New Art: Tokens Equal Text

Tokens Equal Text” (2019) is a Rare Art edition with a twist.

In Tokens Equal Text the demands of Rare Art are simultaneously met and frustrated by constructing evocations of the imagery of Vaporwave. This appropriates the aesthetics of a genre of appropriation art in order to create a critical circuit between blockchain technology and art theory.

Rare Art consists of blockchain tokens representing limited edition ownership certificates for digital art files. It is an example of the kind of blockchain quasi-property ownership that I described in “Blockchain Poetics” (2017) and wrote about in more depth in “Tokenization And Its Discontents” (also 2017). Despite having written about Rare Art in depth, my own work with blockchain tokens as art has not previously engaged with it. “Art Coins” (2015) for example does use the text field of CounterParty tokens to contain “the work” but as a written description of an imagined artistic genre rather than the URL of a digital image file.

In contrast to the strongly held but under-examined idea of ownership via cryptographic artificial scarcity that underlies Rare Art, Vaporwave art has a more ambiguous relationship to concepts of ownership and authorship. As appropriation-based art, Vaporwave is not amenable to claiming original authorship or ownership as intellectual property. Its subjects are those of past promises of the satisfactions of ownership and consumption of commodities which are then ironized by an economically precarious later generation. Despite this, some of Vaporwave’s audience places value on possession of extensive digital media collections or limited edition releases of obsolete physical recording media.

Describing rather than depicting the appropriated visual elements of Vaporwave sidesteps the problem of their ownership and authorship. Depicting those descriptions in a visually appealing way then re-aestheticises them and makes them available and desirable for ownership as Rare Art. Tokens Equal Text does this by creatively misusing the Ethereum standards that are used to create Rare Art, in order to create conceptual tension between its resources. Its ERC-721 tokens have no metadata but do contain content, (mis-)encoded as their ID numbers. The ERC-998 tokens that contain them do provide images in their metadata for platforms to display but these are just previews of their content as rendered by Tokens Equal Text’s display interface.

These layers both exceed and disappoint the technical and aesthetic requirements of Rare Art in order to capture, exceed and disappoint the limits of ownership in Vaporwave. And vice versa. This folds two different forms of belonging – ownership and the aesthetics of genre – back onto each other in a mutually intensifying circuit which critically reflects them and the worlds in which they are embedded.

You can view and purchase works from the series on OpenSea:

https://opensea.io/assets/tokensequaltext

or contact me for physical versions.

Do You Need “Do You Need A Blockchain”?

Satoshi Nakamoto announced Bitcoin in the “Bitcoin Whitepaper” in 2008.

The Bitcoin Whitepaper describes how to create peer-to-peer electronic money.

All of the design decisions discussed in the whitepaper reflect this objective.

The Bitcoin Whitepaper does not mention “blockchain”.

The Bitcoin Whitepaper mentions a “timestamp server” based on validating blocks of transactions that the software it describes uses to establish the order of transactions over time.

Bitcoin does this in order to solve the “double-spend problem” without resort to “trusted third parties”.

Bitcoin must do this in order to function as peer-to-peer electronic money.

The construction of a public ledger of transactions gathered into blocks and validated using a proof-of-work algorithm in return for economic incentives paid in the currency that the system exists to create is a contingent technical element of doing so.

Blockchains and proof of work are not original to Bitcoin, there were more interesting hashing or signature schemes available in 2008, and Nakamoto Consensus does not represent the first solution to the Byzantine Generals problem in computer science.

This use of economic incentives to construct a data structure in an adversarial environment is Bitcoin’s only technical innovation.

We can exploit the contingent technical elements of Bitcoin’s design for peer-to-peer money as primary technical elements if they are appropriate responses to design challenges that we face elsewhere.

They are appropriate responses if they support the instantiation of the project’s stated goal with the same degree of utility that they support Bitcoin’s stated objective of producing peer-to-peer electronic money, or at least to a high degree.

Such instantiations stand a better chance of not being solutions-in-search-of-a-problem or having broken economic incentive structures.

The building blocks of the Bitcoin whitepaper can also be exploited as primary concepts if they represent appropriate responses to the conceptual challenges of a project.

We must be careful not to fetishize or miscast them.

For example “trust” in the Bitcoin Whitepaper appears only in the phrase “trusted third parties”, taken from the writing of Nick Szabo, and refers to the unjust and unavoidable intervention into social relationships of potential opponents that might better be described as “treacherous third parties” in the style of Richard Stallman.

In both the technical and conceptual cases, varying emphasis or adding or removing elements from those present in Bitcoin without sufficiently addressing the impact of doing so or the ideological and economic balance of the resulting system can negatively affect its appropriateness and viability.

