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What do societal performances of ownership require from us? On love letter protocols, consent absolutionism, and cybernetic asset-formation.

  • Commentary
  • Mar 13 2024
  • Lene Vollhardt
    (*NYC, Turtle Island) works as an artist and a member of the Sphere, in London, UK.

The Sphere is a DAO whose approach to tokenization and protocol experimentation reflects a broader movement of tokenized communities toward redefining governance and economics in art. 

This is how a protocol for making a Sphere Art asset could be formulated:

“Lick the scar of funding. Make Art. Capture your audience’s phantom limb. Now, kill your work by completing it. Let go and release. Find the magic transmission that keeps your authorship intact. Think thoroughly about whether you’re reducible to formalizable parameters. Release with love. Now, open yourself to nurturing. Re-version capture, or both. Recognize what you’re indebted to.”

I’ve joined the Sphere in mutual dissent to the accelerating shit show of post-2008 in a curatorial role at the intersection of the cyber-digital - and the bodily - in 2020. The group formed around Live Art practitioners and recovering academics, exploring joint bond-making and risk-taking practices with financial effects, as part of its aim of forming new experimental ecologies of funding Live Art. The Sphere’s institutional fabric relies on elasticity, supplanting the normalization of the opacity of power of governmental funding bodies.

Throughout art history, there have been previous spheres - let’s call them “performances”, in which the “mysterious” underpinnings of value and trading became visible. Yves Klein’s “zone” concept, and his “Ritual for the Relinquishment of the Immaterial Pictorial Sensitivity Zones” exemplify the transaction of value in the immaterial realm. The questions the work raises about sensitivity and value are akin to the inquiries driving the Sphere’s ecology. 

Klein’s “Zones” are transferable by their owner. He hints at the accumulated immaterial value that manifests in a price tag as he gives these instructions in 1959: Half of the purchased commodity must be thrown into the ocean, to really own the full immaterial value. Beforehand, the commodity had been relinquished against an intuitively, yet rigorously assigned, weight of fine gold. As the work above aims to reveal, sensitivity zones can be acquired for free: someone can perform this ritual without means. Value in the Post-fordist era after all is only consolidated using a contract, however encrypted, that ensures what we agree on valuing. We couldn’t hazard any guesses as to what Yves thought, what this kind of sensitivity is: this object, zone, performance, or Sphere, that creates exchange-value? But still, while appreciating an excursion into the immaterial, these zones of consensus transport us into the realm of the collective. 


There is a value that everyone owns without having had to purchase anything, and some of that value has been given to us by our communities. How to distribute the wealth of these encounters fairly is a valid contemporary question for every artist, not only because of the often occulted complexity in which value creates price, but also because of the incredible spread of culture that 21st-century people are working on top of, and increasingly have access to. This puzzle has been looming for decades because the very act of learning a technique is an act of appropriation. Knowledge production under these terms, and the constructed problem of representation, furthermore, yield the results of centuries of extraction and erasure of marginalized voices. This, and the question of distribution of the intergenerational matrix of artistic wealth, has become even more glaring in the face of the reality of anyone’s work being captured as AI data training set inputs. In both of these scenarios, art has turned into an asset without us even being aware. 

There is something that we keep to ourselves and something that we share. What is the vulnerable thing that we want to keep and register as our own? Which is the part that we allow to be open to others? 

What happens to the experience of sharing when it is confronted with the practical necessity of distribution, into digital governance rights, alter-monetary flows, or otherwise haptic, derivative, and anarchic shares? There is, as recalled in Jacques Rancière’s famous book “The Distribution of the Sensible” (2006), an inherent tension between the art of sharing the sensible, and its actual distribution. The feeling of interdependence is always at risk of being shattered by the various emplotments of ownership. 

