you keep in the safety deposit box as it is completely irreproducible. If you do not have this certificate the piece you have is completely worthless. This certification system is retroactive, and we are slowly giving one of these for each piece acquired in the past. Running a personal certification system also has the side benefit of protecting you from potential fraud from gallerists or intermediaries who may be reproducing your work behind your back. This has not happened to me but I have heard many stories. Another benefit of personal certification is that if the collector does not pay you in full you simply do not hand-over the certificate. He or she may have the work after paying an advance, but the purchase is not complete until the work is fully paid and the collector is in possession of the unique certificate.
- Unless the piece is very simple, the price of acquisition of a work should include an honorarium for you or a technician to help with installing the work on site (what is not included in the acquisition price is the flight, accommodation and per diem for you or the technician). Make it clear to the collector that their installers need to follow your instructions on how to hang the work physically, run the wires and provide electricity. You cannot do those things because you are not insured. You are there only to supervise and to calibrate the system.
- Once you or your technician calibrate the work, show it to the collector, teach them how to turn it on and off and clean it. Then ask them who you should train for a full technical run through of the piece, e.g. the collector herself if she is nerdy, her installer, the IT department, the conservator of the collection, etc. Do a complete walk through of the work with this person and show them the manuals, spare parts, and so on. This person will be the first one that the collector will go to when the work malfunctions so he or she is very important for your own peace of mind. Once you have trained the collector and the technical person, make them sign a document that simply says that the work has been installed to their liking, that they received training on the operation, maintenance and preservation of the piece.
- Install VNC or, better, LogMeIn and explain how you can log in remotely to fix problems if needed. Show the collector how to disconnect the piece to the net if they want privacy. Depending on how fancy the work is, you can consider also using networked power bars to cycle the power remotely if necessary.
- Have the collector install surge protection and grounding to the power that is supplied to the piece. Many problems we have seen throughout the years come from bad power: fixing a burnt transformer is often a tedious and expensive job and often the circuitry is also affected.
- Talk about maintenance. To the best of your ability give a specific Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF) estimate, which is basically the time it will take for components to break, on average. For example if the piece has a projector quote the number of hours that it will work for before a bulb needs to be changed and specify how much that will cost to replace. I typically use two metaphors to explain maintenance on a media artwork, depending on the collector and situation: 1) The artwork is like a car, —you should drive it from time to time, change the oil and tune it, but the more you drive it the more it will it cost to preserve; and 2) The work is like a fountain, —you have a capital investment but then there is a maintenance budget for changing rusty valves, chlorinating the water, etc.
- Talk about warranty. You should let the collector know about whatever warranty there is on the individual components of the piece, for example a computer usually has a 1-year warranty. But you should under no circumstances guarantee that the work will function a given amount of time. You are not a corporation, you do not control the conditions of the exhibition or the handling of the piece after you depart. The spirit of giving the collector all schematics, software and code, plus the training, spare parts and manuals, is that you are now delegating conservation to his or her collection. When the collector is uncomfortable about the lack of warranty clarify the technical support you are willing to give.
- Providing technical support can be a nightmare in Media Art. Not providing it is even worse. If a piece fails the collector needs to know exactly who to call and have a support network. If they don’t it is possible they will never invest in media art again. Often artists make networks that include their galleries, trusted technicians or AV companies. In our case here is what we ask the collectors to do in case of failure:
- i) Read the manual. Over 95% of failures are something simple like a power cable that is not nestled in fully.
- ii) Contact the installer who was trained by you or your technician, he or she should be able to troubleshoot at a higher level.
iii) Contact the gallery in case they have a technician who can help.
- iv) Call or email my studio and we will try to fix the problem remotely for free, over the phone and remote login if available.
- v) If the problem is not solved, we are happy to go on site to solve it. The costs are: return flight for you or the technician to go to the city, accommodation and per diem, any parts that needed replacement, and $750, or some other daily fee you establish, for honorarium. Please note a travel day is charged at half the daily rate. It is my experience that collectors rather get direct support from the artist studio even if that may be costly. This money helps the studio maintain operations and instead of technical support being a nightmare it is now a source of income.
