A few weeks ago, I went to my parents’ house to celebrate my mother’s birthday. Since I don’t own a car and don’t have a drivers license, that meant I had to utilise public transport. So I take the train to Antwerp and then a tram that leads to the bus-stop I need to be at. Yeah, I know. It’s an undertaking.
Now, the thing you need to know is that Antwerp doesn’t have a real underground tramway network, but a premetro railway. So I arrived at Antwerp Central Station and went downstairs to the premetro stop. Of course you’re being subjected to the billboards with ads placed there. These days, the boards used for those ads are mostly large digital screens. Normally I try to not pay attention to it, despite the fact that the moving pictures on the screen are distracting. But something caught my eye for once.
This time, there were illustrations shown in-between the ads, labelled crypto-art. How curious, I thought. Is there an exhibition in Antwerp at the moment about crypto-art? Like some sort of art expo or the like? I assumed naively at the time that that was the case. Some museum, likely the MAS, was doing a piece on art in the digital age. Why else would time and resources be spend on these ads? When I got home in the evening, I looked it up and the truth was more sinister than I thought.
There was no exhibition. Or rather the exhibition was already playing in the premetro station. The ads, which I wrongfully assumed were ads, were the actual works already on display. It was a promotion of itself, showcasing the world (or in this case, the underground of Antwerp) the “wonders” of crypto-art and…
… fucking NFTs.
So why was there promotion for crypto-art? Good question. I dug a little deeper and found this article. It’s in Dutch, but I’m going to give a basic summary of it.
The stunt is developed by, among others, the public transport corporation De Lijn and the trend research agency Trendwolves. I’m focussing on the latter, since they are the ones largely responsible for this travesty. From what I can gather, Trendwolves is a marketing agency, focussed on targeting the youth. Much of their site, is based on how to approach the young with modern trends, with workshops and presentations on how to approach them and new digital technology. Also, I have to point out that their logo reminds me of the “There are two wolves inside you” meme.
Anyway, Trendwolves founded this little stunt to introduce the citizens of Antwerp to crypto art. In the article, the founder of Trendwolves, Maarten Leyts, talks about how creativity is an important aspect to youth culture and how these days it’s more technology-driven. The article talks about how crypto-art revolves around the idea of digital “scarcity”, a fallacy if I’ve ever heard one. Leyts explains how that scarcity mirrors real-life auction houses, how buyers can acquire the rights on royalties and reproductions of the digital work. And how auction houses like Christie’s have implemented NFTs in their catalogues. I had to look it up if that’s true. And of course. Of course it had to be true.
So now Trendwolves established this project “to let creative minds experiment with crypto-art and introduce it to the general audience”. For some reason, these works will be shown in the premetro stations until the end of January. Where the crypto-art will get intersected with normal ads. The 11 artists even got an NFT-education, whatever that entails.
(Note, whilst I was looking for some images for this post, I found the actual crypto-art expo site, where you can find the works. On the collections page, you can see they’re preparing for the upcoming 4 years! Like they’re preparing in the long run, the fuckers!)
That’s the article in a nutshell. For some reason, the art being published in a premetro station is somewhat funny to me. As if Trendwolves is actually embarrased by it and puts it underground, in an effort to bury it.
So what’s the issue with NFTs you may ask? If you aren’t aware, there’s these things called the blockchain and cryptocurrency. I don’t know what those are exactly, either. I tried to read the article about the blockchain on Wikipedia and my head started to spin whilst reading the first paragraph. I do know a bit more about cryptocurrency. And please correct me in the comments if I’m wrong (though no positive comments about it will be tolerated).
But from what I can tell, cryptocurrency is a digital, well, currency. Like actual money, only on the computer. And then people “mine” these coins. Now, how it’s used and how it’s regulated, I don’t know. There’s no financial organ being in charge for the distribution of these things. But it’s the mining itself I want to focus on. The output of these “mining” activities form a genuine danger to the environment. The farms, which consists of several computers, requires more energy than that of an average country. And it produces million tonnes of carbon dioxides. And even hardware
NFTs work on those same principles. But what are NFTs? NFT stands for Non-Fungible Token, or the most boring sounding word salad ever created. An NFT is supposedly ownership of a piece of art. I say supposedly, because even by its own admission, you don’t have the actual ownership. You have the artwork (I think?), but the NFT is what’s “important”. Which itself is a glorified hyperlink that claims you have ownership over the artwork. Not the artwork itself, but sort of a certificate of ownership. And there’s no guarantee the hyperlink will be kept up after a long time. Nor does it actually guarantee ownership of the work. Heck, if you right-click and save the image, you technically own it. And NFT-bros are infuriated with this practice.