When the Web 3 era began, it was almost as if one could have it all: co-constituting the financialization of one’s shared experience, while also stipulating the terms for negotiation. But how do we, as artists indeterminately indebted to cross-generational influences substantiate our claim to asset formation? Looking at the medium’s liveness in its relationship to the viewer, we enter the layers of the contract between them.

fig. 2

In this light, the Sphere engages its community in a variety of games as part of an open-ended process: LARPs, and, most recently, a Live Art NFT trading platform called “Karmet”, interrogating the nature of value, ownership, and the financialization of shared experiences in a digital age. 

While the NFT-augmented karmic funding campaign (2021) enacts a mechanism that necessitates one artist’s work acting as a seed to be cited, credited, and reiterated by another artist, it centers the logic of mutual care and generosity; consequently leading to a dialogue between the generations of artists and their audiences. These resulting discursive lineages respond to the ancestral dream of creating a counter-canon of the marginalized art form of Circus, an art form that has become a considerable part of our community’s identity. Its institution has historically not been endowed with critics and curators, who in the “fine” Western art world, create the exteriorized memory upholding the ecosystem. The lineages, furthermore, respond to the ongoing threat of performing arts’ extinction using the prevailing machinery of performance production, which relentlessly churns out shows, often expressive of fleeting consumption. The entanglement of live art with what some in our circles would term its “digital soul” - signifying NFT + milieu-fortifying protocol – is a gesture towards co-immunity and a fluid approach to preservation. That the work is never performed by the artist alone, the spectator adds a significant contribution to the work,by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications”, is a dynamic already observed by  Duchamp in the Creative Act (1957).

Letting go of self-possessed authorship - partially - means to let go of degrees of certainty; and rendering them conditional. But which degrees of certainty?

The certainty of being appreciated for one’s uniqueness.
The certainty in controlling the perception of your art.
The ability to determine the significance of your work on your terms.
The certainty of having what you’ve owned to yourself.
The certainty of exclusive ownership over your creations.
The certainty of keeping the earnings you have made for yourself.

Mutual encryption necessitates the cultivation of generosity: what we give to one another informally cannot be owned, but it can be valued and cared for. That kind of valuation differentiates the financial category of “ownership” from the notion of “possession”. Modes of receiving, after all, rely on skill. Forming a friendship seems to be the complex answer to secure co-ownership. But how easy is it, after all, to build a friendship in the face of capitalist machinations?

Can the conservation of live art maintain a fluidity that preserves its ephemeral quality without altering its core character? In this context, would engage in unstable methodologies, such as “anarchiving, offer a way to capture and trace memory in a way that enmeshed both reflection and continuity resulting in an open access for self-collecting tribes? Shaping value in the long term could provide a network divinatory practice, different from how value shaping is done by curators in traditional museums. Rather than being monolithic, static value forms, the anarchive is subject to alteration, and marked by forms of commentary. It is a collaborative work.

fig. 3

We wish to allow each seed artist to communicate their boundaries and necessities on their lineage contributions individually. Will a smart contract, forever etched on a/the blockchain, solve all issues? “Trust cannot be proxied to a code,” the lawyer Alessandro Mazzi of the Sovereign Nature Initiative, told us. Safety is never safe enough, regardless of how encrypted a contract that you consent to is. Relationships are continuously changing, and a contract positioned as immutable probably isn’t capable of representing that continuous change. Andrea Leiter (Sovereign Nature Initiative) posed the question of what if a contract were less transactional and more relational and community-driven? What does it mean to resolve a meeting of minds pertaining to adecisionist stance, one that may be called consent absolutism, in rituals that acknowledge a certain incommensurability of what can be expressed through consent? A contract’s rigidity does not render it impenetrable to create misunderstandings. It must be mutable, and its mutability must be negotiable by the collective. 

