Web3 Galaxy Brain 🌌🧠

Web3 Galaxy Brain

Rhea Myers, Blockchain Artist

12 October 2023


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Nicholas: Before we get started, I'm collecting listener testimonies for a new section on the website. If you love Web3 Galaxy Brain, please send me a tweet-length message saying why you listen and what makes the show special for you. DM me your testimony @Nicholas with four leading ends on Twitter or Telegram or @Nicholas on Warpcast. Thank you. Welcome to Web3 Galaxy Brain. My name is Nicholas. Each week, I sit down with some of the brightest people building Web3 to talk about what they're working on right now. My guest today is artist Ria Meyers. Ria is a programmer, essayist, researcher, thinker, and art practitioner who's been working in the medium of blockchain for over a decade. In this conversation, Ria takes us through some of the works and writing in her 2011 to 2021 retrospective, Proof of Work, which is a gorgeous book in the print edition. I've been wanting to interview Ria for some time. It was exciting to sit down with her for this sprawling and deep conversation about art, technology, culture, politics, and everything in between. I hope you enjoy the show. As always, this show is provided as entertainment and does not constitute legal, financial or tax advice or any form of endorsement or suggestion. Crypto has risks and you alone are responsible for doing your research and making your own decisions.

Rhea Myers: Hey, Ria.

Nicholas: Welcome. Thank you. I'm happy to have you here. I always identify you with the Vancouver scene.

Rhea Myers: Yes. And that's very much where I'm from cryptographically, yes.

Nicholas: Is that also where you're from artistically?

Rhea Myers: A bit. Like I was in the UK for sort of all of my life prior to Vancouver. So that's several decades and like Vancouver thinks of itself still as this very sleepy logging town that's about to fall into the Pacific, but it's actually been integrated into the global telecommunications network since the '60s at the latest. So there were groups here like N.E.Thing Corporation, who were sort of very early network artists when that meant using a teletype and all sorts of, you know, public access video art and satellite video link up art when that was fairly literal rocket science. It's like we're quite used to Zoom calling someone around the other side of the planet now, but the infrastructure to set that up in the early 1970s was beyond the means of most people. But yeah, Vancouver dialed in to some of that. But no, I mean, my heart is sort of in English and French and American art history, possibly transatlantic art history, hence the accent, but yeah.

Nicholas: Tell me about your college experience because you went to art college, right?

Rhea Myers: I did, yes. So I went to art school in England at the end of the post-war settlement, by which I mean I was lucky/privileged enough that the state would basically pay for me to go to art school. So whenever people ask me for advice about, "Hey, should I go to art school? How can I?" I'd be like, "Well, you can't do what I did because none of us voted hard enough to keep it.". So I'm very sorry about that. But yeah, I did my art foundation year at Kingston Polytechnic and graduated from Kingston University, which was nice when they changed over. I did my BA in Graphic Fine Arts at Canterbury College of Art, which at the time was part of the grandly named Kent Institute of Art and Design, and it's now part of the, I think it's the South East Arts University, I can't remember what it is. These colleges keep on eating each other. And then I did my MA, which was in Digital Art, but it was called Computing and Design because if you said design in the name of your course, you got more money than if you said art. Oh, that's important. Yeah, at Middlesex University in North London, which was one of the inheritors of Hornsey Art School, which had a sort of, you know, radical student occupation in the late 60s. And the course I was on had been running since the 70s in one form or another. So you had a real sense of history there, despite playing with very new Macintosh computers at the time and having access to sort of Unix workstations and other things that were fairly mind blowing in 1995, but are now very useful paperweights. So, yeah, I had sort of, I went to art school knowing I wanted to play with technology and sort of, I was lucky enough to be able to steal access to it all the way through, but it wasn't until Middlesex that I got the conceptual framework for that, which was amazing having access to, you know, to the history and the current state of what I guess then was cyberculture.

Nicholas: For people who weren't there or aren't so familiar with that subcultural art scene, maybe, can you give us a sense of what the vibe was like or what people were thinking about or what they weren't thinking about?

Rhea Myers: Yeah, yeah, totally. So, as history settles down, that's probably viewed as the early net art era. I knew that net art was going on and simply didn't understand it. It was the era of CD-ROMs, you could make art CD-ROMs, and that was interesting, sort of having interactive narrative and art, yeah. And you had interactive multimedia, either on the screen or projected, so like very, very expensive to rent, let alone buy video projectors, and you could sort of use an early webcam type camera to see what people were doing and respond to that. And yeah, it was the era where people haven't quite worked out what the internet was for. The UK was very behind North America in internet terms. Like, I didn't get access to the net until my MA.

Nicholas: So like, roughly, same computers, but no internet for a period of time.

Rhea Myers: Yes, yeah, yeah. And like, we hadn't settled down into. everything is basically Unix, apart from Windows, which is VMS. You had sort of people clinging on to the old 16-bit computers, like the Amiga and stuff. You had people using the Macintosh, which was its own little world, and everyone expected Apple to go bust at any moment. And yeah.

Nicholas: That's kind of omitted from the recollection, or at least the one I've inherited.

Rhea Myers: Yeah, yeah.

Nicholas: Was it Macintosh, or I mean, you identified with that somehow in the graphic work that you were doing, the vector art? Yes, yes.

Rhea Myers: Yeah. I mean, there was, like, I'm always a horrible reactionary/snob/late adopter in my use of technology and the Macintosh were just, like, at the turn of the '90s, the Macintosh could do graphics, and the PC simply couldn't. Like it wasn't until Windows '95 that you weren't basically joking if you were trying to do graphics on Windows. There were very advanced and lovely packages like 3D Studio on DOS, but Windows was, like, just horrible. And so, yeah, the Mac gave you access to graphics, and so people, Adobe, how do I phrase this? Despite the lawsuit by Quantel, Adobe successfully launched Photoshop, so you could do the kind of...

Nicholas: What was that?

Rhea Myers: Oh, okay. So Quantel was an English company from the 1970s who made a lovely device called the Quantel Paintbox. And if you imagine...

Nicholas: Paintbox is a great name. Yeah.

Rhea Myers: It is, isn't it? And at the end of the '70s, they commercialized something that allowed you to edit a frame of video at a time in full color, which, given that things were based on valves 20 years before that, was absolutely incredible. And yes, time went on in the '80s, it became more and more powerful. And if you look at sort of MTV style guide compliance television, then any colors drawn on any rotating logos and things that weren't made with a Lisp machine were probably done on a Quantel Paintbox or a Quantel Harry. And of course, they patented the algorithms and stuff that they used. Adobe were making some image editing software of their own, so Quantel got a bit grumpy about that. But Adobe were a big American corporation, and that counts for a lot. So yeah, they made Illustrator, Aldus made Freehand, Adobe made Illustrator. So just this sort of ability to take things that you previously had to use, dark rooms full of chemicals and glue and sort of different size scalpel blades and sort of metal or plastic sheets of different curves you could draw around with an ink pen, all of a sudden you could do something like it on a screen. And that absolutely divorces you from the materiality of the medium, but it also frees you from the constraints of the materiality of the medium. And so you get this explosion in graphic design, imagery, the last couple of years of the '80s and throughout the '90s of designers who could just frankly fuck shit up using a Macintosh and then get it printed in a Raygun magazine or whatever. And because I was young at the time, I soaked this all up through popular culture, through scene culture, through magazine culture, and through music culture, like the best bands had their own graphic design team relationship.

Nicholas: Sounds like also at the same time, it was a transition from hardware, like this Quantel example is a hardware device, to software.

Rhea Myers: Very much so. Yes. Yeah. In various ways. So you could edit typography and graphics and 3D models and stuff using very expensive, very custom hardware for a decade or two prior to that, but yeah, it being commodified and consumerized so that not just the media you were working on, but the tools you were working with were also software was very new. And this is where the free software, open source software becomes interesting because you can edit your tools. If you know how to program, you can edit your tools as easily as you can edit the material that you are using those tools on, and that's just really, you know, it renders everything tractable to manipulation as materials, basically within the same medium. Everything becomes code and everything can be modified as code. And so if you can mess around with the code, you're in a unique position to be able to engage with cultural materials at that level. There's always the economics of it, the sociology and politics of it, but at the level of sitting down somewhere and going, "Okay, I'm going to work with this," then that really opens everything back up.

Nicholas: I've been reading your book, Proof of Work, which covers...

Rhea Myers: Yay! Thank you!

Nicholas: Yes, it's excellent and fascinating, really, on every page. So it covers your work from 2011 to 2021.

Rhea Myers: Yes.

Nicholas: And speaking of free software, one of the themes that comes up is free art, and it's an important theme in your work. Do you think it's important that artists be allowed to use whatever source material they want? or does the advent of software somehow change the equation on this?

