Disruption: The Art of Blockchain
Mounted in a corner of Trevor Jones’ white-walled art studio is a collection of pages of the Financial Times, each superimposed with striking painted images, none more shocking than that of a man holding a gun to his head.
It is the cyber security pioneer John McAfee, the founder of McAfee Associates, now reputed to be the world’s largest dedicated security technology company.
“He’s got quite a history behind him,” explains Jones. “He’s been on the run from the police but has considered running for president.”
Jones has used McAfee’s links to cryptocurrency and conflict with the US regulators as a key feature in a new exhibition in Edinburgh combining art and technology.
Canada-born Jones is using augmented reality to give the visitor an opportunity to turn artworks into film clips simply by holding up a smartphone or tablet against each painting and seeing the story behind it come to life.
The picture of McAfee is one of twelve in the exhibition, inspired by bitcoin and the cryptocurrency markets, pulled together by Jones who arrived in Scotland in 1999 and graduated from Edinburgh College of Art in 2008. He is currently artist in residence at the Edinburgh Academy.
He first came to public attention during the 2014 Royal Scottish Academy open exhibition when he photographed 60 of the works on display and, with the help of the AR app, superimposed his own work in their place so that anyone using the app could point it at the works in the official exhibition and, through their smartphones, view Jones’ work hanging on the walls.
He sees a link between this and the world of bitcoin and investing that inspired the new exhibition, noting: “It’s a logical extension of what I have been doing, as bitcoin has been disrupting the financial markets in much the same way as I’ve been using AR to disrupt art. It provides a new way of working that cuts out the institutions and middlemen.”
The exhibition also includes a portrait of the real Satoshi Nakamoto, the man who shares his name with the founder of bitcoin, alongside other paintings based on phrases and imagery common to finance and cryptocurrencies such as Riding The Wave and HODL (‘hold on for dear life’).
Alongside the exhibition, Jones is ‘hijacking’ the National Portrait Gallery, using AR to transform many of the gallery’s historical portrait paintings into the elite figures of the cryptocurrency community. Visitors to the gallery can use the smartphone app CreativMuse to engage video and links and learn more about bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies via the paintings.
For Jones, these additional layers are neither a gimmick, nor an add on, but an essential part of the paintings and his creative process. He says: “I want to find ways to engage the senses and create a different experience to what a painting normally provides.
“For me a painting is not entirely an image you look at and contemplate. I always think about how I can change the way somebody sees my painting through music, video and technology.”
Likewise, when it comes to his reputation as a disrupter of art, Jones acknowledges that the paintings are only a part of this, and that technology has played a large role in cementing his status as the outsider artist who breaks into the established venues and makes them his own.
“Technology has changed how I get my work out and who sees it. I get a lot of interest from the tech sector that I wouldn’t get if it was just the paintings.”
That is not to say the paintings are unimportant. They remain at the heart of what Jones is doing. As he says: “You have to create the most visually striking painting to draw people in. The art itself has to make a statement.
“The connection with technology means that I can then increase the power of the statement. The story, the setting, the disruption and the brand all follow on from the art and add to it, but without the art it wouldn’t happen.”
Disruption: The Art of Blockchain runs from 22 to 26 October at Dundas Street Gallery.
More information about Jones and the exhibition is on his website www.trevorjonesart.com