Now, do you know what s[edition] is?
Sedition, as the internet informs me, is the criminal act of saying, writing or doing something that encourages disobedience towards the institutional status quo.
S[edition], on the other hand, is a few years’ old enterprise coupling together the digital revolution of the last decades and the contemporary art market, building a digital art platform truly fitting for our times. The brainchild of art dealer and entrepreneur Harry Blain and former Saatchi Online CEO Robert L. Norton, s[edition] was hatching since the early 1990s to come to fruition in 2011 with the promise to “turn screen into art”. Accumulating some 60,000 signed up members in just two years, s[edition]’s art collection can be readily enjoyed in all its pixelated, high resolution glory in any tablet, smartphone and flat-screen TV from prices starting at approximately 5£ to 1000£. The “digital limited editions”, of what initially was pre-existing art works and nowadays even exclusively created pieces, can only be displayed, not reproduced on paper; saved on the collector’s individual profile on the website’s server, not downloaded; and are limited to roughly 10,000 copies certified for resale.
But to what extent is s[edition] a sedition?
After the ready-mades of art provocateur Marcel Duchamp, already a century old now, that brought traditional art theory to its knees, the attempt of defining what art is, nowadays proves, at best, a futile and unnerving self-denial strategy of idealistic art historians in the making; people like me. New art forms and novel approaches to art production arise and take hold in the time it takes to shake a spray bottle up and down for the paint to mix. S[edition] weaves a new medium altogether; a new art; a whole new universe, if you will, for art to be made, marketed and assessed. An art that, at that, is also made differently than how it used to be since its inception. Art works like these, one can argue, are twice removed from art you can see on gallery walls; they exist as several copies of the same thing and they are also not even tangible.
People like to say that traditions die hard, but this feels different; tradition here is executed. I am not denying that the reassessment of tradition, even its cold-blooded execution, can be a promising move. Sure, the digital revolution has drawn the art world out of tis shell and encouraged its diversification but not everything in actual need of reform has been addressed here. There is no denying that greater fame or infamy can be earned by artists; each can assure a previously unimagined level of exposure through various, often free, social media and internet platforms but the art world of today is still avoiding becoming truly social, truly open. S[edition]’s self-assured innovation in providing otherwise prohibitively expensive art in more affordable -not exactly similar however, one is compelled to note- editions, is in my opinion, if not misleading, self-incriminating. The website holds in its digital vaults names like Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Shepard Fairey, among others. Most of these names tend to have an already reserved seat in the round table of the UK’s contemporary art world, with an already proven, time and again, marketability. Isn’t the selection of such names a covert admission, not on purpose of course, of just how astronomically, almost ridiculously expensive these artists’ work is in the first place? If there is a reason to sell it cheaper, it is too expensive. Why not lower the price in general and hold an intervention for the art world’s obsessive and hypocritical cupidity? In s[edition]’s universe not only is money being fed into the art market for the original, tangible, ludicrously expensive and status laden work of an artist, but along with that, undoubtedly less but still very real, more money is being exchanged in the name of a cheaper, digital, copied work. This reality, surely, doesn’t seem to be helping the lay art lover nearly as much as it helps the art market’s money vaults, virtual and real; the already famous artists and their dealers. It is estimated that there currently are more than 300 hundred online art platforms. No matter that, only a 3% of artists exhibit in galleries and even less are living half as well as Damien Hirst does. S[edition], despite its intentions, cannot and does not aid the developing artists in the real world. It perpetuates the exclusive character ascribed to the art world by the wealthy and leisurely 1%. Their model undermines the right for freely accessible art, in many ways different from ‘cheaply accessible art’, even though at first glance it may not seem to be so. Then again, that’s the traditional role of auction houses and most galleries anyway. My point is simply that their mission statement does not propose a sedition in any real or essential way.
Growing up within and around the walls of free mammoth art institutions and humbler galleries I firmly believe art should be public. S[edition] takes the contemporary art market as it is, highly individualized and elitist, and that is of course their right, as much as it is the right of any individual collector to hoard Impressionist and Surrealist paintings in their loft houses and vacation homes. My belief is that we should be moving away from that kind of mode of appreciating and facilitating art; outgrowing it, not justifying it with the creation of more outlets of such kind. I may very well be too idealistic. But that is my right too.
What further troubles me about s[edition] is their firm and irrevocable hold on a monopoly. With the slight exception of “StillReel”, a subscription based Australian start-up for digital art streaming – something of a “quality Netfilx”- I am not aware of the existence of any direct competitors out there for them. Now, how fair is that? But, hey, we’ve got a free economy, nothing is really fair.
I won’t even go into the rabbit hole that is the experience of a tangible, textured, framed work of art on a gallery wall around which you can circle, crouch in front of, touch with your breath and walk away from, versus what is, in reality in great risk of being simply called, a screensaver.
In an era when e-books are fighting it out with paper prints, vinyls and cds with Spotify and pirate downloads, all of this seems to be a “very logical extension of the art world tradition”, as s[edition] Director Rory Blain says. Indeed, it sincerely is. But the questions, loopholes, and controversies are way too many. I can only conclude with what is an exclusively personal opinion; I wasn’t taught to “do art” like this either at university or in life.