Rhea Myers: Yes, they should. So I came to this organically when I was at art school on my art foundation course that I mentioned. I was given the task of, it was a college project, of combining two different artworks and one of them was a Jackson Pollock splatter painting, and you look at it and you go, "Okay, I can splash paint around with that particular level of intensity, that's great.". And the other was a very abstract, early 20th century painting that was originally a cyclist, a bicycle rider, by an Italian futurist artist, and I looked at it and I was like, "I can't even see the cyclist in this, how can I competently marry these two works together?". And I went down to the library and had a look, and I had a book of sketches by this artist, including the preparatory sketches, the drawings that they'd done to prepare for the painting for that particular work, and the first one was like an early 1900s person on a bicycle, then it was them and some lines, then them and some triangles, then it all dissolved. And access to that knowledge gave me the ability to do that task. And then a few years later, I went to the Tate or somewhere in London, in England, and they had a sign up saying, "No photography.". And I was like, "This is a public collection, my taxes pay for this.". And these artists have been dead for hundreds of years. in many cases, they don't have any copyright or moral rights to assert against me, why are you trying to...

Nicholas: - And photos have been taken before.

Rhea Myers: - Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, many of them by Paul and Kentesley. And this reminded me of my interest in the early '90s in sample-based music and art, and the way that sort of sample-based music, particularly rap music, became much less popular throughout the '90s in response to some lawsuits in the States, and that artists I liked, like Jeff Coons, seem to keep on losing lawsuits. And I do think artists should have freedom of depiction, I do think that artists should be able to represent whatever they need to, slash like, that that doesn't, like, you can't drop a nuclear device on a city and go, "It's art in it.". It's like, no, there is a moral limit to artistic freedom where, you know, you do something with actual moral impact and try and claim it's art. Killing animals is always a popular one for that. But yeah, in terms of depiction, yeah, artists should get to do what they wish. However, copyright on, certainly on unique artworks, is a bit of a category error. So there should be a revolving door for art where you can take anything into art and people can take anything out of art. And this greatly upsets people who, with the best one in the world, are actually illustrators, because they're like, "But I make my money by selling copyright to corporations.". And it's like, you don't, but I know that's how it feels. So yeah, it's a very difficult one to, you know, to try and sell to anyone who isn't me. But yeah, I do think that there are much more important things to talk about. But if we're in the realm of art, then, "Oh, you can't depict that for reason X, Y, or Z," is not a good start.

Nicholas: Definitely not a good start. You can imagine cases where things shouldn't be depicted or done as a form of depiction. But that's certainly the limit, far, far away from where we are with copyright and how much things are limited.

Rhea Myers: Totally, yeah. And to be extremely, extremely clear, I'm not saying you should be able to do anything awful and excuse it as art. I'm saying it is only really where you are doing something awful that isn't art, that the "freedom of depiction" or "freedom of art" should finish. I'm sure we can all think of categories of images. that is, in fact, a reasonable constraint on other people's freedom to not circulate, given the harm they do.

Nicholas: I want to switch gears a little bit. Is Satoshi the greatest artist of all time?

Rhea Myers: Kind of. It's him or the CIA. So with Satoshi, I've been actually reading more Duchamp recently, because as an artist, the big secret is you don't actually have to know what you're talking about. You just have to look like you know. But I've been going a lot more into Duchamp's writings and interviews again recently. And one of his concepts is the art coefficient, which is the gap between the amount of effort you put into an artwork and the amount of effects.

Nicholas: Leverage.

Rhea Myers: That you cast out. Leverage, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Aesthetic leverage, as I also put it.

Nicholas: This is what they should be teaching in the schools, of course.

Rhea Myers: Very much so, yeah.

Nicholas: I suppose they do.

Rhea Myers: Yeah, it varies. But yeah, in terms of aesthetic leverage, Satoshi certainly had this wonderful effect. And I think Bitcoin did get the, did we get the golden Meica, Meica, how do you pronounce it, at Ars Electronica a few years ago? Oh, really? Yeah. But the thing that makes Bitcoin not an artwork is like the, and this is one of the examples where the title of the book is fairly arbitrary, is the Baron Munchausen story in the book.

Nicholas: Yes, do you want to tell it?

Rhea Myers: Which pivots, can you remind me of the page? So it's from 20, and this is me trying to filter, I hit the page and I'm failing. So this is from 2008, an excerpt from "Recounting an Adventure" by Baron Munchausen. "And so," said the Baron, "the ringing of my diving bell allowed me to lift from the ocean floor the heaviest pearl ever discovered. I later had it made into a brooch by the finest craftsman in the land.". "But Baron," interjected the host, "surely such a weighty trinket could never actually be worn. It would be worthless.". The Baron paused, but for a moment. "My dear sir, as you know, the defining characteristic of art is its inner utility. The value of art therefore stands in direct and inverse proportion to its utility. Given the pearl brooch of unwearable weight must be entirely useless. Its artistic value must therefore be infinite.". And that's aesthetic leverage, the art coefficient, but it's...

Nicholas: Bitcoin is too useful to be art, do you think?

Rhea Myers: Bitcoin is too useful to be art, yes. And sort of all the people who... Depends who you ask. Well...

Nicholas: They'll be proved wrong eventually.

Rhea Myers: Declaring something useless is sadly not enough to render it useless, rather. And yeah, sort of proof of work, however upset communists get about the name, is doing something. It is securing the Bitcoin blockchain. And whether you think that's valuable or not is not even a predictor. It's a determinant of whether you think that the energy is wasted or not. If you believe that a single satoshi of social value has ever been produced by the Bitcoin blockchain, then proof of work is not a complete waste. It is something with a function. If you think otherwise, then no amount of apologetics will excuse that energy being used for something with no social value. But it is simply not credible to state that Bitcoin has had no social value. You cannot make that argument. So what people do is they fall back to, "Oh, couldn't you have done this another way?" To which, certainly for NFTs, for Ethereum, my response is, "If we could have done this another way, someone would have got rich doing it by now.". You know, there's always this, "Oh, can't you do this another way?". "No, I can't. I know you don't want this to be the case, but you being mad at me for this is not going to change anything.". And then they just yell at you about something else. Yeah. But anyway, so yeah, it's an amazing, it's more like an aqueduct or a coliseum. You know, it's more profoundly beautiful architecture.

Nicholas: Writing?

Rhea Myers: No, no, because it sort of has a form, it has an immediate form in the world. So like, if you imagine like a subway system or a system of pneumatic tubes, then, you know, Bitcoin's more like, "It's a system of tubes." Sort of any large-scale social structure that directs human activities, like a freeway or, you know, a cityscape. Bitcoin's more like that, but just with the multiplying power of code.

Nicholas: Talking of systems like this and thinking about them relative to fiat, do you think that any totalizing system that destroys all competition necessarily brings about the invention of its antithesis?

Rhea Myers: So we're into the realms of dialectics here. And I think that sort of, it can do. I mean, you know, sort of, is antimatter the antithesis of matter? Like, is an antimatter explosion a historically relevant synthesis in a Hegelian sense? I don't know. I mean, I sort of, as Bitcoin's critics point out, it's still money. It's like, it's, you know, people call it sound money, which is weird because you don't sonify it all that often. But yeah, people call it sound money and I don't know. Sorry, I'm avoiding the question. Certainly any sufficiently complex formal system a la Godel's proof will contain statements that cannot be proven within it. Any sufficiently large blob of value will have surplus value and money as a code. And code is very good for decoding in the Deleuzian sense, or sort of, you know, hacking, finding exploits in, in the hacker sense.

Nicholas: Translating, living across communities. I find this is like an underappreciated aspect of fungibles, that they, especially dominant fungibles, that they really don't require that you share religion or worldview, as long as you have enough to share this one worldview, you really don't know much else.

Rhea Myers: Yeah, it's a tricky one, because I'm in Canada and there's an attempt to copy various MAGA antics from down south in the form of the "Freedom Convoy", which was claimed to represent good, honest, working class truckers, but seemed to consist mostly of people with oversized pickups and no access to their grandchildren. But they had their funding cut off through the banks and stuff. Yes. And so people started sending them Bitcoin, which is, which is possible to do. And the federal government, I think, intervened at the exchange level within their boundaries, which is within certainly the power of the state to do. And so, as someone who the average "Freedom Convoy" person would very happily feed into a wood chipper, I am conflicted that this thing that I definitely support is used to oppose the non-monetary aspects of my existence. But, as people do point out, anything that could be used to interfere with that could be used to interfere with my own activities. And so the difficult thing to do in politics in this sense is to move upstream and say, "Yeah, if I'm trying to cut their supply line off, then we're already too late. I should probably move upstream and tackle it some other way.". But yes, certainly the ability to transact between groups is the promise of liberal democracy. Obviously, people do have different laws around money. And religion does come into it. The Mormons, the LDS in the States, have a massive impact on credit transmission laws. There's a reason why, if you're a sex worker, then you have great difficulty accessing payment for your legal services. Islam has its own rules for finance that, and I apologize to any Muslim scholars if I'm screwing this up, I'm obviously doing my best, have rules around charging interest that basically say, "No, you can't do that.". And you have to structure Islamic law compliance financial products to avoid falling foul of that because you don't, you know, like money's nice, but you don't want to endanger someone's immortal soul. So yeah, I mean, even something as apparently simple as money has, you know, fundamental political and religious and I'm sure other aspects to it that you can absolutely build on top of something like Bitcoin. And I don't think there is any problem in any of those regimes per se with Bitcoin. But it's sort of, yeah, you know, as someone who is very much a boring, old-fashioned liberal democracy fan, open society, yay. Yeah, I am a fan of cryptocurrency for the, "Oh, yeah, no, you know, you don't care about anyone else's politics. You just pay for your bread with this.".

