Black and white thinking

Do you remember the hype about Vantablack, the blackest black that absorbs 99.96% of light shone on it? I mentioned it a while back when BMW used it for one of their cars, though I could have sworn that I had shared these links too:

Can an artist ever really ‘own’ a colour?The Guardian
Painters are outraged that Anish Kapoor, the British sculptor who designed the blood-red Orbit tower for the London Olympics, has exclusive rights to the artistic use of this revolutionary new colour. NanoSystems has confirmed that he alone can paint it Vantablack.

Absurdism: Artists fight over use of world’s “blackest black” & “pinkest pink”WebUrbanist
Recently, as a sort of satirical retaliation, British artist Stuart Semple created a flourescent pink pigment, designed to be the “pinkest pink” in the world. To drive the point home, the shade is available for purchase (just a few dollars per pot) to anyone on the planet except Kapoor, who is legally banned from buying the stuff.

Museum visitor injured after stepping into pit he thought was a painting on the floorBoing Boing
British artist Anish Kapoor licensed the worldwide exclusive rights to use Vantablack in art, which makes him kind of an asshole, but we’ve already complained about him on Boing Boing and that’s not the point of this post. The point is that Kapoor has a work of art at the Serralves Museum in Porto, Portugal called Descent Into Limbo. It’s an eight-foot deep pit and because Kapoor painted the interior of the pit with Vantablack, it looks like a two-dimensional black circle painted on the floor of the museum. You can guess what happened next.

Anyway, this was the link I wanted to share this time.

Whitest-ever paint could help cool heating Earth, study showsThe Guardian
The new paint reflects 98% of sunlight as well as radiating infrared heat through the atmosphere into space. In tests, it cooled surfaces by 4.5C below the ambient temperature, even in strong sunlight. The researchers said the paint could be on the market in one or two years. White-painted roofs have been used to cool buildings for centuries. As global heating pushes temperatures up, the technique is also being used on modern city buildings, such as in Ahmedabad in India and New York City in the US. […]

Andrew Parnell, who works on sustainable coatings at the University of Sheffield, UK, said: “The principle is very exciting and the science [in the new study] is good. But I think there might be logistical problems that are not trivial. How many million tonnes [of barium sulphate] would you need?” Parnell said a comparison of the carbon dioxide emitted by the mining of barium sulphate with the emissions saved from lower air conditioning use would be needed to fully assess the new paint. He also said green roofs, on which plants grow, could be more sustainable where practical.

The sunglasses are a nice touch, but Parnell’s point high-lighted above definitely needs addressing, I think.

It’s books all the way down

Here’s another bookish sculpture to go with the others I found a while back.

Idiom installationAtlas Obscura
For bibliophiles, an infinite tower of books is a nightmare disguised as a dream—a huge collection of literature that you can’t get at because pulling a book or two out will cause the collapse of the tower. But it does make for a wonderful sight.

A real-life iteration of this dream-nightmare is on display at the Prague Municipal Library. Artist Matej Kren’s “Idiom” is a long-term art installation where hundreds of books are stacked in a cylindrical tower. Mirrors placed at the bottom and the top give the exhibit the illusion of being infinite. A tear-shaped opening on one side of the tower allows visitors to peek in and experience what it would be like to drown in a book well.

You should definitely pop into the Prague Municipal Library if you’re passing by.

Matej Kren’s ‘Idiom’Awayn
Located quite centrally, it’s a fun five minute stop to get some fresh photos and look at the book tower. Though it’s a lovely way for people to step into the building, you don’t have to go too far into it, so you don’t disturb anyone who goes for the actual library. As you come in the main entrance, it is literally in front of you; need to walk upstairs.

Here are some more photos of this little/infinitely large landmark. (via)

NFT could almost stand for Not The Future

Most artists are not making money off NFTs and here are some graphs to prove itKimberly Parker
These numbers do not show the democratization of wealth thanks to a technological revolution. They show an acutely minuscule number of artists making a vast amount of wealth off a small number of sales while the majority of artists are being sold a dream of immense profit that is horrifically exaggerated. Hiding this information is manipulative, predatory, and harmful, and these NFT sites have a responsibility to surface all this information transparently. Not a single one has. […]

Truly the most shocking thing about these numbers is that they look ordinary. They look just like every other market. Everything about this is run-of-the-mill, banal, predictable capitalism. That is exactly the point. Despite the promises of revolution, equality, and “lifting artists up” this technology has changed nothing: the few people at the top continue to have the greatest amount of wealth.

The cost of a single tulip bulb surged to the same price as a mansion 400 years ago: are NFTs the ‘tulipmania’ of the 21st century?The Art Newspaper
The value of an NFT work, having no physical existence, is umbilically dependent on the price of Ethereum. If Ether is on a high, then Ether art is on a high. It’s all about the digital money. “Christie’s auction wouldn’t have been a success if it hadn’t accepted Ether,” Bourron says. “That was the key.” For the moment at least, with the price of Ether having more than doubled since the beginning of the year, it is onwards and upwards for NFT art. […]

To be sure, new technology has brought us enormous benefits, but certain aspects, such as speculation in cryptocurrencies, also bring risk. The Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, writing in the New York Times, has called Bitcoin “a bubble wrapped in techno-mysticism inside a cocoon of libertarian ideology”.

Van Gogh, his sisters and the NFTs

I missed Van Gogh’s birthday last month, again. I meant to post these links earlier.

Warrior artistDublin Review of Books
Anyone who dips into Van Gogh’s letters will be struck by how much and how widely he read. He devoured and used books up as he did the people around him, though he never used people in a malicious way. It was just that few could match or live up to his passionate intensity. As Mariella Guzzoni, an independent scholar and art curator, writes: “It should be said . . . that though Vincent cherished books, he was not a book collector. More precisely, he was a book-user. For him, it was not important to physically possess books, but to make them his own.”

