[NetBehaviour] New Art: "Tokens Equal Text"

Rob Myers rob at robmyers.org
Thu Feb 21 06:07:53 CET 2019



“Tokens Equal Text” [ https://robmyers.org/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:


or contact me for physical versions.


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