- Provide a migration path and explain versioning for artwork. When collectors acquire a media artwork they need to know they are getting an “event-based” living piece that is closer to a performing arts commission than a traditional visual artwork. Many conservators understandably cringe at the possibility of an artwork changing over time, but that is exactly what Media Art should aspire to do. In an epic conversation with Tate expert and friend Pip Laurenson, I realized that what she was after was completely different but not entirely incompatible with what I envisioned. Tate acquired my work “Subtitled Public” made in 2005. In this work you enter an empty room, are tracked by computerized surveillance, and a random verb is projected on your body which follows you everywhere, —the only way to get rid of the word is to touch somebody and exchange words with him or her. The project was written in Delphi, using firewire cameras, IR illuminators and XGA projectors. Using an impressive and comprehensive method Pip ensured that the piece that is at Tate can be performed using these original technologies, giving the public a snapshot of what computerized tracking was like in 2005. So far so good. Ten years later there are hardly any Delphi programmers, firewire is dead, projectors now have over 10x the pixel resolution and Kinect2 tracking is orders of magnitude faster, more accurate and easier to install. I am now planning a migration path for “Subtitled Public” to work with these new technologies because this particular project is not about the specific tracking and projection used but about the experience of words branding the public. I am eager to see the project in a second version because the experience will be more ominous. The cost for this migration is relatively low, especially if you consider that you would not need to stockpile older gear or interpret Delphi code. Versioning is almost as if a collector buys a piece of software for an initial amount, then the artist improves this over time (in a way the artist provides a Conservation path for the artwork) and charges a small upgrade fee. Like in industry, versioning can also be a source of income for the studio. Of course in the future Tate can choose to exhibit either version or both. It depends on the show. The key is not to think that both these approaches are mutually exclusive. Obviously, the artist cannot go and offer version 2 to a different collector, a migration is available only to the collector who originally acquired the work.
- Versioning should end with the death of the artist unless you leave specific instructions on what you need your estate to accomplish (like Gonzalez-Torres did).
- A collector should be free to decline migrating their piece along the artist or estate suggested path. If in the future the piece is acquired by a different party the new owners can decide to pursue a migration. Should the collector attempt to preserve the work with a migration path that is egregious and not approved by the artist or estate the title of the work will be automatically void and the artist will be able to sell it again (I learnt this from James Turrell’s practice! It so smart: you need to be protected from someone adding or taking away an element to the piece that you did not approve of).
APPENDIX B: Rafaël Rozendaal, Art Website Sales Contract
Source: http://www.artwebsitesalescontract.com/ [accessed 23/08/2016]
APPENDIX C: David Gryn Interview (June 28, 2016)
Charlotte Lee (Assistant Director at The Lumen Prize, the Global Award and Tour for Digital Art) in conversation with David Gryn (Founder of Daata Editions and Curator of Film and Moving Image Art Basel Miami Beach)
CL: Why did you decide to set up Daata Editions (DE)? What was the drive behind it?
DG: The drive behind DE was, effectively, that I’ve been working with artist moving image for 20 years and mostly in the context of cinema. So I work with artists who make film and moving image, any format. For the last 6 years I’ve been working with Art Basel Miami Beach as the Film Curator, I was brought in to try and encourage galleries to show artist moving image, which is basically an art form that many of their artists have and use, but they don’t show at fairs.
The fair was very aware that they were missing this thing that they know exists, but isn’t being brought to the art fair because of the commercial ramifications of bringing stuff that may not sell because the costs are so high. So I made it my role to encourage and empower galleries to show artist moving image, in the best and simplest way – usually in the context of cinema.
Then the Internet came along and provided another platform. My logic from Art Basel was thinking, well actually, even though I have a kind of socialist bent in my thinking, and all art shouldn’t be about commodity and sales, I realised that most galleries who are very important in the art market, as are museums, who then liaise with galleries and collectors and benefactors – again commercial elements – make decisions based about price points. So I kind of thought – if you don’t have a price point you don’t have value, because often people don’t revere the value of the artwork unless they can see it is worth something, which is not what I agree with.