There’s more to his story than just him, though.

The woman who made Vincent van GoghThe New York Times
Twenty-one months after her marriage, Jo was alone, stunned at the fecund dose of life she had just experienced, and at what was left to her from that life: approximately 400 paintings and several hundred drawings by her brother-in-law.

The brothers’ dying so young, Vincent at 37 and Theo at 33, and without the artist having achieved renown — Theo had managed to sell only a few of his paintings — would seem to have ensured that Vincent van Gogh’s work would subsist eternally in a netherworld of obscurity. Instead, his name, art and story merged to form the basis of an industry that stormed the globe, arguably surpassing the fame of any other artist in history. That happened in large part thanks to Jo van Gogh-Bonger. She was small in stature and riddled with self-doubt, had no background in art or business and faced an art world that was a thoroughly male preserve. Her full story has only recently been uncovered. It is only now that we know how van Gogh became van Gogh.

It’s a fascinating read, his sister-in-law Jo van Gogh-Bonger was remarkable. Here’s a photo of her from around 1909.

And there were other important women in his life too.

The fascinating lives of Vincent van Gogh’s three sistersHyperallergic
Vincent van Gogh’s three sisters — Willemien (Wil), Elisabeth (Lies), and Anna van Gogh — are highlighted in the historical biography The Van Gogh Sisters by Willem-Jan Verlinden (Thames & Hudson). The book was originally published in Dutch in 2016; the English version, translated by Yvette Rosenberg and Brendan Monaghan, includes previously unpublished letters, largely the result of research completed after the Dutch version was first released.

Through letters between the siblings, we read that Lies was frustrated that women didn’t have more professional options that were socially acceptable. We learn about how Wil often copied Vincent’s drawings and was his favorite model, and that the two wrote to each other about art and literature and inquired about one another’s mental health. The book draws you in with stories about the siblings’ pursuits of jobs, love, and artistic curiosities, as well as lush portrayals of each family home.

How Van Gogh paid for his mentally ill sister’s care decades after his deathThe Guardian
Vincent van Gogh remained penniless throughout his tragic life, which ended in suicide shortly after a stay in a mental asylum. Yet two decades later, paintings he had given to his sister were sold to pay for her stay in a psychiatric hospital, commanding such high prices that the proceeds funded years of treatment, according to letters published in a new book.

Willemien, the youngest of Van Gogh’s three sisters, shared his love of art and literature and, like him, struggled with her mental health. While Van Gogh was committed to an asylum after cutting off part of his ear and giving it to a prostitute in a fit of madness, his sister was institutionalised for almost 40 years until her death in 1941.

In 1909, the oldest sister, Anna, wrote of selling a picture that he had given Willemien, enabling her to pay for medical costs: “I remember when Wil got the painting from Vincent, but what a figure! Who would have thought that Vincent would contribute to Wil’s upkeep in this way?”

Speaking of selling Van Goghs, here’s a very realistic/utterly fake portrait of him by the ‘post photographer’ Bas Uterwijk that’s for sale.

I’ve shared a link to his AI-generated portraits before, but now several are for sale as—yes, you’ve guessed it—NFTs. (He’s not the only one, of course.)

I’m still struggling with all this, to be honest. Am I right in thinking that I can spend 20 Tezos (about £100) on something that’s exactly the same as the 1620×2048 .png file I can download if I right-click on the image on the webpage?

Another new world: NFTs aren’t just for cats anymore. What do they mean for digital art?Rhizome
The NFT boom has been a kind of revelation. It should always be the case that artists can keep the wolves from the door and have their creative labors validated, even when the result is a digital file, but the market has never really supported this; the idea that it’s even possible feels revolutionary.

At the same time, the NFT backlash has been furious. Highly visible NFT evangelists make unrealistic claims to be freeing artists from the problems of institutional gatekeepers, but there are clearly still problematic dynamics of race, class, power, and gender that shape these markets too, and artists still find themselves partly reliant on social media platforms and traditional institutions to build audiences and accrue value for their work.

As we’ve already seen, none of this is straightforward.

NFTs are shaking up the art world. They may be warming the planet, tooThe New York Times
“The numbers are just crushing,” he said from his studio in Pfarrwerfen, Austria, announcing that he was canceling his plans, one of a growing number of artists who are swearing off NFTs, despite the sky-high sums some have fetched at auctions. “As much as it hurts financially and mentally, I can’t.”

It wasn’t meant to be like this, obviously. Here’s Anil Dash, the man behind the technology.

NFTs weren’t supposed to end like thisThe Atlantic
The idea behind NFTs was, and is, profound. Technology should be enabling artists to exercise control over their work, to more easily sell it, to more strongly protect against others appropriating it without permission. By devising the technology specifically for artistic use, McCoy and I hoped we might prevent it from becoming yet another method of exploiting creative professionals. But nothing went the way it was supposed to. Our dream of empowering artists hasn’t yet come true, but it has yielded a lot of commercially exploitable hype.

It seems to me that the broken art market is still far from being fixed. I wonder what the folks at Sedition make of all this.

Big bird’s back

Carla Rhodes takes beautiful photos of strange-looking birds in an ugly situation.

A biologist, an outlandish stork and the army of women trying to save itThe New York Times
After returning from India, I realized that my encounter with the greater adjutants had irrevocably changed me. Until then, I’d doggedly chased a career in New York City as a comedic ventriloquist while juggling mundane day jobs. Wildlife photography was relatively new to me; I had only considered it an enjoyable hobby. But suddenly I wanted to pursue conservation photography with every fiber of my being.

More Skeksis than stork, I think. But how they look is only half the story.