What is its purpose then? Absolutely none. Just like farming coins, the minting of NFTs is causing harm to the environment. And the artwork coming from NFT-groups look… fucking ugly. If you’ve seen one of these fucking apes, they are being sold online. I presume they are created by a random generator with assets thrown together. There isn’t any cohesion around these pictures, more like a character creator from a video game.
Then why do those exists? And what is its purpose? It’s simple. Ownership. The chance to own something truly unique. The fact that you have something that is yours and only yours. The prestige of an invaluable work of art. Despite the fact that these things look horrendous, companies adopt NFTs, even going as far as selling them. On one hand, they want to hop on this “trend” that, even though it’s receiving mostly backlash, would give them more profit. On the other, they hope to incorporate NFTs into society, normalise it. So the general audience would buy into it as well.
It reminds me of a Doctor Who story, City of Death. In it, the Doctor and his companion go to modern-day Paris (or when it was recorded at least) to see the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. There, they come across the alien Skagra of the Jagaroth species. Skagra, disguised as a baron, plans to create a time machine to rectify a mistake he made in the past. However, the project needs financing. To get the necessary funds, Skagra, along with his other selves scattered throughout the past, devise a plan to gather multiple copies of famous art and books. That’s why he has 6 copies of the Mona Lisa, all painted by Leonardo Da Vinci, already in his possession. The 7th one, hanging in the Louvre, is going to be stolen by him. Because he knows there are precisely 7 buyers in the world who want the Mona Lisa. Of course, he would keep the fact that there are 7 Mona Lisas a secret to his buyers. Ironically, in real life, the painting became famous after it was stolen from the Louvre in 1911.
Why do I bring this up? To Skagra, art is nothing more than a commodity, a means to an end. Its value is only measured into the money it brings into his account. It doesn’t matter what the subject is or what meaning it has. Only that it’s highly regarded and that it brings bank.
That’s what those NFT-bros remind me of. It’s not about the artwork. The value of those hideous prints is measured with how much it brings in. The whole thing is a get-rich-quick scheme, trying to get large amounts of money in less time. Celebs are now promoting NFTs, not knowing what they are or the harm they cause. But they’re obligated to promote it, so NFTs gain a foothold.
If I may bring up another example, it also reminds me of the film The Man Who Sold his Skin. It’s about a Syrian man called Sam, having fled to Lebanon from the law. The love of his life has married a richer man with status and is now living in Brussels. During his stay in Lebanon, Sam meets a famous eccentric artist, who offers to tattoo his back, to become his canvas. Sam agrees and gets the chance to visit Brussels. Only he has to sit on a stool in museums to showcase the art on his back, ironically a large replica of a Schengen visa. During the film, Sam gets stripped of his humanity, being stalled and sold like a piece of meat for rich people. NFTs reminds me of this, the illusion that art is something being sold to rich people.
But frankly, NFTs are a perversion of everything art is. Yes, there are famous artists whose work cost fortunes. And yes, there are rich people buying it only for the status. But the truth is, everyone can art. Art is something that’s ingrained in the human psyche. From a larger standpoint, art is totally unnecessary. It’s not as important as say food, water or sleep. And yet, we create art. We like to draw, make music, tell stories to others. Because art is expression. Art nourishes us more than we think we realise. We couldn’t be without it. And the thing is, you can do it. Even the smallest doodle from someone who isn’t good at drawing is already art.
Not only are NFTs less than art, they also cause harm to the environment. It’s an unhinged scam with no oversight. There are multiple instances of artists who had their work stolen and then sold as an NFT. A famous example, is of NFT-bros paying 1;6 million for a book with artwork from Jodorowsky’s cancelled Dune film. The misguided purpose was to have ownership over the art itself and then pitch it to studios. After realising the error they’ve made, they then decided to copy the artwork, sell it as NFTs and then burn the book. Even though multiple outlets on Twitter put a link where you can find the art of the book… for free!
Sorry if this article was a rambling mess. I know the primary concern should be talking about the damage to the environment by these things. But I wanted to write this of how I felt regarding the art status of it all. I will include a link to a video that talks about the harm of NFTs in better detail than me.
As for the artists who made the crypto-art displayed at the station, I have nothing against them. I have the feeling they got roped into a scheme like many others. And I hope that they got paid for it at the least. But the display of it, claiming crypto-art is something more special than real art, is dishonest and insulting. The people responsible for this exhibition have no interest in actual art, and do it just because it’s the new-and-upcoming. Even though this is a trend that we will pay dearly with our lives.
God, this country is so fucking backwards. Even in an attempt to modernise, we can’t stop to screw things up.
Oh, and just as I was about to finish this post, I found another article about a diamond company, creating a “diamond brand in the metaverse” and using “blockchain technology to link physical and digital diamond ownership” (what). And to add the cherry on top, they promoted this with “an inaugural product drop of diamond-inspired NFTs”.
I can’t make this up, even if I want to.