Blockchain & DAOs

In Conversation with Jesse McKee

From NFTs to governance structures, blockchain technology may be a glimpse into the future. At least that is what Jesse McKee and the team at 221A are exploring. In this conversation McKee shares a bit about the history of artist-run centres in Canada, the limitless potential for blockchain to change how society is ordered, and the rise of decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs). Listen closely to discover the literary Easter eggs Jesse drops that are framing research at 221A.

From basic byte streams to serialized bytes on blockchains, there is no doubt that the digital sphere has already survived a few iterations of being ordered. As we approach the age of Web3.0, 221A’s Head of Strategy, Jesse McKee, shares with us why the artist-run centre 221A is researching the implications blockchains may have on our cultural spaces. Funded by the Canada Council for the Arts’ Digital Strategy Fund, their four-phase research initiative, Blockchain and Padlocks, is only the beginning. When paired with decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) models, blockchain has the potential to facilitate recollectivization at city scale. Under the guise of great social upheaval and the irregularity of coping with a pandemic, the notion of imagining the development of a digital suburb seems utopian in scope. Nevertheless, do not be discouraged. Jesse shares his enthusiasm for blockchain as a technology that “recognizes the value of the social” and the “value of [social] labour.” Another question to consider within the context of blockchain technology is the role of digital anonymity. We are beginning to see a shift away from anonymity online, but what about the demise of anonymity in digital spheres all together? For example, have you heard of the social token community? Like DAOs, the idea is that the earlier one commits the greater value one sees in return. However, as Jesse explains, the community is not structured to value commodified preeminence, rather social tokens ensure accountability through undeniably charted transparency and that “return” one sees is collective prosperity. So the question becomes, if we lifted the veil could we bring an end to the vitriolic behaviour we have seen play out in Web2.0? And, perhaps, as with all innovation, the struggle we now face is systemizing these uncharted blockchain waters, and is art not the perfect place for a simulation?

 

Keep Up with the Centre here:

221A

DOMA – 221A

 

Discover More of their Phase 1 Findings here:

Blockchains & Cultural Padlocks – 221A 

 

221A’s Upcoming Workshop Partners:

Blockchain@UBC

Ethereum Foundation 

 

Learning from Artist-Run Centre Elders:

WESTERN FRONT

Produced by the Artengine Stream Team:

Mikke Gordon aka Seiiizi https://twitter.com/s3iiizi

Ryan Stec

Kimberly Sunstrum https://www.kmbrlysnstrm.com/

 

Editorial Assistant

Erin Galt

 

Theme Music by Mikki Gordon aka Seiiizi

 

 

Blockchain & DAOs

From NFTs to governance structures, blockchain technology may be a glimpse into the future. At least that is what Jesse McKee and the team at 221A are exploring. In this conversation McKee shares a bit about the history of artist-run centres in Canada, the limitless potential for blockchain to change how society is ordered, and the rise of decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs). Listen closely to discover the literary Easter eggs Jesse drops that are framing research at 221A.

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Organizing Creative Labour

In this conversation Tim Maughan chats with us about digital infrastructure, the role of organized labour in the creative landscape, and the DEL project Artwork_Local404. Join us, as we discuss technology and capitalism, the benefits of organizing, and what form collective action might take. Maughan also talks about how we need to rethink many of the platforms of tools of the digital world as public infrastructure: this may change how we understand what the government could do with them.

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Game + Community Design

Dames Making Games (DMG) founder Izzie Colpitts-Campbell speaks with us about her art and design practice and how her role as a community organizer influenced her contributions to the DEL. In this conversation we discuss her new DMG project Damage Labs, similarities between game design and community organizing, and how artist solidarity can be provoked digitally.

READ MORE

Excerpts from conversation

What we needed to do was think about how do we get out of this situation, how do we build out of here, and how do we start reclaiming the value that we’re creating online and reclaiming our identity, and, kind of, remaking civil society in this space, rather than letting central corporate platforms like, you know, Meta or Twitter or TikTok or Google provide for us? Because, essentially, what you’re trying to do when you do that is you’re trying to build your civil society inside of a shopping mall, and that’s not really gonna work out well for anybody except the shopping mall.

That's basically what blockchain will enable you to do is to kind of create more mass collaborative networks that are more definable and self designable by communities themselves.

COUNTERING SETTLER-CENTRIC CULTURE DEVELOPMENT

Ryan Stec

Yeah. It’s interesting. 

 

You describe a kind of narrative for the organization where it’s ‘outside-ness,’ like beginning late in the sort of history of artist-run culture and the cultural aspects of the organization, almost positioning it to be more flexible and to be more thinking outside of this kind of core stream. 

