The Mona Lisa Effect
curated by Francesca Gavin
25. 05. - 04. 07. 2021
When the Mona Lisa was stolen in 1911, people lined up for two years to see the blank space where it once hung in the Louvre. Darian Leader argued in his 2002 book, Stealing the Mona Lisa, that it was the theft of Leonardo’s painting that secured its celebrity, rather than the value of the image itself. Leader suggested the fascination of the painting’s disappearance demonstrated humanity’s attraction to das Ding, something beyond the image. The La Giaconde became a viral sensation because of our primordial pleasure in its absence.
In the meme age, digital artworks have been criticised for their immateriality and ease of reproduction. However, infinite reproduction as a mode of power or value is being questioned by new networks and creative decentralised autonomous organisations. Artists are making work that addresses what we collect, consume and connect to by bringing attention to the idea of the ‘original’. The artists in this exhibition
– Sara Ludy, Scorpion Dagger aka James Kerr, Damien Roach and Thomas Webb –
touch on the idea of absence and presence in very different ways. Yet together these NFTs demonstrate how we engage with the push and pull with conceptual and digital, reality and meaning.
Thomas Webb’s deconstructs the entire idea of NFTs for his auction as artwork. He has created an entire website where buyers can purchase NFTs. Here he will display 10,000 fictional artist profiles created by an AI, complete with biographies, names and a portrait. Each of these artists are a piece costing a democratic 0.1ETH, although the buyer does not know which artist they have purchased until the auction is complete. Link available here . Buyers are each given a vote, so the collective viewers choose their favourite artist identity. The owner of that NFT, when will be revealed upon completion, will received 50% of the profits of all purchases.
The work uses data to expose the coded bias in the artworld and algorithms. His work looks at systemic structures of value, and reveals how the art game itself is rigged. The use of live data ranging from bitcoin prices to NASA databases to social media data to create artworks is central to Webb’s practise. He creates system that aim to control the viewer’s experience and become aware of the algorithms that are used to affect mood and freedom itself. Coming from a background in magic that developed into creative hacking, leading to projects with Konig Galerie, Ars Electronia, Museum of Fine Arts in Leipzig, Valentino, Mercedes and his own self-minted NFT works. Webb’s works question the future of art, technology and our own emotional existence.
Damien Roach is a London-based artist, researcher and lecturer also known for his cross-media project, patten. He has exhibited at the Venice Biennale, Tate Britain, and Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen, created performances for London’s ICA and Tate Modern, alongside lysergic, exploratory curatorial projects, and also design and creative direction as 555-5555 for clients ranging from Wysing Art Centre to Disney.
The NFTs Roach has created all touch on the depictions of void, reflecting the human fascination with emptiness. These digital moving image works focus on gaps, absences, and blank spaces. From sink holes to the pupils of the eye, the series Four Types of Nothing teases out luminous, mirage-like apparitions from images depicting ‚nothing’ in various registers. They explicitly speak to the idea of the dematerialised object, auratic presence, the meanings and etymology of the word ‘ether’ and latent potential of the void. Nothing here is a space for dreaming, becoming, invention, revision and creation. These pieces continue his ongoing interest in perception and meaning, technology and popular culture.
Sara Ludy has been working with digital media for over two decades. Her animations pieces which range from sculptural to environmental, VR works and digital paintings explore the human relationship to immateriality and consciousness. From biological nature to the cosmos, fictional environments to immersive landscapes, Ludy’s spaces play with the intersection of thing and simulation. She has exhibited at the MCA Chicago, Whitney Museum of American Art, bitforms gallery, and Künstlerhaus Bethanien, and had work feature in publications including The New York Times, Art Forum and Art in America.
For this exhibition she has created two artworks manifesting as three NFTs, that touch on the concept of how a digital aura manifests, follows the work and circulates. Coming from a fine art background, she positions her work in the context of painting and her work reflects how the layering of paint can relate and echo in the formation of digital artworks. Here her work questions if an artwork’s ‘aura’ can transcend the blockchain and NFT context and ‘survive’. While raising critical questions about context and the blurring line between the traditional, digital and commercial art world, Ludy’s artworks remain experiential and explore on ideas of energy and transcendence.
Digital artist James Kerr is best known by his alter ego animation project Scorpion Dagger. His GIFs and short animations transform art history, in particular works from the early Renaissance, into animated comment on pop culture and the contemporary. He uses the iconography and landscapes of religious paintings transforms them with humour, irony and a touch of madness. Sitting somewhere between Terry Gilliam and punk skateboard videos, his works have been exhibited in exhibitions at Galerie Blanc and the Tate Britain, has been commissioned by clients including The New York Times, Bavarian State Opera and Gucci, and recently released his second AR fiction publication The Book of Daryll.
Kerr began making collaged GIFs from Giotto paintings after he completed his degree in Political Science. His stream of consciousness narratives range from a Bosch pool party to medieval mushroom trips. What makes them so engaging is also how they lightly highlight the innate weirdness in his art historical sources. The NFTs he has created for this exhibition showcase his innate satirical approach to art history and popular culture. After watching his playful work it is hard to see Western Christian characters and narratives from saints to Christ in the same way again.
Curator Francesca Gavin was the co-curator of Manifesta11, and has created exhibitions at Somerset House, Palais de Tokyo and MU. She is the author of seven books, including Watch This Space which examined the contemporary relationship to the screen and how artists are working with digital space. Gavin is the Editor of LIMBO magazine and is a contributing editor at Financial Times How to Spend It Magazine, Kaleidoscope, Twin, Good Trouble, and Beauty Papers, and presents a radio show on art and music on NTS.live called Rough Version.