I quickly discovered the work of Dr. Purnima Devi Barman, a wildlife biologist who has dedicated her life to protecting greater adjutants. The founder of the Hargila Army, a local all-female, grass-roots volunteer conservation effort, Dr. Barman led her corps of women in protecting nesting sites, saving fallen baby birds and educating the Assamese community on the importance of these rare and endangered scavengers.

Needless to say, I’ve never seen anything like that round my way. Maybe I just need to keep looking.

Bird cams: A virtual window into the natural world of birdsThe Cornell Lab
Our viewers tell us that watching the cams is a life changing experience: an unprecedented learning experience that they liken to virtual field trips or field biology in their living room. We’re excited to continue sharing and learning with the community as we watch the world of birds together.

Being an artist these days

It’s a shame to see series 2 of Grayson’s Art Club over so soon. The shows are in response to our being in these lockdowns so, however much we may enjoy them, let’s hope there’s not a third series.

Grayson’s Art ClubWikipedia
I believe that art can help get us through this crisis. It can help us explore our creativity, inspire and console us, and tell us some truths about who we really are. […] Our Art Club exhibition will be a lasting artistic record of how we’ve all felt about these strange times we’ve been through together.

He’s an interesting guy, to be sure. (An alternate universe’s Tony Hart?)

Defying the norm: An interview with Grayson Perry on what it means to be an artistIt’s Nice That
That’s great that there are people using [Instagram] in that way but there was something about the blessed ignorance when I was younger. I can remember, quite a long time ago now, when the internet was first really taking off, a student came up to me and asked how I decide what to make work about. And I said, well I didn’t have one of those, pointing at her iPhone. You’ve got every image in the world in your hand, I had a tiny library and three television channels! So we made choices much more easily because the choices were limited, it forced you to get on and make your own. There’s something about the bewildering choice and the fact is that, if you have an idea now, you can Google it and someone’s done it already.

Starry bricks

Last month I shared a video of Van Gogh’s Starry Night in Second Life. Here’s news of another reimagining of that iconic painting.

A 25-year-old PhD student just convinced Lego to mass-produce Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ as an official toy kitArtnet News
The kit is the brainchild of Truman Cheng, a 25-year-old PhD student from Hong Kong, who submitted the idea to Lego Ideas, which allows fans of the colorful construction toys to share their suggestions for future Lego kits.

Vincent van Gogh: The Starry NightLEGO Ideas
Clips and brackets form the swirling cloud; plates stack to form the hillsides and bushes; curve parts build up to become the cypress tree. My favorite part is the inclined plate stack on the right, capturing the angled brush strokes within the moon-lit cloud. … I love putting the minifigure before the 3D scenery. It is like watching the artist work on the painting in real time.

Everything’s a game

Two simple but fiendish online puzzles.

Cookie Consent Speed.Run
Since GDPR came into our lives, we’ve all had to struggle with obtaining our basic privacy rights. With each cookie banner we have all been honing our skills, learning to navigate ambiguous options and distrust obvious buttons. Now is your chance to show what you have learnt.

Fontemon: World’s first video game in a font!codeRelay
You read that right! It’s a video game in a font! A font as in “Time New Roman”. The entire game is enclosed in fontemon.otf, no javascript, no html, all font.

So, farewell then, [o-O]

My knowledge of product design starts and stops with Dieter Rams. Up until recently, I had no idea who Lou Ottens was or the extent of his impact.

Lou Ottens, inventor of the cassette tape, dies aged 94The Guardian
As product development manager at Philips, Ottens twice revolutionised the world of music, but he remained modest to the end. “We were little boys who had fun playing,” he said. “We didn’t feel like we were doing anything big. It was a kind of sport.” […]

Following the war, Ottens obtained an engineering degree, and he started work at the Philips factory in Hasselt, Belgium, in 1952. Eight years later he was promoted to head of the company’s newly established product development department, and within a year he unveiled the EL 3585, Philips’s first portable tape recorder, which would go on to sell more than a million units.

This is what an EL 3585 looks like, perfect for its time.

But it was two years later that Ottens made the biggest breakthrough of his life – born out of annoyance with the clumsy and large reel-to-reel tape systems of the time. “The cassette tape was invented out of irritation about the existing tape recorder, it’s that simple,” he would later say.

I like the idea that it’s irritation and not necessity that’s the mother of invention. But as we’ve seen before, time is unstoppable, change is inevitable, people are fickle. As Things Magazine says, “How strange to have seen your invention lauded and adopted worldwide, before slowly and inexorably fading out of view, only to have a strange reemergence right at the end of your life.” At least he got to see 90.

Lou Ottens, inventor of the cassette tape, has diedNPR
The resurgence is driven by a mix of nostalgia and an appreciation for tapes’ unique status as a tangible but flexible format. For decades, music fans have used mixtapes to curate and share their favorite songs. Unsigned bands have also relied on them as a way to promote their music. Those who have used cassettes to quickly record music include the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards, who famously said he captured one of his band’s biggest songs in the middle of the night.

“I wrote ‘Satisfaction’ in my sleep,” Richards wrote in Life, his 2010 autobiography. Adding that he had no memory of writing the song, Richards said he woke up one morning to find that his Philips cassette recorder was at the end of its tape — apparently, he concluded, he had written something during the night. When Richards rewound the tape, he heard the song’s now-iconic guitar riff and his voice saying, “I can’t get no satisfaction.”

Here’s more from the man himself.

Cassette: A Documentary Mixtape – Documentary Film Trailer (2016)YouTube
Cassette inventor Lou Ottens digs through his past to figure out why the audiotape won’t die. Rock veterans like Henry Rollins, Thurston Moore, and Ian MacKaye join a legion of young bands releasing music on tape to push Lou along on his journey to remember.

Mixtapes are wonderful things, so evocative. Can clicking on a link to a Spotify playlist come anywhere near the feeling of being handed a mixtape?

