Can an artist-run crypto project save the bees? Documenta’s BeeCoin initiative gives it a try


At the heart of Documenta 15’s curatorial vision is the notion of “lumbung”, an Indonesian term referring to a communal rice barn. In the case of this exhibition, the largest and most expensive in the world, the concept can mean many things.

With collectives and working groups making up most of Documenta’s more than 1,500 attendees, exploring alternative business models of artistic production is part of what makes this year’s edition so unique.

Since October 2020, several members of the artistic team (led by the Indonesian group Ruangrupa) have come together under the banner of “lumbung economy”, with a particular focus on exploring the potentials of blockchain and crypto- currencies. Initiatives represented by this subgroup include BeeCoin (developed by the ZK/U – Center for Art and Urbanistics), Cheesecoin (INTERIOR), Dayra (The issue of funding), and Jalar (developed by Gudskul).

In an email to Artnet News, the artistic team behind the economy group lumbung said they hope these experiments will ultimately lead to more sustainable efforts to achieve a commons-based economy, as opposed to both to the mainstream art market and what they see as rampant speculation in other crypto markets.

Harvest von Abdul Dube, 2021. Courtesy of documenta press office.

“We emphasize the word ‘community’ here in relation to currencies,” they wrote. “Blockchain has the potential to decentralize monetary systems. For this quality, Lumbung can learn and practice different types of trading systems.

The uses of blockchain in Documenta are numerous. Cheesecoin, an initiative launched in 2017 by the INLAND collective and Hito Steyerl (which has since pulled out of Documenta for political reasons unrelated to Cheesecoin), is a tongue-in-cheek and poetic intervention in crypto, essentially using its rhetoric to draw attention to rural INLAND. agricultural initiatives. Meanwhile, the groups the issue of funding and Gudskull offers more serious efforts to build real platforms that facilitate horizontal forms of exchange.

However, BeeCoin is perhaps the liveliest of Documenta’s blockchain initiatives — and the one that most closely matches the agricultural origins of the “lumbung” concept. Launched by the ZK/U group, this initiative functions as a Distributed Autonomous Organization, or DAO, which aims to facilitate “interspecies democracy, wealth sharing and knowledge creation”. Basically, the goal is to use blockchain technology to create a new kind of democratic structure which, in turn, contributes to the sustainability of local bee populations in Kassel.

BeeCoin is deploying several sensor kits throughout the city that monitor key life indicators for 15 beehives. Humans join by acquiring a BeeCoin NFT, which includes membership in the DAO, and therefore the ability to make bee welfare fund distribution proposals, which are voted on at public meetings. Essentially, the idea is that as sustainability metrics increase for bees, BeeCoin does better, thus providing incentive to invest in healthy coexistence between humans and bees.

Will it work? The jury is still out. But in Kassel and beyond, observers interested in art, crypto, and the environment will all be watching to find out.

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