Categories
Crypto

Self-Encoding Tokens

I just wanted to re-emphasize the idea of self-encoding tokens, Ethereum ERC-721 non-fungible tokens that contain their entire representation within the 256 bits of their numeric ID. I mentioned this in “Tokens Equal Tokens” and it’s an idea I’ve used in the last couple of years in both “Tokens Equal Text” and my story for Art Review.

As we add more (meta)data to a token outside its ID it becomes less self-contained and therefore less secure. That said, tokens with on-chain metadata or with content-addressable metadata links stored on-chain (for example an IPFS ERC-721 tokenURI() ) are still comparatively secure.

In contrast to the certain on-chain knowledge that we have of token IDs any meatspace identifier is much more breakable, whether in the sense of wearing out over time or the sense of being susceptible to copying and thereby to forgery. QR codes are trivial to copy. RFID/NFC tags usually have advertised working lives of around ten years and can be cut or otherwise damaged to stop them operating before that. Those tags without private cryptographic keys are trivial to copy, and even physically tamper-proof ones can be removed and affixed to a different object with enough care.

None of this is to say that blockchains can’t be used to for logistics tracking, just that doing so with physical identifiers for high value unique objects is difficult enough that it begins to require rather than represent an extra level of security.

As both the most secure and in many ways the most creatively challenging form of non-fungible token, self-encoding tokens should be the medium of the most valuable crypto art. That the market does not currently reflect this indicates that it is more interested in other properties of tokens, or that it has not yet recognized how self-encoding tokens can exemplify the value of true digital ownership of art.

Categories
Art Crypto

Multisig Art Organization

(Via the awesome @keikreutler .)

This is a key insight.

Social collaboration around learning to use technology is a key part of its value for art communities. In the net.art era this involved getting online, subscribing to mailing lists, making web sites, etc. . Each step was an opportunity for frustration, assistance, bonding and productive encounters. For blockchain art setting up a wallet, receiving and sending transactions and learning good security practice are equivalent to this in many ways but they lack the ongoing productive, collaborative communication involved in engaging with a listserv.

From experience I would argue that the closest experience to this now for crypto is running an m-of-n multisig wallet. Setting up and testing the wallet, proposing transactions, gathering sufficient signatures, and transmitting the result is just this kind of shared technosocial task. It’s a focus of activity and a spur to communication and learning.

Crucially for representing artworld forms such as collections, you don’t need to add anything to a multisig in order to own an ERC-721 token representing an artwork. It works right out of the box, and doesn’t require setting up or understanding a more complex DAO before explaining it to others.

I’m hoping that we’ll see the emergence of blockchain art multisig groups with strong creative and critical identities. Initially as collectors, then as curators, and eventually as collaborative artists themselves.

Categories
Aesthetics Art Crypto

Flinging An NFT In The Public’s Face

The “Rare Art” market demands something aesthetic to own. “Tokens Equal Text” loops this back through a complexly unownable genre of aesthetics to both satisfy and frustrate this demand and to place blockchain (quasi-)property and the history of art into a state of mutually critical interrogation.

(From the description of “Tokens Equal Text“.)

That demand is exercising selection pressure in interesting ways. I don’t ever want to argue against transformative fair use but, seen individually, examples of what amounts to autotraced stock photos of famous people registered as non-fungible tokens are more like copyright-encumbered decoration than true digital ownership of art.

As a category this kind of tokenized art is absolutely a response to unsatisfied demand to be able to valorize the expression and consumption of creativity, and for engagement with historically and culturally meaningful imagery, which amounts to the demand for a more participatory artworld. Individual tokens of such tokenized art are interesting as tokens of this. And of course there is nothing to stop the intensification or exploitation of such art leading to instances of it that are interesting in themselves read through wider history and theory.

But at present there is an unacknowledged gap between the enthusiasm for such art and the reality of its construction. “That’s just your opinion” is a possible response to this, but it isn’t a strong one when discussing contradictions between the work’s construction and the value claims made for it. To ground the work securely will require either a more cypherpunk attitude or a different set of artistic value claims. Neither will sit easily with the other, and neither will leave the work unchanged in the eyes of its proponents.

Categories
Art Crypto

Tokens Equal Tokens

The Nifty Report’s excellent post on the MATH token and two projects inspired by it provide an interesting contrast with “Tokens Equal Text”:

https://niftyreport.substack.com/p/the-nifty-report-vol1-issue-4-the

MATH is an Ethereum smart contract that allows people to buy numbers, identified (and in identity with) ERC-721 non-fungible token IDs. Token ID 1 is the number one, and so on. To buy a number higher than 100 (the project’s creator owns the numbers up to 100), you must pay the owners of two existing numbers to generate it by adding their values. It’s a wonderfully absurd example of artificial scarcity and true ownership taken to the extreme. But it’s also an example of creating new forms of property on the blockchain, capturing things that could not previously be treated as commodities. Although people do try to assert ownership over numbers off of the blockchain as well.

Using token identifiers as the entire content and meaning of what they represent makes those tokens very secure – they require no off-chain resources to establish the significance and value that they assert merely by existing. They are self-describing or self-encoding.

The RGB token builds on MATH to create 16×16 coloured bitmaps by using the binary digits of three MATH numbers for their red, green and blue components and paying their owners for the privilege. It’s still an entirely on-chain token – no metadata from a web server or IPFS required – but it doesn’t encode the information directly into the token ID. The token ID is linked to each of those numbers elsewhere in the contract’s data instead. That makes sense as there isn’t enough room in the Ethereum number type used for token IDs to store three token IDs, but a monochrome bitmap of the same size or a much smaller coloured bitmap could be stored that way.

Likewise the WORDS contract also mentioned by The Nifty Report uses a similar join-and-pay scheme to that used by MATH in order to generate and purchase new words while storing them separately from their token IDs like RGB. As with bitmaps, words can be stored directly in a token ID. Depending on how long they are, several can be store in a single token ID as long as they don’t take up more than the 32 bytes of space available in the number type used to represent token IDs in ERC-721. Not doing this means that, like RGB, WORDS is a token with a significance that is purely on-chain but is not purely ID-based. Neither RGB nor WORDS are not self-encoding.

Tokens Equal Text’s tokens consist of words that are self-encoding. Its ERC-21 contract uses short fragments of text encoded as token ID numbers. It then assembles these these using an EC-998 composable token contract to create descriptions of imagined Vaporwave artworks. The colours for each token ID / each piece of the composition are generated by taking the first few hexadecimal digits of the hash of the token ID and treating that as an RGB colour, extracting surplus value although but surplus meaning from the code of the token IDs. This is a more complex structure than than MATH, RGB or WORDS but has a flatter creation structure – I have minted and composed all the tokens that will be available in the series and owning each token implies no residual rights.

Self-encoding tokens are both conceptually interesting and operationally robust. We’ve only started to see what they can do.

For more information about Tokens Equal Text see here:

https://robmyers.org/tokens-equal-text/

Or to buy one of the pieces head over to OpenSea:

https://opensea.io/category/tokens-equal-text

Categories
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.

See: https://robmyers.org/staking-ratio/

Categories
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:

https://robmyers.org/shared-secret/

Categories
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).

Categories
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?

Categories
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:

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

Categories
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: 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