Categories
Aesthetics Art Crypto

Tokenized Vickrey Aesthetics

In “Radical Markets”, Eric Posner and Glen Weyl propose a system of universal, permanent second-price “Vickrey Auctions” of land as a mechanism for price discovery on the utility of property and the taxation of the ongoing ownership of that value with a “Harberger Tax” as the means of funding a just, redistributive, state. They call this a “Vickrey Commons”.

Critics of Vickrey Commons proposal tend to focus on the fact that everywhere is always for sale to the highest bidder rather than the fact that the accompanying tax is intended to ensure socially productive use of property and to securely fund social welfare. From a cypherpunk or cryptocurrency point of view however, the intrusion of the state into property relations is inherently unjust and distortive of social relations. We will return to the redistributive element of Vickrey Commons later, but for the moment it is their capacity for driving price discovery and use that I wish to focus on.

Vickrey Auctions are often used by states to privatise radio frequencies in the electromagnetic spectrum. Extending this to the visible spectrum, to colour, would be the stuff of satire. But below the state level we do see the inefficient allocation and exploitation of colour and other aesthetic properties in the artworld. We can tackle this using the intelligence of markets and simulated property rights on the blockchain.

Let us first make individual colours, shapes, line and surface qualities and other aesthetic properties representable as non-fungible tokens on the blockchain. These can then be sold. The right to use those properties can then be sold by the owners as fungible tokens.

Compositions of these tokens can then be represented in turn by a secondary layer of non-fungible tokens and usage rights for those expressed by their own higher layer of non-fungible tokens.

This process can be repeated until concrete instances of the expression of asthetic properties are expressed by composing non-fungible tokens from different layers into a non-fungible token that can be treated as unique or, alternatively, editioned using a final layer of fungible tokens.

If we use the Ethereum blockchain for this, the system can be represented as a stack of ERC-721, ERC-1633, ERC-20, and ERC-998 smart contracts.

In the absence of rent or taxes, the owners of non-fungible aesthetic properties can make money by selling those tokens or by releasing and/or re-purchasing fungible tokens that represent them. The optimal strategies for this are outside the scope of this essay, but do involve reacting to demand at different levels for fundamental and derived/composed properties in a timely manner.

Returning to the redistributive aspect of Vickrey Commons that we discarded in order to emphasize ownership, we can (pre-)sell the fundamental aesthetic properties to one or more foundations that exist to profit from them in order to redisttibute those profits to deserving artistic and/or social causes. It is possible to imagine various ways of structuring those foundations as smart contracts or their payment(s) as domain-specific tokens, although introducing a Tokenized Aesthetic Vickrey Commons currency coin risks the introduction of a central bank-like entity into the system.

Where the foundations’ revenue must go to the authors of works using those properties, this is possible to enforce simply on-chain although avoiding the sybil problem and other issues with on-chain redistribution is much less simple. Where we wish to enforce more complex relations between the work and the foundation we will need aesthetic comparison games, which can be completed onchain but are much more expensive than a simple token check. Where the foundations’ missions are more arbitrary, controls begin to look more like human organization than enforcement through code.

It is not possible to exclude duplicate token contracts on a given blockchain without support for doing so at the protocol level, and in the general case it is impossible across blockchains without protocol support for a cross-chain proof-of-precedence protocol. It is even easier to simply not use these tokens. Why, then would anyone use them?

Anchoring a singular source of these properties through first-mover and network effects may be sufficient to make it authoritative for anyone who wishes to use them. The use of these tokens is then a means of establishing price and authenticity, which if we squint hard is to say it is a means to establish value.

Further objections to this translate neatly into objections to the artworld and schemes to reform or replace it.

Categories
Aesthetics Art Crypto

From WART to DeAes

Building on some of the ideas of WART (Wrapped Art) tokens gives us a powerful toolbox for organizing the evaluation and production of blockchain art.

Rather than using a Moloch DAO to decide which ERC-721 contracts to accept tokens from as we could in WART, we can use it to curate a collection of tokenised art directly by voting decide which tokens to purchase, commission, lend and sell as a form of Decentralized Aesthetics (DeAes, pronounced “dais”).

The membership application tribute for joining the DAO can be ERC-721 tokens (unwrapped if we modify the Moloch DAO codebase to directly handle ERC-721 as well as ERC-20 tokens, or else wrapped in the DAO’s own purely internal equivalent of WART) or Wrapped Ether (for the purchase fund). WART itself should not be used for this as it (deliberately) makes selecting artworks for their aesthetic content more difficult.

