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Google New Breed: the commodification of digital art and its young minds

Marco Donnarumma

Google is breeding the young minds of the next generation of artists.

Don’t take me wrong, it’s not my opinion, it’s simply what Google states in the marketing campaign (see the heading image) that is accompanying the infamous DevArt exhibition at the Barbican in London.

There has been an intense debate in the past weeks on what this powerful curatorial and marketing move by Google actually means. Will it affect or benefit the already unsteady and ephemeral world of digital art, and how? The discussion have rapidly condensed over the web in the form of newspaper articles, artists-led initiatives and discussions on the web through twitter and pastebin statements.

After following the whole issue in a quasi-silence, I felt the need to make a statement and share it with you. I won’t loose more time on a preamble and will get straight to the point.

Let’s start with a curious observation, the term that Google marketing team has chosen for their campaign is “breed”. The first meaning of breed is “to produce offspring, typically in a controlled and organized way”. Quite telling, isn’t it?

To think that largely incorporated entities, such as the Barbican and Google (Google Creative Lab to be precise), are being ingenuous or ignorant or naive and thus, that their initiatives won’t have a relevant impact implies a rather distorted viewpoint.

It’s like staring at a man putting a match to a haystack, and thinking nothing bad will happen because the man doesn’t know the haystack will be reduced to hashes.

This is an easy way to discard a much deeper problem which outlines some seriously worrying links between digital art curation and its relation to the art establishment and the incorporated lobbies. Links of which most times, we are either unaware of or worst, not interested in.

To bring more arguments to the table, the ones below are some other tips of that monstrous iceberg:

a) the involvement of Sound and Music in another Google-curated open call for emerging sound artist happened earlier this year under very dim lights; note, another intervention in the UK.

b) the massive cultural hijacking project by Google, which they aptly termed, “Google Cultural Institute”. Which, far from being a mere digitisation of museums catalogues, is being used as a means to curate events and open calls which, as for the DevArt, are aimed at breeding **young artists** (yes, breed, like animals in captivity), as in the case of the collaboration with Sound and Music above. Young artists does not mean 30-years old emerging artists. Young artists are student, part-time workers that follow their passion and dream of being able to live with their art, or maybe simply being able to express their art. As all of us started.

c) on a slightly different but related note, the boom of Sedition, an online platform designed as an appealing app market for well-packaged and well-known artworks. And I do not mean to take away any of the artistic value of the works sold there. Despite the fact they just opened doors so very recently, they had a stand at this year Sonar+D. Just to exemplify the links already in place.

Now, all of this shows that Google, the Barbican, Sound and Music, and many other entities which we are not aware of yet, have *already established* intimate links to work towards new ways of “curating” (or perhaps “commodifying” is a more accurate term) digital art, sound art, music, etc..

What we see and discuss today is the result of several months, if not years of discussion, planning and agreements, both financial and curatorial.

I don’t think there’s anything we can do to directly disrupt those links, given the scary results they have led to so far, but what one must do is to become aware that this is not a game of capricious millionaires.

Google is one of the richest capital holder in the world, a corporation who owns and develops the best machine learning techniques, who bought the best 6 companies in humanoid robotics, who works with US military defense developing technologies for them, etc. etc.

Stating the obvious here, but sometimes it does not hurt.

If they are investing so much in digital art it is fair to think this is not a caprice but a well-thought and far-reaching business plan. As any of their other businesses.

How do we claim our position in their business plan? Is that what we want?

Or perhaps, can we work towards alternative programs? If so, how?

The comparison with art patronage across the centuries does not work in this case, it’s just more smoke in the eyes. Renaissance art patrons didn’t have a database of all your documents, pictures, chats, videos, calendar and locations.

This article was originally published by the author at his personal research blog.