‘Mixture of Jane’s trendy records!!!’: discover readers’ cherished mixtapesThe Guardian
Following the death of Lou Ottens, creator of the cassette tape, Guardian readers share the romances, friendships and discoveries his invention generated.

Rubbish mixtape: fan reunited with cassette 25 years after losing itThe Guardian
Stella Wedell was 12 when she took the tape on a Spanish holiday to listen to songs by the likes of Pet Shop Boys, Shaggy and Bob Marley on her Walkman. Wedell, from Berlin, lost the tape either on the Costa Brava or in Mallorca and was astounded when she spotted it a quarter of a century later in an exhibition by the British artist and photographer Mandy Barker, who specialises in creating pieces out of plastic marine debris.

What is cryptoart and should I care?

If you cross Simon Stålenhag’s digital painting style with Noah Kalina’s work ethic, you might end up with Mike Winkelmann, AKA Beeple. Here’s a mention of him from 2017.

“Do androids dream of electric sheep?”: A CGI master made a new artwork every day for 10 yearsDesign You Trust
Beeple is Mike Winkelmann, a graphic designer from Appleton, Wisconsin, USA. His short films have screened at onedotzero, Prix Ars Electronica, the Sydney Biennale, Ann Arbor Film Festival and many others. … For 10 years he’s been posting a new digital illustration—ranging from the abstract to representative, sci-fi to surreal, somber to sarcastic—every 24 hours.

All that effort has paid off, after Christie’s auctioned off a digital collage of the results.

Beeple’s opusChristie’s
Minted exclusively for Christie’s, the monumental digital collage was offered as a single lot sale concurrently with First Open, and realised $69,346,250. Marking two industry firsts, Christie’s is the first major auction house to offer a purely digital work with a unique NFT (Non-fungible token) — effectively a guarantee of its authenticity — and to accept cryptocurrency, in this case Ether, in addition to standard forms of payment for the singular lot.

That’s quite a lot of money, regardless of the currency.

JPG file sells for $69 million, as ‘NFT mania’ gathers paceThe New York Times
After a flurry of more than 180 bids in the final hour, a JPG file made by Mike Winkelmann, the digital artist known as Beeple, was sold on Thursday by Christie’s in an online auction for $69.3 million with fees. The price was a new high for an artwork that exists only digitally, beating auction records for physical paintings by museum-valorized greats like J.M.W. Turner, Georges Seurat and Francisco Goya. Bidding at the two-week Beeple sale, consisting of just one lot, began at $100.

With seconds remaining, the work was set to sell for less than $30 million, but a last-moment cascade of bids prompted a two-minute extension of the auction and pushed the final price over $60 million. Rebecca Riegelhaupt, a Christie’s spokeswoman, said 33 active bidders had contested the work, adding that the result was the third-highest auction price achieved for a living artist, after Jeff Koons and David Hockney.

Beeple sold an NFT for $69 millionThe Verge
The record-smashing NFT sale comes after months of increasingly valuable auctions. In October, Winkelmann sold his first series of NFTs, with a pair going for $66,666.66 each. In December, he sold a series of works for $3.5 million total. And last month, one of the NFTs that originally sold for $66,666.66 was resold for $6.6 million.

But has anyone actually looked at this collection of images? All of them? Whilst the futuristic sci-fi imagery shown above is interesting, if a little derivative, there are some major issues with the rest of it, to say the least. Let’s just say leaving off the titles of the original images was a very wise move.

I looked through all 5,000 images in Beeple’s $69 million magnum opus. What I found isn’t so prettyArtnet News
We’ve passed through a racial uprising and a reckoning with sexism, and the cultural project of the moment is… innovating new ways to worship decade-old, BroBible-level brain farts? During a time of immiseration, investors are competing to throw tens of millions of dollars… at this?

Nevertheless, here we are.

Beeple’s USD 69M NFT enters art historyCryptonews
A non-fungible token (NFT) piece of art thirteen years in the making was just sold for a whopping USD 69.35m at famous British auction house Christie’s, becoming the most expensive NFT ever sold, and positioning the author among the top three most valuable living artists. … According to Bloomberg, prior to the sale, Christie’s Noah Davis said that “there have been a handful of really dogged, really serious clients pursuing it, and they are mostly people who are very steeped in crypto.”

Very steeped in crypto? Who are these people?

Rich millennials are splashing millions on crypto artBloomberg
The decline [in art market sales due to the pandemic] would have been much worse were it not for wealthy collectors who spent more time at home and wanted to beautify their surroundings with art. It was a similar picture with virtual works. More hours glued to a screen encouraged crypto investors — flush with Bitcoin gains — to explore the nascent medium of art attached to a non-fungible token (NFT), a digital certificate of authenticity that runs on blockchain technology.

Who spends millions on NFTs? Meet Beeple’s crypto-rich early collectorsARTnews.com
The digital artist Beeple’s first major collector was Tim Kang, founder of Cue Music and an investor in cryptocurrency. Well before Beeple’s $6.6 million sale at Christie’s, Kang had broken all previous records by buying Beeple’s “MF Collection” for $777,777.77 on the non-fungible token platform Nifty Gateway in December of 2020. This sale launched Beeple from a niche artist working on the digital fringe to a force to reckon with, as the auction made clear three months later. […]

“Crypto and blockchain is more than just a stock; the underlying application is a paradigm shift. Anyone can have an opportunity to participate in a global market,” Kang said. “I have been waiting for so long for the breakthrough, for this to really impact the world beyond just cryptocurrency. Digital art is the perfect medium to communicate the underlying implications of blockchain on self-sovereignty.” NFTs demonstrate how blockchain technology can offer decentralized forms of authority: secure ownership without a gallery or foundation.

No shortage of hyperbole.