Nicholas: Was the world's first Bitcoin artist in 2011 your first blockchain artwork?

Rhea Myers: I mean, it doesn't go anywhere near the blockchain, so I think so. I think I tried to craft some transactions around the same time and hadn't quite worked out how change addresses work. So if we assume that the 0.1 Bitcoin that I had, it should now be about 3,000 Canadian dollars. That would all have gone to minor fees. And this is a surprisingly common introduction. It's the power and danger of the blockchain. But yes, that was certainly my first public engagement with it. And someone did email me and say, "Hey, yeah, let's do this. How do I send you a Bitcoin?". And I didn't get back to them because I was worried that it wouldn't pay for the postage by the time I did it.

Nicholas: So the piece wasn't on-chain? It wasn't?

Rhea Myers: No, no, no.

Nicholas: How was it presented?

Rhea Myers: Sadly not. It wasn't. It was literally just this blog post. And this is one of the problems. most of my pre-NFT work is that it exists in blog posts or articles on websites or on chains that don't run anymore or that are difficult to access. So for all the promise of permanent public records, which I think is actually misplaced, but we don't have to go into that. A lot of my early blockchain stuff was very ephemeral. And it was only really with the launch of the live Ethereum mainnet in 2015 that I had a chance to make things that might last a bit longer.

Nicholas: For people who are curious, the world's first Bitcoin artist is, you say, "I'm now accepting commissions for drawings of Bitcoin paid for with Bitcoins.". And there's a little bit of rest of a post there, but basically an announcement.

Rhea Myers: Yeah, so send me a Bitcoin and I'll send you a Bitcoin as a drawing. If anyone wants to send me a Bitcoin, I'll gladly send you a drawing of a Bitcoin. I'm not worried about it covering the postage now.

Nicholas: You never know, that might be something people will take you up on.

Rhea Myers: Yeah, that'd be nice. That will help become tax season. Yes.

Nicholas: I think I most identify you with the MySoul project. That's the one that's stuck out of my mind. And yeah, would you like to read the piece's description on page 261?

Rhea Myers: Thank you. You're a lifesaver. Yes, I would. Two, four, five, six, one. Okay. So this is from 2014. "I've placed MySoul on the blockchain, representing it as a cryptographic asset token. The MySoul token is on the Dogecoin blockchain as a Dogeparty asset. I've divided it up into 100 units. This is more efficient than having a single token to represent the soul and transferring it to a single owner, as competition within the market will both reduce costs and allocate this resource more efficiently than the monopoly could. To make ownership of MySoul more accessible, I've also created...". This was updated a couple months after. "I've also created a MySoul asset on the Bitcoin blockchain with Counterparty. This is also divided up into 100 units. Counterparty is more expensive for transactions than Dogeparty, but it's more widespread, so it's good to have both options. But my wife will not allow me to sell any of the tokens, as she asserts quite reasonably that MySoul belongs to her, if anyone.". Beautiful. So, yeah, and that comes from... I'm a terribly, terribly, terribly late post-modern artist, so the sort of ownership of the soul as an artistic move comes from the Soviet expat artists Komar and Melamed, who were active in the New York art scene in the '70s to '90s, and they did various wonderful artworks, which inspired other ones, but in this particular case, they set up a company to buy artists' souls, sell shares in them and return value on that, and they got the souls of various artists who signed contracts, including Andy Warhol and others, and I just sort of found that lovely, because their work is all very ironic about public opinion and free market shaping of values and stuff, and I sort of love using the phrase "economic efficiency" basically to troll people, and this was a nice way of working that in. So, yeah, the idea would be, you know, the shares in MySoul would be released onto the market, different churches, different sects, different religions would bid on them and pay me, so I get some benefit during my material life, and then when I die, the best possible religion will have paid the best possible price for my soul, and I will go to Sovacore or Heaven or wherever, and everyone will be happy, the market works. But, yeah, my wife is slightly more serious about souls than I am, so...

Nicholas: In a way, blocking your own career.

Rhea Myers: To be honest, probably saving me from making a horrific mistake, but, yes, you really do not want to subject yourself directly to the market in an ironic move.

Nicholas: An eternity on the blockchain. Sounds like a long time.

Rhea Myers: Yes, yeah, I mean, eventually the heat death of the universe will leave no more energy to mince new blocks with, and then all the electrons will decay, and there'll be nothing left to encode information, but I might get bored of rereading my comics collection sometime before then, I don't know.

Nicholas: Do you ever get tired of computers and blockchain?

Rhea Myers: No, I'm a project-based artist, always have been, and if you look carefully at the dates in the book, you'll notice that I sort of gain and lose interest in blockchain stuff, and I do bursts of activity in 2014, '17, '20, and '23. And that's not in the book, obviously, but get the idea. And, yeah, ordinarily, I would have moved on to a new technology some time ago, but blockchain stuff just continues to be so fascinating and such a good lever for continuing social anxiety, like the current fear and hatred of AI learning models, which sort of comes from people who would not be able to work as artists or authors without software that operationalizes the skills of many other people, and was perfectly happy with that, but when it happens to them, it's suddenly very, very wrong. You know, if I was engaged with AI, then I'd be having a field day. I know some very good artists who've been working with AI forever, like Shardcore in the UK, Metz Breeze in Australia, Sasha Technology in the States, and other people who I apologize for forgetting, but I hadn't paid my AI money back in for this talk. So like, you know, I could do a lot of work with that, but it's still the same issues. It's still knowing which came first and what belongs to who. And there's a much purer imaginary to work with for that with blockchain technology.

Nicholas: A lot of people in technology are optimistic and motivated to change the world for the better through their work. I'm not sure if the same holds for many artists, maybe so. But do you feel a personal obligation to ethically improve the world through your art?

Rhea Myers: No, absolutely not. So bear in mind, I've had a career as a software developer, and I've been involved in startups at least once a decade for the last three decades. And if you have seen the American comedy program, I think on HBO called Silicon Valley, it's a documentary. I've been in the room. I've been in the room for those conversations. And the sort of ethic of sharing, I'm sorry, the aesthetic of sharing with an ethic of enclosure is very much like the Californian ideology from a wonderful essay by the late Andy Cameron and Dr. Richard Barbrook, who is also awesome, which talks precisely about the gap between the, "Hey, yeah, let's make everything free and share it online.". And I'm going to get rich doing this with my venture capital backing friends. There's nothing, how do I phrase this? There's nothing new or particularly wrong with that. We all deal with our contradictions under capital in our own way, but it is, once seen, you cannot unsee it. It's just. every single new technology is going to make the world a better place, is going to empower and free everyone, and we're going to share stuff and love each other. And how will you be paying for that? So there's that aspect to things. Artists, so I'm interested in the sort of tradition, the critical tradition of art, which is a very 20th century modernist, grumpy Marxist tradition. But as Maya pointed out, possibly in an interview or possibly in a conversation we've had, critical theorists always think that they've got some underlying necessary truth that they are revealing, whereas I think things are a bit more chaotic than that. And there was an old saying, which was no one ever got fired for buying IBM, which, in corporate circles, meant if you do the most obvious thing, then you'll be fine. And with critique, with critical theory, the most obvious thing is to say that something is evil. The absolutely trivial move is to say it's fascism, which trivialises actual fascism. And so, you know, to simply say, "Hey, here's the latest technology and why it's hot terrible," just doesn't interest me as a reflex in myself or others. And the arts I make, I tend to have some skin in the game, to use that now strangely outdated term. I am performing, making the technology that will have these effects to try and draw attention to these effects and how they reflect wider society. So I'm certainly not saying, "Yay, we're all going to live on Mars and pay for our servants using Bitcoin," because, you know, I'm curious about the servants and like, you know, what are they doing there? But yeah, I'm trying to produce maps rather than, you know, propaganda posters for or against. But it's a very difficult line to walk because, sort of, I get a lot of hate on social media.

Nicholas: -You must be doing something right.

Rhea Myers: -Yeah, sort of. Yeah, one would hope. But so, you know, if I just said, "Oh, blockchain's terrible," or "Yay, to the moon," then at least I would have some people who constantly love me and some people who constantly hate me. But no, I just end up looking like a universal traitor.

Nicholas: Yeah, exactly. You've taken the least strategic position.

Rhea Myers: Yes, very much so. Yeah, but by tracking strategically and actual engagement with the history of ideas around this technology, because this technology is where the history of ideas is currently doing some very interesting work.

Nicholas: You've done so many works. Is there one that stands out as the most important for a broad public to know about?