I am focused particularly in the contemporary art world. DE was the idea of being a model, not the model, because you get to the .com world and people often want to take over the world and become the model, so they have huge investment and big profit. I’m trying to find a way that, with the bit of investment that we have, we can pay the artists upfront, which is very unusual in the art world unless you’re an art prize, philanthropic or Arts Council funded. The idea of DE is not to be a gallery, but an online platform that commissions artists and promotes it well. We do have a sales structure, but this isn’t led by huge profit, so it wants to be profitable, but it isn’t led by being exponentially profitable and therefore becomes a different model, which is the auction house or gallery model. So the idea is to be quite a light company, but with the investments going towards the artists, the marketing, and primarily, to start off with, the platform. It is not to be dominant; it is to be collaboratively competitive with other players and to be its own beast, and one that is hopefully there for good and ‘the good’.
CL: With rising rents pushing galleries out and the increasing importance of art fairs, how important do you think the online art market will be?
DG: I think online is important but not to be more important, my gut instinct is that there needs to be a growth in social spaces for people to meet. I think art fairs are good for socialising and galleries are good for that too. The problem with the gallery is that the art fair model is very dominant, and that has to shift back to the power of the gallery and the institution. With the opening of the Tate’s new building, the venue becomes more dominant in that horizon, but it is still being led by the desire to have income and benefactors and the benefactors are usually art collectors and then it is back to the art market again. There is an interwovenness there that is maybe not transparent. There seems to be a relationship with what donors are doing with the museum, likewise with galleries and owners of galleries.
CL: But do you think that the art that Daata supports, and digital art in general, could be collected with the investment opportunities that art is currently associated with?
DG: So the idea of Daata to have a sales point? The trade thing is not key to our thinking; it is making sure that if somebody wants to sell their work they can. We don’t take a cut and their certificate resides on the platform not in hard copy. You can have the piece of paper if you print it off, but it doesn’t mean anything if it isn’t attached to the work. So whoever owns it next has the certificate attached. The logic of DE is to be another variation on a way of purchasing, not to be a novel way, because the Internet, I think, isn’t novel anymore. You buy music through an online platform, and I was trying to make DE not too different from that process. But the idea of DE is also to have the experience of going online to enjoy the process of going online, to make going online about the experience, not to try and make it replicate the gallery or a shop. Although it is an online sales platform, the idea is that works can sit nicely on there, and you can view it in full or you can download it if you purchase it.
CL: What are the restrictions around downloading the work?
DG: With all our work, if you pay for it you can download it on to any device. If you view it you can view it on any platform, if you want to go to your own gallery online you can look at it too. There was the idea to make it as free use as possible within the rationale of ownership. But obviously there are limitations on how far you can go with it, you know we try and keep to that but we can’t marshal everyone. There is a lot of goodwill and trust in online agreements that we abide by with artist contracts and tough end user agreements, but you’d have to have the desire of an audience to buy or watch it – which there isn’t much of. Most people don’t want to look at contemporary art really – so the idea that anyone is going to want to copy or steal is unlikely. I’ve been involved, as I’ve said, for twenty years and I’ve never had anyone steal anything from me and I’ve even wished for it, because I know it’s probably a success. Artist moving image is not the most desired entertainment form – if it was maybe Taylor Swift or Bruce Springsteen, you’d have people in their millions wanting to hear or see it. Whereas I’m working with artists where maybe a few hundred at any point want to see it, if that, maybe up to a few thousands, but it’s never that much more. I hope for more, but I don’t believe that it will ever be on a Beatles level.
CL: So there are a few companies now, such as ascribe, looking at securing authenticity on the blockchain? Do you at Daata do anything like that?
DG: I’ve been talking to them, but at this point I’m not interested, only because it is another level. It is actually another boundary, another protection, another off-putting process in the art world. What I really do believe is that online, technology, digital are all mediums they are not actually more, or less, important than any other art medium. But then suddenly when everything becomes online, everyone wants to throw on these other things with it, like you’ve got to have these smart contracts. Now most artists don’t have contracts, most sales don’t associate around a real contract other than a gentleman’s handshake. With online things suddenly change, and only because people don’t really understand it. So even with the blockchain thing, you’re talking about another layer of sophistication, which you don’t have when you buy an oil painting.
