Crypto Art and Dividing Paintings into Pixels

© Sofia Crespo
The discussion of the Open Lectures "Culture 2.0" - "Blockchain in Art: Inspired by Technologies" — was held on November 26. Artists and researchers from four countries have discussed innovative formats: from pixel art to Blockchain platforms for the sale and certification of artwork. The discussion on the connection between art and technology took place in an online format, the recording of the broadcast is available to everyone on the official website of the Forum and in its VKontakte community.

"Culture 2.0" is a special discussion project and a key block of the educational program of the St. Petersburg International Cultural Forum. The events of the Open Lectures are held throughout the year, and this year some of the discussions were held online, which significantly expanded the audience, the number of participants and viewers.

The speakers of the discussion on Blockchain and robotization in art were the artists Mark Bern (Switzerland) and Sofia Crespo (Germany), the founder of the creative laboratory Mikhail Libman (USA), Kate Vasilieva (Switzerland), the founder of Kate Vass Galerie, and Robert Norton (UK), the CEO of the Blockchain platform Verisart.

In recent years, Blockchain has become a fairly popular technology; it is often used for controlling financial transactions or keeping voluminous documentation. The idea is that information about the full piece of art is stored in separate blocks and can be distributed to thousands of computers - this way it is protected from damage and fraud. Contemporary art reflects the most modern trends, so it is not surprising that Blockchain has become a tool in the hands of artists and has led to the emergence of a new direction.

"My brushes are digits, neural networks, or machine learning programs... When a computer reproduces a picture, it does so using pixels, which are then broken down into digits. I'm interested in how our brain puts the picture back together, perceives it - this is the work of neural connections. Instead of simply drawing on a digital canvas, I give the computer a certain set of images, and it looks for patterns and combines them into a composition itself," said Sofia Crespo about the creative process.

During the discussion, she gave an example of her project "Neural Zoo": the artist actually worked together with artificial intelligence and created images of flowers and animals that did not exist.

Mark Bern calls himself a pixel artist. He told that he became interested in the idea of creating digital works in the early 2000s:

"At that time, computers were not yet part of our life, and I was fascinated by the possibilities of creating works of art using new electronic tools."

For the past 20 years, Mark has been doing business online and researching digital imaging methods. Innovative technologies are used not only in art. Blockchain is becoming a powerful driver of the art industry, it is used to verify the authenticity of works, to certify them, and to develop a reliable system for selling paintings. Robert Norton, as the creator of the first Blockchain platform for certifying works of art, confirmed that technology makes the pricing system in the market more transparent, protects artists from plagiarism, and protects buyers from counterfeiting and theft of works.

The participants discussed what other fantasies Blockchain could bring to life, such as the idea of collective ownership of a work of art. It seems absurd to buy a piece of canvas instead of a whole painting, but what if we are talking about digits and pixels? With the help of Blockchain, artists can split their artwork into tokens (fractions) and sell them to different collectors. Everyone will own only their own faction, which will be much cheaper than the complete work. Mikhail Libman gave an example of Eve Sussman's digital work 89 seconds Atomized. The artist created a video based on the famous painting Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez, and then divided it into more than 2000 video fragments and sold it. Each collector can rent fragments from other owners at any time using a smart contract and recreate the complete work of video art for 24 hours.

The brave new world has its own digital galleries. Kate Vasilieva stressed that gallery owners, as intermediaries between creators and collectors, should be well versed in all trends:

"In the art world in the 21st century, we have to be on top of things and keep abreast of all the most advanced and innovative technologies: GAN (generative adversarial network), digital systems, artificial intelligence. A gallery must use technology to keep transactions secure and clean and to keep track of the origin of paintings, files, and videos. Using Blockchain, we can fight counterfeiting in digital art and find ethical ways to pay digital artists for their work."

The discussion's conclusion and a prediction for the future were the words of Mikhail Libman: "Do people need to know how Blockchain works? Not necessary. We do not fully understand how the Internet works, but this does not prevent us from using it. It's simply a technology that makes the digital experience of artists more secure and makes transactions transparent. Right now we are at the beginning of the road, but Blockchain is developing, and the art environment will not ignore technologies - they will become part of the new world."