Rhea Myers: Oh, that's a very good question. Um, I'd be horrified if I was responsible for anything to a broad public. Like, there's a couple. I love FaceCoin. It's sort of, it's the one that lets you understand how this works without locking you into how it currently works, because it's a little in-browser proof-of-work chain. So rather than the Bitcoin difficulty algorithm, where you're looking for successively longer strings of the number zero, it uses the same data, the same hash, but it's a little pixel map that a face recognition algorithm is searching for faces in. And this came from, like, this is 2014, I think, and people were already worried about Bitcoin's energy consumption and the idea that it's waste. And we come back to the barren here, and the idea that art is also essentially a waste. So I thought, well, what if we had a cryptocurrency that was, you know, running hundreds of nodes around the world, hashing thousands and thousands of times a second and making art? You know, wouldn't that be lovely in a deeply ironic way? And so, yeah, to do that, I had to really understand how technology works. And it means that the art, what came out of it, is embodied learning. It's not pedagogical in the sense that it says, and you have to think this about the subject, but it is, here is a subject, you can understand it better and still have an open understanding of it. And I love secret artwork content because there is absolutely something to public key cryptography as a socially and philosophically interesting thing, this dialectic of absolute secrecy and absolute identity in very, very, very reified, refined senses of the idea of identity and of privacy or secrecy. And so much of philosophy and of social concerns maps onto that. And it's the technology that does that, and that we all use thousands of times a day. Whenever you browse the internet, whenever you pay for something, whenever you stream something onto your smart TV, a lot of encryption is going on behind the scenes. And so secret artwork is, again, me ripping off some old artists I like. In this particular case, the Art and Language Group, who are conceptualists working from the '60s to now. They're very grumpy Marxists, but can paint. So they've been painting for the last few decades, rather than sticking text on walls and confusing people. And again, it performs distraction. It's an artwork which says, "Look over there.". So the title promises you some secret content. And it's there as the cryptographic hash. I don't actually remember what the content is. It's in a printout, a spreadsheet somewhere. So I'm going to have to get sued and I'll be able to say what it is. But I genuinely, day to day, do not remember what it was. And it's like a painting they did in the '60s, which said, "The content of this painting is secret. I know them to the artist.". And doing this with a cryptographic hash in the sense of the content, a public key cryptography in the sense of the transactions that assemble it, just make it very much a game of hide and not seek, but distract from the fact you don't know. So the display renderer will tell you everything about the artwork. It'll tell you the token number, the contract address, the owner address, the hash of the secret, the block it was minted in, the block it was locked in, everything it possibly can, except for saying it promises, which is the content. And this is a time in my life where I had not yet come to terms with things that I should have known but didn't in terms of personal experience. And looking back on it, it's like, "Oh yeah, my art was trying to tell me something. Oh wow, God, that's obvious.". That's a bit on the nose. If you put that in your TV show, they'd be going, "The writers are really lazy.". So I love it both personally and socially as, again, a way in, a sort of gate without a keeper into this mainplex, to use the old term, which is still useful, even if it's cringe. Sorry, kids.

Nicholas: So that's Secret Artwork 2018 on Ethereum, page 293 in the book, if anyone wants to take a look. So that's maybe the most important for the broad public. Is there one that's most important for the true fans?

Rhea Myers: Oh, a deep cut. Oh, wow. I'm trying to think, I'm flipping through the book.

Nicholas: It's hard to remember, isn't it?

Rhea Myers: It is. I've spent the last three decades staring at the screen, paging large amounts of code into my brain each day. And it really, really, really has fried my memory.

Nicholas: It must have been very painful to assemble this book.

Rhea Myers: No, it's really nice, actually. I dug through lots. Yeah, no, I dug through lots of old hard disks and found stuff that hadn't been published before or had been truncated. There's a much longer version of bad shite in here, which means that even less happens. And the interview with Maya took place over about four days in the course of, I think, December 22.

Nicholas: It's a fantastic interview, for anyone who hasn't read it.

Rhea Myers: Thank you. Yeah, Maya did an amazing job. At the start of it, I was really worried that everything wouldn't hang together conceptually because I hadn't talked about the whole thing before. But Maya was just ideal in terms of knowing the philosophy and the arts and the tech and stuff. So there's about, it's got to be eight hours of interview and it got edited down to that. So I've been talking to try and distract people and it hasn't worked amazingly well. The ones that probably more people don't know about, but I would love to, are ArtCoins Coloured, which was another Dogeparty project. And that was a very early attempt to make ownable, conceptual art in a way that lampshaded the problems with owning things on chain.

Nicholas: Do you want to describe that one a little bit?

Rhea Myers: Yeah, I'm trying to find it.

Nicholas: It's 29.

Rhea Myers: It's 29, thank you. I should know the locations in my own book. Yes, so it's a series of descriptions of... I imagined if I was an art investment fund and I was trying to produce bundles of different kinds of artworks, what kinds would they be? And there's a few unfortunate...

Nicholas: For 20th century art or something?

Rhea Myers: Yeah, something like that, yeah. And there's some unfortunate terms of phrase in there because of it. But you have sort of ArtCoin Blue, "a perfect investment vehicle and symbolic resolution of the contradictions and temporaries of management and capital made of the finest materials and the basest aesthetics.". So you can, if you are familiar with contemporary art, there are various artists you can think of who would comfortably or uncomfortably fit in there. But this isn't any actual art like that being covered. It's just a concept. So it's the gap, which the work is always about, the gap. And then also on Dogeparty, and I must check to see whether it's still running again because most people did, Resurrected is Dogecode, which was my parody of Ethereum's promise of running programs on the blockchain. It encodes a small real programming language called BrainFuck, which I think I refer to as BF. Oh no, it's referred to as BrainFuck in the book. And it sort of sends a sequence of Dogeparty tokens, of fungible tokens in modern parlance, to a Dogeparty address. And then there's an application you can do which will walk through that stream of tokens and run the resulting program. And this is absolutely the worst possible way you could come up with of running code on a non-Ethereum blockchain. I want to do something with the Lambda calculus on the Ethereum blockchain, but this is a really terrible way of doing this, which makes it fun. So the example in the book, 262, is a Sierpinski triangle, a fractal self-repeating triangle, printed out on a command line as asterisks by running some BrainFuck code encoded using Dogecode tokens. And there's just so much that is silly and fun in there. And again, that sort of opens up what people are doing with trying to run code and represent assets on the blockchain. And sort of, it's one of those ones where when I started doing this stuff, I got blank looks of incomprehension from everyone about all of it. And one of the nice things of the last few years has been people saying, "Oh, I really like his art or shelling flags or something.". With Dogecode, it's still, "Oh, that's nice. Yeah, I didn't know that. Yeah, okay, cool.". So I'm waiting for moments like that. And then just finally, I love collaborations. I love seeing what other artists are doing. I worked very much for Marguerite de Corcel, coin artist on Twitter, on her Crypto Puzzle Trail games in 2014, '15, and a few times since then. And her painting The Legend of Satoshi Nakamoto or Torched Hearts, but I can never remember exactly how to type that. Sorry, Marguerite. Sort of the work that we did on that, I think we were both not in the happiest places in our lives at that moment because I was having immigration problem and Marguerite had her own stuff going on, I think. And so this is something that we did to my memory, basically before Christmas 2014, but I could be completely wrong. Sort of Marguerite said, "Okay, I need this.". I said, "How about this? Yay, we did it.". Marguerite drew all of those little flames around the edge by hand. Sorry, Marguerite. I gave her a printout that basically said, "Tall, blue, left, yellow, short, green center.". And she transcribed those perfectly and it just became such a thing. We wanted to make something a little bit harder because people had cracked the last couple of puzzles basically as soon as they'd been released. And we thought this one might keep them busy for about two weeks. And so two years later, when there were tens of thousands of dollars tied up in the puzzle, I was getting really paranoid about keeping the key on my laptop. So I sort of burnt it to a disc and shoved it in the safety deposit box. But just the experience of having that collaboration and having it become kind of a cultural thing was so good. And people, it's not necessarily about my work, but I would like people to look more at what Marguerite did 'cause it was foundational in, I would say, enculturating the blockchain. You know, that's making some sort of chain original culture beyond. either a number go up or, you know, this is my silver replacement. And I'm sort of, you know, I'm very proud to have helped her to do that. And yeah.

Nicholas: Yeah, on the Torched Hearts project, I interviewed Ben Sybourgeoisie, another collaborator.

Rhea Myers: Oh yeah, Ben's awesome. Yes, yes.

Nicholas: And Ben told me that the puzzle scene in blockchain was kind of what attracted him to it. So...

Rhea Myers: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, it drew so many people in and so many good people in. The community Marguerite had, I screwed up the web server configuration for one of the puzzles, which meant that you could just claim the prize. And someone claimed the prize, sent it back to Marguerite and said, "You might want to fix this.". And so we did. And then people actually did the puzzle and it was wonderful to have, you know, Marguerite's fans or community be a genuine community and to be genuinely engaged with what she was doing. And yeah, Ben showed me his lovely graphical interface he'd created to try and decode the flames. And I felt so guilty having just given Marguerite this sort of text, literal text file. I mean, it couldn't have been more retro if you'd printed it out and upped that old perforated green and white printer paper from old '70s movies. But yeah, no, she did an amazing job. And yeah, sort of the fact that it drew people's attention and, you know, people were not, as far as I know, people were not trying to brute force it. So, you know, that they're actually engaging with it on its own terms. But again, my sort of, I think as I say in the book, my knowledge of puzzles goes back to things like this late '70s puzzle book called "Masquerade," which had people digging up all of England looking for a golden hair sculpture and a book on codes and secret writing that I got from my parents as a small child. So, you know, there's always, I'm not really someone who, you know, got on the plane to California, saw a computer for the first time and said, "Hey, I can make art with this.". Even if everyone says I can't, it's not very much, "Yeah, we should be making more art with this.".

