A Blueprint
Gary Zhexi Zhang

An .mp4 is not really an object in the sense that an etching is an object. As a thing, a digital file is more like an idea, it can be treasured or forgotten, copied and corrupted. Like Sol LeWitt used to say about his instructional works, ‘Ideas cannot be owned. They belong to whomever understands them. The piece takes physical form and becomes an object. This object may be possessed.’

And the thing is, several decades on, we’re not really living in the world of objects. The world inhabited by today’s artists is one in which everything has taken on a tint of the virtual. Just look around for an image or an idea that wasn’t processed by a computer, or that didn’t arrive via a digital network. (#nofilter? The hashtag doth protest too much.) Digitality has permeated our lives and it’s the way the artworks are going, too. This is a predicament that the art market has struggled to come to terms with (not the immaterial aspect, mind, LeWitt’s wall drawings have been selling nicely for years): how do you trade on something that lacks the finitude of an object, the basic principle of scarcity upon which markets operate? Moreover, what would be the value in treating a .jpeg like an oil painting, when it is so many things besides? In terms of production and exhibition, the digital heralds transformative practices, privileging circuits of transmission over auratic singularities of presence, curatorial context over scattershot surveys from precious permanent collections. What the market has been slow to grasp is that the digital is not just another medium, it’s the water we’re all swimming in, a basic shift in the way we exchange, consume, disseminate and reflect our living experiences—and by that same token, our works of art.

Bloated, collusive, and conservative; perhaps we get the market we deserve. Thankfully, most artists aren’t too preoccupied with the dictates of the market; mostly they’re going into the world—online and off—and making something out of it. All the same, some of best digitally-oriented artists working today find themselves commercially sidelined in favour of their more profitably material peers. In time, one hopes, habits will change. Young spaces at the bleeding edge of work are often precariously underfunded or voluntarily artist-run. Daata Editions arises from this disjointed landscape as a deft riposte to traditional models and a blueprint for future ones—a node around which constellations might grow. As a commissioning platform providing crucial support to emergent artists and a digital channel releasing tightly curated ‘seasons’ of new works, Daata emerges with the financial backing and institutional clout to pave a novel path between commercial sustainability and discursive substance—two trajectories of the art world which at times feel increasingly disparate. As usual, open and collaborative is key: by midwifing works on their originary media together with with kindred virtual organisms, Daata distinguishes itself as a model for the production and encounter of digital works of art that speaks to their native logic—one hopes that it’s a sign of things to come.

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