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Who plays the game?

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Date Minted: May 16, 2020

Artist Description: Whale watching is not only a task for Sea Shepherd and environmentalists, but also the duty of investors and market analysts of crypto currencies. Because the appearance or
disappearance of a whale can certainly influence the price development. Those who do not take the trouble to analyze conspicuous transactions cannot recognize such price manipulations and thus cannot protect themselves from bad investments. Don't trust, verify!

CohentheWriter’s Commentary:

Uwe Dresemen, working under the SuperRare pseudonym Buzzlightning, is a functionally prolific artist. With over 200 pieces listed on SuperRare, Dresemen’s bulky catalog confirms his impressive, overflowing artistic sensibility. Who plays the game?, while perhaps a bit simplistic when seen in a vacuum, is better approached as a node within the artist’s larger collection. Just judging from the oeuvre available on SuperRare, it’s obvious that Dresemen has a fascination not just with cryptocurrency as a socio-philosophical touchstone, but with the financial and technological underpinnings which propel the Crypto infrastructure forward. Dresemen’s art is not only heavily self-referential, but prides itself on including symbols and motifs that would be obscure, if not outright inane, to anyone uninitiated with the Cryptocurrency world.  I suppose you could argue that this makes Dresemen’s art somewhat exclusionary. I’d argue the opposite. It’s ripe for connection, just not on any kind of universalist level. Plenty of physical artists have made their careers by making art that can only be understood by others from the same country. Coincidentally, it does feel like the crypto art world is its own island nation. It has its own language, more or less, so why wouldn’t it have its own art? 

All of which is to say that Who plays the game? is not meant for the uninitiated. This piece is intended for those within the larger cryptocurrency contingent, those aware of the market’s tendency to bend towards price manipulation, its cycle of easily-exploitable hype, explosion, and implosion which seems to repeat itself every few months. Dispelling the underlying message of the piece, we’re left with something like this: Hyper-wealthy individuals with enormous liquid income, commonly known as whales, will use shady tactics of buying and selling large quantities of a Cryptocurrency or NFT, usually at misleading price points, in order to point the market up or down, knowing that the subsequent frenzy of buying and/or selling will not only provide them the exit liquidity they need to cash-out themselves, but also allow them to make a substantial profit, even at the expense of any smaller traders hoping to ride the wave of enthusiasm. Now, apply this ideology to the actual imagery in the piece, where a small, glowing ochre orb —plastered over with the Bitcoin symbol— flows through a complex system of tubing and eventually empties out into the mouth of a realistically-rendered whale; the whale consumes the orb, which promptly emerges out of its blowhole, and, after the orb is blown up into the air, the whale smacks it forward with its tail, pushing it back into the labyrinthine drainage from whence it came.  

This piece doesn’t seem too interested in subtlety, and it doesn’t seem interested in challenging us or our sensibilities either. Who plays the game? is a simple artwork. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, but only that it’s simple. There’s simple movement, and there are simple colors. There’s a simple sequencing to what we’re witnessing here, and no real internal or contextual contradictions to the overarching narrative I’ve presented above. If anything, the artist seems to have made it as easy as possible to come to the previous reading. He added an Artist Description with short, declarative sentences basically proclaiming as much.

Crypto investing is difficult, especially as a shallow-pocketed retail investor. Look at the Whale, how it expresses no emotion, nor interest or enthusiasm, as it engages with this repetitive cycle of pumping, dumping, and pocketing gains. The literality of the animal imagery seems to suggest that Whales are at the mercy of the same instincts that govern the animal kingdom. We would not expect a whale, a physical whale, to do anything but slowly move, at a speed which befits its bulk, consuming the incredible amounts of food it requires to sustain itself and then moving on to the next meal. In the same way, there seems to be an odd display of pity on the artist’s part for the Whales, who by all appearances are at the mercy of forces more powerful than they are, which dictate certain actions, which necessitate the unscrupulousness they engage in. Morals fall away in favor of profit. So does empathy. The fat wallets and the deep pockets, like giant stomachs, demand to be fed, and those poor souls dragged around by their guts are emptied of their virtue in favor of fresh feed. 

And notice too how futile this entire endeavor ends up being. The Bitcoin in question, which cycles through the system and through the whale and back into the matrix from which it sprung, never gets any bigger, never gets any smaller, never ends up changed. Passing through the whale’s intestine is just as uninteresting and unmoving an action as the Bitcoin moving through the market (the Labyrinth). The Whale ejects whatever it takes in. It never is nourished, never is fulfilled, never can move on. It is connected, indelibly and irreversibly, to the system which engorges it. There’s something pathetic about that connection: an impersonal market, a careless crypto-coin, and the Whale which hangs about it, desperate for more.

But Buzzlightning’s pity for the whales is second to his concern for the dangerous reality retail investors invoke when entering the market. The Artist Description makes clear that this piece is a pictorial warning to potential Crypto investors, one that displays the dangers of unresearched investing, of being blindly led onto the hype train, of not doing one’s due diligence on market transactions. The whales might be sad, pathetic creatures, but they’ll nevertheless eat-up retail investors like krill. And vomit out money again like ambergris. 

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