So I’ve tried to keep this as simple as possible, which still remains tough because the laws of e-commerce mean you have to have processes in place which we have to abide by. But it’s all free to purchase, and it is all freely distributed, as in there are no boundaries. I think we put quite a lot in our way online because people are still feeling like it’s the gold rush, and they are trying to find ways to make it protected. But how do you protect the work? How do you look after the work for 20 years? Well I’m hoping that I’ll be alive in a few years, let alone the work is going to be. We try the best as we can to deal with what we’ve got at the moment, and we work with artists who hopefully make the work as best they can, and deliver it as best as possible, and we can try and look after it, and service the client as best as possible for the foreseeable future. But things will change and we hold the master file therefore we can change it, we can adapt it, so it can be downloaded onto whatever device. But there is a point where we can’t read the crystal ball.
CL: That’s one of the things I was interested in – looking at how, in a sense, you future proof the work. That’s one of the conversations that always gets brought up around this sort of work; you collect it, but because technology changes so fast, potentially the work won’t be accessible in a couple of years time.
DG: I mean generally, when you look at artists, and I’m speaking of good artists, they provide things with a good technical process. But when you buy a painting from a good artist it’s usually made with good materials, a good method and that’s all we’re trying to work at. Most people do not judge a painting by what different linseed oils or wax went into the paint or what type of pigments were used. Sometimes it is obvious, but you have to trust. I think there is too many tick boxes being asked of online, that don’t quite add up to any other art form. That’s possibly one of the reasons why it makes it less overtly attractive to a collector, because of all these sorts of barriers to entry that are often put up, like how do you show it? Erm, a bit like how you have other things on screens? How do you protect it? Well, you own it, you can look at it, you have files on your computer like pdfs and word documents, and when you upgrade your computer usually the files will upgrade with it because they are working together. You just have to find a way; you suddenly treat it very differently because it comes under the term ‘art object’. Even with music people go ‘oh, well I’ll put it on my hard drive’. But if all this becomes obsolete, it becomes obsolete. We can’t save it, CDs were going to be the way forward, then LPs were all discarded, and now that’s all coming back.
CL: There does seem to be this need to constantly update everything to the newest version. With moving image it used to be VHS tapes, then that moved to DVDs, then BluRay…
I used to constantly be told that and what I’d always say to anyone was just, I want the simplest possible solution. I’d often be asked to play a 35mm film, but it actually looked very similar to the BluRay I was given and sometimes in a cinema different technology will play things better. I’ve had problems with every technology, with DVD, with digital files, with 35mm – everything has gone wrong in some way and everything has played perfectly in the same mediums too. I don’t have devices on my computer to play BETA SP tapes so I get every gallery through Art Basel to send me links through Vimeo, and that way I don’t have a hundred different mediums sent to me. And even if you get loads of different disks they might be made on different computers, meaning that it doesn’t play that easily. Now things are becoming much more streamline, but still the way of distribution means that people want their fiefdoms. Everyone wants their own sort of territory, I mean that’s just human nature. It’s a bit like galleries, they all look the same, but there are only a finite number of artists that any one gallery can service. Generally a small gallery will be able to manage anywhere between 10 and 20 artists, bigger ones like Hauser and Wirth, which are museum standard, have 150 staff or more. But there still exists an economy of scale – you have to have many galleries to service the volume of artists there are. Equally, you need many platforms online, like Daata, to commission the many artists who make digital works and to show digital works. You also need to be able to pay the artist, in our model we pay artists and they also get a royalty – the economy of the system is that it will pay for itself and future artists based on the total sales.
CL: And how have sales been?
DG: Sales have been good. I mean more sales than expected, but my ambition is always for more and more. Probably most sales have gone to the most enlightened collectors, those that believe in the digital platforms and believe in innovative artists who are working online. I’d say it is the most enlightened collectors who most art fairs want to see in their doors. So I’ve got various collectors we’re working with; the Zabludowicz investors, the Julia Stoschek collection, the Hammer Museum, and we’re in conversation with quite a few others.
There’s not billions of collectors out there, but actually my dream is that almost the man on the street would be able to buy it easily so the price point starts fairly low – not that I’m expecting every one on the street to want it.
CL: That’s the aim though – to make art more accessible? There seems to be a lot of talk around the potential of this genre appeal to a younger audience and even the ‘techie’ collectors of Silicon Valley.
DG: Well Silicon Valley is quirky, but a lot of people want things for free, or the subscription-model. I wanted to have something to offer before there was a subscription-model, so starting off with a subscription-model from nothing means you have nothing. We are doing quite a few subscription processes whereby people get a loan of the work for a period of time. We’ve just done a project with the Bauer Hotel in Venice and the Drake Hotel recently in Toronto – where you can access the work in the hotel room.