Each proposal for managing the collection that the membership puts forward to be voted on must fit the stated aesthetic of the DAO, and each member’s votes must evaluate whether that fit is real and appropriate. The DAO’s aesthetic and the interpretation/application strategy used to realize it can be updated through voting proposals, with or without rewards for successfully making the change.

If a DAO member wishes to ragequit they can take art and Ether proportional to their shares. Art allocation strategies for ragequitting can use an internal equivalent to WART, a simple FIFO queue or ERC-721 token, a flat percentage scheme using an agreed-upon source of (pseudo)-randomness, or a more complex combination of or replacement for any of these approaches.

Operationalizing and financializing aesthetic evaluation in this way via investment portfolio management ties art historical development to market signaling in a dynamic and accelerated way, which is to say a mutually beneficial one. This is a radical approach that asks both art historians and financial investors to learn much from each other. Despite this it still cannot reach into the artwork except before the fact in the form of commissions, which extends the history of patronage in a useful way but leaves the frame of the artwork otherwise intact.

We can take this approach further by making the DAO’s voting proposals purely for commissioning or authenticating art, turning the DAO into an artist itself. The former recreates a Koonsian approach to the outsourced fabrication of art, the latter a Kostabian one. The producers of these artworks can be paid in Loot or if the aim of the DAO is to grow by adding like-minded members they can be paid in fully voting shares.

Even where the DAO becomes active in the production of art in this way the edges of the artwork are left intact after its production, securing the interior of the artwork against being connected to market signals. Removing the firewall of the frame rather than routing around it or simply liquidating its contents (an approach I discussed along with the WART proposal) will take still more radical steps.

Categories
Aesthetics Art Crypto Ethereum

WART – Wrapped Art

Wrapped Art (WART) applies the ideas behind Wrapped Kitties to rare art tokens, opening up new possibilities for investment and aesthetics.

The Wrapped Kitties Ethereum smart contract takes CryptoKitties ERC-721 non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and gives out its own ERC-20 fungible tokens (WCK) in return, “wrapping” the former in the latter. This makes it easy to buy and sell kitties in bulk, to use kitties in Decentralized Finance (DeFi) applications, or to trade low-valued kitties that one wishes to dispose of for others with more potential value by “unwrapping” the ERC-20 tokens back to (different) ERC-721 CryptoKitty tokens. WCK is credited with giving CryptoKitties a 50% price bump in mid-2019.

Wrapping Rare Art ERC-721 NFTs with ERC-20 Wrapped Art WART tokens would allow the same use cases. It would be a way to get (financial) utility from (financially) under-performing art. Or a way of exploring new artists by swapping NFTs via the contract, either randomly or by seeing which other ERC-721 rare art tokens the contract currently has wrapped and redeeming WART for them accordingly.

The Wrapped Art smart contract should allow tokens from more than one Rare Art platform to be wrapped and unwrapped, both to allow the widest range of tokens to be used for liquidity purposes and to give access to the widest range of artists and works. On a technical level this might require the contract to be centralized in order to manage the list of platform contracts it accepts NFT tokens from, but on balance this is better than tying it to (one version of) one platform or a frozen list of contracts that will rapidly become outdated. To decentralize this while robustly incentivizing the curators to act in the best interests of WART we can instead curate the addition and removal of contracts using a Moloch DAO with WART itself as the membership tribute.

WART gives collectors who don’t have a background in fine art but can follow price charts the ability to shake up their collections. This is both financially and art historically useful, allowing collectors to benefit from access to both financial and aesthetic liquidity as they build their collecting strategy. The blasphemy (for art historians) of art as a fungible asset class and the blasphemy (for financiers) of money as an insufficient sign of value resolve each other here. In doing so they create better signals than the positive feedback loops that would otherwise emerge when purchasing power drives artistic development under the efficient market hypothesis and nothing else.

It might appear that WART turns rare art into pure financial quantity, but in fact WART turns Rare Art into a pure aesthetic quantity. The monetary value of the art wrapped by the WART smart contract can be established by the trading price of WART but given what its tokens represent this means that hodling specific quantities of WART has an unavoidably aesthetic significance in addition to (and by virtue of) its financial one. Status games of hodling significant amounts of WART (in the sense both of large and evocative numbers) without unwrapping or using them for any further purpose might emerge in response to this fact. This fundamentally changes the concepts of collection, exhibition and value for art, coming down on the side of the price charts in terms of form but thereby opening that up to new aesthetic content.

