362.2 Non-fungicide | Scoins.net | DJS

362.2 Non-fungicide


English artist Damien Hirst’s latest project, “The Currency”, is an artwork in two forms. Its physical form is 10,000 unique hand-painted A4 sheets covered in colourful dots. In the same way as paper money, each sheet includes a holographic image of Hirst, a signature, a microdot and – in place of a serial number – a small individual message. 

The second part of the artwork is that each of these hand-painted sheets has a corresponding NFT (non-fungible token). NFTs are digital certificates of ownership which exist on the secure online ledgers that are known as blockchains. 

The way that “The Currency” works is that collectors will not be buying the physical artwork immediately. Instead, they will payUS$2,000 (£1,458) for the NFT and then have a year to decide whether they want the digital or the physical version. Once the collector selects one, the other will be destroyed. [1] 

A non-fungible token, an NFT, is a one-off token. A fungible is something very similar to another, such as paper currency; indeed, the property of fungibility is an essential of a currency. But, since paper money has serial numbers, this is not exactly identical and, like Hirst's artwork above, is merely sufficiently similar to be usable in certain circumstances. The whole point of an NFT is that it provides a proof of ownership. As with Hirst's work, there just might be a bundle of these, a bit like shares and, like currency numbered, but, more like a limited run of a car, that numbering indicates the exclusivity, such a No. 3 of 1000.

Reference [2] describes a situation relating to another artist, Qing Han (probably Han Qing, I think, to Mandarin speakers). She died at the early age of 29 in early 2020 and at that time she had something like 2.5 million Instagram followers. About a year after her death, NFTs became available for her digital artwork —she was known specifically as a digital artist—and some significant sums of money changed hands. The problem, though, was that these NFTs were not sold by the Han estate. Thus, in effect, the artwork has been stolen – or that perhaps the NFTs are fraudulent.

This raises several issues. For original non-digital artwork one lasting problem is proof of provenance; that this person painted it, that this other person owns the piece and that there is a continuous trail of ownership. An NFT is a unique document (in reality it is a very long number (and so unique, in blockchain terms)  serving as the reference to the document file) that stands in place of this proof or evidence. The idea of NFTs has been used to, for example, allow people to buy a piece of the copyright of particular pieces of music.

The thing that is hard to get your head around is that ownership of an NFT for a piece of art or music has no effect at all on the ability of anyone else to have a copy of the work. It is common for the NFT to be associated with a licence to use the underlying digital asset, but generally does not confer copyright to the buyer: some agreements only grant a licence for personal, non-commercial use, while other licences also allow commercial use of the underlying digital asset. [3, changed to Brit spelling]. Do read the wikipedia piece at [3]. So ownership is separated from a copyright, as the originator can (always) create more of the same digital work. You might argue [3], ref to Rebecca Tushnet], "the purchaser acquires whatever the art world thinks they have acquired."

Bearing in mind what I've written before about the half-life of a link, typically 138 weeks and sometimes called link rot, when an NFT points at a web address (so there's the link), this can break and then one wonders if anything at all is owned. [wikipedia linked there, [4]]

The British artist Banksy had a work digitised, created an NFT,  sold the original and, in the auction hall, destroyed the paper copy. I've found evidence of burning and of shredding. The shredding event was "Girl with Balloon" which sold for a round million sterling at Sotheby's and then self-shredded - the shredder was built into the frame. Banksy now says the shredded piece is renamed Love is in the Bin. One such burning was in Brooklyn, of Entitled Morons. A thumbprint version is shown here and the auctioned copy at the top of the page. I wonder whether Love is in the Bin is the one copy that was sold and mostly shredded before the shredder in the bottom of the frame seized; this (one) could be on a wall and would evidently be that one. Maybe the value is in the NFT, if there is one? The one in the video is for sale October 2021, with an expectation it may go for £5m.

DJS 20210913

The top pic is of Entitled Morons, when at sale at Christie's in London [7].

[1]  https://theconversation.com/damien-hirsts-the-currency-what-well-discover-when-this-nft-art-project-is-over-164724?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Latest%20from%20The%20Conversation%20for%20July%2019%202021%20-%202006819713&utm_content=Latest%20from%20The%20Conversation%20for%20July%2019%202021%20-%202006819713+CID_12eb84bb87b80de7f8dc553009b2f031&utm_source=campaign_monitor_uk&utm_term=dabbling%20with%20NFTs

[2]  https://www.wired.co.uk/article/nft-fraud-qinni-art

[3]  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-fungible_token

[4]   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Link_rot  But note that some classes of link have very much better survival rates, up around 7000 weeks. There is another problem, called content drift, where the link no longer leads to the intended original content.

[5]  https://www.theartnewspaper.com/feature/lost-art-do-nfts-mean-the-end-of-real-world-art

Non-Fungible Tokens are like cryptocurrency (Bitcoin and the like) but cannot be directly cashed out. Instead they are a way of linking a file (a jpeg, an mp3) to blockchain to demonstrate its authenticity and rarity. 

[6] https://www.techrepublic.com/article/nfts-are-cool-but-theyre-a-hot-target-for-hackers-how-to-keep-them-safe/

Is an NFT safe or secure? It may well be, but that merely moves the target to your gateway (a demonstrably weaker point of access) and to all sorts of phishing. Advice: multi-factor authentication, keep quiet about ownership, keep your wallet offline (and so unconnected) where possible. NFTs themselves are almost immune to forgery, but that doesn't mean that an artwork cannot be duplicated and then, perhaps registered anew as an original; when the exclusivity is what gives the piece its value, duplication (however done) must dramatically reduce the value and many would consider this a form of theft.

[7] https://www.forbes.com/sites/lawrencewintermeyer/2021/03/03/burned-banksy-nft-sets-art-and-crypto-worlds-alight/?sh=1dc4a57357c5

I found a link to a video of the shredding with comment in line with what is written here.

[8]  https://www.artsy.net/artwork/ulay-irritation-there-is-a-criminal-touch-to-art   

 I make no claim of understanding. I fall into a very low-brow class of art appreciator. Yes, I recognise some stuff as very skilled; yes, I may actually like some art. That does not mean I want a copy, nor do I want to hang one on a wall, to look at every day (nor to look at everyday). Most of the time I look at a work and think (i) that took a long time, why did you bother? (ii) okay, I've looked; next? and (iii) why is this on display at all?  That last applies to the material that Ulay is mimicking, which echoes my most common reaction - why would I care about this? Because I don't, I really don't. 

But then I often feel that way about written work, and you may feel that about mine. I'm comfortable with that, too, since I write for my benefit; after all, I'm my own best customer by far.

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