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 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.

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.

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”:

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:

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

Art History Books

Essay on Essays on Art & Language

INDEX: INCIDENT IN A MUSEUM VI, 1986, Art & Language

“Essays on Art & Language” (1991, revised 2001), Charles Harrison.

The Conceptual Art artists group “Art & Language” formed at the end of the 1960s. Art historian Charles Harrison was a member of the group from the start of the 1970s. In 1991 Harrison published a book on the history of the group up to that point, relating it to the wider history of art during the collapse of the authority of Modernist art criticism and the rise of Postmodernism. Modernist art criticism for Harrison here is the magisterial formalism of Clement Greenberg and their followers. It is an art criticism that produces psychologized readings of the surfaces of artworks for a genteel “spectator” to consume without remainder. It is, as Harrison puts it, “a theory of consumption masquerading as a theory of production” that masks the historical and technical content involved in that production. In response to this, Harrison argues for a historical materialist art criticism that restores Modernism’s dialectical contrast of values by “erasing the edges” of artworks. Doing this makes tractable to art history those “genetic” materials involved in each artworks’ genesis that Modernist art criticism masked with its decontextualized reading of art as primarily expressive rather than representational.

Against this backdrop of the collapsing authority of Modernist art criticism and the demands of a new critical relationship to art, Harrison presents Art & language as being committed to a critical project of going-on without an overarching theory or (as Harrison puts it) in the ruin of that arch. Going-on was a non-theory. Recognizing the contingency of all artistic representation and treating intellectual property and artistic propriety as oppressive expressions of class society, Art & Language produced work that looked very little like existing art not in order to produce saleable novelty but because that is where the work of art took them. When it is no longer possible to “mean the doing” of dominant discourses and there is still no clear path forward, taking action in the face of this dilemma means committing to unpredictable outcomes. The unpredictability of those outcomes may lead out of art into the wider world, or into hard-won moments of artistic autonomy.

The disinterested spectator presupposed by the discursive content of Modernist art criticism as its historical subject exercised a particular set of competences when stood in front of a painting or a sculpture and would use them to describe what they saw (and felt) in a particular way. Art & Language’s work, and organizational structure, was oriented to undermining the spectator’s understanding of and relation to that work in order to create a disenchanted viewer. Harrison examines many examples of this project of disorientation and their discussion of the physical and representational structure of one of Art & Language’s more complex paintings of the 1980s (for Art & Language turned to painting at the turn of the decade to avoid the trap of a “conceptual art” aesthetic that had been quickly recuperated by the artworld) shows these effects at work very clearly:

“This is the painting.” “This is part of the painting.” “This is a representation of the painting.” This is a representation of part of the painting.” “This is a detail of the painting.” “This is a representation of another painting.” [etc.] – p208

Art that seeks a critical autonomy, Harrison argues, must represent some non-trivial aspect of its historical moment. In painting, this must be animated by changes in figure/ground relationships. Historically significant changes in these relationships, in critical terminology, or in the spectator’s competences, must reflect moments of change in relations within class society. At such moments, Harrison argues, it is possible for technical concerns to become suffused by moral concerns. These changes are not and cannot be merely psychological – transgression is not an option to be taken. Even where artistic autonomy is achieved, alterity will be rapidly reclaimed by the mainstream as the example of 1960s Conceptual Art demonstrates.

The history of Art & Language that Harrison tells is not, by their own admission in the introduction to the revised edition of 2001, one that all of the group’s former members would recognize. A chateau in France now houses a museum dedicated to the world’s largest collection of Art & Language artworks. The historical moment at the end of the Cold War that Harrison was writing this particular collection of essays from is long gone, in terms of politics if not actors. And the Nietszchean “litterateurs” that Harrison criticizes for their LARPing of postmodern irony would have no trouble consuming Art & Language’s a bit aesthetic, a bit political, a bit speaking-of-their-own-manufacture, a bit unusual art-objects in the age of Contemporary Art.

But for a historical materialist project of critical art history these objections are part of that project. The strategies that Harrison follows and those that they identify in the art of Art & Language can be lifted up out of the brief moment of the “end of history” and translated into the current epoch even if their iconographic and discursive points of departure cannot. Harrison starts their discussion of the historical context that they situate Art & Language’s work in by identifying “Modernism in two voices”: one in the stentorian tones of the Modernist critic and the secure beholder of authentically expressive abstract art, the other in the more questioning tones of those who notice that the first voice is saying something considerably less secure and universal than it claims to be. What is at stake in the relationship between these two voices, Harrison argues, is nothing less than the moral content of history.