The Silicon Valley model is quirky because everyone has money, but people want to do different things with their money, and not necessarily as sophisticated. They might want to buy games, or do things with their computers, which may not necessarily involve looking at art. One would hope for the enlightened audience, so I’m still in hope for that one to be in existence, but at the moment we’ve built up a kind of capitalist mind-set around the idea. Well I’ve even had conversations with quite a lot of Silicon Valley type companies who keep talking about building up companies to flip them, sell them, and build up a new company in the next few months. I’ve seen this over the last 20 years from the beginning of the .com boom – where the drive for more investors is more important than the company’s core business. And in terms of the art world, some of those companies had more investors than they had payments going towards the artists that produced the work that allowed the companies to operate. So you’ll see quite a few of those companies fold quite easily. It’s fairly easy to fold as a company because it’s quite hard to exist, but to actually not invest in the thing you are there to do is almost kind of criminal, because it means you are saying to your investors: ‘we are working the art world but we don’t produce any art’. But then if everyone wants to be a middleman – like an Uber or a Google – which is about bringing two ends together, the art world doesn’t need endless amounts of those.
They need art, and if you’re not paying artists then you have no art. You need to start from the ground up, supporting artists to make the work, rather than going to the top. But when you’re trying to build up revenue in a company often people get confused, which means they need to go to the top name artist to bring in money quickly and keep the books afloat. You end up going to the Damien Hirst end of the spectrum, as opposed to the young graduates. Because the young graduate isn’t going to keep all those employees in their salaries. So I’m quite aware of that world, and I watch it, and see it, and find it quite humorous and annoying in equal measure, but it’s a bit like in art school where they have lots of people paying to be in art school, but they don’t have many people coming in to teach. So somehow now there are more people paying for education at a higher level, but there is less staff. That money is going into running the building, and as a result there isn’t any money there for more staff.
In a way companies are not that different. Money comes in but staff and resources just eat it up, rather than innovation costs. Daata is trying to make things self-sustaining, and it is about supporting the economy of the art world, not supporting profiteering and trying to make a dominant brand. You can be dominant by being good, be dominant by being successful in what you aim to do, and by collaborating well and delivering the best you can possibly do. And sometimes people fall off that bandwagon because they can’t collaborate and end up just going for profit. In the art world it is very hard to just have profit, and the best artists don’t do it to make the most money, they end up doing that and making money because they delivered the best works consistently for the longest period of time. Anyway, that’s my little rant over.
CL: That makes sense though – you can’t have a profitable art business without having ‘good’ artists, and you won’t have the good artists if you don’t support them in the first place.
DG: Well we’re also trying to do something that is innovative, but not that innovative. We all use the Interne. It’s about normality and that’s the aim of Daata for me, to be as normal as possible.
CL: There does seem to be a big shift online now and the art world seems to have picked up on it, with platforms like Artsy and Paddle8 gaining ground.
DG: But Artsy still doesn’t invest in artists. Which I think is going to be difficult to sustain, they have a large staff, and to me it’s still based on building up a company as opposed to building up an art world.
CL: So how do you at Daata pick the artists you want to work with?
DG: Usually through the ecosystem of knowing, because I’ve had experience, as have people I work with on Daata. So collaboratively we talk about certain artists and then we ask other artists sometimes to suggest other people, or galleries, or people we value in the art world. So it’s kind of like a whispering ecosystem around an artist, and sometimes that’s because the artist is generally good, and even if they are graduates, sometimes you know from their fellow students, or their course leaders, or other people who’ve encountered their work. So the whisper becomes louder and sometimes you take a risk and a chance. We’ve started to do this thing where we commission other curators or entities, who then become the curator of Daata, so then the decision is not just ours. To make it just ours makes it finite. We want to have the idea that you can expand, and so we often talk to people, commission them, and pay them to curate a few artists who we then commission. We still have to have the direct agreement with the artist.
CL: I saw you went to NADA this year, how did you find the reception of this sort of work?