The essential step to dismantle the divide between informality and formality, inherent in what David Graeber calls “utopian bureaucracy”, is to create a distinct differentiation of scale. We need a kind of magic circle to be drawn that separates one group of people from a larger one. This is crucial for the entire network, not just between artists remaking one another's work. The act of Magic Circling is key to trust and confidentiality, not only for one interior and exterior but also for several interiors within interiors. To say it spatially: in the vein of a fractal. A platform of collective self-capture with a fractal-like understanding of relations, resembling the interdependency of a tribe. 

Because really, how can one care about the deeply personal slippages in art, the perhaps irrational, the shifting, delicate claims that we make to you, the viewer, as we dedicate our work to the world, handing them over to the lineage that will take care of these relics and make them bloom? Formal gestures are not cutting it. Out of these considerations, the love letter was born. We determined that one is written by every Seed artist who starts the lineage, as a call to the future derivative artists, and we ask the applying derivative artists to respond with their love letters back. These love letters are not unconditional: they shall encompass all you want to share with the future. As it is - emerging and fluctuating - the love letter is a theatrical element of informal jurisdiction creating swirls of fluctuating commitment, trust, and a hot minute of shared sense of hype. 

fig. 4

Beyond love letters, the Sphere has assemblages that are carried out IRL. The accounting for values inherent in the works is an open-ended question for an institution to tackle. Yet essentially, these questions create a lively conversation carried across artists’ bodies, subjectivities, and authorships, thus prompting collectively coordinated ownerships. We seek to shape values in the long term, just as any other institution does. 

You can call it “contract improvisation”. We playtest our source code and the decisions we need to take. The key is that in these performance assembly meetings, roles are mutable and different from what we do IRL; the roles are even not necessarily human, but they relate to the abstract items we have to work with. The items that we haven’t been able to grasp fully yet; some of them cause problems, or have a two-faced appearance. Some of them shine; some of them deflect. In these performances, we reassess our institutions’ performance. The community/assembly is here to “play” at being part of the wheel, cogs that through intuition and sheer dynamics emerge in the group. 

The performative assembly is a reversal of the cybernetic fantasy, which rejects fostering any conditions of engagement beyond the operation of code. These feedback systems accentuate the higher and lower order at the expense of peripheral, local knowledge. Another way of saying this is: to just do exactly what you’re told to do and have your experiential knowledge documented to inform the manager, who will take decisions based on that abstracted form of information. Managerial black-box aggregation in the name of rationalization. 

How about creating an active auditing culture allowing for cybernetic recursivity of interactions, where the possibility of accounting for labor rendered immaterial, and other types of value, do not fall prey to hierarchical modes of valuation? Contrasting to traditional managerial ontologies, Web3 institution-building technology unearths collective responsibility for divination. Without seeing into the future, we cannot organize towards it.  This procedure, which we call Embodied Mechanisms, creates the possibility of collective, oracular divination with machinic allyship, rather than handing the power over to one machinic operation. Framing the conditions for an emerging derivative ecology, engaging in building a language of gestures collectively offers a way to invest in relational depth with more account for the various realms of influence that lie beyond immediate interpretation. Rehearsed in semi-public spaces, these are the forces that form political subjectivities. To correspond beyond self-centered worlds, in an embrace of trans-local, mutable subjectivity, is perhaps a way to get our bodies back, those stolen in the course of contractual agreements we agreed to, half-awake.


  • Image Caption

    Sphere Ecosystem, video still (3D rendering Tymm Novi), 2024
    © and courtesy of the Sphere.

    Fig.1 Governance Ritual, the sphere x 2032, ConTempo 2022
    © and courtesy of the Sphere.

    Fig. 2 Lene Vollhardt, “Swirl”, 2024, Video-still depicting Cem Dagdalen.
    © and courtesy of the artist.

    Fig. 3  Lene Vollhardt, “Swirl”, 2024, Video-still.
    © and courtesy of the artist.

    Fig. 4 Sphere x 2032 LARP at ConTempo Kaunas, dir. Lene Vollhardt, 2022
    © and courtesy of the artist.



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