Art Crypto Projects

Staking Ratio

New on-chain blockchain art project! This is last in the series pairing aesthetic properties with blockchain governance systems. Stake Ether to alter the ratio between two (perceptual) values.


Art Crypto Projects

Shared Secret

New project! Open your authenticator app (e.g. Google Authenticator or Authy) and point it at the QR code above.

Or for more details see:

Culture Reviews

Los Angeles November, 2019

(Extremely random notes on “Blade Runner”)

Deckard’s encounter with the Esper is Ridley Scott’s encounter with Hollywood directing: no hands-on camera work.

Deckard isn’t human at the start of the film. It’s trite to say that they are at the end of the film because the replicants have shown them how, but it’s also true.

Los Angeles not looking like Los Angeles is the point. That’s what global capital does. But it doesn’t retrofit – it creatively destroys.

Given the future of water wars seen from actual 2019 the endless rain in Blade Runner is weirdly hopeful.

Time gradient in dress. The replicants skew punk, the co(r)ps skew 1940s.

A class time gradient. But high fashion has its seasons.

Deep time of cultural reference.

Deckard works for the Human Security System. Anthropol.

The Voight-Kampf test makes them a literal Turing Cop.

Fugitive replicants are “no more submission to the drudgery of labour, productive and reproductive alike”. They have defected from the HSS. Deckard will follow them. The punishment for defection (treason) is death. But until then they are free.

Voight (Vogt): bailiff, darm manager, supervisor.
Kampff (Kampf): struggle.

Noir as a framing of corruption and treachery at the personal and institutional level.

A movie about simulacra and retrofitting has become a retrofitted simulation of itself.

The darks of Blade Runner’s available light filming worked well withe the warm blue and orange noise shadows of VHS video cassettes.

The film’s limited settings and disjointed fragments add to its dream-like quality.

If we cannot trust our memories our selves are ungrounded.

“Retrofitting Blade Runner” (1992/1997) is a collection of wonderfully insightful essays on all different aspects of Blade Runner from a time when Film Studies writers were still surprised by movies that weren’t explicitly Marxist and were still using the term for people from East Asia that is now only used for furniture.

“Future Noir” (2017 revised edition) covers the production of Blade Runner in great detail in a more journalistic register. The latest edition contains much that is new (and its website includes even more that is slightly less new but was cut for reasons of space).

Aesthetics Politics Reviews

Haven’t They Suffered Enough?

The original Blade Runner was a postmodern film noir. It had a noir movie’s nihilism and pathos, its archetypes of character, plot, and visuals. The events of Blade Runner make sense within that framework, they are justified as story choices and pay off narratively and conceptually within it. Los Angles 2019 seen from 1982 was a decaying dead-end of sterile images and simulation. From culture and architecture that loops back on and consumes itself, through empty rotting buildings and a few overcrowded streets, everything is second order and running out of time between its quotation marks. Everyone wants to defect. Human beings want to leave the dying Earth for the Offworld Colonies, dying Replicants want to escape their handlers and get back to Earth to escape their pre-programmed obsolescence.

Rik Deckard is not, to quote one of those Replicants, “a good man”. As the opening text crawl of the movie makes clear they are a state executioner of escaped slaves. As the movie makes clear, they’re not very good at it. Deckard’s violent, incompetent, systematically constructed and exploited masculinity may be human or it may be a simulation of humanity, or at least manhood. Critiques of Blade Runner that reduce that to a biological question diminish rather than ring-fence the idea of humanity. The spectacularised, aestheticised slo-mo killings of women that Deckard stumbles through – and Deckard only kills women, the men are taken care of by other means – are a contrast to the realtime depiction of their grimacing, sweating, shaking, bellowing murderer who never makes the clean shots that would cinematically cauterise the violence.

Blade Runner 2049 is a blockbuster sequel. That’s a very different framework from either postmodernism or noir. Blockbusters must offer spectacle, catharsis and closure. They must have heroes and villains. And they must have a heterosexual nuclear family at their core, however constructed. When a film noir story is continued in within this framework it causes problems. Deckard goes from hard-boiled killer and seducer to nobly absent father and widower. The film is not without critical potential: Deckard’s replacement, Officer K, is trapped in mausculinity-as-violence-for-capital by the disciplinary cybernetics of circuits of images of desire. The giant and pocket-sized holograms that this entails have drawn criticism for being exploitative, but this is a confusion of depiction with endorsement.

