E Pluribus UnumPrint
By Emily Ochoa
Contemporary art continues to fetch astounding prices, but Aaron Koblin and Takashi Kawashima are fixing the tag for reproductions of their latest work at an even $100. It’s an obvious choice, since $100 is both the total labor cost of the piece and the face value of the finished work.
“Ten Thousand Cents” is an experiment in crowd-sourcing, a recent business model that assigns parts of a large task to people who may never interact with each other. Koblin and Kawashima employed Amazon.com’s Mechanical Turk system to contract 10,000 people in 51 countries; each received one cent to create a tiny segment of a $100 bill with a mechanical drawing tool. Amazon’s system takes its name from the Turk, an elaborate chess-playing hoax created in 1770 by a confidence man named Wolfgang von Kempelen. Presented to the public as a thinking machine, the Turk in fact concealed a human being who operated the chessboard. Benjamin Franklin and Napoleon Bonaparte were among its challengers.
Koblin’s second Mechanical Turk-aided piece of art, “Ten Thousand Cents” is showing at the Pasadena Museum of California Art as part of an exhibition on data and art. He intends to produce more works using Mechanical Turk technology.
Emily Ochoa is a freelance writer in New York City.