Martin Zeilinger

On the Conceptual Affordances of Blockchain Art

13 May 2021 // invited lecture
blockchain, crypto art, conceptual art, NFTs


[Update: The video for my talk is now embedded at the bottom of the page.]


The amazing-looking Uroboros Festival has kicked off, and is broadcasting from the DOX Centre for Contemporary Art in Prague until May 18. Among the festival offerings is a thematic strand on cyrpto-related topics, featuring Laura Lotti, the dada.art platform, Sparrow, folks from Robin Hood / Economic Space Agency, Denis Roio (Jaromil), among others, and also myself.

The talk I’ve been invited to give will take place at 18:30 CEST (17:30 BST) on 13 May 2021, to be followed by a discussion.

Attendance is free but Zoom registration is required.

Underneath the blurb you’ll find a list of some suggested readings that will frame my discussion.

Here’s the blurb:
What is the critical potential of financial technologies as an artistic medium? Against the backdrop of unending speculative hype around ‘the blockchain’ and its promises of ‘radical disruption,’ absolute ‘trustlessness,’ and incorruptible cryptographic security (not to mention immeasurable wealth!), this talk explores critical stances of artistic experiments that push beyond blockchain-as-financial-technology. Reaching back towards some of the failures of dematerialized, contract-based Conceptual Art, and forwards to the realm of blockchain-based smart contracts and the ongoing NFT (non-fungible token) craze, the aim here is to sketch a crypto art that is of the blockchain (rather than merely on it), and which interfaces critically with ‘fintech’ tendencies to financialize and hypercommodify creative practice. How, where, and to what ends can such a crypto art manifest? What are its conceptual affordances when it engages the blockchain beyond the creation of artificially scarce digital assets, to align it instead with emerging social technologies that espouse new, radical politics of inclusivity, diversity, and power distribution?

Things are moving at lightning speed in the crypto art / NFT space, so who knows what will happen in the week before my talk. But here’s a (not-so little) list of things I’ll be discussing, for anyone who wants to follow along:

Alex Esterick & Beth Jochim (feat. Memo Akten, Alice Bucknell, Geert Lovink, Primavera De Filippi, Jason Bailey, Chloe Diamond, Casey REAS, and Fanny Lakoubay) ‘Toward a New Ecology of Crypto Art: A Hybrid Manifesto’ Flash Art online 2021

Anika Meier ‘Wohin mit dem NFT-Hass?’ Monopol Magazin April 27 2021 (German)

Amy Castor ‘Metakovan, the mystery Beeple art buyer, and his NFT/DeFi scheme’ personal website, March 14 2021

David Joselit ‘NFTs, or The Readymade ReversedOctober 175 Winter 2021

Hito Steyerl ‘Eine Blase für Doofe [A Bubble for Fools]’ Monopol Magazin May 2021 (German)

Jason Bailey ‘What Is Cryptoart?’ Artnome Jan 14 2018

Laura Lotti ‘The Art of Tokenization: Blockchain Affordances and the Invention of Future MilieusMedia Theory 3.1 (special issue co-edited by Ashley Scarlett and Martin Zeilinger)

Maria Paula Fernandez, Stina Gustafsson and Fanny Lakoubay ‘There is no Such Thing as Blockchain Art - A report on the current status of the intersection of Blockchain and art’ self-published 2019

Martin Zeilinger ‘Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know about the Blockchain* (*But Were Afraid to Ask Mel Ramsden)’ pages 287-296 in Artists Re:Thinking the Blockchain ed. by Ruth Catlow, Marc Garrett, Nathan Jones & Sam Skinner, Torque Editions 2017

Matthew Plummer-Fernandez ‘Not another JPEG.’ personal website April 9 2021

Ruth Catlow ‘NFTs and the ‘Art’ world: panic and possibility

Silvia Dal Dosso ‘Cats, Frogs and Cryptoartists: What if Auteur .jpgs Become a Luxury Good’ Institute of Network Cultures March 11 2021

Tina Rivers Ryan ‘Token Gesture’ Artforum May 2021