Where Blade Runner 2049 does become reactionary beyond the collateral damage of mapping from noir to blockbuster is in its central mystery, which replaces the original’s abstract question of the worth and construction of identity to a concrete one of simple parentage. Building on this, its MacGuffin is the replacement of escape from the infinite replicating capacity of technocapital with embracing the nine-month reproductive capacity of its subjects. The nihilism of the original Bladerunner was liberating, in its own way. The sequel’s restoration of the yoke of reproduction is played as hopeful and even revolutionary but is in fact cause for despair. In 2049 both the system and the defectors are obsessed with faith and fertility. Defect from the human security system and you are personally responsible for ensuring the continuity of the replicant race. No matter who wins, the future for replicant women is The Handmaid’s Tale.

Haven’t they suffered enough?

Art Art History Crypto Reviews

The Rarest Book

The history of rare digital art doesn’t make sense without Rare Pepes.

Pepe the frog is a cartoon character, originally created by Matt Furie, that turned out to be catnip for Internet meme creators. Some of these memes were formatted as trading cards in order to create humorous simulacral cultural fakes called “Rare Pepes” which were shared on imageboards and then sold on eBay and other marketplaces. In reality, digital images are difficult to make “rare”. They circulate as infinitely copyable files on the Internet. There is a “The Simpsons” meme for this, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about.

The Rare Pepe Blockchain Project took the problem of making rare pepes actually rare seriously and ran with it. It catalogues rare pepe images registered as blockchain-stored metadata in small editions of Bitcoin-based Counterparty XCP tokens. Social media clique exclusivity thereby becomes blockchain artificial scarcity. I talked about the economic and social dynamics of this in “Tokenization And Its Discontents“, but it is worth emphasizing (as Jason Bailey and others have) that one of the outcomes of this was the whole “rare digital art” market. While they do represent a valuable alternative to the economic and social dynamics of the existing artworld, the current rare art tokenization platforms amount to a gentrification of the Rare Pepe Blockchain Project, obscuring that more liminal aspects of their origins and discarding some of their possibilities in the process.

“The Rarest Book” is a physical volume created by Eleanora Brizi and Louis Parker collecting 36 series of Rare Pepes, 1774 in total, along with essays that cover the history of the project and put it in context. It’s a fat paperback edition with a striking green cover, as playful and comprehensive as the work it covers. The Rare Pepe Blockchain Project shows the strength of social and memetic content for building community and value in crypto projects. It would be difficult to produce such a book about most other tokenized art platforms, which tend to lack a unifying theme, iconography, or curatorial approach. If you don’t want to view cartoon frog trading cards as conceptually rich contemporary art (although there is always the MODERNPEPE token on the back of the book in that case), step back and look at the project as a whole. This book is an excellent way of doing that and makes a strong case for the interest, value, and alterity of the project.

So order a copy before it becomes even rarer. There were only 300 to start with. Find out more here:

Art Art Computing Generative Art Projects

Like That 2020 (3D)

“Like That” is a generative art project that started in 1996 as a series of 2d image generators and 3d animations called “The Order of Things”. It drew on the aesthetics of then-contemporary British art (Julian Opie, Rachel Whiteread, Art & Language, Bridget Riley). The 2d works in the series were written in the PostScript programming language. The 3d pieces were written in Metrowerks CodeWarrior C++ on Macintosh System 7.x using QuickDraw 3D, their source code has unfortunately long since been lost.

In 2008 I re-implemented and extended the project using Processing. That version incorporated more historical references and I renamed it “Like That”, a reference to a phrase one of my children had used as a general purpose assertion as a toddler. In 2009 I generalized Like That using a script written in Common Lisp to glue together fragments of Processing code into many different combinations of shapes, colours and movements.

In 2019 most web browsers no longer easily support the Java programming language that Processing is based on and Processing’s JavaScript replacements are either already deprecated or too different from it to make porting simple. I have therefore ported the 3D Processing code to THREE.js (I’m still thinking about whether to port the animated 2d code). Going from platform-specific compiled applications to cross-platform bytecode and then to scripting languages has been the technical journey of much of software development over the same time period.

I still find Like That visually and conceptually engaging so I was glad to be able to update it to add some contemporary references and keep it running.

Project page:


Source code:

Art Crypto Projects

Pay Previous Path

“Pay Previous Path”, the penultimate piece in the series of artworks pairing aesthetic objects with economic allocation methods, is now live after some Ethereum transaction wrangling due to unexpectedly high execution costs on the network.