Nicholas: I wanted to ask you about "Dogecode" a little bit more. Yes, yes. This 2014 project I think is really interesting. This is the one where you encode programs in this minimalist language called BrainFuck that has only eight, I guess you'd call them functions? Eight operators?

Rhea Myers: I think that's six, doesn't it? It's sort of a little memory cell virtual machine because it's based on the most minimal language. you can... One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine. Oh, no, that's not the code. One, two, three, four, five, six. Oh, there's seven in the basic one. And you don't actually need all of those because you don't have to output it. So you can get away with six. Yes. If you know what you're reading from memory. But having what I call "pipsb" here or "dots" is much easier.

Nicholas: You essentially associate a value of Dogecoin, like a quantity of fungibles, to each of these operators, functions in the language?

Rhea Myers: Each operator is its own non-fungible token. So in the RC20 terms, you're looking at seven different TRC20 tokens. And you send a stream of them in the correct sequence to an address. And then that stream is read, that sort of event stream is read back from the history.

Nicholas: I didn't realize that Dogecoin had this affordance for tokens like that. I suppose my soul was there, so it does. Yeah, yeah, yes.

Rhea Myers: Yeah, I mean, so Dogeparty was a fork of Counterparty XCP, which was the big Bitcoin of the year. And Counterparty worked and works on top of Bitcoin using initially encoded addresses and then later TXL, or TXL op, what is it? Op data or something of the bytecode that allows you to just have some data attached. And if you pass sort of Counterparty's activity, you get this record of the creation and transfer of tokens. And this was great. Bitcoin is a bit more expensive and slower. Dogecoin, so some people ported it to Dogecoin and using the same foresight, which led me to turn down Bitcoin's drawings. I thought, "Hey, this is clearly better. Technically, people will prefer this, so I will do this.". And then it went away within a year. So I remade things using Counterparty, which means I now have the problem of having two different sets of tokens with Dogeparty working again. And I don't want to end up being sued by someone who buys one and not the other and feels entitled to control my artistic production.

Nicholas: So you would send, for example, for the INCB, the Increment Byte at Pointer token, you could send multiple of those tokens to this particular address. Yes. And your essentially indexing software would read that as having programmed a sequence of that character, a sequence of that. One tension in this, to me, is just learning about BrainFuck as a language. It feels more like a VM than a machine.

Rhea Myers: Oh, very much so, yes. But VMs, I mean, remember that the M in virtual machine, it does stand for machine. And so, yeah, it's sort of programming languages at this level of simplicity are a configuration of programming machinery. Sort of something this close to a virtual machine, sure, but a machine is sort of controlling the operations of that machine on a one-on-one basis. Each opcode controls one operation. Whereas with a modern microprocessor, one code you send to it can do all sorts of things or several codes could configure just one thing. So, yeah, I mean, it is very nice for how close to the machine it gets. It's nice because the name's a bit rude and that immediately puts people on the defensive if they're trying to be terribly respectable. And it's just such a misuse of the technology. But it's not a misuse of the technology that breaks it. And this, for me, is kind of different from many net art strategies where there's this sort of soothing, reassuring breaking of the technology so that you can return to your humanist assumptions without having to worry about the machine eating everything. But that's a very old historical score, so I don't think I'll go there. But yeah, you're right. It is like a processor, but at that level of simplicity or abstraction, yeah, you are sort of telling the processor, which is the machine, to do things in what looks like a language, but it's just a series of bits.

Nicholas: And sort of serializing that over token transfers.

Rhea Myers: Yes.

Nicholas: Where the number of tokens transferred are the number of times to call that opcode in sequence.

Rhea Myers: Yes, absolutely. Very cool. Thank you. Yeah, it's a slight misuse of technology because obviously you're relying on the history being available, but I'm relaxed about that. And I keep thinking, "Shall I do an ERC-998 version of this on Ethereum?". No, it doesn't have the same effect. I do want to... Sorry, go ahead.

Nicholas: No, sorry. What do you want to do? Yeah, I'm curious.

Rhea Myers: I was going to say, I do want to do a sort of a Lisp using ERC-998 or possibly 6... I can't remember the new composition. Because again, it's the worst possible way of encoding something, but I haven't quite got around to that yet.

Nicholas: Is it not in the same way as the abuse, misuse, reinterpretation of the chain in the same way Counterparty was?

Rhea Myers: To a degree, yes. Yeah, it's less competent layering of it because, you know, deliberately. I mean, the information that you need to recreate the Counterparty system state is contained within the available trans... I don't know, I suppose it's similar. Yeah, I guess. Sorry, as you can tell, I haven't thought about it for a while. So, but yes, yeah. Okay, I'll take that one. Yes, yes, thank you.

Nicholas: But it's interesting to me because since then, at least in the modern, or I wouldn't call it modern, the recent era, there's been several, you know, ordinals, inscriptions, operated by a similar mechanism. Also on Ethereum, there is ETHscriptions, I had Middlemarch on the show a couple months ago, and ETHscriptions is in a lot of ways the same thing. And he's actually made what he's calling dumb contracts on top of his. essentially, I don't know if there's a phrase for this kind of call data hacking, essentially.

Rhea Myers: Yes, yes, yeah. I mean, so that's a problem with anything that presupposes the blockchain of storage is it's wrong. The blockchain isn't storage, it's a transmission system. As Satoshi says, I think in the white paper, and if not in one of his earliest comments, as soon as you have spent a TX out, you can discard that, you know, all you need is a valid set of live TX outs. And, you know, if you are relying on keeping spent or unspendable TX outs to recreate your blockchain, or if you're assuming that part of the Ethereum Merkle tree for a contract will not be disposed of because it's not economically interesting for someone to keep it, then you're making the wrong bet. And so I am wary of people who unironically discover that events or transactions or exceptions or whatever are a cheap way of storing information on the blockchain, because in the long term, the economic value of storing a blockchain to a person cannot exceed the, sorry, cannot be less than the value that they think they will be able to realise from it. So if you have a million dollar asset, then it's well worth your time and spend a thousand bucks to store that blockchain. If you have a one Satoshi asset, then spending a dollar on storing that blockchain probably isn't economically rational for you. You'll notice I slipped economically back in there. You know, if it's your last token you receive from your dead dog, or if it's your medical, your doctor's certificate or whatever, obviously to try and calculate its monetary value is a category error. But yeah, in the general case, everyone else is not going to keep your apes safe for you for free, because there really is nothing in it for them. Yeah, playing around with this rat is great. I love ordinals. I haven't done anything with them. I think I said in the interview that's just been published that they very much scratch my numerical mysticism itch. I love people who make numbers mysterious as a critical move and the sort of the mysticism in ordinals of sort of reading significance back into something that in itself is absolutely not significant. There is no significance within the Bitcoin system too. Which transaction on the ordinal Satoshi was minted in, was mined in rather, sorry. And so to read this information back in is, you know, again, a recovery of surplus value from the technology. It's a critical move. It's fun and I do like it, yes.

Nicholas: And it's also kind of an artistic choice in the development of that layer. that's not obligatory.

Rhea Myers: Yes, yes. Oh, yeah, totally. Yeah, yeah. I think, as I said, you know, Counterparty has been around for four years now. And if you want a Bitcoin blockchain-based slash Bitcoin payable token, then you can do that, Counterparty. But sort of taking the old colored coins proposal, which was, I think, an attempt to do a name coin with just base Bitcoin and sort of adding some number theory or some number mysticism to it. It's just such a fun move. It's so good. I mean that as high praise, not just specifically. It's just such a solid and delightfully surprising move.

Nicholas: Of course, you're right about the pruning of history when it's not worth preserving. But I guess in a way, one way to read what you're saying is the art better just be worth it.

Rhea Myers: Yes, yeah, definitely. Every so often I end up in crosshairs with someone who is destroying the planet by working with cloud computing, destroying social freedom by working for a large corporation and destroying computing by that company being in information technology. And they just seize on blockchain as something that they can say, "Oh, this is terrible. Oh, I'm a good person for not liking this.". And the person who did this this time was high up in cloud machine learning at Microsoft, which I'm sorry, that's at least three things that you should not have to admit to doing. It's like, you know, I call Microsoft the Redmond IQ shredder. It's such a horrifically unproductive company that has had such a deleterious effect on public perception and freedom to use software. But anyway, I get out of my pram here. I shall get back in. So hold on.

Nicholas: So it's interesting about what you say about, we're talking about this, your work in BrainFuck on DogeParty, Dogecoin, and inscriptions, inscriptions, oracles, et cetera. But it also feels very resonant with a lot of the tendencies in both data availability, eigenlayer, et cetera, and L2s for the same score, writing call data to L1 is the mechanism for optimistic roll-ups. And ZK technology also, where regardless of the specifics of the implementations which are being worked out, a lot of the work is being pushed off-chain and you're just writing some provable shadow of the work to the chain. It seems to me that all of this is in dialogue.