It is therefore vital to understanding how each element of Bitcoin contributes to doing the one thing that Bitcoin is actually meant to do and be, and being very careful when seeking to produce systems that exploit elements of it of it for purposes other than that.

All of this means that a better question than “does this project need a blockchain?” would be “what is the conceptual equivalent of peer-to-peer digital money in this domain and if this is an idea worth pursuing how would we go about constructing it?”.

That is a more difficult question though.

Genesis

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Next: Tokens Equal Text
Recent Media Coverage

Perfect and Priceless

https://arteez.ch/lart-du-blockchain-a-la-galerie-kate-vass-zurich/

Proof of Work

https://www.spikeartmagazine.com/en/articles/i-wanted-protocol-identify-community

General

https://blockpublisher.com/come-say-hi-to-the-blockchain-artists/

“Blockchain Aesthetics” at Ó̵̞͠O̸̮͠ͅP̷͔̊͝S̵̡̱̑.̵̻̯̏͘.̶̜́͛.̷͔̑ : Obfuscating Ownership: Privacy & Sousveillance

OOPS Exhibition, Curated by Julian Stadon
December 10th-11th 2018 at University of Hertfordshire Art & Design Building
Opening Event Monday 10 December 16:00 – 18:00

This exhibition showcases a wide range of artists that specifically address the issue of personal data protection, privacy and identity obfuscation. This includes building new identities, hiding existing ones, remediating personal data to developing legal precedents for intellectual property.

Artists:

Tiare Ribeaux & Donald Hanson, Heather Dewey Hagborg, Erik Zepka, Heath Bunting, Pierre Proske, Varvara and Mar, Julian Stadon, Branger_Briz, Rob Myers, Mez Breeze

https://www.herts.ac.uk/uhbow/whats-on/2018-autumn-and-winter/oops-exhibition

Images courtesy of Julian Standon.

Blockchain Aesthetics At Perfect And Priceless

“Blockchain Aesthetics” in “Perfect and Priceless” at Kate Vass Galerie, Zurich until 11th January 2019. Image courtesy of curator Georg Bak.

The print on the left is forty inches square, and the screen on the right is being driven by a Raspberry Pi 3. In the gallery they are hanging next to John Watkinson’s awesome CryptoPunks prints, so they are in good company.

Here is some media coverage:

https://www.krypto-magazin.de/perfect-priceless-wertesysteme-auf-der-blockchain/

https://www.artnome.com/news/2018/10/26/is-art-blockchains-killer-app

https://medium.com/@cultbytes/perfect-priceless-value-systems-on-the-blockchain-45ee2b3ba36f

https://www.artlog.net/de/kunstbulletin-12-2018/perfect-priceless

https://www.guidle.com/de/veranstaltungen/perfect-und-priceless-value-systems-on-the-blockchain-zuerich_AJF9iTK

https://thecreativecrypto.com/perfect-priceless-exhibition-at-the-kate-vass-galerie/

Contrary to what you might read, I’m still based in Vancouver, not New York.

Perfect and Priceless

“Blockchain Aesthetics” is in the awesome show “Perfect and Priceless” curated by digital art expert Georg Bak at Kate Vass Galerie in Zürich, Switzerland from 16th November 2018 – 11th January 2019.

CryptoPuppers

https://twitter.com/IsDecal/status/1044900069693108229

CryptoPuppers (2018), blockchain-registered gold plated metal cast from 3D printed model, inkjet prints.

This new incarnation of Rob Myers’ classic work “Balloon Dog, Shareable Readymade”, originally commissioned by Furtherfield, comprises an edition of 1000 miniature gold balloon dog sculptures linked to the blockchain. Each handmade version of the 3D printed original is unique in its own way and functions as a non-fungible token.

“Balloon Dog” was originally created as an ephemeral digital file for 3D printing that anyone could use to re-democratise an icon of blue chip contemporary art. It was a post-scarcity commons approach to art that everyone and therefore no-one can own.

In contrast, this is a limited edition of luxurious physical instantiations of the artwork (each with its own own “certificate of inauthenticity” signed by the artist) anchored to the art historical world of provenance and ownership as well as blockchain verifiable value via Arteïa’s collection management system.

From post-scarcity abundance to artificial scarcity and provably rare digital ownership as a way to establish and protect the unique value of artworks. This is a provocation for artists and collectors to engage with new digital critical and financial value in contemporary artworks.

More details from DECAL.

Massive thanks to Dr. Charlotte Frost and Ruth Catlow of Furtherfield for making this happen.

Artists as cryptofinanciers: welcome to the blockchain

Rob Myers, one of the early adopters of blockchain as an artistic tool, has written: “The ideology and technology of the blockchain and the materials of art history—especially the history of conceptual art—can provide useful resources for mutual experiment and technique.”…

https://www.theartnewspaper.com/feature/artists-as-cryptofinanciers-welcome-to-the-blockchain