Taking these ideas even further we can wrap the content of tokens. For example MATH tokens can be wrapped or burnt in return for the bits that represent their numbers as ERC-20 (or ERC-1155) tokens. We can’t break a CryptoKitty up into their genes (that would be cruel) but could we break up the image that a Rare Art token represents into its component colours? What cryptographic proof of the off-chain pixel values could be produced on-chain?

Or we can reverse this process and start by constructing NFT art from other tokens representing discrete aesthetic quantities. COLOR tokens start to do this with their wrapping of MATH tokens, but are monolithic and atomic rather than constructed from discrete elements. Tokens Equal Text is constructed from elements but each contains several words and the colours used are implicit. A more general and powerful NFT art construction system will require a different approach.

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
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
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.

Categories
Aesthetics Art Crypto Projects

Token Grid

Token Grid, 2019, Ethereum DApp.

The grid is a Modernist icon and the underlying organizational form of many aspects of our daily lives.

This one exists on the Ethereum blockchain. Anyone can change it but only if they are willing to burn one of the grid contract’s ERC-20 digital tokens to do so.

View and alter the grid here with an Ethereum-enabled browser:

https://show.robmyers.org/artworld-ethereum/dapps/token-grid/app/index.html

See the source code here:

https://gitlab.com/robmyers/artworld-ethereum/tree/master/dapps/token-grid

Categories
Aesthetics Art Ethereum Projects

Lottery Symbol

“Lottery Symbol”,2017, DApp.

A graphical symbol on the blockchain, chosen via a simple lottery (using the blockchain itself as a source of entropy).

This is a piece in a series of works that pair methods of allocation with aesthetic properties. It follows on from Democratic Palette.

You can access it via an Ethereum-enabled browser here and the source code is available in a git repository here.

Categories
Aesthetics Ethereum Projects

Using The Palette

palette-chooser

The “Democratic Palette” contract provides 12 colours to use. What happens if griefers set the palette to 12 colours that are almost exactly the same? What happens if you need colours with more or less contrast or hue difference? What if you need more or fewer colours? The only guarantee about them is that they will all be different by at least one point.

To fetch the current palette:

var withPalette = function (callback) {
  var democratic_palette = Democratic_palette.deployed();
  var requests = [];
  for (var i = 0; i < 12; i++) { requests.push(democratic_palette.palette(i) .then(function(colour) { return {index: i, colour: colour}; }); } Promise.all(requests).then(colours => {
      var palette = [];
      colours.foreach(function(colour) {
        palette[colour.index] = colour.colour;
      });
      callback(palette);
    });
  }
};

We can then get from one to twelve colours simply by truncating the array, e.g.:

var my_3_colours = palette.slice(0, 3);

Or we can get the bluest colour using a simple comparison:

var bluest_colour = palette.sort(function(a, b){
  return a.blue - b.blue;
})[0];

Or we can take the average of the colours, which will probably represent the triumph of statistics over aesthetics.

More complex orderings and comparisons can be achieved using a colour library that allows us to work in HSV space. In particular we can use a version of the algorithm that Harold Cohen used for one version of his program AARON’s colouring system (see figure 15 here), effectively ordering the colours in the palette by brightness then distributing them evenly across a brightness range sufficient to ensure that each is distinct from its neighbours.

What about more colours, or more structured relationships between colours where we are concerned that those relationships may not be present in the colours voted for within the palette? In the first case we can interpolate between existing colours, producing colours in-between those in the palette. Or in both cases we can use colour theory to produce related colours: complements, split-complements, tints and tones, etc. There are libraries to do this in Javascript, for example color-scheme-js will produce entire colour schemes from individual colours.

“Democratic Palette” is intended to provide the equivalent of an aesthetic or colour symbology backed by Blockchain democracy rather than any other ideology or iconography, so it is intended to be easy and significant to us it as-is. But it’s also possible to maintain a direct relationship to the palette while using colours that are not themselves present within it.

Categories
Aesthetics Art Crypto Ethereum Projects

Democratic Palette

palette-spots

Democratic Palette, 2016, Ethereum Contract and HTML/JavaScript/CSS.

A palette of twelve colours that anyone can set on the Ethereum blockchain. Every vote for every colour is tracked and the top twelve make up the palette.

palette-vote

palette-representations

palette-squares

palette-stripes

The images above show various different visual applications of the palette and the use of the GUI to vote for a colour (the GUI appears if you click in the window displaying the canvas).

Note that the above images are from test runs. The current palette on the live Ethereum blockchain looks like this, ready for people to vote on:

live-palette

You can download the interface code here, it’s in the dapps/democratic-palette directory.

To use it you’ll need an Ethereum node running locally, and to vote for colours you’ll need some Ether.