Rhea Myers: And all you need, and I think Ethereum too is definitely heading this way, all you need for a succession of Merkle routes and you can cram the world's data into that as long as you can hash it in time. And this is one of the things that we went through. I mean, you mentioned Ben, who is awesome, Marguerite's Games company, Blockade. I worked with her and Ben there and we were looking at different Layer 2s. So I've had to sit down and work out the security characteristics of Layer 2s. And the interesting thing about Nakamoto consensus, as we should call it, is that it is an economic solution to a computer science problem. It's not in itself merely a new algorithm. It's not a faster bubble sort. It's not a better image compression mechanism. If you showed a cryptographer the proposal in 2009, whenever, they would have said, "Why is he using this scheme? "This is so outdated.". But that's not the point. The point was this outdated, well-known, well-relied on scheme was being used in an economic game that allowed something to be done that could not be done before, which is to have parties that mutually distrust each other work together to establish the state of a set of data. And this means that from the start, we're looking at economics, we're looking at game theoretic economics. And whenever you hear the word cheap, another word for cheap is mispriced. And mispricing of something in an open market can be exploited. When I was a kid, the real George Soros, not the imaginary bugbear of right-wing extremist cheese dreams, he broke the pound, the British pound. Every sort of person in England lost 50 pounds, not of weight but of money, to George Soros because he recognized an exploit to be had in the international currency market and went for it. And that is how the markets are meant to work. But it does also mean if anyone is promising you cheap storage, what they're actually saying is, "I have mispriced this.". And someone else will be able to make either more money by exploiting that or more money by actually pricing things properly and being more robust. So yeah, layer, you don't, can I say this? You probably don't want to layer too. There are many lovely ones and I know people who work on them. And like you trade off security and longevity guarantees for lower transaction prices, I think there should be more ephemeral off-chain games, which is more like lightning. But people can very easily conceive of blockchains at this point. So structuring those games as a blockchain is a way of making it attractable to people, making it so people can get their heads around it and using the Ethereum virtual machine gets you instant buy-in. I've worked at the lovely Dapper Labs in Vancouver for a little while. I've worked as this public knowledge on their cadence programming language for their Flow blockchain. And that was just such a good programming language. It's like when I originally looked at Ethereum, I thought, "Oh yeah, this is going to need functional programming.". Like this is the only way this will be secure. and then they produced something that looked like Python and then something that looked like Go. I was like, "Yeah, this isn't quite what I had in mind, but it seems to work okay.". But Solidity just fundamentally takes a different appropriate model for smart contracts and accounts. And it's just such a joy to write in and sort of--.

Nicholas: It is fun, isn't it?

Rhea Myers: It is, it is. And yet people are like, "What do you mean? it isn't Solidity?". I mean, yeah, it isn't Solidity. This is a good thing. Imagine a programming language where sort of a few years ago, you won't accidentally access main memory by declaring a local variable. So yeah, people get set in their ways and software developers are no different. But yeah, do be careful with sort of promises of reduced costs without a very good story of how that's going to make the people doing it more money in the long term.

Nicholas: You've done several pieces over the years where the art is flipping a Boolean value. Like Hot and Cold, this contract is art, both from 2014. This token is art. You also have Art Is, which does something similar, but with, I guess, selecting within an enum.

Rhea Myers: Yes, I describe it as a constrained grammar.

Nicholas: So can you tell me about the, I don't know, joys, hardships of working as simple as possible and letting the concept do the work with a primitive of the medium?

Rhea Myers: So I learned to program in the 1980s on home computers that had, like my first one had 32 kilobytes of RAM and that was a lot of memory at the time. Your laptop or certainly your desktop workstation may now have 32 gigabytes of memory. So that's, what, a million times the, I can't do math, I'm an art student. So a million times the memory I was working with. I was working in BASIC, which is a very basic language. And so, and with little 8-bit microprocessors. So you just had to learn how the machine works. And then when I went and worked in the games industry for a couple of years, again, you had to know how the machine works and you had to be able to, you know, really change things around at the bit level to move things from one console platform to another, as it were. So I did have this knowledge of how to do things with the machine and how they, you know, how that cascades up to writing something in Solidity or JavaScript or whatever. And I think the original description of the sum total power of the Ethereum virtual machine was that it was about as strong as a turn of the millennium Nokia smartphone. You know, this very, very limited little processor that was meant to run the world, I mean, not really, but meant to run the world's computing. And it's like, oh yeah, that's going to be terribly resource constrained. And then when you factor in that you're paying for blockchain storage, you know, again, you want to encode and process things in a very economically efficient ways, which means in very, you know, very tersely, thank you. Yes, that's a wonderful word. I will adopt it and use it. And so I could immediately go back to my experience and look at how to map these things in. And the using a single bit came from the blog post/essay Artworld Ethereum, which really was my attempt to map out a possible Ethereum Artworld/Artworld use of Ethereum. And so it starts with a contract with zero bits of information. Then it goes on to a contract with one bit of information. And it ends up with a catalogue raison for an artist, I think an art market, if not, I did an art market in the next post. And so, you know, in that article, I was in the series of works that followed, I was just working from the simplest possible things up to more complex things. And so with this art, it's binary, it's sort of, is it art or is it not? With hot/cold, it's swapping two different bits of information. Again, that's a reference to modern art and language artwork. And then with art is, I've been very interested in trying to use blockchain for sort of art criticism, for art curation, and that's something that's only really come in in the last couple of years. And so this is a way of, again, using the wonders of economic rationality to get art theorists to put their money where their mouth is. If you believe that your definition of art is good, then it will have a measurable economic value. I'm hiding my mouse behind my hand at this moment and giggling in seriousness terms. And so you can spend a tiny amount of ether to set your definition of art and it'll probably get changed by the next person. Or you can spend billions of dollars to set your definition of art and that's unlikely to change ever. And this is precisely how art criticism doesn't work, how art theory doesn't work, but it sort of collides the failings of market rationality with the failings of ivory tower theory. I know some very street-level theorists and I would like to be very clear that I am very, very pro-theory and if I do anything, I consider myself to do theory in the unfashionable sense. But yeah, with this art, I'm sorry, with art is, it's very much that collision of overconfident, totalizing views of society.

Nicholas: There's a great line in the description of one of these pieces, I can't find it in the book right now, but where you say, "If I delegate my critical acclaim to your work, how could I possibly criticize you for spending that on somebody else's work as your critical vision, if I've invested in your vision, then surely I'm by proxy invested in what you

Rhea Myers: just did.". Yeah, there's this kind of thing, it's a field or an area or a tangled mass. It's not a series of points on a grid where you can stand and say, "Here's where I am in how I think of art.". And this means that the people stood closest to me will obviously share 98% of my opinion of art. It's much vaguer than that, it's much less predictable than that. And there's nothing wrong with that because that's how human beings work. But the idea that you can make these magisterial pronouncements on what art is, or what is art, and then run away, never sat right with me. And again, the idea that you can price anything, and if you don't pay the price, you don't really want it, is something that anyone who's ever lost a pet or a relative can instantly refute. So, sorry, I usually say that to young audiences, so not too young. Anyway, so yeah, the works are usually nice collisions.

Nicholas: Could you read the last paragraph on page 281? So I found it, it's from the Critical Coins Project.

Rhea Myers: Yeah, is this to capture my voice so you can get an AI of me cold calling people and asking them for their keys?

Nicholas: Mother's maiden, and your SIN, please.

Rhea Myers: So you said the last paragraph on 281.

Nicholas: The last paragraph. This is the Critical Coins Project from 2015 on Counterparty and Dogeparty.

Rhea Myers: So the one that starts "We can," or the one that starts "Presumably?" "Presumably." Right. "Presumably, art is the product of aesthetic competence, and if I, as an art historian or critic, approve of your exercise of this competence, I cannot fault you. if your exercise of that competence in the evaluation of someone else's art or critical competences, in turn, leads you to transfer the tokens of my critical approval to a third party.". If I ever say third party, I'm trolling, modulating the white paper. "So transferable tokens make sense, and in fact, the history of their transferals adds value. It provides a historical record of regard, influence, and the reach of my original opinion.". Yeah, there's a lot in there, sort of soulbound tokens are obviously a fantastically bad idea, and there's sort of, you know, social network tokens and surveillance and the limits of representing continuous social values as discrete tokens of any kind there. The sort of one of the classics and certainly one of the big influences on "Bad Shy" is Cory Doctorow's novel "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom," which is set in a post-scarcity society where the currency, where the coin of the realm is reputation. Reputation measured as a quantity of something called a Wafi. And the number of people who have missed that this is satirical and tried to make it, and tried to make it with blockchain, it is non-zero.

Nicholas: So... Sci-fi has a way of doing that.

Rhea Myers: Yeah, someone came up to me once at a hack meet and said, "Hey, I've worked out how to make the 'are we there yet' system from 'Bad Shy.'". And I was like, "Could you not? It's a dystopian satire of social credit schemes.". And then refer, "No, please don't do that. Like, you're lovely, but no.". So, yeah.