DG: We launched some of Season Two at NADA. I love NADA as a concept because it’s generally got the interest of the younger and more ground level of the art world and it’s like a starting point. But it’s been like that for a long time, so it’s got this kind of natural affinity with innovation, newness, and emergence. There are issues around that because it is not necessarily all good because of those things. It’s just that NADA has a good soul. So the people that run it aren’t profiteering, they generally have the interest of their young galleries and younger artists at stake, and that’s interesting in terms of nurturing. So they are a nurturing organisation, the new art dealers alliance – it is not the ‘new crass profiteering alliance’. And they don’t charge silly prices, you know it generally costs to be somewhere but it’s a good experience. It’s based currently on Lower East Side, which is now where everything is happening in New York. From my experience of a few fairs, it’s difficult showing moving image because people just generally want to buy objects.
CL: It’s also difficult to view in the fair environment, since you’ve actually got to stand and look, and you might come in to the film at the wrong time.
DG: Generally the moving image we have on Daata lasts up to three minutes. So the idea was to make it a finite time. We aren’t a platform for everything, as we are commissioning at a certain price point and we are selling at a certain price point. So we are not all things to all people, otherwise we are going to have to change our thinking the whole time, or have a new platform where we have the bandwidth to have an hour long film here and there. There might be a project that comes up one day that makes sense, but at this point the idea is to be as fluid, and as easy to use, as downloading music, and most music tracks are around the 3-minute mark.
CL: I was speaking to Scott Reyburn earlier in the year, and he mentioned that New York is a completely different market – since people actually spend their weekends looking at art.
DG: Yeah, and they generally look, whereas here, in the UK, I think they tend to want entertainment when they go to art things. There are a few here. Once upon a time in my youth there was only Charles Saatchi, that changed and then there became a few others. And then Frieze came along and there became many. But, there is still probably only somewhere between 40 and 70 collectors around the world that most art fairs want to see through their doors. Those are the big ones who do something major with the art world, they buy lots of art and show it, venerate it, and they are good to work with. We aren’t talking about hundreds, and they are the enlightened ones generally. Then, after that, you’ve got people who want one or two works of art, who want to look cool. Artists don’t necessarily make art to be cool – they make art because they believe it to be a language of communication.
CL: So there is this phrase that keeps popping up – ‘screens are the new walls’ – it’s something Steven Sacks said. Do you agree?
DG: Screens are great but I don’t think they’re walls – it’s another area of viewing and I think it’s equal to a painting. But a large canvas isn’t necessarily a wall; a large sculpture isn’t a wall. I sort of know what he is going on about, but I kind of think there are all these people that want to say it’s the ‘new thing’. I think it is ‘a thing’, but there will be another ‘new thing’ coming along that will be equally interesting whatever that form is. We’ve also got 3D printers – which isn’t the new sculpture – and it is now not new.
I’m not so convinced by everything tech being whacky. There is this idea of technology being great because it is technology, rather than as a means to an end, so I think socialisation is the key to everything. I commission works by artists and sell it to humans, and everything in the process is promoted by people. The artwork is made by the artist, and we distribute and show it using the Internet. So I don’t see it as more glamorous or better, but it’s very easy, and costs are finite once you have built the system.
CL: There are lot of these new digital canvases and frames coming out at the moment as well. I was at a talk the other day hosted by Sedition, and they are now getting artists to design frames for your iPad. So, rather than having an iPad that you would actively use, you would have the iPad on your wall.
DG: Well Sedition when they launched had these things called screensavers, and I don’t know any artist who wants their work as a screensaver. Everything we do at DE is about the artist. It is artist video, web, sound, poetry – it is not digital art, video art or sound art. The word artist comes first in my speech pattern and it’s really important to me to maintain that level of semantics otherwise there is this idea of veneration. Video art is important because it is ‘video art’, whereas the work being important because it is made by a good artist, to me, is more important. That way you are supporting the artist and the manufacturing of the art work by the artist. It is not that the technology somehow makes it better. For instance, the idea that The Lumen Prize is a ‘digital art’ prize, suggests that it must be good because it is a ‘digital art’, why would you call it ‘digital art’ otherwise.
CL: I do think that is one of the main problems, you do tend to make it medium specific.