 

Do you see, within the wider cultural sphere that you engage with, a kind of excitement and a warmth towards this idea of new collectivization, or do you think that there’s more of a fear around what the technology is bringing? 

 

Like, is it happening to the cultural world, or is the cultural world, you know, imagining a place that they can, actually, play within it?

Jesse McKee

I think it’s both. 

 

I mean, it depends how you define the cultural world, I guess, but–

Ryan Stec

Of course.

Jesse McKee

Anyone dancing on TikTok or creating video games kind of fits under that umbrella for me.

 

I think that the way that culture developed in Canada was quite settler centric. 

 

Let’s put it that way. 

 

I think that the culture is expanding beyond that narrow definition of what culture is. 

 

I think culture is doing this, but I think the state-funded kind of settler centric culture in Canada is not doing this. 

–because it’s an incredibly hard culture to kind of distribute resources in 

–because there is such a scarcity of resources already. 

 

There is already such a fear and such a lack of support for people that they don’t know how to get along anymore.

 

And that’s like, ever since I’ve entered the sector in Canada. 

 

That’s the reality that I’ve known. 

 

It’s just kind of got less and less and less since, you know, the early 2000’s. 

 

With that in mind, I think the professionalized culture is having a real challenge. They need to figure out what their legitimacy is in the world at this point. 

 

I think 221A is pretty confident about what its legitimacy is, because it’s not beholden to just that settler centric culture. 

 

I think we talk to it. 

 

I think we learn from it. 

I think we debate it and criticize it, but we’re working in many different strands as well. 

 

So I think, yeah. There’s tons of people using this technology for cultural perspectives. 

 

There’s an artist based here in British Columbia called Rhea Myers. She’s an incredible early proponent of blockchain cultural practices, and you know, I think what she’s been saying is like, “It’s interesting because art lets you kind of experiment with this technology. You know, it is not the food chain. It is not the supply chain. It is not the medicine chain, so if something goes wrong it’s not immediately gonna be a catastrophe.”

Ryan Stec

No one is gonna die necessarily.

Jesse McKee

Well, not yet, but you know. I think we can say that, but we can also see how culture can shift the digital space. 

 

We saw that over the past five years in the Web2.0 space. 

 

That long tail or that heavy impact of that kind of cultural forking that happened over the past five years–so that, you know, we live on different planets basically now than some people who believe certain things–that’s a very dangerous side too.

Ryan Stec

And I wonder about some of that role of experimentation and imagination that you were describing, and we certainly see that with, you know, artists and arts organizations that engage with technology. 

 

For us, we’ve always felt like we’re at the sort of tumbling, breaking edge of things in a way that makes it sometimes difficult to make the organization and its vision completely transparent to people, because we’re trying to always “fall” as things are changing. 

 

You see artists do that a lot, but organizations are not oriented towards that kind of change. 

 

And I think there’s this interesting moment where technology, even if it’s not actually enabling genuine innovation in organizational form, there’s something about the way it’s transforming the imagination for certain people and allowing this space of play.

BLOCKCHAIN AND THE SOCIAL TOKEN COMMUNITY

Jesse McKee

We’re just seeing how this works with digital assets now, but pretty much there’s gonna be this kind of connectivity and this dance back and forth between what happens in virtual space and what happens in physical space and they’ll be linked and they will influence and kind of co-evolve together. 

 

I think there’s other things in there to think about in terms of someone like Benjamin Bratton, as well, who says that, you know, “We don’t live in cities anymore. We live inside of an accidental mega structure.” So as humans, what we’ve done is we’ve built a global system that we live inside that is so big that we no longer have total control over it, or no one has a single point of view on what’s happening. 

 

At the same time, this has also started to kind of deteriorate the conditions of our planet. However, we wouldn’t know our planet is deteriorating unless we had developed a world computer so advanced that it was able to model and give us an understanding of what this planet is doing or going under. So there’s an epistemological hurdle you have to get over here, which is like there’s no way to solve this issue by going backwards. 

 

You can only go forwards and further, deeper into it to start to connect the dots better.

Ryan Stec

Well, it’s like a continual unbreaking of the modern fallacy of there being a sort of human control over things, right. It’s almost like when you speak to people who do their PhD and that the deeper they get into their PhD, they realize how little and littler they know, like every step is to learn how much you do not know about the world, and that has always been a kind of reality of life. And so to figure out how to exist within that. 

 

I wonder if you could also talk about, in the report, you mentioned the exploration of value, so talking about this financialization in terms of the blockchain that seems like it’s so solidified in our minds. But I think there’s, you know, something interesting to be said about the different ways we think about value and how to like connect these to the digital, which is I think something, again to your point, of art being a great place to push an experiment in the blockchain, because we can think about how these different ideas connect to this digital technology.

