Domenico Quaranta, Surfing con Satoshi. Arte, blockchain e NFT, Postmedia Books, Milan 2021. 250 pp., 87 ill., 220 x 140 mm, isbn 9788874903030. Italian.
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Introduction (Medium, Italian but easily Google-translatable 🙂
“media art, like Bitcoin, tries to manage the contradictions of digital scarcity by limiting the illimitable.” Hito Steyerl 2016
At the beginning of 2021, the booming NFT (Non Fungible Token) market opened up in the art world the debate on the blockchain, the decentralized public ledger on which tokens coexist with cryptocurrencies, promising “verifiable digital scarcity.” In reality the blockchain, born out of the 2008 financial crisis and seen by many as the foundation of a new, more private and secure Web 3.0, has already changed the world economy and is reshaping the digital environment in which art is increasingly created, distributed and exchanged.
Written in the turmoil of a technological hype and a speculative bubble, this volume places the promises of the NFT market in a historical perspective that deepens and analyzes the developments of the technologies on which it is based, the role of certificates and contracts in contemporary art, and the evolution of the media art market over the last thirty years. Riding the wave of an ongoing debate, Surfing con Satoshi faces a series of still open questions, such as: what does art have to do with the blockchain? Does it make sense to talk about “Crypto Art”? What defines it, apart from the way it is traded? What is there in this world, besides speculation? How is it possible to attribute the character of uniqueness to an infinitely reproducible digital file? Will the promise of disintermediation of the blockchain destroy the world of art as we know it? How is the art world reacting? Are NFTs an opportunity for artists or a scam against artists? Who are the collectors willing to pay millions for a certificate of authenticity, and why do they do it? Why do the visual arts seem to have acquired such a central role in the cryptocurrency economy?
Surfing con Satoshi borrows its title from the “turbofilm” shot by Alterazioni Video in 2013. In this sort of bizarre mockumentary, the traces of Satoshi Nakamoto, the blockchain’s legendary inventor, are lost in a cave in Puerto Rico, where apparently he was planning “the next revolution” with the complicity of hackers and artists. Is that conspiracy coming true? What role does art play in the future of the blockchain?
Domenico Quaranta is an art critic, curator and teacher interested in the ways in which the ongoing technological changes affect contemporary artistic practices. His texts have appeared in numerous magazines, newspapers, books and catalogs. He is the author, among other things, of Beyond New Media Art (2013) and editor of several volumes, including GameScenes. Art in the Age of Videogames (2006, with M. Bittanti). Since 2005 he has curated several exhibitions, including Collect the WWWorld. The Artist as Archivist in the Internet Age (Brescia 2011; Basel and New York 2012); Cyphoria (Quadriennale 2016, Rome) and Hyperemployment (MGLC, Ljubljana 2019 – 2020). He is a Professor of Interactive Systems and a co-founder of the Link Art Center (2011 – 2019). More information: http://domenicoquaranta.com.
Chapter 1. Utopia and dystopia of the blockchain
• The crisis of trust and the birth of Bitcoin • A chain of brilliant combinations • Bitcoin, Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies • Verifiable digital scarcity: NFTs • Utopia and dystopia of the blockchain
Chapter 2. Art and blockchain
• Rethinking the blockchain • Artist currencies • Blockchain narratives
Chapter 3. Reproducibility, value and the media art market
• Allographic works • Zones of immaterial sensibility • Certificates, contracts and ledgers • Art as currency • Reproducibility and scarcity in the digital medium • The media art market
Chapter 4. Crypto Art?
• Monetized graphics and conceptual contracts • Rare Pepes, Cryptopunks and Cryptokitties • The advent of NFT marketplaces and the Crypto Art community • Beeple, Pak and Mad Dog Jones • The return of the "middleman", from artwashing to curated platforms • Crypto Art does not exist
Chapter 5. The NFT craze between utopia and speculation
• An assertion of crypto's worth • Property as a consensual hallucination • Marketplaces and Metaverses • Collectors • The speculative bubble • Empowerment and opportunities • Alternative models: Feral File and left gallery • Alternative models: art galleries on the blockchain