s[edition] launches digital art marketplace – a £500 Damien Hirst video could be yours (and 1,999 other people’s)

This afternoon I signed up for s[edition].

s[edition] bills itself as a revolutionary new way to collect art by the world’s leading contemporary artists in digital format. By this it means that it is an online art marketplace designed for buying and selling limited edition digital format artworks by contemporary artists.

The emphasis of s[edition] – currently in beta – is on digital art with no physical equivalent (i.e. you’re expressly forbidden from printing the artwork) which you can theoretically access from any digital display device you own.

Logging in there are a small but not unimpressive number of artists already signed up to the service – big names such as Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst, Bill Viola, Michael Craig-Martin and Wim Wenders peer out from monochrome profile shots.

Artists discuss s[edition] from s[edition] on Vimeo.

As one might expect, the most expensive piece comes courtesy of Damien Hirst – a revolving baby’s skull cast in platinum and set with pink and white diamonds available as a limited edition of 2000 and yours for just £500. More affordable work is also represented with 21 of the current pieces available coming in at under £10. It’s an interesting selection to browse although, frustratingly, the beta status of s[edition] has already made itself felt with a fair number of the available artworks generating a “video not found” error message.

Once an edition has sold out, collectors will have the option to sell on their copy of the work to other users of the site thanks to a not-yet-available marketplace area.

A few thoughts:

1. DRM is obviously a major concern here and everything is going to be digitally watermarked to heck. You can, as always, see why that’s the case but it will always chafe against the open nature of the majority of our online experiences.

Sue Webster touches on this in the site’s promotional video: “People like sharing imagery […] there’s a spread of information that’s faster than a disease and instead of a disease being spread why not some of our imagery?”

The thing is, the imagery isn’t truly designed to spread in the way that I think she’s talking about – I think she’s referring to content which goes viral through emails, retweets, Facebook likes, appearances on Reddit and so on. Pretty much all of which are prohibited by the DRM. The concession to the multiplicity of the internet is thanks to the limited edition run of repeats, all watermarked and certified but definitely not designed to be sent onward and outward. Sharing only exists where you’re bringing out your laptop/tablet/smartphone to show someone the thing you’ve just purchased or when gifting a work to another person.

2. It would be very easy to end up in screensaver or desktop background territory. Given that people pay money for everything from ringtones to horoscopes, I’m not saying that will be a barrier to consumption, but it will take ongoing awareness from the curators to continually shrug off that spectre. The video work seems to break out of the box far more effectively than the still images. The Damien Hirst static images in particular feel very much like background events.

3. Purchased work is stored in your online vault and can be accessed through apps, streaming devices and the site itself. I love having art around 24/7, on the walls or shelves where it will catch your eye at an unexpected moment and be a part of your daily life. The DRM requirements seem to mean that these digital artworks will forever be partitioned off – an experience un-embeddable in your day-to-day existence.

4. All that being said, I am considering buying Mat Collishaw’s The End of Innocence.

5. When I signed up I chose the old-fashioned route (name, email, password, agree to T&Cs) rather than Facebook Connect. Somehow my profile now has a picture associated with the account taken either from my Google account or from my Twitter. The account was automatically set to public rather than private and at no point was I warned that my image would be drawn in and used. The privacy policy makes no mention of this and the site itself provides no option to change or remove the image so I’ve emailed the site to ask what’s going on. It seems odd that with such an acute sense of the artist’s image rights, the collector’s aren’t top priority…

If you’ve signed up to the service, do let me know what you think.