The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2023

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MAY 2023 Issue
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Beyond Innovation: Decentralization, Imagination, and Care

In recent years DAOs have been heralded as a powerful stimulus for reshaping how value systems for interdependence and cooperation manifest themselves in arts organizing. The book Radical Friends – Decentralised Autonomous Organisations and the Arts consolidates five years of research into a toolkit for fierce thinking, as well as for new forms of radical care and connectivity that move beyond the established systems of centralized control in the art industry and wider financial networks. Over the course of the book, contributors engage in both past and emergent methodologies for building resilient and mutable systems for mutual aid. Just short of a year later, the two editors accept Charlotte’s challenge and look back at what is circulating, unsolved and ruminating still for them as friends, collaborators and practitioners in the field in this short self-interview:

Penny Rafferty: So, Ruth, what is the one word you would expunge from conversations about art and technology?

Ruth Catlow: Imagine if we could erase the word “innovation”! This word has been attaching itself to art and technology for decades, to secure funding and favor. But as a stand-alone signifier, it refuses to recognise or value, let alone delight-in, what already exists, instead demanding to see the next thing at all costs. And the cost might just be our survival. Ah… Just imagine the plural planetary realities that might flourish if imagination was unshackled from “innovation” and partnered instead with “care”! What underused word would you most like to see become central in conversations about art and technology now?

Rafferty: Take for instance the word decentralization: we have already seen a fork that goes beyond the binary of centralization and its decentralized counterpart, but we hardly ever ask, are you working towards vertical decentralization—allowing voting power whilst still maintaining and embedding authority, guideline policies, controls, checks and social capital—or are you working towards horizontal decentralization, where members are socially and institutionally equal, with dissolvable power structures set in place? Greater understanding of the complexity of the world we operate inside—ecologically, financially, ethically and creatively—is needed. Springboarding from this, what do you think is still the most misunderstood part of our research to a wider audience?

Catlow: I think, in spite of the fact that our book offers a deep critique of technocapitalism’s propensity to bore holes into, and so destabilize the foundations of crucial social infrastructure, our research is still mistaken for an exercise in blockchain-boosterism, rather than an earnest community claim to tools that can help shape lively infrastructures of translocal belonging. But Penny, What are you now most excited to add to the stack of Radical Friends?

Rafferty: When DAO ecosystems were nascent at best, I learned about the concept of micro-gridding, which sits contrary to the traditional, centralized macro-grids we typically operate under. Microgrids can actually disconnect from the centralized grid and operate autonomously, strengthen grid resilience, and help mitigate grid disturbances. They work towards a new distributed generation. For me, this was always the future of DAOs if they were to have a social, political and human impact; where scalability always falls short. As a direct consequence of the surge of DAOs and our research together, I can say I am extremely excited about adding a translocal networked tooling application to the stack, which maybe I can leak: we are already working on the blueprints for the Serpentine Galleries Blockchain Lab.

Radical Friends includes contributions of essays, interviews, exercises, and prototypes from leading thinkers, artists and technologists across this emerging field, including Legacy Russell, Rhea Myers, Hito Steyerl, Ramon Amaro, terra0, and many more. Radical Friends, the book, follows Furtherfield and Torque Editions’ ground-breaking book Artists Re:Thinking the Blockchain.
Introduction/excerpt available here


Ruth Catlow

Ruth Catlow is an artist, researcher, curator and Co-Director of Furtherfield. She leads award-winning experiments with blockchain and web 3.0 for fairer and more connected cultural ecologies and economies. Projects include Larps for planetary-scale interspecies justice and the CultureStake app for collective cultural decision-making using QV on the blockchain. She is Co-PI at the Serpentine Galleries Blockchain Lab and co-editor of ‘Radical Friends – Decentralised Autonomous Organisations and the Arts’ with Penny Rafferty.

Penny Rafferty

Penny Rafferty is an independent writer and thinker, departing from her research and thinking she has initiated and co-founded Black Swan DAO, a proto-institution for interdisciplinary research and practice. She is also the co-principal Investigator at Serpentine’s Blockchain Lab and co-editor of ‘Radical Friends – Decentralised Autonomous Organisations and the Arts’ with Ruth Catlow.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2023

All Issues