arebyte Gallery exhibits a new body of work by UK based artist Helen Knowles
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arebyte Gallery exhibits a new body of work by UK based artist Helen Knowles
Trickle Down installation view. Photo: David Oates.

LONDON.- arebyte Gallery are presenting Trickle Down, A New Vertical Sovereignty, a new body of work by UK based artist Helen Knowles.

Trickle Down, A New Vertical Sovereignty is a tokenised four-screen video installation and generative soundscape attached to the blockchain, which explores value systems and wealth disparity. The artwork is composed of auction scenes, performances and choral interludes by different communities such as prisoners, blockchain technology employees, market sellers, and Sotheby’s auction bidders. Trickle Down, A New Vertical Sovereignty draws on technological and financial power structures which traditionally scaffold the disparity between a wealthy elite and everyday working people but looks to re-imagine our vertically stacked digital ecosystem to horizontally distribute wealth.

The installation commences when a visitor drops a pound coin into a machine designed to expose the mechanisms needed to convert fiat currency into crypto-currency. Each and every member of the Trickle Down community, who has helped the work come to fruition, will receive a share of the ETH via a smart contract on the blockchain.

What are the technological and financial power structures governing value and the distribution of wealth in our society? And who really stands to benefit?

Artist Helen Knowles documented a series of auctions in widely different settings, which reflect the breadth of wealth and financial power individuals in different communities have. These include prisoners at HMP Altcourse in Liverpool, Ethereal Summit attendees, employees at blockchain company ConsenSys in NY, Mancunians at Openshaw market in North Manchester and the Russian community in central London buying their cultural artefacts at Sotheby’s auction house. Knowles captured images of people from these communities bidding, through documenting their attire rather than identities, and with musicians, Arone Dyer and Denis Jones made audio recordings of them singing. Ultimately, revealing the texture of the communities which represent such disparate economic groups.

Right in the middle of the installation, a machine composed by a large sheet of glass, electronic components, sensors and a coin container, purposely exposes the mechanisms that convert fiat currency into crypto-currency. The sensors, software and electronic components are all exposed, along with a read out of the blockchain ledger. Alongside the machine, Knowles has created a film and soundscape triggered by sensors responding to visitors to the installation.

Images of expensive handbags, jewels, fur and beautifully woven fabrics accompany sounds of rising numbers as cultural artefacts are offered for sale. On the opposite end of the wealth spectrum, bric a brac and basic goods are being bought in bulk at the north Manchester market, and prisoners bid with their labour for plants to send to relatives for Christmas, during an auction staged by the artist exploring prison economies.

The soundscape composed by the recordings of the voices and environments of all auctions is generated by drawing on the data history of the movement of the audience in the installation - picked up by sensors scanning the space, reflecting on the blockchain’s transparent and accessible history of transactions.

Each time the installation is played, it will make micro-payments to all participants and people who have been involved in the project, from the inmates at HMP Altcourse to ConsenSys employees and blockchain software developers. This process is reliant on participants supplying their own crypto-currency wallet, questioning: can technology be a unifying force to enable more equality in society or does technology only work effectively for those who are educated to navigate it?

Trickle Down, A New Vertical Sovereignty seeks to explore and provoke questions about labour, automation, value in art, decentralised sharing economies and distribution of wealth.

A series of public workshops around the project, alternative economies and the blockchain have been taking place at the Whitworth as part of Economics the Blockbuster, an action research project and exhibition for late 2021/early 2022, in partnership with Alliance Manchester Business School.

Helen Knowles (b.1975) is an artist and curator of the Birth Rites Collection. She has a BA Hons from Glasgow School of Art and MFA Fine Art from Goldsmiths University. Knowles’ practice stems from an interest in the new sovereign territories of the internet and the digital world. Her most recent film work, The Trial of Superdebthunterbot, is a 45 minute doc-fiction where she put a debt collecting algorithm on trial at Southwark Crown Court. The defence and prosecution was written and performed by real lawyers and a real jury deliberated to find whether the algorithm was guilty or not.

She lectures widely around the UK and abroad. Recent and forthcoming shows include; ‘Future and the Arts: AI, Robotics, Cities, Life - How Humanity Will Live Tomorrow’ The Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, NEMO festival, Paris, The Ministry of Justice and Consumer Affairs, Berlin, 'Artistic intelligence' Hannover Kunstverein (2019) ‘Impakt Festival, ‘Los Algorithmos Suaves’, Centro del Carme, Valenica, Potsdam Film Museum (2018) ‘Zero Recoil Damage’, FolkestoneTriennial, ‘OpenCodes’, ZKM Karlsruhe, Germany, ‘Codex’ D21, Leipzig, The Trial of Superdebthunterbot, Zabludowicz Collection, London (2017) and more. Her work is held in private and public collections including The Whitworth Art Gallery, Gallery Oldham, Tate Library and Archive, The National Art Library, Joan Flasch Artist Book Collection, Museum of Motherhood, NY, Birth Rites Collection and MMU Special Collection. Residencies include; Trelex Residency, Switzerland (2019), Fault Lines, Future Everything (2017-2019), HMP Altcourse, Liverpool, (2017) Moscow ICA, (2015) Santa Fe Arts Institute, New Mexico (2013 Jodrell Bank Science Centre and Arboretum (1999-2001). A recipient of awards from Arts Council England international Development Fund and The Amateurs Trust, in 2012 she won the Neo Art Prize, Great Art Prize for two works from the Youtube Portraits Series.

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