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Based on research into Contemporary Global Artistic Collectivity.

  • Review
  • Mar 03 2023
  • Huda Zikry and Amelie Jakubek
    Amelie Jakubek(1990, Germany) and Huda Zikry (1993, Egypt) are artists and researchers, united by a common interest in researching the methodologies and developments of artistic collectives in their social and political contexts. Together, and in collaboration with Amr Amer (1984, Egypt), they documented artistic collaborations at the documenta 15 exhibition in a series of video interviews that are expected to be published at the end of 2023 as part of a research project entitled Commune Zero (الكوميونة صفر).

Increased mobility and new forms of exchange, like messaging platforms and image- and video-based forms of communication change how we used to maintain friendships in analog times, through live meetings, phone calls, and letter-writing. Has this changed what we regard as friendship today? In the new book Radical Friends: Decentralised Autonomous Organisations & the Arts” by Penny Rafferty and Ruth Catlow, friendship is used as an ideal and an inspiration for DAOs as “vehicles for new forms of radical networked artistic collaborations.” Global friendships are specific to many art worlds, in which there is, disregarding ecological consequences and overall precarity, are immensely mobile.

In the English and Arabic languages, “friendship” is an umbrella term for a variety of affinity relations. The idea of friendship seems soft and warm; absolutely incompatible with techno-economic descriptions. Right at the beginning of Radical Friends, Nathan Schneider asserts that friendships might stop working properly when a price is put on them, which is necessary to developing a DAO. Setting up a formal accounting system for values, and therefore, the value of relationships, is one of the most difficult parts of creating a DAO, as one of the book's editors and leading scholar and practitioner Ruth Catlow [1] acknowledges in her description of developing an agricultural justice DAO in London. In romantic notions of friendship, quality is marked by precisely by the absence of transactionality—which might be a privileged understanding of friendship anyway. [2]

To clarify, we are not talking about two-person friendships, but rather, the complex net of relationalities that emerge in a group of people. Our research on collectives clearly shows that in order for this emergence to take place, a space that is both metaphorical and real must be facilitated. Space facilitation requires care; often invisible emotional labor, like communication skills, active circulation of information via protocols, the moderation of meetings, re-narrating the chronicle of collective action, and  washing dishes. People who commonly facilitate also know the state of facilitation fatigue that comes from the endless repetition of these tasks.

The DAO promises a governance structure that automates some of these chores—at least in the digital space. The blockchain protects information about decisions that have been taken, including whether some of these decisions have led to automated actions. To translate this into real life: instead of calling a meeting, the automated smart contract sets up the meeting according to the previously made decision. The actual outcome of such automations is yet to be seen, as the structures are new.

The book assembles speculation on the possible future of DAOs. Because DAOs are so new, the praxis of DAOs fills just a tenth of the full volume of the book. The political agenda of the Black Swan DAO allows us to dream of a solidarity-based translocal art circuit (as opposed to a "market"), a proto-institution for multi-disciplinary research and practice, as well as a self-curated knowledge repository. Still, only the praxis descriptions of DAO makers—their challenges and failures—sparks interest in the actual critical implementation of such technological developments.

Despite the acknowledgement of the colonial heritage ingrained in the code of today’s DAOs, the book’s authors argue that imagined structures based on interdependent subjecthood are technically possible, so long as DAOS are open source-based and allow communities to “create test, customise and iterate new templates of social community coordination, locking in PTP (peer to peer) learning about governance for solidarity at any scale.”

Even though there are many topics to unravel with the help of the book, scaling is one of the two main challenges that any group faces and which we’ll look at more closely in this review in relation to DAOs. Growing often means gaps in transferring group-specific knowledge, which increases fragility. Shrinking includes difficulties in reorganizing labor. These organizational patterns could be buffered with technology, but it is difficult to imagine that there could be a programmable protocol for creating a ritual for the grief that accompanies the loss of group members. Another process inherent to any group activity is decision-making. In our research, we have found that the collectives that have managed to exist for a long time make their decisions slowly and in a complex process of reaching consensus,  which is rarely standardized and caters to different abilities and capacities. The will to spend time together for a long time might be related to personal preconditions, but is also tied to socio-political context and class. This seems contrary to the decision-making processes suggested for DAOS, which—albeit technically nifty—rely on consciousness and sovereign will formation that allows for a clear and “effective” voting process. This assumed condition of individuals is part of the ongoing colonial heritage that is reinforced through DAOs’ technological infrastructure.

Based on our analysis of these decision-making tools, an off-chain communication space appears necessary. Here DAOs’ proposed governance automation is impossible. Still, we would face the necessity of the aforementioned facilitation labor, a reminder that this labor cannot be canceled out from a logical perspective, and remains an important political query despite and because of new technological developments.

In the short history of DAOs, and specifically artistic DAOs, most ongoing exchanges about these topics are dependent on the knowledge of the English language and code as a precondition. While knowledge about code will soon become obsolete due to interface design, English will remain globally inaccessible, as will, by extension, the necessary technology to participate in the blockchain. In order to think about real, global friendships, we need to start translating everything we know into other (class) languages, which this article humbly aims to contribute to.


This article was originally published in Arabic in Arts of the Working Class, Issue 25 on DAOs.

    [1] Who has a very modest self-description in the book as a “recovering web utopian, co-founder and artistic director of Furtherfield,” which, as the book shows, has done much to establish a discourse on artistic DAOs.
    [2] Only in welfare states and in other situations relieving the individual from existential fears, relationships do not have transactional value. In other situations, friendships and familial bonds create the alternative security network in times of hardship that, in other contexts, is provided by states or inherited money.


    Photo by Huda Zikry.



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