Beeple’s ‘5000 Days’ NFT sold for USD 69.35M at Christie’sDesign You Trust
“We must recognize the record-breaking sale of Beeple’s opus as what it is: a watershed moment for our industry. This sale will allow the public to see the capabilities of NFTs in the art space, however, it is just the beginning of the NFT revolution, which will ultimately change the way we live,” Justin Banon, CEO and Co-founder of Boson Protocol, the developer of a “capture resistant dCommerce ecosystem” using NFTs encoded with game theory, said in an emailed comment.

A “revolution which will ultimately change the way we live”? Goodness me. I looked up Boson Protocol, wanting to check if dCommerce was a typo. It seems not, though I’ve no idea what a decentralized, capture-resistant, autonomous commerce ecosystem that operates within a liquid digital market that unlocks two planetary-scale value pools actually is!

Decentralized forms of authority notwithstanding, theft is still theft.

Reports of stolen art on NFT marketplace raise issues for crypto collectorsHyperallergic
The blockchain has frequently been hailed as the future of art commerce, offering a way to ensure a work’s authenticity while creating an unalterable digital record of provenance on a public ledger. But recent reports of hacking on Nifty Gateway, a popular marketplace for non-fungible token (NFT) art, have raised questions about potential security flaws in the system. Several users have taken to social media in the last few days to claim they had NFTs stolen on the platform, with little recourse to get them back.

This isn’t limited to just slightly racist and homophobic digital collages, of course.

Quartz is selling the first-ever NFT news articleQuartz
Quartz is auctioning an article converted into a non-fungible token, or NFT, giving its eventual buyer unimpeachable, blockchain-verified proof of ownership. The process to do this, we found, was surprisingly easy.

Buy This NFT Column on the Blockchain!The New York Times
The first step in making my own NFT was setting up a digital “wallet” that would be used to hold my token, as well as any cryptocurrency I made from selling it. I used a browser extension called MetaMask and set up an empty wallet for Ethereum, the cryptocurrency network of choice for NFT collectors. Then I had to find a place to hold the auction. I chose an NFT marketplace called Foundation, which hosted the sale of the famous “Nyan Cat” graphic this year for nearly $600,000.

Crypto token of New York Times column sells for $560,000The New York Times
@3fmusic could not be reached as of Wednesday afternoon. The user appeared to be an avid collector of NFT artwork. In addition to the Times token, their collection on Foundation also includes such works as “The result of 2020,” an image of a sad-looking Kermit the Frog, and “Mushy’s Midafternoon Nap,” an image of a cartoon toadstool sitting on a log.

I tried getting my head around cryptocurrencies before, but I’m still none the wiser. Headlines like this don’t help.

Bitcoin’s record-breaking surge means one man ended up paying £440m for two pizzasSky News
Bitcoin’s volatility can also have consequences. Laszlo Hanyecz bought two pizzas for 10,000 BTC in 2010, back when the cryptocurrency was worth pennies. Fast forward to now, and this crypto stash is worth a staggering £440m.

One of the collectors above said that digital art is the perfect medium to communicate the underlying implications of blockchain on self-sovereignty. Everest Pipkin, digital artist and author of the following essay, would strongly disagree with that. It’s a long piece, and I’m including more than I would normally here, but I think its clarity is worth sharing. As he explains, it’s not cryptoart specifically that’s so environmentally damaging, it’s anything that’s “minted” on a cryptocurrency blockchain, be it Bitcoin, Ethereum or any other, because of a process called “proof of work”.

Here is the article you can send to people when they say “But the environmental issues with cryptoart will be solved soon, right?”Everest Pipkin
Proof of work, in essence, is a way to confirm that computational effort has been expended by “the prover” (the system doing a task). The idea was originally conceived in 1993 as a way to disincentivize things like spam or bots. Proof of work was supposed to be unnoticeable by normal human users, but would make things like the thousands of requests needed for a denial-of-service attack hard to run. It is like a little puzzle for your computer.

Fast forward to 2009, which saw proof of work (along with another technology called the blockchain, a kind of public ledger) used for a very different purpose; making the digital currency Bitcoin. This is a simplified explanation, but to make a bitcoin, Bitcoin “miners” task their specialized computers to solve those proof of work puzzles, competing with one another to validate blocks on the blockchain. A successful solution – which is somewhat rare – rewards the miner with the new coin. The more a computer “works” (the more energy is expended) the more competitive it is. You can think of it as a lottery, with every kilowatt-hour a ticket. This process is called mining.

This started innocuously enough – mining in 2009 was a background process that could run on a laptop as it idled. However, the difficultly of mining blocks in the blockchain is designed to increase over time. This is because as the network grows, the relative rate of new coins mined stays stable (for Bitcoin, about 1 block is mined every 10 minutes).

To solve the problem of more computers mining, the proof of work puzzles get harder. Miners get more computers, better GPUs. The puzzles get harder. Miners move to places with cheap electricity. The puzzles get harder. Miners retrofit warehouses, air-condition shipping containers. The puzzles get harder. Monumentally harder.

After a decade+ of a growing cryptocurrency market, what we’ve been left with is a financial network that uses more energy than Argentina, with no regulatory structure or federal oversight whatsoever.

I get that scarcity can affect prices; the more rare something is, or the harder it is to find, the more value is has — in the real world.

However, in a digital context scarcity must be constructed – there is nothing that demands the next block in the blockchain be harder to make than the last. If anything, the opposite should be true – computers grow ever more efficient and powerful. This means any scarcity is artificial, a process that demands ever more energy, ever more resources lost to continue to operate and return, for no other reason than to insure that tomorrow it will be even more expensive – which makes the wastefulness of today a good investment.

This is why cryptocurrency is valuable. There is nothing high-tech about it. There is no miracle. It is simply futures speculation without the speculation – no guessing required, because we know it will be more wasteful tomorrow; it is baked into the tech.

The whole thing makes my head swim. Here are some other attempts at explaining why blockchains and cryptocurrencies are bad ideas.

