Martin Zeilinger: Blockchain Futures Between Immutability and Radical Change

Østre, Østre Skostredet 3 + streamed on Vimeo 11.11.2022 19.3011.11.2022 20.30


Scholar and curator Martin Zeilinger considers how blockchain technologies move us towards new models of decentralisation, non-hierarchical networks, and distributed decision-making. At a time when what’s needed most is radical change and new forms of community, what uses can artists and activists find for a technology that promises to make data immutable, and to work without human intermediaries?

 11 November at 19:30 CET
Østre, Østre Skostredet 3

Blockchain technologies reject hierarchical organisational principles, infrastructures of centralised control, and systems that are subject to abuse by corrupt human agents. They promise to disrupt such infrastructures by decentralising decision-making processes, by utilising algorithmic governance tools, and by securing stored information as immutable on public digital ledgers. This may sound like blockchains inherently favour progressive politics of inclusion and openness. But so far, many of the resulting ‘trustless’ network technologies (such as cryptocurrencies) have served only to further financialise human activities in the digital landscape. There are, nevertheless, growing communities of artists and activists who experiment with using blockchains for radically different ends. For example, in DAOs (distributed autonomous organisations), blockchains can frame new infrastructures of horizontal distribution, mutual aid, and non-hierarchical decision-making. Here, the technology’s libertarian and hyper-capitalist tendencies make way for its anarcho-communist potentials. In the talk for the symposium Zeilinger discusses what becomes possible when the seeming contradictions inscribed on this spectrum are explored further. How can ‘change’ be leveraged through ‘immutability’? What radically new types of community can emerge from computational protocols designed to function without human intermediaries?

Martin Zeilinger

Martin Zeilinger is Senior Lecturer in Computational Arts and Technology at Abertay University, Scotland. As a media theorist and curator, he focuses on artistic and activist experimentation with emerging technologies including the blockchain and artificial intelligence. His work explores how these technologies enable radical reconfigurations of concepts such as agency, authorship, and ownership. Martin’s critical writing on the blockchain is widely published in journals including Philosophy and Technology and books like Artists Re:Thinking the Blockchain. Tactical Entanglements, his monograph on AI art and creative agency, was published by meson press in 2021.

Photo credits: Martin Zeilinger: Blockchain Futures Between Immutability and Radical Change. Images generated by text-to-image AI using keywords from the talk.

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