Main menu Close main menu Main menu Menu ×

Trickle Down – A New Vertical Sovereignty

Exploring value systems and wealth disparity

Trickle Down – A New Vertical Sovereignty is a tokenised, four-screen video installation and soundscape attached to the blockchain. Composed of auction scenes, auction performances and choral interludes, the artwork seeks to explore value systems and wealth disparity across different communities, from prison inmates to market shoppers to buyers at Sotheby’s auction house.

Artist: Helen Knowles

(Honorary Mention, Prix Ars Electronica 2020 Interactive Art+ category)

What are the technological and financial power structures governing value and the distribution of wealth in our society? And who really stands to benefit?

In Trickle Down – A New Vertical Sovereignty, artist Helen Knowles has created a functioning sculpture: a four-screen video and soundscape connected to the blockchain that explores questions about value and the distribution of wealth. How do tech-based financial structures scaffold the disparity between the wealthy elite and the everyday working person? And who benefits from the automation of such processes?

The visitor experience begins with the drop of a coin into a hand-built machine, one that purposely exposes the mechanisms that convert fiat currency (government-issued money) into crypto-currency. This machine will be co-designed through a workshop at The Whitworth Art Gallery and with artist Daniel Dressel. The sensors, software and electronic components are all exposed, along with a read out of the blockchain ledger.

Alongside the machine, Knowles has created a film and soundscape triggered by sensors responding to visitors to the installation. The film is composed of real auction scenes, staged auction performances and choral interludes from four very different communities.

To create the film, artist Helen Knowles attended and documented four auctions in widely different settings: prisoners at HMP Altcourse in Liverpool, attendees to the Ethereal Summit, employees at Consensys hub in NY, (a blockchain company); Mancunians shopping at Openshaw market in North Manchester, and the Russian community of central London buying cultural artefacts at Sotheby’s auction house.

Knowles evokes the auction scenes through documenting people’s clothing, – together with musician Denis Jones, they recorded cypto-currency employees, inmates, market sellers and the wealthy Russian community of the square mile singing. These choral interludes will be composed into a sensor-triggered soundscape within the work. The installation will reflect the breadth of wealth and financial power individuals in these communities have, ultimately, revealing the texture of the communities which represent such disparate economic groups.

Each time the video is played, it will make micro-payments to all the collaborators and participants on the project, from the inmates at HMP Altcourse to ConsenSys employees and blockchain software developers. This process is reliant on participants supplying us with their own crypto-currency wallet, questioning: Can technology be a unifying force to enable more equality in society or does technology only work effectively for those of us who are educated to navigate it?

The process launches the unique but anonymous ID chain, which will record who experiences or views the work and also who contributes to paying the collaborators on the project. The work will explore and provoke questions about value and distribution of wealth in art, by engaging visitors in potentially deciding or voting on how funds can be distributed from an artwork attached to the blockchain.

Trickle Down, A New Vertical Sovereignty is an artwork by Helen Knowles, supported using public funding from Arts Council England. The artwork is produced by FutureEverything with additional support from The Whitworth, The University of Manchester, arebyte Gallery and FACT.

With thanks to Daniel Dressel, BlockRocketTech, Denis Jones, Arone Dyers, Pablo Galaz, Lewis Sykes, Howard Kennedy LLP, Dave Beech, Ethereal Summit, Metamark, Known Origin, Damien Mahoney and The University of Salford.

Trickle Down, A New Vertical Sovereignty premiered at arebyte Gallery, London in January – February, 2020.


On the blog