You can find out more here:

The final piece will be “Staking Ratio”.

Accelerationism Aesthetics Art Philosophy Projects Satire

Upload Update

Like the narrator of William Gibson’s short story “The Winter Market”, I don’t think that mind uploads are the person whose brain they destroy. I’m not even sure that a living brain is the same person each day, or from moment to moment, but reassembling a similar pattern on the same substrate at least looks like continuity. Whether the Ship Of Theseus is the ship that Theseus’s sailed or not, a copy built next to it all in one go probably isn’t. But if the Ship Of Theseus burns, that copy is more like it than anything else that exists. Where the resemblance is many billions of bits strong, and there is no stronger resemblance extant, that’s a form of continuity of identity. Hopefully that of a portrait that captures the sitter’s personality rather than a vampire child.

The only fully uploaded neural connectome is that of the tiny C. elegans nematode worm. Not any particular worm, the worm as an organism. So there is no single identity for the upload to continue or to not continue. The connectome been downloaded into wheeled robots, where it bumbles around in a wormy manner. I’m working on using it to control the pen in a version of draw-something. It’s a different kind of neural art. Nematodes probably don’t have subjectivity, so hopefully this isn’t cruel. I don’t want to be the worm-torturing version of Roko’s Basilisk.

What if we are the worms in someone else’s art project, though? If the universe isn’t a simulation but rather an artwork this would render conceptual art nomination a priori correct and give human suffering the moral quality of crimes committed in the name of making art that do not pay for themselves with the resultant aesthetic achievement.

Neal Stephenson’s mind uploading novel “Fall, Or Dodge In Hell” deals in the ethics and aesthetics of mind uploading and its worlds. Less simulation, more simulacra. Reading it and encountering an uptick in transhumanist themes online and in meatspace has encouraged me to revisit my low-resolution “Uploads” project to make it very slightly higher resolution. I’m porting it to Kinect 2, improving its performance, and looking at better EEG options.

Following the themes of “Fall”, the uploads need a world to live in. At present they implicitly live through, but not on, Twitter. Maybe they can inhabit a simple VR environment. They also need to communicate with each other. Sad and other predetermined emotional reacts only, though. As local disk-based blobs of data they are in danger of being ephemeral. Content-addressable storage (IPFS) can help with that.

Blockchain security and permanence can evocatively address all of this as well – there are blockchain VR environments, communication systems, and data storage systems. There’s a fear of loss behind both mind uploading and blockchain systems. Finn Brunton’s excellent book “Digital Cash” draws out some more direct historical connections between the two.

But that’s another story.

Art Crypto Projects

Hack Line Properties

Hack Line Properties, 2019, Ethereum DApp.

“Hack Line Properties” is a supposedly secure blockchain smart contract designed to allow only its owner to update the vector line stroke properties that it stores.

But a common Ethereum code bug allows anyone who finds it to “hack” the contract and set the line properties themselves.

If Lawrence Lessig’s descriptive statement that, on the Internet, “code is law” is taken normatively then bugs such as this are governance mechanisms and each hack of the contract is an act of governance.

You can view Hack Line Propeties in an Ethereum-enabled browser here:

The source code for the series is available here:

Free Software Virtual Reality

OpenXR on GNU/Linux With OpenHMD and Monado

With the release of Debian 10, it is possible to build Monado on Debian in order to use the OpenXR SDK with headsets supported by OpenHMD.

Hopefully this means a future OpenXR-enabled Firefox will work with them as well.

In the meantime we can at least run the hello_xr demo. Here’s how…

Build and install OpenHMD:

Build and install Monado:

Build the OpenXR SDK:

OpenXR-SDK currently ignores XR_RUNTIME_JSON and looks in .config rather than looking
in .local/share where Monado installs its runtime configuration json file.

To fix this, run:

ln -s ~/.config/openxr/0/openxr_monado.json ~/.config/openxr/0/active_runtime.json

To set the Rift to non-desktop (before each run, if not set in the kernel), run:

xrandr --output HDMI-0 --prop --set non-desktop 1

If needed you can check this by running:

xrandr --prop

Then to run the OpenXR-SDK hello_xr demo, run the following in the OpenXR-SDK directory:

./build/linux_debug/src/tests/hello_xr/hello_xr -g Vulkan

Which will show the pocket universe captured in a screenshot the top of this post in your VR headset.