Why Bitcoin is so bad for the planetThe Guardian
In a year, bitcoin uses around the same about of electricity as the entire country of Norway. The digital currency is one that allows people to bypass banks and traditional payment methods. It is the most prominent among thousands of so-called cryptocurrencies and has been repeatedly reaching new records – but is it sustainable?

As NFT sells for $69M, artists question environmental impact of blockchainHyperallergic
As crypto-art speculation rises, however, so do the planet’s temperature and questions about the carbon footprint of NFTs. These unique works are typically sold in “drops,” timed online sales held by NiftyGateway, OpenSea, SuperRare, and Foundation, to name just a few of the most popular marketplaces. NFTs exist on the energy costly Ethereum blockchain; in layman’s terms, they are created (“minted”) based on a process known as proof-of-work (PoW), which necessitates the use of large networks of processing machines that emit CO2.

NFTs are hot. So is their effect on the Earth’s climateWIRED
The works were placed for auction on a website called Nifty Gateway, where they sold out in 10 seconds for thousands of dollars. The sale also consumed 8.7 megawatt-hours of energy, as he later learned from a website called Cryptoart.WTF. That figure was equivalent to two years of energy use in Lemercier’s studio. Since then, the art has been resold, requiring another year’s worth of energy. The tally was still climbing. The problem, as Lemercier saw it, went well beyond himself. His fellow artists were becoming millionaires overnight as the cryptoart world exploded. But so was their role in emitting carbon. Artists didn’t seem to understand the scope of this problem—Lemercier himself hadn’t—and the platforms making the sales didn’t seem interested in clarifying.

I know other areas of our online life affect the health of our physical world…

We finally know how bad for the environment your Netflix habit isWired UK
Netflix claims that one hour of streaming on its platform in 2020 [produces less CO2] than driving an average car a quarter of a mile.

… but this whole cryptoart topic seems so wasteful and unnecessary. To summarise:

Power into artthings magazine
In short. Watch more Netflix. Don’t buy, encourage, promote or celebrate cryptoart.”

Royale with cheese

I’m not a fan of soap operas and schmaltzy dramas, but it’s been hard to escape reaction to The Crown’s latest spin-off.

‘I didn’t want to be alive anymore’: Meghan Markle-Prince Harry’s revelations during Oprah interview leave internet shockedThe Indian Express
Post the broadcast of the interview, social media is abuzz with netizens reacting to the various revelations made during the interview. The hashtag #OprahMeghanHarry soon began trending on Twitter with many drawing parallels between the situation and what Princess Diana went through during her time.

This write-up from across the Irish Sea really nailed it though.

Harry and Meghan: The union of two great houses, the Windsors and the Celebrities, is completeIrish Times
Having a monarchy next door is a little like having a neighbour who’s really into clowns and has daubed their house with clown murals, displays clown dolls in each window and has an insatiable desire to hear about and discuss clown-related news stories. More specifically, for the Irish, it’s like having a neighbour who’s really into clowns and, also, your grandfather was murdered by a clown.

Shouldn’t really be too flippant about all this, institutional bigotry is no laughing matter, but this image of the Queen caught my eye shortly after reading that.

Artist brings everyday objects to life with smartphone and no editingDesign You Trust
“I think it’s a fun way to make an ordinary situation extraordinary, to make magic by combining two different things into a whole new story. A smartphone is something we all carry all day and it allows me to take this kind of photo spontaneously on the spot whenever an idea comes. I always carry two phones to do this.”

Quite a few are from the movies …

… including Pulp Fiction …

… which brings us back to where we started — Americans and royalty.

Royale with Cheese (dialogue)Genius
As Jules Winfield (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent Vega (John Travolta) drive along they discuss trivial matters regarding the little differences between Europe and America.

More creepy corporate cuteness

I didn’t realise this blandly cute, aggressively friendly, dumbed down graphic design style we see absolutely everywhere on the web has a name.

Why does every advert look the same? Blame Corporate MemphisWired UK
It’s an aesthetic that’s often referred to as ‘Corporate Memphis’, and it’s become the definitive style for big tech and small startups, relentlessly imitated and increasingly parodied. It involves the use of simple, well-bounded scenes of flat cartoon figures in action, often with a slight distortion in proportions (the most common of which being long, bendy arms) to signal that a company is fun and creative. Corporate Memphis is inoffensive and easy to pull off, and while its roots remain in tech marketing and user interface design, the trend has started to consume the visual world at large. It’s also drawing intense criticisms from those within the design world.

“It really boils my piss to be honest,” says Jack Hurley, a Leeds-based illustrator who says his main output is “daft seaside posters.” Hurley was familiar with the style from Facebook’s login page, but had started to see the illustrations, with their sensible, slightly strange characters, while walking around his neighbourhood as well. “I live in a student area and there are some real scumbag letting agents,” he says. “Suddenly they’ve got all this marketing with the bendy-arm-people.”

There’s just so much of it, as this collection curated by tech writer Claire L Evans shows.

Corporate MemphisAre.na
Tracking the illustration style of choice in our tech dystopia.

But perhaps a better name for this style is Alegria.

Facebook AlegriaBUCK
A new style guide, illustration and animation system for the entire Facebook ecosystem. There’s many imitators, but there’s only one Alegria.

This video from Solar Sands explains more.

It starts with a critique of a ludicrous food delivery advert before going into more detail about this style and where it’s come from. But stick around for examples from the 1920s of this flat geometric style done right.

Finding my way, under starry skies

I’m still trying to get my head around Second Life. The scale of it confuses me, with its talk of continents and regions, parcels and places. I need a map. It seems there’s a longstanding technical difficulty with that currently, but here’s a helpful resource — an inworld Maps of Second Life exhibition.

