Robness, how to burn a cryptopunk and not feel a thing, Bits Pieces, hart magazine, digital art, NFT alexandra crouwers

Bits & Pieces: trash art | ROBNESS


From the digital art collection of Alexandra Crouwers: Robness
Alexandra Crouwers. Published May 6, 2022. Link to article

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In a fairly recent development, digital art can be traded and collected in editions through NFTs (*). Starting from her own digital artistic practice, Alexandra Crouwers is building up a collection of works both by established artists and anonymous creators. In this column, she highlights a new piece from that collection each time.

Robness, how to burn a cryptopunk and not feel a thing, Bits Pieces, hart magazine, digital art, NFT alexandra crouwers

In 1966, the now legendary Destruction In Art Symposium (DIAS) took place in London. The event was centred on destruction as a performative act and featured, amongst many others, Yoko Ono’s famous Cut Piece, where the audience was ‘invited’ – with the aid of a pair of scissors – to cut up and tear the artist’s clothing.

The following decade saw the hippies of the 1960s and their singular message of Peace and Love shoved aside for a much bleaker and more violent world view, reflected in the punk movement of the late 1970s. As is often the case with the arts, DIAS turned out to be miles ahead of the social curve, with figures such as Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren turning destroyed garments into fashion.

HOW TO BURN A CRYPTOPUNK AND NOT FEEL A THING…….A TUTORIAL(**) is a performance by Robness consisting of a video recording of the artist ‘BURNING A CRYPTOPUNK LIVE ON CAMERA’. His communication is characterized by a typographic holler: it’s ALL CAPS all around. It signals the authority of this crypto-art OG and king of the trash art genre [1].

With a swagger seemingly inherent to the West Coast of the US, Robness – present as a (to my European ears) eerily Elvis Presley-esque voice-over – films the computer screen using presumably his phone. He takes us through trashing an NFT. There’s such a wealth of art and crypto references to unpack here, my first draft for this column threatened to expand into a lengthy essay.

For the sake of this format, however, I’m resorting to compressing some of the associations I have with this work into a few sentences. First, there’s the anti-art movement in the tradition of Duchamp and Warhol. Then there’s the historical background of this particular NFT (a quintessential example of the commodification of an early anarchist PfP project [2]). The trash art/punk connection explores the idea of ownership and remixing in art, which reminds me of Pierre Huyghe and Philippe Parreno’s amazing project No Ghost Just a Shell (1999). And finally, inseparable from Robness’ own unconventional artistic trajectory, which got him temporarily banned from a large NFT platform, there’s the complex relation between libertarian blockchain pioneers, self-taught digital artists and traditional art world gatekeepers.

Obviously, the video-performance is a piece of NFT history for an number of reasons, but for a wider audience the most striking feature of the work is probably the fact that, at the time of writing this column, a CryptoPunk is worth the equivalent of about 160,000 euro.

Let’s return to what is happening on the screen(s). Robness enhances the casually brash atmosphere by first selecting James Brown’s The Boss as soundtrack, and proceeds to open a browser tab showing Punk 2317. He then pastes a string of letters and numbers into a popup field – this is a so-called ‘burn address’, the blockchain’s equivalent of a trash bin – and sends it off for processing: ‘Happy trash day, everyone.’

* Non-fungible tokens are crypto-sales contracts recorded on blockchains – in this case, the energy-efficient Tezos – connected to digital files.

** OBJKT#166040 is the first part of the burning of Punk 2317, imagining the destruction of the image as a visual analogy.

*** In 1995, the K Foundation – former members of successful concept band The KLF – literally set fire to 1,000,000 pounds. They entertain a similarly frictional relationship with the contemporary art world.

[1] Trash art identifies itself with the use of ‘poor images’ or ‘lazy effects’. In the words of Robness: ‘I would joke, if you don’t make it in under 5 minutes, it’s not a Trash GIF.’

[2] PfP stands for profile picture, the avatar images used for social media instead of a portrait photo. Collections of generative images can be compared to wearing a personalized button of a favourite band, or to collectible cards. The artistic value is usually negligible.