Proof of Work
generated images, 2021
software, keypresses

Proof of Work is a series of manually generated images, where physical gesture is directly correlated with visual density. Sold as non-fungible tokens, the series is both an enactment of the experience of being an artist in the NFTism, as well as a challenge to the metrics the NFT markets use to determine where value lies in an artwork.

Art is proof of work, whether Whistler's "Nocturne" or an Abstract Expressionist act of heroism. There must be something to own, a parsable product of labour that represents the potential to exponentially multiply the value of an investment of time by the artist and cryptocurrency of the collector.”  - Rhea Myers

Beeple’s ‘The First 5000 Days’ sold for $69,346,250 on March 12, 2021. Buyer MetaKovan explained his rational behind the purchase as such:  

When you think of high-valued NFTs, this one is going to be pretty hard to beat. And here’s whyit represents 13 years of everyday work. Techniques are replicable and skill is surpassable, but the only thing you can’t hack digitally is time. — MetaKovan, Christies Press Release

MetaKovan identifies effort over time as the key indicator of value for a NFT. Dominant NFT aesthetics also reflect this sensibility; intricate 3D scenes signal that creative and computational effort were expended to create and render a scene.

In Proof of Work I probe this understanding of value, creating images where the visual is directly correlated with the effort required for production. Each series begins with a 1x1px canvas, which doubles each day of production. This doubling allows the images to reflect distinguishably different degrees of effort, and provides a mechanism which ensures scarcity; each series ends when one image cannot be completed in one day.

The images are generated in a custom software, wherein one keystroke produces one graphic pixel. This manual gesture requires a physiologically bounded amount of time, and so the visual density of pixels in the image correlates directly to effort and time expended.

Each series uses a separate generation application, which converts user behaviour into graphic output. In Binary Random, the application accepts the entry of values 0 or 1, and represents these keypresses with black and white pixels. Through this interface, the artist attempts to create a random distribution of black and white pixels.

With Blue Duration, the application monitors time elapsed between keystrokes, and uses this value to set the intensity of a colour. The artist attempts to create an image of solid colour, by maintaining consistent timing between keystrokes.

The task of random generation and consistent timing are highly challenging for humans to accurately perform, and so the images produced inevitably bear patterns which attest to their manual process of generation.  

The patterns that appear in the the images can be seen as unique records of the hand of the artist; security researchers have demonstrated that the rhythm and pattern of keypresses can be used as a unique biometric identifier with adequate specificity to replace passwords as a login mechanism.

Seen through these findings, the images in Proof of Work are not just documents of effort, but are unique records of the artist’s hand; the patterns arising the digital equivalent of that essential element in the value of a physical artwork; the signature.