About “Is Art”

This is the text for the current showing of “Is Art”.

“Is Art”, 2016/2017, Ethereum DApp, Rob Myers.

Late 1960s Conceptual Art and mid 1990s net.art are useful inspiration for thinking about the blockchain and smart contracts. These art movements stood in critical tension with the systems of communication, law and commerce of their eras. Each treated rootless information, whether about sense data or network messages, as the critical subject of art and a new potential artworld. Their promise and their eventual recuperation by the existing artworld chimes with the historical experience of the blockchain.

“Is Art” takes the Conceptual Art ideas of dematerialisation (art that is not presented in a fixed physical form) and nomination (something that is art because someone or something says it is) and combines them with the net.art idea of the interactive artwork that exists in or interferes with network protocols.

In it, an Ethereum smart contract contains the assertion that it either “is” or “is not” art. A web page connected to the Ethereum network displays the state of this assertion to anyone who can access the contract and allows them switch it between states. When they do so this will become a fact secured in Ethereum’s blockchain with the strength of millions of dollars of computing power a day.

Is this sufficient to determine whether the contract is or is not art? Where and how is the claim really being made and determined? How does this relate to historical examples of such artworks? And how does it relate to other claims of fact stored in other smart contracts?

To Change The Status Of The Contract

1. Click anywhere on the screen.
2. In the dialog that opens, click “Update”.
3. And in the dialog that opens in response to *that*, click on “Accept”.
4. Watch for the update on both screens.

Posted in Art, Crypto, Ethereum, Projects, Shows

“Bad Shibe” at New World Order

Lina Theodorou’s installation at Furtherfield’s “New World Order” featuring their wonderful illustrations for my story “Bad Shibe”.

You can buy the print version of Bad Shibe, featuring those illustrations, at the show or online via PayPal or with Bitcoin.

Via Furtherfield – https://twitter.com/furtherfield/status/865569017515438084

Posted in Art, Crypto, Ethereum, Projects, Shows

“Is Art” at Ethereal

Is Art” in the FOAM space at Ethereal summit in New York. You can manipulate it using the MacBook and watch its state update via the blockchain on the tablet next to it.

From show curator the awesome Sam Hart (thanks Sam!) – https://twitter.com/hxrts/status/866447265229156353

Posted in Art, Crypto, Ethereum, Projects, Shows

New World Order

My novella “Bad Shibe” and Lina Theodorou’s amaze illustrations for it are in Furtherfield Gallery’s show “New World Order” from Saturday 20 May – Sunday 25 June 2017.

Click here for more details, including the press release and catalogue for the show.

As well as Bad Shibe, I have an essay in the book “Artists Re:thinking the Blockchain” being published during the show and blink and you’ll miss me talking about smart contracts in the blockchain documentary “Change Everything Forever.”

From the press release:

A mysterious and controversial technology is among us. The Blockchain underpins digital currencies and makes possible dramatic new conceptions of global governance and economy, that could permanently enrich or demote the role of humans – depending on who you talk to.

A self-owning forest with ideas of expansion, a self-replicating android flower, a tale of lost innocence, a DIY money making rig, a Hippocratic Oath for software developers, a five minute marriage contract; this exhibition presented by Furtherfield shows us life with blockchain technologies – through artworks by Jaya Klara Brekke, Pete Gomes, Rob Myers, Primavera De Filippi of O’Khaos, Terra0, Lina Theodorou and xfx (aka Ami Clarke).

Imagine a world in which responsibility for many aspects of life (reproduction, decision-making, organisation, nurture, stewardship) are mechanised and automated. Transferred, once and for all, from natural and social systems into a secure, networked, digital ledger of transactions and computer-executed contracts.

The artworks in this exhibition envision future world-making by machines, markets and natural processes, free from interference by states and other human institutions.

Posted in Art, Crypto, Projects, Shows

Bad Shibe – Out Now!

Cover Illustration for “Bad Shibe” by Lina Theodorou.

Bad Shibe, Novella, 2017.

“Bad Shibe” is the story of a young member of a near-future cryptocurrency-based utopia. YS works in an orchard in the day, goes to school in the evening, and tips everyone like a good shibe. Until one day they start feeling jealous of a newcomer and start digging in to how their world really works…

My page about the project, with some reading notes, is here: http://robmyers.org/bad-shibe/

It’s published by Furtherfield and their page about the project, where you can order a print copy or download the electronic version for free, is here: http://www.furtherfield.org/projects/bad-shibe-sci-fi-novella-rob-myers

Massive thanks to Lina Theodorou for their wonderful illustrations, and to Ruth Catlow for their excellent afterword (and tireless advocacy for the project). You are amaze.

Posted in Crypto, Culture, Projects

Bitstrings

A “bit” is a basic unit of information entropy. It’s binary, either on or off, present or absent, one or zero.

A “string” in computer programming is a sequence of items of a particular length. They may be fixed or variable length. Eight, sixteen, thirty-two and sixty-four bit numbers are fixed length. A text string is variable length.

A byte is a series of eight bits that’s used as a standard representation for typographic characters, colour values and many other things. Up until IBM’s OS/360 project in the late 1960s there was no real standard for this – computers might be decimal, or alphabetic, or have “words” of sizes from four to twenty-four bits. Some Soviet computers of the same period used ternary logic rather than binary. Alan Turing used a logarithmic measure of information entropy called a “ban“. So be wary of naturalising the bit and the eight-bit byte, but when you see bits grouped together in strings of lengths that divide neatly into eight, recognise that this is related to the reality of how most modern computer sytems divide up their memory.)

Bitstrings can be used to represent the presence or absence of properties. A fixed-length bitstring is a bitfield, but we’re going to stick with the more general name. Integer numbers represented in binary use bits to represent the presence or absence of quantities of increasing sizes within the number. 0110 is six in a four bit “nibble”. UNIX filesystems represent the permissions that the owner and other users of a file have to access and manipulate it as a sequence of bits.