The maps (and more) of Second LifeInara Pey: Living in a Modem World
The maps start from the earliest days of Second Life – 2002 – and run through to almost the present. It encompasses “official” maps, those produced by SL cartographers depicting the Second Life Mainland continents, and specialist maps charting air routes, airports, the SL railways, specific estates. Not only are they informative, some stand as works of art in their own right.

For more background on how that exhibition was curated and designed, here’s an interview with its creator, Juliana Lethdetter.

In an earlier blog post, Inara Pey notes that, whilst maps might not contribute greatly to a sense of community, they’re vital for establishing a sense of presence.

Maps as metaphors: Second Life and SansarInara Pey: Living in a Modem World
However, the idea that the world map presents Second Life as a place, adding to our sense of presence, is harder to deny. In fact, given that Second Life is intended to be a single world of (largely) interconnected spaces, its representation via a map can be a vital aspect of reinforcing this view. In other words, the map is, for many – but not necessarily all of us – an intrinsic part of how we see Second Life as a connected whole, a place.

Of course, there are other ways of seeing Second Life.

Explorer shoots impressionistic photos while traveling through a virtual worldNew World Notes
Mei Vohn’s photostream is a glorious travel journal of Second Life sims highlighted by a person who sees the beauty in a single detail. Her pictures are very impressionistic. They make me think of the phrase “see through a glass darkly” from First Corinthians. Her pictures give us impressions, we have to go there to see it for ourselves.

But let’s go back to 2007, with a video that shows that, whatever technology we use to visualise the worlds around us, Van Gogh’s never far away.

Watch the World – Starry NightAustin Tate’s Blog
Robbie Dingo (aka Rob Wright) produced the “Watch the World” machinima in Second Life in 2007 depicting a build of the Vincent Van Gogh “Starry Night” painting…

Remake the starsNew World Notes
What Robbie Dingo has done is something Akira Kurosawa only envisioned: brought Van Gogh’s masterpiece to rich, three dimensional life, and for a brief moment, recast it as a living place. (Brief, for the construction was always intended as a temporary project, “so it’s all been swept away now, leaving only the film behind.”) But for a breathtaking moment you get to the most iconic of starry nights recast under the rising sun.

“One of the challenges was to make it look fluid and simple,” Robbie tells me. “If I have got it right, then it should look like something that was thrown together very quickly, but in reality I worked on this in dribs and drabs over a number of evenings.”

Plenty of time

We should always take the time to appreciate well-designed details. Designer and Apple fan Arun Venkatesan has done a wonderful job here explaining the context behind some of the Apple Watch design cues and references.

The iconic watches that inspired Apple Watch facesArun Venkatesan
[T]he analog faces reveal what Apple does so well — taking the familiar and making it their own. Over the years, they have released quite a few faces with roots in history. Each one started as an iconic watch archetype and was remade to take advantage of the Apple Watch platform. … Let’s dive into five Apple Watch faces — California, Chronograph, Chronograph Pro, Count Up, and GMT.

The intricacy of these old watches is amazing, so sit back and relax to some smooth jazz whilst this rusty old Rolex is repaired.

Restoration of Rusty Rolex – Water damaged 1996 GMT Master IIYouTube
This 1996 Rolex GMT Master II suffered badly. Soaked in water, it spent two years in a drawer. The amount of rust was unbelievable. Actually, apart from the case and bracelet, only 8 of close to 100 internal parts were preserved. But the core challenge was to preserve the mainplate: the very base of the watch that holds all components together.

All gone, no regrets

There was that guy who accidentally deleted his entire company, but do you remember Michael Landy? He’s one of the Young British Artists, the one who methodically catalogued, disassembled and then shredded all of his possessions — all of them, including clothes, family photos, passport, artwork, car — over a two week period in a performance art piece called Break Down.

Michael Landy on Break DownArtangel
Certain people criticised Break Down as a spectacle, but a spectacle is passive, and this wasn’t. Shoppers wanted to know what was going on; you could divide them into two groups. People who had heard about the project (knowing faces) and people who walked in from the street (quizzical faces). Certain shoppers thought this was a new way of selling things – they would offer me money for parts of my car, little old ladies would bring back clothes, which they had bought at the C&A closing down sale. […]

One day a young woman approached me whilst I was on the platform. She asked would I consider swapping my dad’s sheepskin coat for what she had in her duffel bag. I told her I couldn’t swap it, but she was more than welcome to try and steal it. Eight months later I was with Gillian in Tesco’s in Bethnal Green and I saw exactly the same sheepskin coat, worn by a man, maybe one size smaller than my dad’s. I wondered whether she did steal it in the end and it was having a second life.

So where does one go after something like that? Back to the drawing board.

Break Down – Michael LandyGoogle Arts & Culture
Like a phoenix from the ashes, this drawing was part of the process of recapitulating an experience that left Landy with nothing. It amounts to an existential anti-shopping list. ‘Having nothing was a kind of regression, so I was interested in going back to being a child, to just having a drawing pencil and paper.’ Retrospectively, he traces the stages of the disassembly process in pen and ink, employing a line-by-line precision with the pedantry of a military re-enactment. He anatomises his life in terms of the humdrum, a vision of wheelie bins, goggles, odd socks and camera crews, scrutinising the idea that ‘somehow at some point we begin to create our own biographies from the things we own or possess’.

That was twenty years ago. How does he feel about it all now?

‘Like witnessing my own funeral’: Michael Landy on destroying everything he ownedThe Guardian
The minimal aesthetic suggests that Landy’s lifestyle tends towards the ascetic, rather than the accumulative. But still: regrets? “I don’t miss anything,” he says. Then he hesitates. “I’ve never owned up to it, so I can’t own up to it now. I’ve always stuck to that. No, I literally can’t think of anything that I miss.” That’s his story and he’s sticking to it. […]

What was it like when it was all over? In the pub on the last night, he says: “I got very paranoid. I have talked about it as the happiest two weeks of my life, but it was also like witnessing my own funeral. People would come along who I hadn’t seen for years, and then I worked it out: I was only seeing them because I’d in a sense died.”