Nicholas: Must be a name for this principle. It's become a meme, I'm sure, thanks to your talent. Oh, yes, yeah.

Rhea Myers: Yes, yeah, dumb goodness, yeah. Yeah, it's the torch nexus, isn't it? You know, I did not intend for people to actually build the torch nexus.

Nicholas: Is identity still an interesting subject to you, or have we beaten it to death?

Rhea Myers: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. No, identity is fascinating. Having sort of undergone a phase transition in my own identity in several ways over the last few years, not least going from being English, don't you know, to a good, honest Canadian. Sort of, yeah, sort of how we think of identity, how we don't think of identity. It's legibility socially and to the state, and the sort of rarefied concept of identity that we see in crypto and then in blockchain. It's just endlessly fascinating to me. I want to do some one-on-one of ones of different identity matrices from mathematics, because I can do the postscript identity matrix, and that will really upset mathematicians, because it's a matrix with a column missing. For those of you who actually know this, which I hasten to add does not include me. So, yeah, the idea of what is the... I mean, sort of pressing delete on the previous sentence. The idea of cryptographic hashes is the idea of making a name for something in the computer science sense. A name being a unique identifier for something. And again, I was driving along the highway, the freeway the other day, and there's a bridge in town where the freedom people wave the Canadian flag to look like they're lost, hang banners making various outrageous accusations about the issue of the day. And their first one was, you know, you won't miss your freedom until it's gone, with which I agree. The next one was masks, which I definitely don't agree with, as someone with asthma. Next one was digital identity, and it's like, yeah, it's not great on balance, is it? The last one was CBDC, and I thought, oh, central bank digital currencies have reached the QAnon abled section of the population. This is going to be very awkward. I'm going to find myself marching alongside some very strange people in the next few years. And this is all the concept of identity, of who you are, of who you are seen to be, of your name, of what your name means, good or bad, and of what people should or can know of you. Historically, a lot of what we would now refer to as identity politics was precisely the refusal of an identity. Like if you try to nail someone down to a name, which is obviously negative, then of course they're going to refuse that name. And the idea of sort of claiming an identity positively is, to my understanding, a relatively recent thing. And then sort of with crypto, this assumption that the state and society needs to know as little about it as possible, which I personally agree with, and you can do everything through the proxy of a cryptographic address, a cryptographic name, is absolutely fascinating in terms of this idea of adoption or disavowal of identities, of names, because you can, at the same time, be absolutely known as the controller of this cryptographic address, but absolutely unknown as any other feature of your existence. And that sort of opens that up both historically and practically. And yeah, I think the first one, this was shelling flags. It's like the idea, again, that people can make flags for their micro-identity and the most popular ones will bubble to the top. Again, it's Flag for Organizations by Art and Language. It's a Google doc, which I love, which was a list of all 400 genders known to Tumblr in 2013. And so this question of how and what do we know ourselves as, particularly under capitalism, is something that the internet accelerates. Like you absolutely, as the old CCIU argued, see an accelerating development of micro-cultures on and thanks to the internet. So yeah, sort of introducing money into that has hardly decelerated it.

Nicholas: - It's interesting that there's two kinds of identity here. One is a position, coordinate position within a defined matrix, within which one may be comfortable or uncomfortable. And there's also unique identifier, which is in a way the exact opposite thing.

Rhea Myers: - Yeah, yeah, yes, yeah. Yeah, it's always interesting because if you have either the Marxist or more general idea of a class, like a class is a set of individuals that don't all have to be the same. They just have to have one thing in common to place them into a class. Whereas I think people view social identity groups far more homogeneously, largely due to how the human brain works. But yeah.

Nicholas: - It is frustrating that the left doesn't take seriously the means of proof of work production or, you know, blockchain.

Rhea Myers: - Oh goodness, yeah. I mean, left technophobia is historically illiterate. I know some very nice sort of non-technophobe leftists and there is absolutely that tradition and its remnants. But yeah, that sort of... If Bitcoin does represent a successful technological imposition, enforcing creation of a fascist or at least right-wing social order through its economics, through its ideas, either we can do the same on the left and why aren't we? Or there is, you know, this is an urgent subject of understanding and practical critique rather than simply pointing at it and going blockchain bad. It's like the competent responses to it are very few and far between. And I find that endlessly frustrating. I've written some extremely straight-faced and serious articles over the years trying to recommend, you know, critical engagement and engagement with this technology to my fellow lefts. Like the dorks essay, which I guess is pronounced dorks. It's absolutely, you know, that's absolutely seriously my answer to what problems within leftist political economy could blockchain solve were we to go to a syndicalist or anarcho-communist or liberal communist structure of co-ops and workers' councils. But yeah, people don't seem to want to hear that. So here we are.

Nicholas: It is something like a backhanded, not compliment exactly, testament, a backhanded testament to the soft power of whatever left exists in practice that a complete ignorance of technological power nevertheless doesn't destroy the meme.

Rhea Myers: It's tricky though, because it's my personal experience is that over the last few years, we've all had a rather rough time. There was the financial crisis, there's COVID, there's Trump getting elected or Trump not getting elected again, depending on your politics. You know, there's been a lot going on.

Nicholas: And climate change is-- - I like that summary.

Rhea Myers: - You know, climate change is accelerating and there's nothing we can individually do about it. And, you know, all of these things. And so whoever you are, wherever you're coming from, the world is now an unfamiliar and scary place. And when you have us as a part, this unfamiliarity and scariness is driven by your own actions. It is driven by your own consumption, by your own engagement or non-engagement politics. It's, you know, we're all stood there, you know, turning a ratchet that only goes in the direction of no things are worse, no matter what we do. And people are not used to being the bad guys. And societies are not used to this level of contradiction. The way that people and societies resolve the tension of this to continue to be able to function is by finding scapegoats in the anthropological sense. You know, you find a group or individual who all of society's ills and wrongs can be blamed on. They can be driven out of society and then society will be happy until they have to do it again. And yeah, that's sort of, I was joking person. I had a disagreement with the other day that they would be a cloud computing executive. When they were, I was like, this is the third time this has happened. Like, you know, the people who are most destroying the planet, the economy and society with technology are the people who with absolute shining confidence know that they are good and virtuous for telling artists that use blockchains that they are human garbage. So yeah, that's sort of the negative side. And like, you know, you can't use technology for bad things. My favourite quote on this is Professor Farnsworth from Futurama saying, "Technology is neutral, like the death ray.". It's like, yeah, no, that's not neutral. Technology, professor, it kills. I don't know yet, sure. So like, yeah, I don't know. I'm not a fatalist, like to come back to it. Yes, I think we can make a better world. We must make a better world. I think given where we are, we have to use technology to do that. And the gap between that and people who are still getting upset by Mark Fischer's Vampire Castle essay being right in the second half is, I don't know how we cross that gap. Like, I see more young people becoming sort of ultra weird, Catholic firearms transhumanists than I do becoming any kind of actually forward-looking leftist. I'm hoping this is just my circles online and it's just something terrible about me. But yeah.

Nicholas: - Do you listen to the radio?

Rhea Myers: - With apologies to the cause, no, no. When I get into my car, I finally figured, well, I finally figured out how to disable the SiriusXM module. And so I occasionally get local rock radio for no reason and just turn it off. I listen to some podcasts. I started listening to Dax Shepard being a transphobic fuckwit the other day and turned that off. But yeah, I sort of used to listen to "Let's Talk Bitcoin" religiously when that was still going. And I do listen to podcasts.

Nicholas: - Do you know Andreas Antonopoulos?

Rhea Myers: - Not personally, but he is awesome. Yes.

Nicholas: - He sort of disappeared into Patreon from what I can understand. I miss him.

Rhea Myers: - That makes sense. Yeah, okay. I'll have to look for his Patreon because it's really good. Yeah, I've got his books. I always enjoy listening to him talking about Bitcoin. And I find his reasoned sort of, not confidence, but the reasoned seriousness with which he takes this technology to be very good, to be, you know, he's an excellent voice for the technology without being a number. go up person, if that makes sense.

Nicholas: - Yeah, he taught me blockchain. He taught me Bitcoin.

Rhea Myers: - Oh, wow.

Nicholas: Oh, brilliant. - Not personally, but via YouTube.

Rhea Myers: - Yeah, yeah, yeah. Oh, yes. I've watched a couple of his YouTube ones. I've got the books of his talks, which are wonderful. And I've got his mastering X, Y, and Z books. The Bitcoin one is so good. And I must work through the Lightning one. - God, it took me forever. It took me forever to understand Lightning because I was looking at, I was modeling it as exchange back and forth between two parties. And as soon as I introduced a third party, not a trusted third party, someone on the other side, I was like, oh, that's how it works. Okay, yeah, yeah. - I'll have to read that. - So yeah, that's good. Yes, yeah. And there's the Ethereum one, which I wrote with Gavin. And I'm sure there's another one coming out. Sorry, I cannot remember what it is.

