November 15th, 2018 — January 11th, 2019
Opening Reception: Friday, November 16th, 18:00.
Kate Vass Galerie Feldeggstrasse 88 8008
Zürich — Switzerland
“Rather than money issued by a nation and administrated by central banks, art is a networked, decentralized, widespread system of value,” Hito Steyerl.
Kevin Abosch & Ai Wei Wei, Berlin, 2018.
In January 2014, at the same time Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan bank famously stated that Bitcoin was a terrible store of value, the cryptocurrency — anonymously founded by Satoshi Nakamoto — was passing the 1000 US$ mark for the first time. This was followed by a crash — caused by the bankruptcy of the exchanger Mount Gox — until it recovered again and reached a record price at almost 20'000 USD in December of 2017. Within a short time, it was possible for brave investors to become millionaires, including the Winklevoss brothers who are now Bitcoin Billionaires. Since this moment, mainstream media has been reporting daily on cryptocurrencies and the emerging revolution of blockchain technology. The crypto-hype also left its traces in the art world. When people were willing to pay a fivedigit amount for a virtual currency why wouldn’t they be willing to pay the same sum for a cartoon kitten? It didn’t take long for the smiling crypto kitties to conquer the hearts of speculators and blockchain enthusiasts, with some characters reaching five to six-digit price tags.
For the first time in Switzerland, Kate Vass Galerie in Zürich is presenting a comprehensive and unique exhibition on blockchain art, showcasing the most important protagonists of this movement. This art exhibition is curated by the swiss digital art expert, Georg Bak.
The blockchain art pioneer Rob Myers from New York is visualizing cryptocurrency transactions in his continuing series Blockchain Aesthetics while referencing concept art from the 1970s. In order to transmit crypto from one wallet to another wallet (peer to peer), a hashrate is being generated and compressed through a mathematical encryption method. The hashrates are always the same length independently from the size of information they contain. The artist renders Bitcoin transactions as rows of coloured squares or circles. Each byte of the 32-byte transaction is rendered as a square or a circle of a 256-colour palette. The transactions are being displayed on a monitor as colourful abstract moving images with a narrative context. Although the imagery reminds us of 4096 Colours by Gerhard Richter or the spot paintings by Damien Hirst, they have a different connotation.
For the creation of Bitcoins and their transactions, ‘’miners’’, who provide computing power in order to calculate hashrates, are required. Artists César Escudero Andaluz & Martin Nadal have created Bittercoin which is an old calculator machine hacked to be used as a miner validating the pending bitcoin transactions in the blockchain. Bittercoin combines Internet of Things (IoT), media archeology and economics. It works as the most basic computer, increasing the time necessary to produce bitcoins to almost an eternity. The operations are displayed on the calculator screen and printed afterwards. For the duration of the exhibition period, it seeks to produce money insistently and using an economic system that is wholly different from the traditional art market. Paper accumulates around the machine making visible the amount of calculation required, as well as the natural resources expended in the process. Bittercoin is a fully functional miner that connects to the blockchain. In the event of successfully mining a block, although very unlikely, the nonce would be sent back to the server and entered into the corresponding bitcoins of the rewarded bitcoin wallet.
With the emergence of ICO’s (Initial Coin Offerings), a new crowdfunding model was launched that enables companies to raise funds publicly from investors in a more efficient and less cost-intensive way as through an IPO (Initial Public Offering). An artist’s studio often functions in the same way as a small company. For example, Ed Fornieles Studio has developed the Crypto Certificate as an attempt to reimagine the economy of finance and funding in the art world by applying a model that is open, accessible, and transparent. A hybrid between a financial product and an art print, the certificate distills and formalizes the commerce of art with the relatively affordable price of 550 USD. The certificates are an easy way to participate in an artist economy that rewards belief in an artist’s practice with a share of future profits. This is made possible by the use of an Ethereum contract ‘’smart contract’’ — a self-executing contract with the terms of the agreement between buyer and seller being directly written into lines of code. The key to which is hidden under a scratch panel on the certificate itself. At any point, the collector can scratch the panel, damaging the art object but retrieving the key that will give them access to their percentage of a fund generated from sales of artworks and certificates. The Certificate is an investment in the artists’ future work: all proceeds from the program are funneled into the development and production of new projects. In a certain way, this artistic approach reminds us of the Dadaist artist Marcel Duchamp who also created certificates in the 1920s in order to let investors participate in his earnings at the casino. Nowadays these Monte Carlo Bonds are being traded at auction above one million US dollars and, for the holders, it proved to be an excellent investment.
A common appetite for an art investment among millenial art collectors and new principles in token economics have inspired world-renowned Irish artist Kevin Abosch to turn himself into cryptocurrency. “We come into the world like newly minted coins — perfect and priceless. Yet we are constantly being ascribed a value.” Abosch explains. He created 100 physical artworks and a limited edition of 10 million virtual artworks entitled IAMA Coin. The physical works are stamped using the artist’s own blood, with the contract address on the Ethereum blockchain corresponding to the creation of the 10 million virtual works. The virtual works are standard ERC-20 tokens and token owners are free to share these artworks and even divide them into smaller pieces before sharing.
In a recent collaboration, Kevin Abosch and Ai Weiwei joined forces in order to tokenize priceless shared moments such as “Sharing Tea”. Each priceless moment is represented by a unique blockchain address which is “inoculated” by a small amount of a virtual artwork (cryptotoken) called PRICELESS (symbol: PRCLS). Only two ERC20 tokens were created for the project, but they are divisible up to 18 decimal places. One of the two PRICELESS tokens will be unavailable at any price. The remaining token is divided into one million fractions of one token and available to collectors and institutions. Furthermore a very limited series of physical prints — signed by both artists — were made. The wallet addresses are virtually worthless as the required private keys have been thrown away by the artists.
With the emergence of countless virtual cryptocurrencies, these recurring questions exist: How can consensus and a monetary union be built? Which currencies will effectively be suitable and accepted as a payment token or as a sustainable storage of value? How can a market mechanism develop with constant supply and demand while the stakeholders are concurrently protected by law?
This art exhibition takes place as an interdisciplinary experiment and laboratory for discussions about the digital transformation of the art market and artists’ practices. Kate Vass Galerie will provide a lecture program and invite speakers to talk about different topics related to art and blockchain throughout the duration of the show until the 11th of January 2019.
Nicolas Maigret & Maria Roszkowska (Disnovation), John Watkinson (Cryptopunks), Grayson Earle, Rob Myers, Kevin Abosch & Ai Weiwei, Terra 0 Avery Singer & Matt Liston (0xΩ), Cullen Miller & Gabriel Dunne, César Escudero Andaluz & Martin Nadal, Ed Fornieles, Harm van den Dorpel, Distributed Gallery, and Sarah Friend.
The exhibition is partially sponsored by Orion Vault, a platform for digital and fine art investments and donations with a blockchain enabled business model, among others.
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