Such bitfields can be found throughout computing. The satirical proposal for an “evil bit” to be set on Internet messages that have evil intent, shows both the prevalence of bitstrings and their users awareness of the limitations of binary thinking and computational representation.

As with their use to represent integer numbers using binary, bits can represent doubling or halving of quantities. It takes 33 bits of entropy to uniquely identify an individual among seven billion on Earth. Cryptographic hashes, which produce compact unique “names” for any input file of any length, often output 128, 160 or 256 bit values. Each bit doubles the possible size, quantity, or uniqueness of the thing it represents. It also doubles the size of the space in which it can hide.

Contemporary cryptographic encoding and signing systems use keys several thousand bits in length. They would take a conventional computer an infeasable amount of time to break. This property is used in Bitcoin mining to create cryptographic puzzles that require capital outlay to solve.

A proposal for “vectored signatures” for the “V” version control system uses features of these different strings of bits. It represents assertions about an individual’s relationship to and opinion of a piece of code using a bitstring. It asserts the identity of that individual using cryptographic signatures. This combination is a generalization of cryptographic “keysigning” as recognition of identity, and the fact that Bitcoin transactions involve cryptographic signatures of communications between individuals about single-dimensional (monetary) quantities.

The bitstring representation of logical operators developed by the Logical Geometry project provides a compact and information-rich notation for various logics. Each bit represents a fact about an operator such as “true in all possible worlds”, and relates to geometric and trellis representations of the same operators. Bitwise operations on these representations are meaningful – for example bitwise NOT on p (1100) gives ¬p (0011).

The combination of logically manipulable bitstring representations (as with Logical Geometry) asserted through cryptographic signatures (as with vectored signatures) seems like a possibly fruitful area of investigation.

Posted in Crypto, Philosophy, Uncategorized

Geneses

Geneses

A poem consisting of the genesis block hashes from the hundred cryptocurrencies with the highest market capitalization on January the Second, 2016 encoded as BIP-0039 mnemonics.

It begins:

abandon abandon abandon ability output crowd ice area thumb clown sibling charge youth range ribbon stairs plug argue provide toddler gaze edit meadow update

Details on how to order the book can be found here:

http://robmyers.org/geneses/

Posted in Art, Crypto, Generative Art, Projects

Simple Blockchain Art Diagram

Simple Blockchain Art Diagram

Simple Blockchain Art Diagram, 2016, digital media. After MTAA ca. 1997.

Very obviously adapted from MTAA’s “Simple Net Art Diagram“.

Proofs of existence stored in Bitcoin block 422422 and 422423.

More details on the project page.

Posted in Art, Crypto, Projects

Using The Palette

palette-chooser

The “Democratic Palette” contract provides 12 colours to use. What happens if griefers set the palette to 12 colours that are almost exactly the same? What happens if you need colours with more or less contrast or hue difference? What if you need more or fewer colours? The only guarantee about them is that they will all be different by at least one point.

To fetch the current palette:

var withPalette = function (callback) {
  var democratic_palette = Democratic_palette.deployed();
  var requests = [];
  for (var i = 0; i < 12; i++) { requests.push(democratic_palette.palette(i) .then(function(colour) { return {index: i, colour: colour}; }); } Promise.all(requests).then(colours => {
      var palette = [];
      colours.foreach(function(colour) {
        palette[colour.index] = colour.colour;
      });
      callback(palette);
    });
  }
};

We can then get from one to twelve colours simply by truncating the array, e.g.:

var my_3_colours = palette.slice(0, 3);

Or we can get the bluest colour using a simple comparison:

var bluest_colour = palette.sort(function(a, b){
  return a.blue - b.blue;
})[0];

Or we can take the average of the colours, which will probably represent the triumph of statistics over aesthetics.

More complex orderings and comparisons can be achieved using a colour library that allows us to work in HSV space. In particular we can use a version of the algorithm that Harold Cohen used for one version of his program AARON’s colouring system (see figure 15 here), effectively ordering the colours in the palette by brightness then distributing them evenly across a brightness range sufficient to ensure that each is distinct from its neighbours.

What about more colours, or more structured relationships between colours where we are concerned that those relationships may not be present in the colours voted for within the palette? In the first case we can interpolate between existing colours, producing colours in-between those in the palette. Or in both cases we can use colour theory to produce related colours: complements, split-complements, tints and tones, etc. There are libraries to do this in Javascript, for example color-scheme-js will produce entire colour schemes from individual colours.

“Democratic Palette” is intended to provide the equivalent of an aesthetic or colour symbology backed by Blockchain democracy rather than any other ideology or iconography, so it is intended to be easy and significant to us it as-is. But it’s also possible to maintain a direct relationship to the palette while using colours that are not themselves present within it.

Posted in Aesthetics, Ethereum, Projects

Democratic Palette

palette-spots

Democratic Palette, 2016, Ethereum Contract and HTML/JavaScript/CSS.

A palette of twelve colours that anyone can set on the Ethereum blockchain. Every vote for every colour is tracked and the top twelve make up the palette.

palette-vote

palette-representations

palette-squares

palette-stripes

The images above show various different visual applications of the palette and the use of the GUI to vote for a colour (the GUI appears if you click in the window displaying the canvas).

Note that the above images are from test runs. The current palette on the live Ethereum blockchain looks like this, ready for people to vote on:

live-palette

You can download the interface code here, it’s in the dapps/democratic-palette directory.

To use it you’ll need an Ethereum node running locally, and to vote for colours you’ll need some Ether.

Posted in Aesthetics, Art, Crypto, Ethereum, Projects