Trojan Foundation + Blocumenta’s Decentralized Autonomous Exhibition for the Year Of DAOs conference in Osaka
Authors Denise Thwaites and James Simbouras
Over 4th-6th October, the Trojan Foundation and Blocumenta collaborated to produce the installation INTERFACE presented at the Year of the DAOs event in Osaka, as part of Osaka Blockchain Week. The 2 screen installation showcased six artworks by Flippos Vasileiou, Yiannis Pappas, Michelle-Marie Letelier, PERSONA NON GRATA, Martin Lukas Ostachowski and Jonathan Fry, selected through the curatorial deliberations of three DAOs.
The online catalogue for the INTERFACE art exhibition can be found here:
Aside from providing a test-case for how distributed online decision-making might one day be extended to full scale exhibition contexts, this experiment highlighted the potential of inter-DAO cross-pollination to cultivate further decentralized communities. In addition, this DAO-as-artwork drew attention to the role that creative expression and engagement may play in fostering community trust within new ‘trustless’ systems.
What is a Decentralized Autonomous Exhibition (DAE), anyway?
The appropriation of DAOs in artistic use-cases have been explored through a number of artworks, programs and exhibitions over recent years. Following Rob Myers’s DAOWO Whitepaper in 2014, Furtherfield and now DECAL Decentralized Arts Lab have facilitated sustained engagement with blockchain systems through art and culture projects. The collective founded by Primavera de Fillipi, O’khaos, developed a well-known series of Plantoid artworks — ‘blockchain-based lifeforms’ with life-cycles are governed by a DAO (some more recent iterations using DAOstack ). Artists Jonas Lund deploys distributed creative decision-making in his Jonas Lund Token project, issuing 100,000 shares in his artistic practice, which can be collected as bounties by curators, arts writers and other figures engaged with his practice.
But how can DAO technologies, as tools for distributed governance, assist us in navigating the material and temporal constraints associated with creative event- and exhibition-making?
Exhibitions are an obvious example of hierarchical structures that are usually developed from the top-down. However, if exhibitions can be seen as being micro-communities, they should be able to govern themselves and evolve. So surely the next obvious step to take is to decentralise exhibitions? INTERFACE was thus developed as an applied experiment to present the first Decentralised Autonomous Exhibition, existing as a series of interlinked-online DAOs with an offline presentation at Year of the DAOs in Osaka.
While the application of DAOs to coordinate funding and sustain communities is fairly well documented, INTERFACE, allowed us to explore how such DAO structures can be effectively deployed for project-based coordination and financing, allowing groups to achieve goals on shorter timescales.
Artwork Selection via DAO
The adoption of a decentralized model of curating was explored through the exhibition Proof of Work at the Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin in 2019. Its ‘curatorial protocol’ led by Simon Denny in dialogue with Distributed Gallery, Harm van den Dorpel, Sarah Hamerman and Sam Hart, Kei Kreutler, Aude Launay and Anna-Lisa Scherfose, produced an exhibition of work by 20 artists and collectives exploring real and speculative blockchain systems and cultures. Inspired by such fruitful and ambitious experiments, The Trojan Foundation and Blocumenta, sought to investigate how a more literal deployment of DAO infrastructures (and in particular, recycled DAOs) could facilitate the decentralization of a small-scale curatorial project.
As a proof of concept — underlining that the medium itself is the message — we sought to incorporate DAO decision-making and funds allocation into the experiment, while offering the participants a hands-on experience in interacting via a DAO structure. For this experiment, the final selection of 6 works were curated through three 3 distinct (but now inter-linked via community) DAOs: The Trojan DAO (A fork of Moloch DAO), Blocumenta Bitfwd Blockathon DAO and Genesis DAO (both DAOStack DAOs).
Trojan DAO (A Moloch DAO fork):
TrojanDAO is a Moloch DAO fork looking to connect communities involved in cultural production to collectively direct resources and energies as well as reducing bureaucracy & adding new cultural dimensions to the work being done around Ethereum. (more about TrojanDAO here.)
The curatorial concept of the INTERFACE multimedia installation emerged initially through conversations between Trojan DAO members James Simbouras and Filippos Vasileiou (explained further here). We published a call for participation to artists, communicated through Trojan DAO network, inviting coders and blockchain developers experimenting with artistic ideas, artists who are expanding their art through blockchain, and conceptual artists who are pushing the boundaries of art and tech concepts, to participate. Our initial open call drew resulted in a number of exciting applications for participation.
In the Trojan DAO, the process of submitting and voting on artwork proposals is intentionally slower-paced, not geared for fast decisions like those needed to be made in the context of a collective exhibition curation, although we will quickly be iterating so as to create our own Moloch-based curatorial vehicles! It is instead suited for more strategic decision-making, granting members, whether they be participating artists or patrons, time to discuss and debate on the allocation of resources and voting power towards artistic projects and development tasks that add to its ecosystem. Through this process, six artists were endorsed by the TrojanDAO to be screened as part of the Year of DAOs during Osaka Blockchain Week. The production of the INTERFACE screening was enabled through funding by the Moloch, Year Of DAOs team, with a special thanks to Eva Beylin for all the coordination efforts!
Martin Lukas Ostachowski, A visualization of hashing algorithms through clouds (2019). One of four works selected for exhibition through Trojan DAO (Moloch fork).
So how did we enable cross-DAO engagement through INTERFACE?
Our first step to facilitate this cross-pollination arrived through the support of DAOstack’s Genesis DAO community. As pollinators, we (Denise and James) proposed to finance and repurpose Blocumenta DAO, an existing DAO on the Alchemy platform. Through the strong support of the Genesis community, the proposal was passed and we were able to allocate 2.9 ETH worth of fees to artists selected by the INTERFACE exhibition DAO.
