New Social Protocols
A series of four online discussions have been led during COP27 in Egypt (from Nov 6th to Nov 18th) by Arteztic and key artists and community players. Following up on the panel discussion “Creating and Collecting Art for the Planet” organised at Art Basel Paris+ on October 23rd (watch recording here), these discussions explored how creating and collecting eco-art can support positive futures.
Twitter Space, Nov. 17th 2022
In our Twitter spaces discussion on social protocols around sustainability in the art world, artists from around the world discussed how web3 and NFT art play into the broader discussion around issues like shipping, travel in an event-driven marketplace, and more.

Speakers included artists Tamiko Thiel, Julian Brangold, Dev Harlan, Soléman Lopez, and Marina Zurkow. They were joined by artist and We Are Museums founder Diane Drubay, and the discussion was hosted by curator Pau Waelder.
In the recent UBS report A Survey of Global Collecting in 2022, it was found that sustainability is becoming more of a concern amongst HNW collectors. Sustainability and Co2 emissions were the 4th most-cited concern among those collectors last year. 77% of collectors said they were aware of and thinking about sustainable options for purchasing work and managing collections.
Despite this, just 12% said they expected to travel less in 2023, and 83% of those traveling less were doing so because of remaining concerns around covid; just 63% of them said they were doing so to reduce their carbon footprint. It's easy to say that flying is bad and that everyone in the art world should try to reduce it, but with the event-driven art market being so concentrated in Europe and the USA, it's hard for artists everywhere else in the world to get noticed without traveling and shipping to those events.
How artists are thinking about travel
Munich-based American artist Tamiko Thiel speaks to the group from New York, on her second trip to America in a year to help care for a family member. She points out that according to one study, an individual serious about reducing their carbon footprint should only be taking one intercontinental flight every eight years or so. Having worked in and with digital networks since the 90s, Thiel is keenly aware of how the internet has connected artists and audiences from around the world: the highest-grossing woman in NFT art is IX Shells from Panama; what are the chances she could have become the highest-earning woman in the painting?

But even then, artists who aren't based near NYC specifically are going to have to travel. "What happens in Munich stays in Munich", as she says, because of the language barrier between those artists and the rest of the art world. With so many of the sector's tastemakers based in London and NYC - "the few places where you can show locally and get international attention" - travel is going to be pretty much essential for artists everywhere else in the world.
Spanish artist Solimán Lopez wants to go to the exhibitions and see that his work is being exhibited correctly, and also points out the benefits of going to these in-person events for artists is getting to talk to gallerists and collectors, which directly influences their sales. There are programs in Europe helping international artists travel to the continent and get to these events: it's an important part of an emerging artist's career, but if we decide everyone should be flying less it's going to require a reduction in the demand for in-person events and the advantage for artists living in these cultural hubs.

MOCA's Julian Brangold lives and works in Argentina, whose local art scene exists on the periphery of the international events circuit. Pau Waelder asks if less travel might contribute to more distinct local scenes. It's been a concern in the art world as a whole in recent years. As the UBS report says, in the travel and supply-chain disruption of the pandemic "there was little evidence of the much-speculated shift from global to local artists and art scenes have occurred. While 54% of HNW collectors bought from businesses based in their home market in 2019, this declined slightly to a more balanced 50% in 2022." For Brandgold, it creates a "traditionalist" tendency that "looks inward", and doesn't incorporate the reality that we are constantly online and having connected, digital experiences with people around the globe.
The impact of physical works vs. digital
Transporting artists, critics, and collectors around the world is just one part of the art world's climate impact. Pau Waelder points out that the booths at these events are usually dominated by some kind of big installation that draws visitors in. In galleries and museums, it's the kind of work that attracts the public. Do artists feel pressure to create these large, physical works that are expensive to ship around the world?

Soléman Lopez thinks that the interest in NFTs and virtual experiences could be a positive trend here. As NFTs make digital work more legible to the collector market, and VR/AR makes digital work more tangible and immersive to the public, it's able to reach a wider audience. And as more of the economy as a whole move into digital assets, spaces, and experiences, there could be less of a demand for making and shipping so many objects around the world. Marina Zurkow thinks is this a good vision to aspire to, but reminds us that all this digital infrastructure is built on the global supply chain of plastic and lithium production, lithium being particularly bad for the local environments where it comes from.
Dev Harlan points out the amount of material that's involved in a bespoke digital art installation. "This holy grail of 'dematerialization', I think it's problematic." says Harlan. "It requires computers, it requires screens, and requires digital infrastructure, fiber optics, and copper wire traveling all over the world. There's a physical footprint. … I have a lot of ambivalence about what it means to be using all this technology, and being embedded in this cycle of consumerism and having to have the latest computers and projectors in order to produce this work. The work itself might be ephemeral, but the physical substrate in order to experience the work and create the work, it's a real thing."

On the question of whether virtual spaces can act as a "leveler" between artists from different parts of the world, Julian Brangold is skeptical of the fully-digital approach. He acknowledges that art NFTs have created interesting models like Epoch gallery selling an entire exhibition as one NFT and splitting the income between all the artists. But he doesn't think that digital experiences like metaverse galleries can stand in for the physical, saying that the past three years have been "a kind of weird, not-very-successful experiment in creating really impactful experiences." As with the Desert to Mars installation that filled a gallery with sand, a hybrid physical/digital experience can be much more effective and memorable than a straightforward digital or physical one. Art-focussed DAOs and new governance models could do more to innovate around existing hierarchies than an attempt to move everything to the digital space.
Carbon offsetting and beyond
One of the most important things that's happened in relation to climate impact in the past year is Ethereum's move to a proof-of-stake consensus mechanism. This reduced the blockchain's energy usage by an estimated 99.5% and, according to Ethereum’s Vitalik Buterin, reduced worldwide energy consumption by 0.2%. With the blockchain being as open and transparent as it is, what can we know about the impact of our own on-chain activities?

As with any technological phenomenon, a proof-of-stake Ethereum has first- and second-order effects on the environment that are difficult to analyze holistically. (For example: has Ethereum's move to proof-of-stake shifted commercial mining operations to the proof-of-work Bitcoin?) With the change being so recent, we don't have the full picture yet.
But blockchain offers an unprecedented way for individuals and institutions to look at their own climate impact. Kyle McDonald's Amends piece is based on measuring the Co2 impact of various NFT marketplaces, and Offsetra’s carbon.fyi gives individuals a way to estimate the Co2 impact of their own crypto wallet.

This opens up new possibilities for carbon offsetting at different scales. When she was making sculptural works Marina Zurkow used to have a contract that would require paying the offsets of making and transporting the piece but found it very hard to assess the full picture of all the monitors involved. That's a lot of work to expect individuals to do, but tools like carbon.fyi could make this highly automated for on-chain art. But she wonders now if buying offsets, which she compares to the indulgences of the medieval Catholic church, is a shallow way to engage with this issue of impact.

"This, for me, is the biggest question," she says, "[how do we find] an ongoing, dynamic, relational way to be in the world as opposed to 'I didn't take a bag and now I can take a nap'. Right? I'm thinking at that scale … because I really do try a lot of different kinds of strategies, and sometimes the wholesale ones just feel a little too pat for the scale of the problem."

Emerging social protocols in the art world around traveling and transport have their uses, but in the web3 art space, we have new tools and processes to see our climate impact and work with it. Artists were the first push for Ethereum to change to a proof-of-stake mechanism, so experimentation with new protocols in this space could be highly impactful.
Create art to act for the Planet.