Art (I)rrelevance Symposium: Academics, Collectors, Funders and Artists Talk Data, AI and Arts

The inaugural ‘AI and art futures symposium’ (12 September 2019) explored the interplay of art market futures, art and data, and the role of the tangible and intangible artefact. Organised by UCL (Jo Townshend, UCL Enterprise and Innovation) and hosted by Barbican, the symposium considered the following topics:

  • How the democratisation of art is shaping art markets: What are the current themes emerging from the art markets and how is digitalisation shaping future interactions? Great provocation by Adriano Torcello di Picinati, Director, Deloitte Art and Finance, who previewed Deliotte’s 2019 report, but also asked the question: Should we use new digital technologies in finance to create ‘fractional’ ownership in art? The panel, comprised of some of the most prominent voices in digital art, including Bernadine Brocker-Wieder, CEO, Vastari Group; Professor Chris Salter; Artist, Professor of Computation Arts, Concordia University; Mary-Alice Stack, Chief Executive, Creative United; and Kadine James of Hobs3D, argued that the focus should not be on questions of ownership but of access to art. Maybe more interesting were discussion about what is the ‘art’ in digital art – software, hardware, or the interaction that audiences have with it? Also, how do change investment models to allow for artists and arts organization to do R&D like other digital startups? Most intriguing was this idea: should we use visitor numbers and ticket buyers as a method of valuation rather than the less transparent art market?
  • Technological advances and the experience of art: Data driven opportunities and considerations for the collector. Led by Executive Director of UCL Culture, Simon Cane, the session explore all the ways in which digital technologies and data are shaping museum practice. Professor Miguel Rodrigues, Information Theory and Processing at UCL spoke about the opportunities of using digital data contained in collections themselves to support conservation and preservation using AI technologies. He is leading a new research group at the Alan Turing Institute called AI for Arts. Nick Lambert, Director of Research, Ravensbourne spoke about his work around using data visualization technologies to unlock the value of archives. He worked with artist Michael Takeo Magruder on the British Library project Imaginary Cities which used archived map as the basis for imaging future cities. I even had the chance to try his VR work that visualizes Leonardo De Vinci’s perpetual motion machine drawings. Lawrence Chiles, Head of Digital Services, The National Gallery talked about their new immersive exhibition Virtual Veronese and Melanie Lenz, Digital Art Curator at the V&A spoke about their effort to collect digital artworks.

  • Will blockchain save art? Next phase perspectives on blockchain for artists and markets. The panel was chaired by Dr Anna Donovan, Vice Dean (Innovation), Lecturer in Law at UCL and the panel was comprised of Mark Waugh, Business Development Director, DACS; Amanda Gray, Partner, Mischon de Reya LLP; Robert Norton, Founder and CEO, Verisart. DACS is leading the way in using blockchain to protect the rights and income of artists. Waugh spoke about their ‘Bronzechain’ project. Rather than trying to explain this myself, here is excerpt from the DACS press release: Bronzechain combines the use of a hallmark stamp with innovative blockchain technology by creating a digital certificate registered by the artist and foundry to validate the authenticity of the artwork in perpetuity. The Bronzechain stamp will be licensed by DACS to approved bronze art foundries. Each bronze produced will be stamped with the Bronzechain hallmark in the wax before casting and a digital certificate of authenticity recorded by the DACS copyright licensing service and certified on Verisart. The digital certificate of each work will then be generated and certified by Verisart, the world’s leading platform to certify and verify artworks and collectibles on the blockchain. By storing and securing data using cryptography, the blockchain certificate reinforces the physical hallmark by recording technical data specific to each artwork including dimensions, location of hallmark and edition number. As a result, the handling of bronzes will be significantly more secure and transparent.
  • Digital futures, materiality and added value: When data is a medium for artistic expression, is there a future for the material artefact?  Are really fantastic selection of artists, led by Kieren Reed, Director, UCL Slade School of Fine Art, included Phaedra Shanbaum, Lecturer, Digital Art, UCL Knowledge Lab; Professor Jon Thomson, Artist, Thomson and Craighead, Slade School of Fine Art; Alison Craighead, Artist; Professor Deepa Mann-Klerr, Visiting Professor in Immersive Futures, Ulster University and Jake Elwes, Artist. Elwes spoke eloquently about the need for artists to challenge the underlying datasets that drive artificial intelligence and understand how AI could perpetual and exacerbate biases.

For my part, I gave a short presentation on the Arts Council’s new 10 Year Strategy. Afterwards I was approached by a number of stakeholders from the ‘commercial’ art world who were excited about the prospect of working alongside ACE to support artists using technology and providing access art using new technologies.

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