Do You Need “Do You Need A Blockchain”?

Satoshi Nakamoto announced Bitcoin in the “Bitcoin Whitepaper” in 2008.

The Bitcoin Whitepaper describes how to create peer-to-peer electronic money.

All of the design decisions discussed in the whitepaper reflect this objective.

The Bitcoin Whitepaper does not mention “blockchain”.

The Bitcoin Whitepaper mentions a “timestamp server” based on validating blocks of transactions that the software it describes uses to establish the order of transactions over time.

Bitcoin does this in order to solve the “double-spend problem” without resort to “trusted third parties”.

Bitcoin must do this in order to function as peer-to-peer electronic money.

The construction of a public ledger of transactions gathered into blocks and validated using a proof-of-work algorithm in return for economic incentives paid in the currency that the system exists to create is a contingent technical element of doing so.

Blockchains and proof of work are not original to Bitcoin, there were more interesting hashing or signature schemes available in 2008, and Nakamoto Consensus does not represent the first solution to the Byzantine Generals problem in computer science.

This use of economic incentives to construct a data structure in an adversarial environment is Bitcoin’s only technical innovation.

We can exploit the contingent technical elements of Bitcoin’s design for peer-to-peer money as primary technical elements if they are appropriate responses to design challenges that we face elsewhere.

They are appropriate responses if they support the instantiation of the project’s stated goal with the same degree of utility that they support Bitcoin’s stated objective of producing peer-to-peer electronic money, or at least to a high degree.

Such instantiations stand a better chance of not being solutions-in-search-of-a-problem or having broken economic incentive structures.

The building blocks of the Bitcoin whitepaper can also be exploited as primary concepts if they represent appropriate responses to the conceptual challenges of a project.

We must be careful not to fetishize or miscast them.

For example “trust” in the Bitcoin Whitepaper appears only in the phrase “trusted third parties”, taken from the writing of Nick Szabo, and refers to the unjust and unavoidable intervention into social relationships of potential opponents that might better be described as “treacherous third parties” in the style of Richard Stallman.

In both the technical and conceptual cases, varying emphasis or adding or removing elements from those present in Bitcoin without sufficiently addressing the impact of doing so or the ideological and economic balance of the resulting system can negatively affect its appropriateness and viability.

It is therefore vital to understanding how each element of Bitcoin contributes to doing the one thing that Bitcoin is actually meant to do and be, and being very careful when seeking to produce systems that exploit elements of it of it for purposes other than that.

All of this means that a better question than “does this project need a blockchain?” would be “what is the conceptual equivalent of peer-to-peer digital money in this domain and if this is an idea worth pursuing how would we go about constructing it?”.

That is a more difficult question though.


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Next: Tokens Equal Text
Recent Media Coverage

Perfect and Priceless

Proof of Work


“Blockchain Aesthetics” at Ó̵̞͠O̸̮͠ͅP̷͔̊͝S̵̡̱̑.̵̻̯̏͘.̶̜́͛.̷͔̑ : Obfuscating Ownership: Privacy & Sousveillance

OOPS Exhibition, Curated by Julian Stadon
December 10th-11th 2018 at University of Hertfordshire Art & Design Building
Opening Event Monday 10 December 16:00 – 18:00

This exhibition showcases a wide range of artists that specifically address the issue of personal data protection, privacy and identity obfuscation. This includes building new identities, hiding existing ones, remediating personal data to developing legal precedents for intellectual property.


Tiare Ribeaux & Donald Hanson, Heather Dewey Hagborg, Erik Zepka, Heath Bunting, Pierre Proske, Varvara and Mar, Julian Stadon, Branger_Briz, Rob Myers, Mez Breeze

Images courtesy of Julian Standon.

Blockchain Aesthetics At Perfect And Priceless

“Blockchain Aesthetics” in “Perfect and Priceless” at Kate Vass Galerie, Zurich until 11th January 2019. Image courtesy of curator Georg Bak.

The print on the left is forty inches square, and the screen on the right is being driven by a Raspberry Pi 3. In the gallery they are hanging next to John Watkinson’s awesome CryptoPunks prints, so they are in good company.

Here is some media coverage:

Contrary to what you might read, I’m still based in Vancouver, not New York.


CryptoPuppers (2018), blockchain-registered gold plated metal cast from 3D printed model, inkjet prints.

This new incarnation of Rob Myers’ classic work “Balloon Dog, Shareable Readymade”, originally commissioned by Furtherfield, comprises an edition of 1000 miniature gold balloon dog sculptures linked to the blockchain. Each handmade version of the 3D printed original is unique in its own way and functions as a non-fungible token.

“Balloon Dog” was originally created as an ephemeral digital file for 3D printing that anyone could use to re-democratise an icon of blue chip contemporary art. It was a post-scarcity commons approach to art that everyone and therefore no-one can own.

In contrast, this is a limited edition of luxurious physical instantiations of the artwork (each with its own own “certificate of inauthenticity” signed by the artist) anchored to the art historical world of provenance and ownership as well as blockchain verifiable value via Arteïa’s collection management system.

From post-scarcity abundance to artificial scarcity and provably rare digital ownership as a way to establish and protect the unique value of artworks. This is a provocation for artists and collectors to engage with new digital critical and financial value in contemporary artworks.

More details from DECAL.

Massive thanks to Dr. Charlotte Frost and Ruth Catlow of Furtherfield for making this happen.

Artists as cryptofinanciers: welcome to the blockchain

Rob Myers, one of the early adopters of blockchain as an artistic tool, has written: “The ideology and technology of the blockchain and the materials of art history—especially the history of conceptual art—can provide useful resources for mutual experiment and technique.”…

Art On The Blockchain Episode 20

Just before Gray Area I was interviewed by the awesome Cynthia Gayton & J Scrilla for the “Art On The Blockchain” podcast.

AOTB has been a big influence on me, my understanding of “rare art” and how tokenization relates to music production both come from the show. So I was a little nervous but Gayton & Scrilla immediately put me at my ease and we had a great conversation.

You can subscribe to Art On The Blockchain through your favourite podcast medium, and I highly recommend doing so.

Proof of Work at Schinkel Pavilion

My piece “Secret Artwork (Subject)”, 2018 is in the group show “Proof of Work” curated by Simon Denny in dialogue with Distributed Gallery, Harm van den Dorpel, Sarah Hamerman and Sam Hart, Kei Kreutler, Aude Launay and Anna-Lisa Scherfoseat.

“Proof of Work” is at the Schinkel Pavillon in Berlin from 8th September to 21st December 2018.

Show website:

And a news article about it.