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05/2019

AxNA Overview





What is AxNA?

AxNA is a distributed community building digital services for a new art economy. Today we are a group of people working on some ideas. At a later stage we may convert AxNA into a membership organisation or cooperative. Otherwise, AxNA is currently an open design space. Below describes a general sense of where we're heading.

Why?

The new tools we're building are with a focus on the agency of artists and diffusion of visual culture. Being explicit about why—beyond a general sense and conviction that new ways to bridge artists and audiences are necessary—isn't straightforward. The topic of culture is difficult to grapple with. Below is a start to the conversation we're having.

Four statements condense AxNA's current position:

1) A culture is the sum of beliefs people hold.
2) Beliefs are of the sum of narratives exchanged between people.
3) Art is uniquely capable of creating and examining narratives.
4) The distance between art and people is inverse to the diffusion of cultural experimentation.

Stories, narratives or memes pervade our reality and inform our behaviour. Collective belief in narratives enables cooperation in large numbers, perhaps a uniquely human attribute. 'Blind faith' in narratives and a resulting order can be useful because they simplify how we interact with the world. But, narratives are fallible. Money enables a single exchange rate between different types of goods and services, but its success relies on collective belief and the capacity to instruct and replicate behaviour. Money does not exist external to those furthering it memetically. This presents a dichotomy between order and the potential of the unknown.

Artists are uniquely able to function somewhere between what is familiar and the edges of reality and human experience. There may be an infinite amount of narratives to explore. How these stories and potential futures diffuse through societies matter. We certainly 'value' them greatly. Both in an ordinary commercial sense and in the abstract. Philosophising about art, what it is and why we are attracted to art has commanded attention for millennia.

A common name for the contemporary system encompassing these narratives is the 'global art economy'. Its function can be defined as supporting the creation and distribution of visual culture. The system can be described as a complex social structure built around artists and works they create. How well this system bridges the space between artists and audiences should be of concern.

Performance measures of the art economy often focus on high level statistics, such as the volume and value of transactions, footfall to—and funding of—public institutions over time. However, the degree to which stories and narratives interrogated by art diffuse through society is missing. This is hard to capture. Perhaps the assumption that we should be concerned is a false narrative. Perhaps visual art can only serve a niche audience. But this would be contrary to the history of art. Although long circumvented for representational means to reinforce religious dogmas and command and control narratives, we share a natural affinity with enquiry into who we are and what lies at the periphery of our metaphysical bounds.

While network technology can diffuse ideas rapidly, audiences are arguably growing more detached from the stories being explored by artists. Narratives are often hard to grapple with, not easy or occasionally impossible to reason about. Dominant and assertive narratives also make them harder to reach. Money, possibly the most entrenched of narratives, regularly accompanies art and the perspective it's viewed from. Institutional narratives, with their scale and reach can equally become an obstacle between artists and audiences. This may seem counterintuitive. But, access to and belief in the narratives artists interrogate is essential to their diffusion and broader cultural experimentation. Further, the art economy is largely predicated on the notion of discovering artists exploring contemporary culture in novel ways and carefully managing exposure to their work. This can create a lag between the emergence of new work and propagation across audiences.

If the distance between artists and audiences can be reduced, cultural experimentation should increase. Perhaps enabling more dynamic transitions from order to potential and back again. If there is no upper bound to the space of cultural experimentation then greater dynamism can be an advantage, predicated on a collective realignment around the fallibility—but no less utility—of a single or collective groups of ideas.