His work certainly struck a chord, and is as relevant today as it was then (sadly).

The man who destroyed all his belongingsBBC Culture
Break Down – which remains Landy’s best-known work – is considered a provocative masterpiece of recent British art. Moreover, because consumerism in the West has only accelerated since 2001 – witness, for instance, the rise of YouTube vloggers such as Zoella who devote entire videos to rummaging through shopping bags in order to celebrate high-street ‘hauls’ – it has also come to seem remarkably prescient.

Uplifted by Break Down: Breaking down consumerismArt Breath
In your artwork, were you also referencing that we possess more than what we own? In a sense, even with nothing we have a lot we have our integrity

Yes we do, I think we are more than the sum of our parts.

Actually that cropped up afterwards with the artwork Acts of Kindness on the London underground. It refers to when we don’t have the economic means to offer material things, we have our kindness and humanity to offer, which actually gets overlooked a lot. People don’t even notice they have those elements but they are being kind and humane to others without even realising they are doing so.

I think that is what came out of Break Down too. People were really kind to me and really open and when I literally had nothing I started to think, what makes us human, and basically that was humanity and a connection between a person and a complete stranger, that kind of emotional bridge between the self and other.

He received a CBE recently. I can’t see him throwing that away.

Things are looking up #6

I’m sure President Biden has enough on his to-do list at the moment to be giving Space Force and the politics of space much thought, but this new book from Benedict Redgrove might spark some enthusiasm.

Benedict Redgrove’s intimate photography book lands us inside the world of NASAIGNANT
Redgrove has been fascinated by space suits and shuttles since he was a young man. “The image of the astronaut or spaceman has been with me ever since, as a sort of talisman to all that is great and good,” he shares. “They symbolize the explorer, the hero, the good character, the leader. The spacesuit takes on that character, the suit and the human become one entity, more powerful than either on their own.” Combining his fascination with space technology with his interest in photography, the British creative took on the challenge to document America’s home of space-based research and development in intimate detail. Redgrove spent almost a decade working on the project, negotiating access and forming relationships with NASA, researching, investigating, and producing over 200 images of NASA’s facilities and the many objects that made their space travel imaginable and possible.

The engineering involved in landing on the moon was incredible. To fully appreciate that, I think I need to add this epic piece of journalism to my reading list.

Of a Fire on the Moon by Norman MailerPenguin Random House
For many, the moon landing was the defining event of the twentieth century. So it seems only fitting that Norman Mailer—the literary provocateur who altered the landscape of American nonfiction—wrote the most wide-ranging, far-seeing chronicle of the Apollo 11 mission. A classic chronicle of America’s reach for greatness in the midst of the Cold War, Of a Fire on the Moon compiles the reportage Mailer published between 1969 and 1970 in Life magazine: gripping firsthand dispatches from inside NASA’s clandestine operations in Houston and Cape Kennedy; technical insights into the magnitude of their awe-inspiring feat; and prescient meditations that place the event in human context as only Mailer could.

Norman Mailer’s A Fire on the Moon: a giant leap for reportageThe Guardian
In the age of Gravity, of simulated cinematic immersion in space, it is more striking than ever that footage of the greatest technological feat of all time looked no better “than a print of the earliest silent movies … Ghost beckoned to ghosts and the surface of the moon looked like a ski slope at night.”

That line about the poor quality visuals (deliberately poor, apparently) not matching the scale of the achievement reminded me of Brian Eno’s dissatisfaction with the audio, the chatter of the experts obscuring the event’s grandeur and strangeness.

Of a Fire on the Moon was first published across three issues of Life magazine (much like John Hersey’s Hiroshima, published in its entirety in The New Yorker in 1946), and is yours in book form for a tenner or so. Or, if you want to spend a little more…

Of a Fire on the Moon; $112,500 coffee table editionWikipedia
The 40th anniversary of the first Moon landing was marked in 2009 by the release of an abridged, limited edition of the text, re-packaged with images from NASA and Life magazine. This production retitled the work, MoonFire, and was presented in an aluminium box with a lid shaped like the crater-pocked surface of the Moon; the object was mounted on four legs resembling the Apollo Lunar Module’s struts. Thus, the coffee table book came inside its own lunar-themed “coffee table”, with an uneven surface (see photograph). The package included a numbered print of the famous portrait of Buzz Aldrin standing on the Moon, framed in plexiglass and signed by the astronaut himself—and enclosed a lunar meteorite. Only 12 were created and the price was $112,500.

Unreal art around town

At a time when indoor art galleries and museums are closed because of you know what, it’s good to see some alternative initiatives. Here, an augmented reality app allowed you to explore 36 digital sculptures from artists around the world, arranged as a riverside walking tour.

How an augmented reality app transformed London into an immersive art galleryAeon Videos
If you ever hopped on the Pokémon GO craze, you’ll have an inkling of how digital technology is increasingly capable of adding rich new slices to everyday life. The public exhibition ‘Unreal City’, which ran from 8 December 2020 to 5 January 2021 on the River Thames in London – and is, until 9 February 2021, available for at-home viewing – similarly superimposed digital layers on to reality, but with an aim to transform the city into an immersive augmented reality (AR) art gallery.

Have a go at curating your own exhibition at home.

Unreal City at HomeAcute Art
Acute Art and Dazed Media are excited to announce that Unreal City, London’s biggest public festival of AR art will now be available to view and interact with from inside your home for one-month only. Responding to new lockdown measures and the popularity of the exhibition in London and across the United Kingdom, Acute Art and Dazed Media will make these site-specific artworks available for audiences all around the world to discover from the safety of their homes via the free Acute Art app.