Authenticity in a Digital Era
A temporary exhibition with ascribe, Berlin
Journal > Authenticity in a Digital Era

Freunde von Freunden took one step into the future of digital art at a recent event at the FvF Apartment.

During Gallery Weekend, ascribe, the Berlin-based digital art registry where artists can consign, loan and transfer digital works, invited friends, journalists, collectors, start-up founders and artists, to a temporary exhibition of three digital artworks for viewing and purchase.

The rise of digital art comes as no surprise, it has, after all, existed since the birth of the computer. Today, with technologies literally at our fingertips and any number of apps allowing us to tweak, add to or alter our own digital images, it is the rare innovator who has the ability to take the field one step further into the future. Enter the ascribe vision for the future of registration, authentication, consignment and sale of digital art. On this afternoon, as Marshall McLuhan envisioned a half-century ago, the medium was indeed the message, and during the event at the FvF Apartment curator and ascribe co-founder Masha McConaghy considered what’s to come in the field.

“With digital art, it’s a chicken and egg problem, because collectors aren’t very comfortable buying digital work, yet the number of artists who create digital work grows every year. The challenge of digital art lies in those questions: What is authentic? What is original? What is one collecting, exactly? Is it a TV? A file? An installation?” These are far from the only issues facing the world of digital art. Another one is outdated technology, Masha informs visitors. “I once spoke to a collector who spent more money restoring a file than he originally paid for it. I was impressed that he was so dedicated to preserving the entire work,” she remarks. The other issue is assigning provenance – which is one of the goals of ascribe. Simply put, this means registering the original creator of the work, ensuring that it can be sold and shown by that artist and that they maintain their status as its creator in a world where digital files are shared in unfathomable numbers daily.

These are prosperous times for digital art, if not financially, at least popularly. In addition to collectors around the globe, Masha points out that the Museum for Applied Arts in Vienna (MAK), which has a history dating back over 150 years, was the first museum in the world to purchase a digital artwork registered on ascribe, through Cointemporary, a digital art gallery, and with the use of Bitcoin, one of several digital currencies. Something that we’re sure to see more of it the future.

On display at the FvF Apartment was “Event Listeners,” (2015) a screen saver by Harm van den Dorpel, which is the work recently acquired by MAK. “The Love I Got,” (2004-2014) by artist and Cointemporary co-founder Valentin Ruhry, in which he individually copied and pasted every time the world “Love” appeared in his e-mails over the years. And finally a computer animated film from Jonathan Monaghan titled “Alien Fanfare” (2014).

Members of the ascribe team let on that more than one work was sold over the course of the afternoon, and that the FvF Apartment proved to be an especially effective way to present the work. It not only illustrated potential ways to display digital art, but also facilitated exchanges around the topic. Throughout the afternoon conversations were peppered with questions, as strangers and friends pondered the future of digital art: Should we treat files as paintings? Can we let digital be digital (reproducible and accessible to the whole world) and still remain in control of the work? And, of course, the affordability of digital work, which enables a new generation to become collectors, thereby leveling the playing field for collectors of all standing. A development that ultimately benefits the artist and art-lovers alike.

Thanks to the ascribe team for an innovative and informative afternoon, and thanks to Carpe Diem Kombucha for keeping us hydrated and healthy during the event.

Photography: Magnus Pettersson