digital images, 2021
Beeple’s ‘The First 5000 Days’ sold for $69,346,250 on March 12, 2021. In a statement released by Christies after the sale, buyer MetaKovan explained his rationale for the purchase:
When you think of high-valued NFTs, this one is going to be pretty hard to beat. And here’s why — it 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
With this statement, MetaKovan characterizes the time an artist spends on a work as a key driver of its value. The dominant NFT aesthetics also reflect this sensibility; intricate 3D scenes signal that creative and computational effort was expended to create the image.
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
Myers affirms MetaKovan’s point from another perspective; NFTs have become financial instruments, the artist merely performing an alternate form of mining to unlock value.
In Proof of Work — Network Difficulty, I embody this idea of artist as miner, creating images where visual complexity correlates directly with the labour of creation. The series reduces the image to a record of effort, transforming artistic work into rote labour.
Each image in the series is generated through a custom software, which receives keypresses and converts them to colour values; 0 for black, 1 for white.
The pixel canvas doubles each day, starting at 1x1 px, ending when one image cannot be completed in a day. This incremental increase in difficulty reflects the increasing complexity of cryptocurrency mining, as well as ensuring scarcity of the completed works.
During the generation process I aim to enter random values in a process similar to surrealist automatism, or automatic writing. True randomness is difficult even for computers to generate, with the image inevitibly bearing traces of its manual construction.
The rhythm and pattern of keypresses can be used as a biometric identifier, for tracking or authentication. The images generated in this series are not just records of effort, but unique records of the hand of the artist. The patterns that arise are the digital equivalent of that essential element in the value of an physical artistic work; the signature.
When the series concludes, the images will be placed on sale simultaneously, allowing collectors to decide where the value lies in the artwork.