New Art: Tokens Equal Text

Tokens Equal Text” (2019) is a Rare Art edition with a twist.

In Tokens Equal Text the demands of Rare Art are simultaneously met and frustrated by constructing evocations of the imagery of Vaporwave. This appropriates the aesthetics of a genre of appropriation art in order to create a critical circuit between blockchain technology and art theory.

Rare Art consists of blockchain tokens representing limited edition ownership certificates for digital art files. It is an example of the kind of blockchain quasi-property ownership that I described in “Blockchain Poetics” (2017) and wrote about in more depth in “Tokenization And Its Discontents” (also 2017). Despite having written about Rare Art in depth, my own work with blockchain tokens as art has not previously engaged with it. “Art Coins” (2015) for example does use the text field of CounterParty tokens to contain “the work” but as a written description of an imagined artistic genre rather than the URL of a digital image file.

In contrast to the strongly held but under-examined idea of ownership via cryptographic artificial scarcity that underlies Rare Art, Vaporwave art has a more ambiguous relationship to concepts of ownership and authorship. As appropriation-based art, Vaporwave is not amenable to claiming original authorship or ownership as intellectual property. Its subjects are those of past promises of the satisfactions of ownership and consumption of commodities which are then ironized by an economically precarious later generation. Despite this, some of Vaporwave’s audience places value on possession of extensive digital media collections or limited edition releases of obsolete physical recording media.

Describing rather than depicting the appropriated visual elements of Vaporwave sidesteps the problem of their ownership and authorship. Depicting those descriptions in a visually appealing way then re-aestheticises them and makes them available and desirable for ownership as Rare Art. Tokens Equal Text does this by creatively misusing the Ethereum standards that are used to create Rare Art, in order to create conceptual tension between its resources. Its ERC-721 tokens have no metadata but do contain content, (mis-)encoded as their ID numbers. The ERC-998 tokens that contain them do provide images in their metadata for platforms to display but these are just previews of their content as rendered by Tokens Equal Text’s display interface.

These layers both exceed and disappoint the technical and aesthetic requirements of Rare Art in order to capture, exceed and disappoint the limits of ownership in Vaporwave. And vice versa. This folds two different forms of belonging – ownership and the aesthetics of genre – back onto each other in a mutually intensifying circuit which critically reflects them and the worlds in which they are embedded.

You can view and purchase works from the series on OpenSea:

https://opensea.io/assets/tokensequaltext

or contact me for physical versions.

Gray Area and SchellingFlags

I was invited to show something at the 2018 Gray Area Festival, a great Art & Technology event in San Francisco. This year it was on from July 26-29, 2018. I took the opportunity to make something new.

The result was SchellingFlags.

SchellingFlags is the meme of “…but on the blockchain” applied to flags, with a touch of Art & Language and Komar & Melamid. You can find out more about it on the project page. The version shown is from during development, so the last two flags haven’t been voted for and thereby defined yet.

Massive thanks to Gray Area for putting on an awesome event and making my work part of it!

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.

Art Is 2.0


“Art Is”, 2014/2017, DApp.

People have argued about the definition of art for millennia.

We finally have the techonomic means to settle this argument.

In “Art Is”, people can use the Ethereum network to pay to define art at a price equal to the strength of their certainty in the correctness of their definition. The results are an economically rational definition of art, far stronger than discourse paid for by third party cultural institutions.

The original “Art Is” from 2014 suffered from bitrot so I re-implemented it.

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

About “Is Art”

This is the text for the current showing of “Is Art”.

“Is Art”, 2016/2017, Ethereum DApp, Rob Myers.

Late 1960s Conceptual Art and mid 1990s net.art are useful inspiration for thinking about the blockchain and smart contracts. These art movements stood in critical tension with the systems of communication, law and commerce of their eras. Each treated rootless information, whether about sense data or network messages, as the critical subject of art and a new potential artworld. Their promise and their eventual recuperation by the existing artworld chimes with the historical experience of the blockchain.

“Is Art” takes the Conceptual Art ideas of dematerialisation (art that is not presented in a fixed physical form) and nomination (something that is art because someone or something says it is) and combines them with the net.art idea of the interactive artwork that exists in or interferes with network protocols.

In it, an Ethereum smart contract contains the assertion that it either “is” or “is not” art. A web page connected to the Ethereum network displays the state of this assertion to anyone who can access the contract and allows them switch it between states. When they do so this will become a fact secured in Ethereum’s blockchain with the strength of millions of dollars of computing power a day.

Is this sufficient to determine whether the contract is or is not art? Where and how is the claim really being made and determined? How does this relate to historical examples of such artworks? And how does it relate to other claims of fact stored in other smart contracts?

To Change The Status Of The Contract

1. Click anywhere on the screen.
2. In the dialog that opens, click “Update”.
3. And in the dialog that opens in response to *that*, click on “Accept”.
4. Watch for the update on both screens.

“Bad Shibe” at New World Order

Lina Theodorou’s installation at Furtherfield’s “New World Order” featuring their wonderful illustrations for my story “Bad Shibe”.

You can buy the print version of Bad Shibe, featuring those illustrations, at the show or online via PayPal or with Bitcoin.

Via Furtherfield – https://twitter.com/furtherfield/status/865569017515438084

“Is Art” at Ethereal

Is Art” in the FOAM space at Ethereal summit in New York. You can manipulate it using the MacBook and watch its state update via the blockchain on the tablet next to it.

From show curator the awesome Sam Hart (thanks Sam!) – https://twitter.com/hxrts/status/866447265229156353

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.

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.

Blank Canvas

Blank Canvas 1

Blank Canvas 2

Blank Canvas 3

Blank Canvas 4

Blank Canvas, 2016, Ethereum Contract and HTML/JavaScript/CSS.

A blank canvas that anyone can set the colour of on the Ethereum blockchain.

The images above show use of the GUI to change the colour (the GUI appears if you click in the window displaying the canvas).

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

To use it you’ll need an Ethereum node running locally, and to change the colour you’ll need some Ether.