The core artistic principle and theory of media we have centered our class around this semester has been “critical making.” When defining critical making, Garnet Hertz said “critical making, as I see it, is useful in reintroducing a sense of criticality back into post-2010 maker culture: to un-sanitize, un-smooth and re-politicize it,” encouraging critical thought and reflection. As I sat with this idea, I realized that one of the most popular forms of media art in 2022 really conflicted with this idea of critical making and failed to invoke and represent social and political art. The media form I was thinking of was NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, the timely and fitting example of “new media,” as understood and defined by Mark Hansen. NFTs as an art form relies on the medium; hosted by blockchain technology, the interaction of cryptocurrency, the crypto wallet, and Web3 create the full NFT experience. NFTs serve to share and distribute art in contemporary and innovative ways fulfilling Hansen’s understanding of new media as “changing the conditions for the production of experience.”
I specifically chose to work with NFTs for this project because I believe NFTs have attempted to fulfill the standards for “critical making.” Discussions around Blockchain technology and Web3 have focused heavily on the idea of decentralization. Blockchain technology aims to decentralize power and wealth and NFTs build upon that to create an outlet for artists to reclaim ownership of their art. Under this theory of decentralization, NFTs seem to be a quintessential form of critical making, providing for nuanced conversations around control, government, and social structures. Though, Moxie Marlinspike explains that “instead of storing the data on-chain, NFTs […] contain a URL that points to the data,” meaning the full vision of reclaiming ownership has yet to be reached, with there being “nothing in the NFT spec that tells you what the image ‘should’ be, or even allows you to confirm whether something is the ‘correct’ image.”
Furthermore, critical making requires more than simply understanding political theory and expressing social commentary – critical making requires us to consider how our art interacts with the tangible world, something NFT sellers and traders often disregard. Blockchain technology was intentionally designed to be inefficient – relying on complex, heavy-power algorithms to secure passwords and verify transactions. As a result, blockchain employs energy consumption on larger-than-life scales with the mining of one BitCoin requiring more energy than a single-family household uses in a month. The adverse impacts on the environment as a result of this energy consumption by way of pollution and a massive carbon footprint keep NFTs from reaching the status of “critical making.”
On the theme of Web3, I wanted to incorporate discussions of the MetaVerse and digital property ownership into my project. Digital commodities are still a scarcity in the way that physical resources are because of how the Internet interacts with the tangible world. I wanted to incorporate this conversation into my project as well and embedded NFTs into a MetaVerse market.
For my final project, I created a visual presentation of a “monopoly” board. I originally began my project before the midterm with just a variety of NFT animations for which the visual presentation depended on the purchase of other NFTs. After my midterm critique, I began to delve into how to bring more conversations about the MetaVerse and represent these NFTs as resources or commodities.
My project allows a user to begin with purchasing an NFT, or “property” on the monopoly board. The user is then able to play the animation – a simple gratification reward for purchasing the NFT, with no strings attached. As the user begins to “collect” more properties and purchase more NFTs, the quality of the animation begins to fade away. In its place, video input of real climate disasters begins to distort the image. The overlay of these climate videos serves to bring NFTs back to the tangible world and make that connection that critical making requires and explores the true social and political impact of this art. While the user is purchasing and playing their NFT animations, they can listen to audio explaining the technology and rationale behind NFTs. However, I instruct the user to “increase” the volume on the “NFT animations” after they purchase a few. In reality, this is simply just adjusting the signal input for the audio output and begins to play audio from a news coverage video, describing the climate disasters happening around the world. This audio begins to overtake the NFT audio and doubles down on the need to reconnect NFTs with their connection to physical people, resources, and environments. I included these distorted and overlaid audios as a result of the feedback I received from my peers during the midterm critique to provide a more immersive user experience.
The first artist I took inspiration from when working on this project was Bree Newsome, who I learned about through Alistair’s artist presentation. I was specifically inspired by this piece: https://www.instagram.com/tv/CROcJTOJjnf/ which informed my use of overlays with both video and audio. This piece really emphasized hypocrisy in the political world and reminded me of the hypocrisy between NFTs and the environmental discourse. We can see this hypocrisy when we think of important figures in the tech world such as Elon Musk who claim to champion environmental protection with companies like Tesla but involve themselves in Web3 and cryptocurrency like DogeCoin. Another piece I took from is the Electro Electro 2020 project (https://cycling74.com/projects/electo-electro-2020) which creates audios from political debates. This inspired the inclusion of specific political audio in my piece and how it can be distorted.
My project aims to support the original theories of critical making as described by Ratto by encouraging social reflection and emphasizing the “making” with the connection to the real world. My project, however, challenges the need for a hands-on or tangible product to be considered for the “making” aspect of critical making. The commentary of the connection to the tangible world, in my perspective, fulfills that need without needing a tangible final product. My intended audience with this project is to attract those who are already involved with or hold an interest in NFTs, cryptocurrency, and Web3. I named my project “Metaverse Monopoly” intentionally, keeping the social reflections hidden and vague from the start, to attract viewers from the Web3 side. Through my project, I hope to encourage the audience to critically reflect on their engagement and understanding of Web3, NFTs, and the Metaverse as well as encourage those who are unfamiliar with the concepts to explore them. I believe it is crucial that we increase the literacy of Web3 and blockchain technology, especially as big-tech companies like Facebook begin to move into these spaces and can take advantage of the general lack of knowledge on these issues to profit off of the people.
Below is my first draft and outline of my project, where I originally planned to use generative art; however, I realized that it did not fit my theme accurately and was visually pleasing but distracting to the overall message.
Below is an example of an NFT animation I screen recorded to use in my patch.
The following two pictures are in-progress shots of my patch as I worked on them during and after the midterm.