The importance of this financial dimension to our curatorial experiment cannot be underestimated, as it emerges in a contemporary art context where fundraising largely determines which shows are produced, which artists can afford to exhibit and whether curatorial labour itself is valued (see current movement surrounding museum salary transparency). Fernández, Gustafsson and Lakoubay in ‘There is No Such Thing as Blockchain Art’, outline possible avenues to democratise art-making and collecting that build upon open-source practices. However recognising the work that would be required to engage artists in such new modes of selling their work, do proposal-based DAO systems provide a preliminary entry point for artists, who are already accustomed to the bureaucratic hell of submitting endless funding and exhibition proposals? If so, could financed DAOs have a particular role in supporting the emergence of new cultural ecologies?
In the case of the INTERFACE exhibition DAO, the Genesis DAO community’s endorsement and financing played a vital role in enabling participation of the Blocumenta contingent of this collaboration.
DAOstack: Recycled Blocumenta and Bitfwd Blockathon DAO
For this experiment, we recycled the ‘Bitfwd Blockathon DAO’ on DAOstack’s Alchemy platform (another article on recycling DAOs coming soon!), which had been previously created for the Blocumenta Blockathon co-presented with Bitfwd at Artspace, Sydney in July this year. We invited members from the Trojan DAO community to join the funded DAOstack DAO, following the reputation request model established through the original Blocumenta event. Once they gained reputation in this community, participants were able to act as both artists and curators in the DAO.
Reciprocally, participants in INTERFACE’s DAOstack platform who are not already members of TrojanDAO, will be given the opportunity to receive Trojan DAO shares. This will allow them to participate in future Trojan DAO decisions regarding the allocation of community resources.
Having provided participants with information about the curatorial constraints and conceptual frameworks surrounding the Year of the DAOs exhibition, reputation holders were invited to vote on which two artworks of the five submitted, should be exhibited at INTERFACE as the winning proposals, and claim the corresponding ETH reward.
Detail from PERSONA NON GRATA, The Algorithm of Donated Dreams (2019). One of two works selected by DAOstack recycled DAO. Full poetic work viewable here.
The DAOstack alchemy platform provided clear voting mechanisms to measure the exhibition DAO’s response to artworks submitted. Matan Field has previously described the DAOstack holographic consensus as producing a ‘hive mind’ that emerges almost as its own living creature. The INTERFACE exhibition DAO certainly emerged as a representative agent for the whole with whom we had to negotiate, using our votes and stakes.
I love this work! DAO does not love this work. How can I make DAO love this work? Will boosting the proposal drive other voters out of the woodwork who agree with me? DAO will love this work if more voters like it than hate it. etc
This experience heightened in our particular experiment for Year of the DAOs, as the timeframes of the DAO were adapted from a decentralized hackathon, so that we could make pressing event deadlines. With proposal life-cycles of 8hrs, globally distributed voters inhabiting time-spans of up to 13hrs difference were compelled to remain focused negotiation with the DAO over a minimum period of 4hrs following the artwork deadline. In certain ways, this resembled the intense curatorial meetings that exist in meatspace. However, one important difference is that the DAO guarantees, for better or for worse, that decision-making will occur, even if that decision is to reject everything.The DAO is resolute in its curatorial vision.
So much of curating relies on relationship-building: between artists, creative peers, audiences and indeed, funding sources. The cross-pollinating of two DAOs provided an opportunity to connect globally distributed communities seeded through the Trojan Foundation, Blocumenta, Moloch and DAOstack networks, each acting as intensive nodes through which new relations could be made.
As is the case with DAOs, much of this community building occurred across subsidiary social channels: telegram, twitter and discord. This is where the lols happen, lines of flight emerge for people to express excitement, confusion and uncertainty, in contrast to the more purposive decisions demanded by DAO’s computational mechanisms. Indeed, one of the distinct characters of the curatorial judgements offered by DAO participants in this experiment, is the lack of objective criteria through which to judge proposals. Decentralized decisions about aesthetic feeling and affect are unpredictable, and as such require greater risk-taking on the part of artists proposing their work, and those staking them. But could fostering this willingness to take risks, be an important step to building trust within decentralized DAO communities? Artistic projects provide opportunities for DAO participants from different walks of life to engage with these systems on a register that engages with complex feeling, rather than governmental reasoning. Supporting this broad scope of experience for DAO communities to share, may be an underestimated step to increasing diverse social investment in decentralized systems. And rather than being a means to an end, these new forms of sharing and sociality may the very reason why some people join alternate economy communities in the first place.
An interesting effect of creating a collaborative installation as a DAO will be that after the end of the exhibition, the DAO infrastructure remains in place as a network of agents who can continue to interact with the DAO for their own purposes. They could, perhaps, decentrally coordinate the next manifestation of the installation at a different location, attract more funds, or use it for other collectively identified causes. The temporary communities that are created around collaborative artworks and events, such as the one that took place during Osaka Blockchain Week, may very well evolve into more sustained ones, encompassing networks between audiences, artists, sponsors, other agents on the ground able to provide key resources, even networks between interconnected DAOs.
This experiment paves a path towards developing on-chain mechanisms that will enable already existent DAOs — including those created for specific events — that are built across DAOStack, Aragon, or other DAO platforms, to participate in Trojan DAO, and other Moloch DAOs, as shareholders, and vice-versa, as well as other creative DAO-2-DAO interactions that can help bring in the emergence of collaborative ecosystems of DAOs for the organic coordination and sharing of resources between autonomous communities, as an alternative to the mainstream cultural economy. Through experiments like these, we hope that modes of cultural production that operate beyond borders can emerge, evolving and cross-pollinating, as we strive to achieve shared goals.