Jesse McKee

It’s an incredible technology that recognizes the value of the social, and it recognizes the value of the labor that we do together that might not have been quantified previously that provided so much in our lives. 

 

But yet people like us, who worked in the cultural industries, who really kind of lived off of relationships and the strength and the validity of those relationships, now in 2021, you know, we’re struggling to find places to live because our incomes are pretty stable, but yet our cultural value has kind of risen to such a point that we’re able to kind of use it kind of within this blockchain space. 

 

And so just as an example for that, the social token community is really interesting, I think, because that’s a space where you can start to build community and like the earlier you are in that community and the more that you put into that community. 

 

Then you’re able to kind of ride that updraft in that community as the value of what that community’s doing and your place in it starts to rise.

 

And, you know, you might not see a difference in terms of what you’re doing day to day for that community over year-one to year-five, but yet the value of what you’re doing for that community can increase because that community grows out. 

 

There’s more people who are bringing value to that community. 

 

You’re kind of closer to the centre. 

 

I think it’s also just kind of remembering that, you know, not everything is gonna be given to you like at a bar, like you can’t just go up and order your culture. 

 

You can’t just go up and order your relationships. 

 

It’s not Tinder; you know, you don’t have this for artists in the art world. 

 

So it’s kind of like, you gotta work at it and you’ve gotta create these bonds and you have to build trust and you have to build legitimacy.

 

I think that’s what we lost over the past ten years and why things have broken down so much. There’s a big shift too; that anonymity that kind of came out in the early blockchain is kind of going away now. I mean, there’s still some communities who really like their anonymity, but there’s some other communities who really prize presenting yourself: 

 

What do you bring to the world? 

 

Who are you? 

 

What relationships do you hold? 

 

And so I think, you know, this is gonna encourage younger and younger generations to think through that very carefully. And I think it’s a real big remedy to “shit posting” and the vitriolic behaviour on Web2 the past couple years. Yeah.

THE DAO LANDSCAPE

Ryan Stec

I think of like, you know, we were once a kind of traditional production centre a little bit, where the idea was to have physical resources and educational resources that centred a geographic community around it, that you would collectivize and get access to things like projectors when those were really difficult to access, same with video co-ops throughout the country–these kinds of collectivization. 

 

I mean, other than say shifting the focus into the digital realm, which gives it a little bit less geographic aspect–although it’s interesting that it starts out to kind of be sort of this, you know, pan-geographic kind of thing that then starts to ground itself in community based things–but other than this sort of networked aspect of it, what do you see let’s say five years down the road?

 

What could you imagine, in the best possible case of something that happens, an organization that takes shape?

Jesse McKee

Yeah. That’s also why we’re doing it. 

 

We think long-term at 221A, so we’re also working on a land trust at 221A, which is gonna assemble–it’s not gonna be owned by 221A, but we’re gonna kind of give birth to this land trust. We’re looking at how we’re going to assemble properties in different parts of the city, essentially. So we’re pursuing that with traditional finance right now and kind of traditional means, setting it up as a separate nonprofit. 

 

But, you know, as this technology will allow for, we’re gonna start to connect the dots between what this model could be and then how this model can evolve into something that can be common, or how the governance of something like this could be broadly distributed.

 

So the surface area of governance–of all the people involved in those properties–could be better captured, rather than just having a board of directors that’s representative of certain aspects of that organization. Actually, your governance is distributed to hundreds of people and they’re involved in making key decisions about the organization and how it allocates resources, so that’s an interesting side of it. 

 

I don’t think it’s about doing away with the physical at all. 

 

Again, it’s about making the physical more secure and more stable and allowing it to link up with digital communities in more organic and productive ways. 

 

And so, you know, these plans for collective ownership of physical assets, this is totally gonna be managed through Distributed Autonomous Organizations (DAO). 

 

It’s already beginning. 

 

There was CityDAO, which is its own thing.

 

They just purchased their first plot of land in Wyoming, where Wyoming has made a law available so that DAOs can exist as legal entities. 

 

Basically you could have a LLC or a Limited Liability Corporation that’s controlled by a distributed autonomous organization for the first time in the world, and that’s in Wyoming. And now they’ve bought a land preserve and they’re gonna start developing that as what they could see as the future, so all eyes are on that. 

 

We’re working with a group coming out of Kyiv called DOMA, which is a cooperative housing platform as well, for this sort of thing. 

 

It’d be a way to kind of manage equitable and affordable housing at city scale, but it could also exist in different cities. Those more expensive cities could lend equity to kind of less expensive cities and vice versa to kind of even out the conditions between a certain community, as well. 

 

There’s all kinds of potential there. 

 

There’s thousands of people building this future. 

 

They’re some of the brightest, most creative and curious people that I’ve met, so I’m excited about it.