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:

https://twitter.com/ELEONORABRIZI/status/1187549332519686144

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: https://robmyers.org/like-that-2020

View: https://show.robmyers.org/like-that-2020/build/index.html

Source code: https://gitlab.com/robmyers/like-that-2020

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: https://robmyers.org/pay-previous-path/

The final piece will be “Staking Ratio”.

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.

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:

https://show.robmyers.org/artworld-ethereum/dapps/proof-of-work-bitmap/app/index.html

The source code for the series is available here:

https://gitlab.com/robmyers/artworld-ethereum/

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:

https://github.com/OpenHMD/OpenHMD

Build and install Monado:

https://gitlab.freedesktop.org/monado/monado/

Build the OpenXR SDK:

https://github.com/KhronosGroup/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.

Proof of Work Bitmap

“Proof of Work Bitmap” (2019) shows a 16×16 pixel monochrome bitmap that lives on the Ethereum blockchain.

 

Clicking on that bitmap shows an editor.

 

Submitting any changes made using the editor starts a (simple) proof-of-work calculation.

 

When that calculation is complete the results can be sent along with the bitmap to update it on the blockchain. Doing so costs some “gas” Ether to pay Ethereum for the transactions.

 

You can see it (in an Ethereum-enabled browser) here:

https://show.robmyers.org/artworld-ethereum/dapps/proof-of-work-bitmap/app/

The source code for the series is here:

https://gitlab.com/robmyers/artworld-ethereum/

And the project page is here:

https://robmyers.org/proof-of-work-bitmap

Proof of Work Bitmap is the latest in a series of pieces that pair aesthetic properties with methods of economic allocation or social governance. In computer art and digital culture a monochrome bitmap is the simplest representation of a discrete image. In blockchain-based systems a “proof of work” is a time-consuming computational puzzle that is impossible to cheat on but simple to check the result of. The result of solving that puzzle in Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Proof of Work Bitmap, is a 256-bit number with a specific number of zeros at the end. This is the same size as a 16×16 bitmap and as a memory cell in Ethereum. There’s a resonance here, as there is in each piece in the series.

On a technical basis this is the first piece in the series made with the Web3.js 1.0, Bulma CSS, and raw JavaScript DOM access rather than Truffle-Contract, Bootstrap and JQuery. It’s a much more lightweight approach, which is good for maintainability.

The next and final pieces in this series are “Hacked Line Properties”, “Staking Ratio”, and “Pay Previous Path”.

Galerie Default

I created a building in CryptoVoxels using one of their default build templates and filled it with a show of Tokens Equal Text:

https://www.cryptovoxels.com/parcels/2000

I’ve named it Galerie Default after how it was made. You can take a look in your web browser via the link above (and if you have a fancy VR headset you’ll soon be able to wander around it immersively). There are much more advanced uses of the CryptoVoxels system to show NFT art within it, but this was a fun experiment.

Crypto Valley 2019: Blockchain Aesthetics

“Blockchain Aesthetics” was in a selection of art being shown by the awesome Kate Vass Galerie at Crypto Valley 2019 in Zug, Switzerland.

Here’s a quick video from the gallery:

https://www.instagram.com/p/BzG7CFWjhyr/

Adventures in Artistic Tokenisation

Via @squizzi on Twitter, an article that mentions “Secret Artwork“:

https://medium.com/kaleidoscope-xcp/adventures-in-artistic-tokenisation-c5adb70ceed9

Similar in movement to early net art, blockchains and blockchain platforms provide a new variation of current applications and representation of data that art niches can easily pick up on. Add into that the potential financial benefits that blockchain offers and you can see how it has easily captured a quickly growing clique of early adopters and artistic organisers.

This article is a short intro to various early artworks and ideas that have come about in this space.

There’s lots of good stuff in the article, I recommend taking a look.