“Message IS the BOTtle” is an NFT digital animation piece that attempts to be an example of critical making, but, in my opinion, falls short.

NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are a quintessential example of “new media.” The use of blockchain technology to host and distribute art utilizes the Internet and computation in a new and innovative way, highlighting “new media”. Most commonly, NFTs have been in the form of digital visual art and animation but have also been used for music distribution, sports trading, and more. In theory, NFTs provide a decentralized outlet for artists to reclaim their digital art and change the conversation around why art should be compensated and valued. However, NFTs, in practice, have posed many obstacles to achieving this utopian marketplace. NFTs in practice only hold value as the audience for NFTs grows, representing a quasi-pyramid scheme and focusing a significant portion of the conversation of art around ownership and receipts. This detracts away from the appreciation and social conversation that art sparks and devalues the creative aspects.

This piece, “Message IS the BOTtle,” is a part of the “Ocean Drop” collection hosted on the DoinGud NFT Marketplace Platform. DoinGud was created with the intention of developing an avenue for creators to direct support for social causes through their NFT art. DoinGud boasts “accessible and sustainable NFTs” and “community-owned galleries,” presenting a socially conscious image behind their product.

The description of “Message IS the BOTtle” reads as follows:

“In this digital animation, the bottle is a metaphor for human consciousness, as we embrace the technological advancement of the blockchain. Historically the bottle was a vessel carrying a distress signal. The mirror ambigram SOS now is the bottle itself reflected in the ocean, a desperate call to attention of plastic waste pollution. The dual message also comes from the longing we humans have to connect with others through the technologies, at the cost of destroying the beautiful, romantic sunset ocean view. The bottle is a message from the past to the future – a symbolism of conscious efforts to shape a way we coexist harmoniously with nature and technology.”

This description really highlights the way in which this piece, and NFTs en masse, contradict our definition of critical making. Matt Ratto’s definition of critical making requires critical social reflection, which this piece fails to do. Blockchain technology is incredibly energy-inefficient, on purpose. Using exorbitant amounts of energy is required to keep the blockchain secure and verify transactions. The detrimental environmental impact of NFTs makes the attempt to spread a message of “coexisting harmoniously with nature and technology” seem frivolous. We understand that the medium truly is the message, and in this case, the medium of NFTs voids any attempt to share a socially critical message.

In 2022, we must understand that the impacts of the technology we are using to create “critical art” must be seriously considered and accounted for.

The following picture shows the “Message IS the BOTtle” NFT hosted on the DoinGud website. I’ve provided a link to this product here for a better viewing experience, as the NFT is a digital animation.