On Friday, Kevin Abosch – an Irish conceptual artist who was one of the first to use blockchain technology as a medium – reported that a dastardly robbery had been committed in one of his on-chain installations, an Ethereum wallet-converted artwork entitled ‘Stealing De contents of this wallet is a crime “(2018).
In a Tweet, the artist, whose work was exhibited at The Hermitage, said a CryptoKitty had been wiped from the open-access address:
Hi @CryptoKitties/@dapperlabs – Someone gave me a tip that “IAMA Kitty” in the #crypto wallet of my artwork “Stealing The Contents of This Wallet is a Crime” (2018). I can confirm that it has just been “stolen”. #I’M A #IAMACOIN #IAMAKitty pic.twitter.com/vq1RmktSs0
– Kevin Abosch (@kevinabosch) November 13, 2020
“Stealing the Content …” is one of what Abosch calls his “social experiments that challenge value systems” – a conceptual framework especially suited to the crypto world. Part of “Stealing The Contents …” included tokens deposited in the wallet from his “I Am A Coin” (2018) piece, in which Abosch tokenized himself in a process involving the artist’s own blood to distribute 10 million tokens with the ‘IAMA’ ticker.
He described ‘stealing …’ as a communal playground for explorers, and the participants responded largely with good will and good humor: art enthusiasts with Ethereum knowledge played with the occult implications of the blood tokens – for example, moving .666 from IAMA in and out of the “Stealing …” wallet, among other hijinks.
“I think people just wanted to interact with and therefore, in a sense, wanted to be part of the art,” Abosch said.
These ideals are exactly what made Friday’s theft so cruel. Even for a space full of scammers, charlatans, and crooks, stealing a CryptoKitty – one named in honor of his work, no less – from a freely accessible wallet seemed unusually petty.
When asked in an interview if he had been upset by the theft, Abosch began to laugh.
“Actually, I stole it,” he confessed.
The perversion of digital scarcity
Abosch explained to Cointelegraph that a friend had told him that the Kitty was deposited in the wallet and that he named “IAMA Kitty”, and he assumed it was a gift intended for him from Dapper Labs.
“I thought I should have,” he said.
However, Abosch made it clear that this cat burglary wouldn’t be the start of a larger NFT collectibles or art collection. As the conversation turned to the state of blockchain-based art, he expressed dismay at a number of ongoing trends, starting with the appreciation of digital art that was primarily rooted in their rarity.
“I think there’s something perverse about technical scarcity,” he said.
Bronze sculptures, he explained, are scarce because sculptors can only afford so much bronze – with real art, there are inherent resource constraints. Digital scarcity, on the other hand, is completely artificial.
Likewise, the current wave of artists releasing their work as non-replaceable tokens (NFTs) is not impressing him.
“Many so-called crypto artists hit NFTs, but only use blockchain technology as a tool to create scarcity and as a platform to sell their work,” he said. “I don’t make a qualitative assessment of the work – I just draw on the nomenclature. Of course there are artists whose work is thematically related to cryptocurrency, blockchain technology […] which seems more appropriate for the term crypto art. “
He went on to explain that pieces that use the technology in more innovative ways really get him excited.
“What interests me more are pieces where blockchain is the method, where the soul or flesh of the piece is integrally woven into the blockchain,” he said. “The NFT only addresses the platform that facilitated the currency and its sale.”
The wave of speculators and collectors moving into NFT-backed art also seemed to make him uncomfortable.
“I think people buy art for one or more of three reasons: because they really want to experience the work, as a form of social proof, or as an investment opportunity.”
Far too few, he suggested, buy art for the experience.
He complained that among the medium, the artists and the buyers, the current crypto art landscape has effectively recreated the dirtiest qualities of the ancient art world – what he called ‘one of the most corrupt industries in the world’ – both fueled by avarice, ego and hype.
A new generation of collectors
While Abosch’s complaints may strike some as the archetypal grumbling of an old head pooping the new generation, he does see a bright spot beneath the NFT art madness: an upcoming community of art enthusiasts focused on chain work.
“I wonder when crypto-bros discuss the immaterial nature of their art, whether they delve into the philosophical implications of materiality and ownership,” he continued. “There is a very younger generation of people who do not resemble the physical, although they still seem to crave the rare.”
Slipping back to a more sardonic tone, he went on to say that the collectors enjoy it better too, because at current prices they might hang around with their purchases for a while.
Too many people buy as an investment, he said, hoping to resell at a later date under the even more insane NFT mania.
“I just don’t think there is that much money floating around,” he warned. “There is a perception that this is a gold rush, but I’m not sure there is gold in those hills.”
Regardless of his suspicions, he’ll allow himself at least one adorable NFT collectible.
‘My kids said they wanted a kitten. Let’s see how they react. ”