DG: Yeah, and I think that helps and keeps the focus in people’s minds but it also means that it pigeon holes. I mean I’ve watched this, people like to control technology, like people have money and like to have power. People with technology, often artists who may not have money, but are real technology specific, like to be dominant in their field. Therefore, ‘I’m a good artist because I’m a digital artist’, as opposed to just a good artist. The best artists you don’t quantify. We don’t say anything and we know that over and over again, so where I would argue, not with you, but with the prize that we were talking about – it’s called ‘digital art’ therefore it isn’t about artists. It is about the medium and, therefore, it can’t exponentially become something better than it is, because it has already said ‘we’re niche, we’re already underplaying what we could be.’ You don’t think the Turner Prize is the Turner Prize for digital art.
CL: The Turner Prize does the same with contemporary art, but they just restrict it in another way…
DG: If it was a contemporary platform for artists using digital media, that’s fine, because then you’re talking about the contemporary art world. A lot of artists we are working with might be making painting, sculpture and other things, there is no interest in them just because they make ‘digital art’ as such – that doesn’t mean they are the right artists for us. I don’t know many of the names of the ‘digital’ artists we talked about earlier because I don’t know them from my art world. Either they aren’t in communication with me and/or I’m not seeing their work at the art fairs, galleries and institutions.
CL: But why aren’t they being included? I’ve come from a main contemporary art background, so when I started looking into this I didn’t even recognise any of the names.
DG: But if you go to any art school now, even some of the artists who are teaching don’t know the art world very well, since they might be teaching because they are not growing in the art world. Or, they need to make more money and they get caught up in the whole machine of the education system. But when I go and talk to students, and I do it a lot, I speak to students who don’t feel like they get anyone from the art world in to talk to them properly. Obviously it’s great that they are learning the techniques, I mean that’s why they are at art school, but they also need to be taught how to cope in the art world.
CL: The Sedition talk I went to actually touched on this a bit. A gallerist from Subject Matter mentioned that she linked up with the RCA and went in and taught the students how to promote themselves. That’s something I think a lot of art graduates don’t know how to do.
DG: They still don’t, even when I tell them, they still have no idea. It might be just the student, but it is the chicken and egg, I still think colleges should bear more responsibility. But they have to ignore it, because the people who run them, and teach them, want to maintain their jobs. If you bring something in that challenges them in any way it becomes very difficult for their livelihood. The teacher is still looking for that livelihood as much as the student at the end of it. But I’m really underwhelmed by so many student outcomes. In support of the student I’m underwhelmed by what they get and how they are treated. I often meet with people, such as lecturers, who want to tell me about their work not about their student’s work. I’ve even come across someone who runs an art school, a huge one, and they often email me in a group email about their work, or to do with the gallery they exhibit in, and never about their students. I would really believe in you as a head of an art school if you were supporting your students. I rarely see students being bigged up by their tutors, and when I do, I’m really charmed by that tutor.
CL: So this year we actually had a couple of art schools enter the work of their students, which was great to see. These came from the MA digital programmes, such as those at Camberwell, and we tend to find that a lot of our entrants end up coming from an institutional background or from the digital industry. Our 2014 winner, who has actually just got his first solo exhibition in London this year, works for Pixar. You see them going into industry rather than entering into the art world.
DG: I think we’re in the midst of something quite big that is going on. A sea-change, but it’s kind of unresolved, and we are just trying to grow and sustain and trying to have success without the real knowledge of what that means. And I’m not suggesting I have the answers.
CL: I don’t think anyone really does, but do you think there is going to be a successful secondary market for this kind of work?
DG: Eventually, but I think the secondary market often comes from greed anyway. So there is always going to be greedy people, there are going to be people who want to profiteer. I’m not really that interested, that’s not what we do – but we also make it possible that the artists can be involved in the secondary market. The works can be sold on, that’s because we don’t want to say you can’t do it.
CL: I suppose you don’t want to say that these artists can’t be involved in an area of the market that is available to others?
We’re just trying to make it easy – we don’t want there to be a block, even though it isn’t our interest.
CL: But how can you resell a file? Amazon even tried to re-sell e-books and that failed.
