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History Has a Sexy New Look

Mon, 05/23/2022 - 15:07
Alexandra Fairweather and Billy Folchetti poolside, with some of the tools of the archivist's trade in the foreground.
Click

Filmmaker, gallerist, magazine publisher, entrepreneur, and socialite were just some of the terms defining Alexandra Fairweather during the past decade. Now she is returning to her roots as she launches a new venture based in the past but with an "of the moment" approach to funding.

"I grew up with art through my stepfather, John Chamberlain, and also coming from Long Island, which is enriched with this incredible art history," she said on a recent Zoom chat with Billy Folchetti, the new venture's co-founder. 

Chamberlain, who lived on Shelter Island, died in 2011. Ms. Fairweather is the director of his estate. A few years ago, she began to realize that preservation of archival materials is a significant problem for those of his generation as well as more contemporary artists.

At the age of 14, she began recording him in his studio, amassing a thousand hours of video of him speaking about his work along with oral histories from friends and colleagues. "Now it's invaluable because when a curator will ask me, 'How did Chamberlain feel about the preservation of his foam couches?' I can go directly to those videos and know how he feels. I can see firsthand how helpful it is to have these materials."

At a symposium hosted by the Gagosian gallery, she and the artists in attendance "tried to figure out what problems are they all trying to solve. And what I realized is it really has to do with archival preservation, whether it's 16-millimeter films or slides or old rare media formats like video 8. It really struck me that these cultural treasures of the last 100 years could be lost, and just so much history with it."

Click, her new venture, will work to preserve art archives for artists, foundations, estates, and museums, as the archival work and records of artists, particularly of the last century, begin to degrade. At the same time, it will issue NFTs of the archival materials and other subjects to raise awareness and funding to address the issue as well as put significant pieces of art history into the hands of new generations.

On May 12, they dropped their first of many NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, which function as certificates of ownership for a digital artwork or other ephemeral medium and are stored on databases known as blockchains. 

"The Intellectual Entanglement" was issued as eight NFTs, each in an edition of 111, exploring the theme of disintegration though the breakdown of an automobile of an unnamed but "world-renowned artist." Asked if it was Chamberlain's car, Ms. Fairweather demurred. "We really want it to be a mystery." 

An image from "The Intellectual Entanglement," a series of NFTs that explore the theme of disintegration.

When she works in her stepfather's archive and studio, she sometimes feels like an archaeologist fitting pieces of his history and artworks together like pieces in a puzzle. The way they have set up this NFT series is similar, designed to come out as a set of clues to a mystery that needs to be solved. 

"We're trying to drive home the point that if we don't save these materials or do oral history projects with the people who are alive now, so much will be lost, which I think is really sad, and it doesn't have to be."

She said she saw this first project as a "collective experience of people not knowing what's going on. Then they go through this multi-month journey, where they get little clues," like airdropped archival photographs, that have never been seen before. "They're sort of going through this experience trying to put the pieces together. Ultimately, the ephemera and the archival materials they receive will offer the solution to the mystery. We really wanted to symbolize our mission and thought this was a good way to introduce what we're doing."

According to Mr. Folchetti, "This is a way to get especially new generations interested . . . in where these artists are from, their stories, their likes and dislikes." The NFTs will help in "making history modern and giving it a sexy new look that allows people to spend a little bit of time learning."

There is a social and community aspect as well. Those who purchase one or more of the "Intellectual Entanglement" NFTs will be invited to parties, dinners, and immersive experiences. A members-only messaging forum will be available, in addition to exclusive art programs and content.

This NFT series will create funding for the arts through a partnership with Art21, which uses digital media to introduce people to contemporary art and artists in innovative ways. As the effort continues, new NFTs will be introduced and the money from their sales will go to specific goals and projects tied to the artists or institutions who issued them.

In another project, the NFT will be a key that unlocks the archives, which can be viewed on a website with catalog details. "We're really, really just trying to think of clever ways of how to contextualize them and educate people as well," Ms. Fairweather explained. 

"What I find so interesting about NFTs and the blockchain," Mr. Folchetti said, "is that ability to talk about what is already a really amazing or really cool subject, but be able to present it in a way that is attractive to the newer generations and a limited attention span."

And they are well aware of the huge amounts of energy required by NFTs and their blockchains. Although it doesn't "have the best energy record," he said, they settled on Ethereum as their blockchain because it is very secure. They are offsetting the resulting carbon emissions of their NFTs with Aerial, a company that works with verified global environmental efforts to offset those emissions, according to its website.

With a core team of eight employees and consultants, they plan to complete six projects a year. Most will be based on material from the archives they are digitizing, but there will be a few new artists' projects introduced as well. Although Click is founded in visual art, they do not feel it is limited by that discipline. Music, film, and fashion are all candidates for similar treatment.

As the project is still in the very early stages, Ms. Fairweather and Mr. Folchetti were not ready to announce the artists or institutions they are working with, but she said they will have more information in the near future. Once digitized, some of the archives will be available through the Click website where appropriate. In other cases, a museum will have an exhibition devoted to the work being done and publish a related monograph. One goal was to increase access to this material, which is very often inaccessible, "sitting in boxes and disintegrating."

"The ability to help these incredible institutions, foundations, and estates with new revenue streams while at the same time being able to find a way for these things to exist with permanence just feels like a huge win-win from so many different angles," Mr. Folchetti said.
    

    


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