The existence and production of art, Harrison argues, can be justified by the fact that aesthetic oddness or intensity is uniquely revealing. These oddnesses and intensities can serve to emancipate art by producing critical representations of Modernism (or its contemporary equivalent) in order to present the “meanings of the dominated” using the media and aesthetics of high art. This is a direction that the litterateurs have long since recuperated the posture but not the content of. What oddnesses and intensities are possible in the age of global art fairs and freeports, at what levels of the creation of art? What can the second voice of art say with this now?

Crypto Hyperstition Philosophy

Hash Gematria

Gematria in Hebrew uses a SIGINT attack on God’s fully homomorphic encryption of the book of nature to extract meaning. A non-Hebrew gematria is a glimpse not back into the mind of God but forward through the fall of the tower of Babel into a scrambled linguistic world of contingency. It is a generator of Deleuzean “dark precursors” to connections between concepts, just as rhymes are. These connections are useful irritants, spurs to the generation of actual structure that would otherwise not occur, anchors for beliefs. Both kinds of gematria are exercises in exploiting the surplus value of code. The former is revelation, the latter is construction. Yet each resembles the other as much as is possible in their respective universes.

Interpreting letters as numbers recapitulates the history of mathematical notation. This is a defensible choice based on its maximal simplicity and its historical embedding. Cryptographic hashing lacks both this simplicity (for a human being to calculate the value of a word numerically takes seconds, for them to calculate a cryptographic hash by hand would take around 15 minutes) and this history (cryptographic hashes date back only to the 1970s).

It does however compress a history of ever increasing uniqueness and thereby security (in the senses of both secrecy and stability) of identity. It is part of the present moment of the history of technocapital/techonomics rather than a form of nostalgia for the past of accounting and its gentrified forms (or “mathematics”). As the number of cryptographic hashes calculated by the Bitcoin network alone approaches 120,000,000,000,000,000,000 per second at the start of 2020, the process of hashing reinforces its reality and its effects in the world through sheer volume of repetition.

Cryptographic hash collisions (where hashing two different pieces of data generate the same hash value identifier or “name”) are vanishingly unlikely by design. The evolution of cryptographic hashing algorithms has been the evolution of ever more effective ways of scattering bits into cryptographic space to destroy their significance while retaining their identity. But the 64-character hexadecimal (base-16) strings used to encode 256-bit hash values are difficult for human beings to read and compare, so software systems that use them pervasively such as “git” or “Docker” truncate them by displaying or reading just the first few characters (the “prefix”) in order to make them more readable.

These shorter values do collide as more and more hashes are used to refer to more and more things in the world (this is the “Birthday Problem”) and so longer prefixes have been used over time. It takes two hexadecimal characters to encode one eight-bit byte of data. The first byte of the hash value is 2 hexadecimal characters, the first two are four characters, the first four are eight characters etc. We can represent hash prefixes in more exotic bases: Proquint, BIP-49, Urbit @p, Base 56, Bech32 or even decimal. But these are not the hash values that are displayed pervasively within the culture of computing.

Non-cryptographic hashes will collide far more frequently but they are not embedded in the same way within that culture or in the culture of technocapital and its imaginaries of resistance (crypto-anarchy, cryptocurrency) as cryptographic hashing algorithms are. We therefore mean cryptographic hashes when we refer to hashes here.

Replacing letter-value summing and decimal reduction with cryptographic hash prefix collision generation gives us hash gematria. This is a hype-cycle peak-shift maximally historically contingent and embedded extractor of surplus value of code. This surplus value will itself be maximally historically contingent and embedded dark precursors. As a strategy this is inflected by the pop cultural strains of Chaos Magick but has far greater qualities of repetition and embeddedness and is more abstract and therefore more dynamic than a specific cultural expression.

If this seems unconvincing, what would a stronger candidate be?

What for?

To get the first four characters of a cryptographic hash of a piece of text using the Unix command line, enter something like the following:

echo -n "egress" | sha256sum | cut -c -4

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 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: