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Two sides of a (crypto) coin

Museum Link:

Source Link:

Date Minted: February 23, 2021

Artist Description: What's it worth to you?

CohentheWriter’s Commentary:

Conceptual art is difficult to pull-off successfully when working in the purely digital realm. Physical art, by nature, is afforded the luxury of greater context: that of its physical surroundings, the immersivity and structure of its location, its garnering certain characteristics based only on place and time. With Crypto Art, any conceptualist ideology must make do with what a flat screen and variable webpage delivery mechanism may communicate, and thus a certain pigeonholing is necessitated, and additionally, the audience takes on a much greater role in helping to ascribe meaning to the piece, especially because that audience can be seeing the piece from anywhere, at any time, in all variety of contexts. Successfully conceptualist Crypto Art is thus doubly-impressive, and thus I’m doubly-impressed by 0xBull’s Two Sides of a (Crypto) coin, a highly-conceptualist and tremendously clever piece about the inherently unstable nature of cryptocurrency. But not only is 0xBull able to impressively communicate their artistic aims in this piece’s limited space and limited artistry, but is able to somehow set it into a context as well, quite cunningly using their prospective audience’s ingrained knowledge not only of the cryptocurrency arena, but of the opinions of those outside of it.

As it relates to the “limited artistry” mentioned above, what I mean is that there isn’t a ton of physical imagery available for us here to decipher through. Two Sides of a (Crypto) coin is bifurcated into two nearly-equal sections, a top section with a completely black background upon which are printed the words “Intrinsic Value,” clearly and in easily-discernible block letter, and a bottom section, which is of equal length and size to its counterpart, but which is completely white of background, and which displays the blurry, fuzzy words “Thin air” followed by equally blurry ellipses “...” That’s as much as 0xBull provides for us in terms of generating comprehensive meaning from the piece. With these few building blocks, we’re asked to decipher the artist’s intent behind the piece’s creation.

But these few building blocks, as mentioned, are pretty carefully composed to give us plenty to discuss and think about. Before talking about how the artist imbues Two Sides of a (Crypto) coin with context, it’s worthwhile to discuss exactly what I believe to be going on here. Because we’re dealing, yes, with dualities, but we’re also confronted, both within the piece itself and outside of it, like in its title, with the realities of finance. Much Crypto Art is constructed within the context of Cryptocurrency itself, and as such, allusions to Bitcoin or Ethereum are common, whether presented overtly or tacitly, as they are here. The idea of a thing having intrinsic value is the major knock against these cryptocurrencies, which critics say make it a kind of ponzi scheme, requiring the compounding buy-in of entire markets to sustain value, that it’s speculative, that it could go to 0 at any point. This idea is presented to us clearly in the form of the white letters upon a black background, capturing all the connotations of the aforementioned criticism. But the reality of this disintegration of value, which I believe is denoted in the “Thin Air…” section of the piece, is a bit blurrier. Because, and I think this is true of almost everybody within the Crypto Art world, the idea of cryptocurrency’s being valueless is without merit, is hard to comprehend, is built on fuzzy, blurry logic. Because all things maintain their value through belief, be it expensive furniture, Dolce & Gabbana handbags, or Fiat currency itself. Belief is the prime director of markets in general, observable in the constant futures market movement based on anticipated predictors of price, on fear over world events, etc. And so while the criticism itself is clear, the interpretation is murky and difficult to digest. Yes, all of these cryptocurrencies may see their intrinsic value vanish into thin air, but the value is something we can see, recorded for all to witness, whereas the exact notion of that thin air is almost unbelievable, not impossible, but difficult to comprehend.

What we can’t know, of course, is whether 0xBull is using this piece to criticize the criticizers of cryptocurrency, those exclaiming to the heavens its lack of value, or whether the artist is criticizing the currency’s believers for being naive, or for being willfully obstructive when arguments against the underlying technology are put forth. 

Regardless, let’s discuss the context this piece creates, or rather the one it steps into. 0xBull demonstrates a masterful understanding of the cryptocurrency space itself and the loudest voices within it. And in constructing this conceptual work, they use this knowledge to their advantage, deciding on terms and effects which conjure images and individuals most of us within the community know. The doubters. The ultra-defenders. The maxies. The critics. The highly-defensive. The idealists. The scam artists. In just a few words, 0xBull pulls memories and associations from within us, and then we use those memories and bits of knowledge to paint ourselves a personal meaning for this piece, one built upon our own experiences. Of course, we as observers always bring our own histories to every art piece, but whereas physical conceptual art will usually overtly construct a context for the pieces to sit in, 0xBull encourages us to construct our own context, with all of us bringing to this piece a similar outline of experience but with various filling. Is this piece about those critical of cryptocurrency or those who diminish the criticism? I suspect you and I, and the next observer too, will all have different answers. 

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