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The Graffiti Machine

There are more than a few occasions when ideas reveal themselves to us in unexpected ways. Recently I was listening to Charly García's song "La Máquina de Ser Feliz" and one of its refrains solved one of my recent concerns. "Remotely digital...It's artificial innocence" sings the Argentinean in the third stanza, describing the fictitious artifact of which his composition speaks. When I thought for a moment about the meaning of these words, I realized that it could shed light on a question that, a few days ago, a student from the University of Los Andes asked me in an interview. What is the future of graffiti in Colombia? she asked me. I could not answer exactly.

The Kiss of the Invisible, 2021. Bogotá, Colombia. Vertigo Graffiti // @wordbta @yuricauno

Undoubtedly, the shaping of that future includes its relationship - by no means peaceful and harmless - with technology. Indeed, it would be a major mistake, bordering on negligence, to think that new advances will not be transcendental (including the supplanting of artists and their works by shadowy artificial intelligence) when it comes to defining the days to come. In this opportunity I will not refer to the influence of the digital worlds in the artist's work and appearance, a subject that I addressed in the last column (, but rather, I will take this space to develop a couple of ideas related to blockchain technology and the future of the cultural practice of graffiti and urban art.

I consider that the essential starting point, in any kind of project or purpose that seeks to match new technologies with street painting, must recognize as a fundamental element the need for new artistic experiences to exist (and continue to exist) beyond virtuality or digital worlds. In other words, physical and tangible walls must continue to be intervened throughout the world. To disregard this requirement would go against the essential nature of culture, which depends, without exception, on the constant exercise of inhabiting, understanding and transforming public space.

To that extent, it would be more appropriate to use technology to improve, liberate and make the practice of graffiti fairer and not just "dematerialize" it by turning it into a photo or a publication. Therefore, a hybrid model that includes the context and digital tools, and that contemplates an analog and physical result, would be the best option. For example, these hybridization strategies should design solutions for the inefficient systems (and bad habits) of compensation for street art work and the serious and gradual loss of sovereignty and autonomy of the artist. In most cases, artists are forced to work with advertising brands or fulfill orders from public offices in order to continue painting and make a living -in some way- from their craft. Indeed, the aforementioned technologies (some already invented and others yet to be invented) must try to solve the difficulties with which the practice of graffiti and urban art have had to coexist and accept without much hesitation.

For the time being, blockchain technology (as confusing at first glance as it is useful upon closer inspection) opens up an unprecedented opportunity with its digital asset authentication function. Such an attribute can be fundamental to solve the issues and problems mentioned above: with the basic slogan of creating tools to free the artist who paints the street from economic constraints and shortages. However, it is not just a matter of promoting the authentication of digital works by artists (as is already the case with NFT) but rather of creating and designing a whole economic ecosystem (specialized market) that, based on the exchange of authentic works, can offer constant and considerable resources so that the streets of the world continue to be intervened: a hybrid model of digital assets with a specific destination that would provide the possibility of making the artist independent of any specific intermediary or vicarious agenda.

It is likely that when Charly García decided that his machine to be happy had to be remotely digital and endowed with artificial innocence, he was unintentionally referring to the difficulties and dangers of surrendering in absolute terms to technologies and the disappearance of the human factor as a consequence of them. A risk that also includes the art world. Ironically, if artists devote themselves solely to feeding algorithms, they will sooner or later be devoured by them. In any case, it would not be superfluous to remind the machines, and ourselves, that when painting the street the human being must be in charge. Night will fall and we shall see.

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