DG: I think everyone is looking for profit models, and even doing what I do you have to look at making the company sustain. So you look at ways of distribution, but what I aimed to do at the beginning, just so you’re aware, was to make sure that we gave a gift of philanthropy to at least one or two institutions. So in Year One The Hammer Museum acquired the first work and, therefore, a major art institution has the work. It is different to offer things, because it says ‘we are part of the art world’ whereas other people wouldn’t know where to start and, also, The Hammer knows there is authenticity in the piece because of the people working in Daata – i.e. me – and the artists are names they may revere; so we are back to the thing about names and connections. But what is a successful artist? Is it someone who is big in the art market? It’s a combination of art market status, gallery/museum status, critical status, peer status, and in the end, when names emerge over and over again, it is a little bit like you keep seeing these names jump out at you, therefore they often become popular because you hear about them all the time, but you don’t necessarily know the work.
CL: What I found really interesting is the Jonas Lund piece that was recently commissioned by the Whitechapel and Phillips, as this explicitly linked the gallery with the auction house.
DG: I’m actually working with Phillips on something similar. My belief is that those that pay for it are fine, so I don’t mind if the artist is being paid and we are distributing it. Daata has got collaborations with Phillips, Artspace, and Electric Objects, and the plan for the future is to collaborate with DAD and AppleTV. All of these are collaborations to distribute works of art not for sale, but most likely for free. We want to put the conversation out there and actually get people to look at them, but you’ve got to pay the artist. Every time I talk to anyone, I say we would commission the artist. It is not about asking the artist to do anything for free, it’s about promoting it. That is what my aim is – to promote it well, and to keep its value chained to the art world.
We are not suddenly going to do a deal with McDonalds to co-promote art. I went round Tate Modern’s new building and saw a Uniqlo presentation room. They had people in there being really friendly encouraging people in by saying how fun it was, and I was thinking fun isn’t what art is supposed to be about, and they were telling me that this was art by Uniqlo. That is when it gets lost in translation, when the benefactor or patron decides to be the artist. This is the problem with big beasts like Tate – they need funding. They are now a bigger building than they were before and now they need even more funding, so therefore they are going to have a few dodgy moments where the brand is going to start saying ‘we have an art thing’, it could be fun for kids but then it just gets lost.
CL: People do seem to go to these art events and expect it to be a spectacle.
Yeah, well Tate’s now got the viewing platform on the top – and you know that’s going to be the busiest place.
CL: So finally, what do you see for Daata in the future?
DG: Daata in the future… well it’s tough sustaining a business. Sustaining an art career is even tougher than most things because it is not a normal business, but my ambition is that it is treated as a normal aspect of the art world. I’m looking for it not to be treated as a freak show, or a sideshow, or as something to compete with YouTube. I want artists who work in other mediums to feel that there are other platforms, not just galleries. And galleries could even start doing stuff with this sort of work, then you’d have a healthier competition in that area of output – at the moment there is very little. You go to art fairs and there is nothing there. The problem with art fairs not having things in them is that they are so dominant – therefore it is back to the first thing I talked about. If you go round an art fair and don’t see sound, performance, screen based works – anything that isn’t easily commercial – it doesn’t exist in the mind of the viewer, therefore it doesn’t exist. If it isn’t there, then it is a bit like a £70million work of art that gets put in a safe and then doesn’t exist – but it did and does exist. The art fair periods are the most dominant times for the art market, but also for art exhibitions, and even the galleries generally don’t always show things at that time that are hard to sell because they want to have an audience coming in to buy art. Everything has a price point generally. We try and give away an artwork per season for free, but it is not necessarily easy to make in order to give it away for free, since you have to make sure the artist is paid.
CL: But I guess the artist wants their work collected by the institution? So it benefits them
DG: So with the Jon Rafman piece [which is available free to everyone], I’ve had institutions be proud to have the free Jon Rafman in their collection of artworks – it is equal to the ones that had a price point. As they see it, they’ve got it in their body of work, but they might not have thought about having it until they were given it. It’s even interesting to see how people treat free works, but I think generally people need to see that it has a value point, to start thinking that they trust it has value, which is a shame.
CL: With this idea of the price point in mind, there has only been the one big auction of digital art, Paddles ON! in 2013, but nothing else seems to have come of that…
DG: I don’t think they had much success, but I have been liaising with people to put together something and collaborate with them. The people who put that together seem to have a good interest at heart; they don’t seem to be interested in profiteering. I’ve been liaising with Lindsay Howard and Megan Newcome, who’s at Phillips.