Is Art, 2014/2015, Ethereum DApp
“Is Art” is an Ethereum contract that can be instructed to nominate itself as art (or not). Whoever toggles the contract’s state as art sets it unimpeded until the next person sends a transaction to change it. A more rational system should be used - bidding, voting, a prediction market. The Duchampian aesthetic transubstantiation of artistic nomination is long played out. It is an art historical found object, as basic as a contract with a single bit of state. Brought together, the art historical and the contemporarily technological (or their audiences) can mutually animate and interrogate each other.
Late 1960s Conceptual Art and mid 1990s net.art are useful inspiration for thinking about the blockchain and smart contracts. These art movements stood in critical tension with the systems of communication, law and commerce of their eras. Each treated rootless information, whether about sense data or network messages, as the critical subject of art and a new potential artworld. Their promise and their eventual recuperation by the existing artworld chimes with the historical experience of the blockchain.
“Is Art” takes the Conceptual Art ideas of dematerialisation (art that is not presented in a fixed physical form) and nomination (something that is art because someone or something says it is) and combines them with the net.art idea of the interactive artwork that exists in or interferes with network protocols.
In it, an Ethereum smart contract contains the assertion that it either “is” or “is not” art. A web page connected to the Ethereum network displays the state of this assertion to anyone who can access the contract and allows them switch it between states. When they do so this will become a fact secured in Ethereum’s blockchain with the strength of millions of dollars of computing power a day.
Is this sufficient to determine whether the contract is or is not art? Where and how is the claim really being made and determined? How does this relate to historical examples of such artworks? And how does it relate to other claims of fact stored in other smart contracts?