Nicholas: - Actually, I don't know. I'll have to look it up. - Yes. - Do you draw a stark line between art and entertainment? Should art be serious and refined or do you not see a blurry boundary between them?

Rhea Myers: - I think that art and literature are something that is genuinely only identified after the fact. I know that's a very snobby, high modernist take on it, but like all of the literary writing that's produced at the moment, all of the very serious contemporary art that's produced at the moment is no more likely to be part of the canon than a pair of sneakers or someone's Tumblr role-playing blog. Like you can try and map your, you can try and turn a model of consumption into a model of production, but you have to do it ahead of time. You can't go, "Hey, what's good now? "I'll make stuff that's good now. "and it'll be good in the future.". No, that's the most popular artists and writers of the Victorian era are not remembered today. Instead, we get the people who wrote for newspapers and the people who were turned away from exhibitions. Those are the people we regard as representing that era. I mean, the collapse of art sales into luxury goods sales is, well, yeah, art is a luxury good. The content of art is separate from the financial status of art. Charles Harrison, the late English art critic who worked with art and language, talked very much about the difference between the art public that looks at your work and the art public that buys your work. And they don't have to be the same. And so that opens up art quite a bit.

Nicholas: Do you think the market practice is an art practice also? Do you appreciate anybody who's good at that performance art that captures the market attention?

Rhea Myers: So that's a difficult one because you're absolutely right that that's a thing. I haven't necessarily thought about people in those terms. But the obvious one would be people. I mean, I was deeply relaxed about someone getting 70 million for their art. I was less relaxed about some of the imagery. I must make it very clear. But in terms, you know, yeah, I'm very, very happy if someone can catch the attention of, you know, a particular market segment. It would have like, it's tricky because I would want it to be done reflexively. But of course, people can tell if you're not entirely serious. And the whole point of art to people is they want something entirely serious.

Nicholas: You almost have to go the other way. Like, I don't know if you've seen any of these recent Marvel movies, but the Thor character, at least, is exemplary of this thing that maybe has some lineage shared with something like a Judd Apatow movie from 10 or 15 years prior, where the gag is almost that, yes, it's a billion dollar movie. Yes, we spent $500 million marketing it. And yes, it comes off like improv in the scene.

Rhea Myers: Yeah, I mean, if we're talking about acting, sort of naturalism in television and movie acting is absolutely fascinating. Sort of, you get actors who, always men, but you get actors who look like these disheveled messes. And you're just like, you know, did they just walk off of the street and do this? Or you get actors who look like they are, as you say, improvising something. And no, it's the height of their craft to hide the preparation. So, you know, sell you this fantasy of a naturalness to their taking the role. Yeah, yeah. Oh, we're going to see a lot less... We're going to see a lot less green screen if the current strike goes the right way. The reason everything is done with green screen, green tape and CGI is because CGI workers are not unionized. So you can very, very cheaply superimpose a Marvel Universe gun over the green squeaky toy that Samuel L. Jackson is holding as he sits in front of a green screen. You just send it to Vancouver, pay someone a little bit of cash for the day, and they do it. If you have to actually have a firearms handler, a continuity person, and everything else that you need to have an actual physical prop, they're going to get residuals. So, you know, it's another good example of the effect of economics on use of technology. And I think we will see a lot more craft, both in terms of not just using CGI and of using CGI where it's required to achieve an effect that couldn't be any other way. As, you know, as a result of the labor dispute. And that for me should be a learning moment for the left, but I'm not holding my breath.

Nicholas: It's so abstract. It's if you're not willing to face the technology, it's difficult to perceive. Same thing here in Montreal. The Ubisoft is a huge developer here. Yeah. There's also many small CG outfits that do things like Discovery Channel, History Channel, Docs.

Rhea Myers: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Nicholas: And yeah, they weren't unionized or weren't a part of the residuals formula.

Rhea Myers: Yeah. I mean, Vancouver has Electronic Arts. If everyone remembers the EA spouse letter, they are, I don't know how they are now, but they certainly were not the most human employer a few years ago, allegedly. And yeah, sort of Vancouver is Hollywood North, like loads of shows are filmed there for the lower dollar rate, tax breaks. But yeah, there's also lots of effects and animation houses there 'cause you can take advantage of the lower dollar rates and save money on the legal structure as well. So yay, technology. Techonomics, to quote, it should not be named. The combination of technology and economics.

Nicholas: Do you have any works that you like that use licensing creatively or intellectual property rights?

Rhea Myers: Oh God, yes. So all of them. But there's a series I need to dig out of my old server and probably mint called CC Ironies from about 2008, but I'm probably wrong. And it's a series of what looks like very bad clip art. And I would like to be clear that it's meant to look like very bad clip art, each of which has a Creative Commons license, a free culture or proprietary sharing license for cultural works applied to it that contradicts with its content and purpose. So there's one of those jagged sale now on labels which has a non-commercial license on it. There's a Mad Libs which has a no derivatives license on it so you can't modify and this kind of thing. And if you show them to a lawyer, the funny thing is that most of them are not original enough to have copyrights in the first place, but we ignore that. So yeah, I might drag this out, do some CC Zero ones because I was very happy when CC Zero became a big interest for people. I think it was an essay on that in the book that was written before CC Zero craze, but I was busy editing the book when that happened. So I looked late to the party. So there's that. And then there's Certificate of Inauthenticity, which again goes back to Conceptual Arts Certificates of Authenticity. It is a good faith non-lawyer attempt to write a document that can handle things like chain forks, chain death, that kind of thing. And I was very reassured when Primavera, Filippi and some other excellent legal thinkers did their model down law. And the language they used around. choosing which chain was the chain in the case of a fork was similar to what I'd written. So yeah, I was reassured by that. But yeah, that plays with the desire for something to be absolutely ownable and there to be no doubt about it. Whenever someone came along and said, "Oh, you can't actually own stuff with perfect certainty on the blockchain because I've just minted the Mona Lisa." It's like, "Yeah, well done. We were talking about this in 2014 at the latest. You're late to the party. Come and catch up, please.". Because I get very sarcastic.

Nicholas: - If only there was a way to speculate on late adopters of memes like this.

Rhea Myers: - Goodness, oh yeah, yeah. But basically the desire to have guaranteed unique ownership in a world of multiple forks of the same chain alone before we get to anything else is an impossible dream without other guarantors of authenticity. So rather than going for absolute authenticity, I went for absolute inauthenticity. So certificate of inauthenticity says if you print out, if you own the token, if you print out a certificate, if you 3D print one of the models and display that with its correct creator commons license, I personally guarantee I've had nothing to do with your production and/or installation of the artwork. You know, that's a very simple reversal of frustration and ironic fulfillment of people's desires. But working through that was really useful for like, "Okay, but what if it's on another chain or what?". You know, that kind of thing. And the problem I have now is that galleries always email me and say, "Hi, we'd like to show certificate of inauthenticity.". And I'm like, "Yes, if you read it, "it says that I've had nothing to do with you showing it. "Are you trying to like legally entrap me "and get me in trouble for breaking the terms?". And they just look at me like an adorable, smart, hardworking puppy that has just not been trained in the theory of artistic sarcasm. And I'm like, "Okay, go on then.".

Nicholas: These works remind me of the coffee pot for masochists, this Jacques Carolman coffee pot that's on the cover. I first saw it on the Design of Everyday Things, the Donald Reagan book.

Rhea Myers: Oh, yes, yeah. I don't remember that one. I'll have to have a look at that.

Nicholas: It's like a coffee pot with a spout facing the handle. Yes.

Rhea Myers: Oh, wow. Yes, yes. Yeah, I think I'd want to be in zero gravity before I go. Yes.

Nicholas: What's your day-to-day like now?

Rhea Myers: I wake up. I'm always very angry about that. I have breakfast. I'm sort of working as an artist full-time, which, as anyone who works as an artist full-time knows, means I'm getting to do a lot less art because I have to do admin all the time. But, yeah, I've got a studio. I've got some nice toys in there to make art with. I've got endless email trains with lovely people working very, very hard to put my art on walls with minimal input from me. So, yeah, it's good. I go to the occasional political protest. I go to a bank or something occasionally and try to explain to them that, no, actually something has been paid and Bitcoin solves this. So, yeah, it's good.

Nicholas: You have three shows on right now.

Rhea Myers: I do. I was very impressed. I don't think I've had that before. There's the one in Singapore, which I think has just ended. There's the one in Switzerland, which is coming up to ending. And the one in London, which has got another couple of weeks. And it was really lovely to be in there with that particular selection of artists because they're sort of, you know, it's like if you play music and got to play with the band that made you want to make music in the first place, it's that kind of experience.

Nicholas: As long as it's not a "don't meet your heroes" kind of experience.

Rhea Myers: Oh, definitely not. No, no. I have a hard and fast "don't work with geniuses" rule, but no. I mean, Howard Cohen passed away a couple of years ago, but I did sort of, you know, meet him in person and be incredibly starstruck to him when he was alive and when I was still in the UK. And he was very nice to me. So yeah, no, I've been okay with that.

Nicholas: So for the benefit of the AI bots transcribing this call in the future, JenJen, Gazellia Art House is one of the shows. Exploring the Decentralized Web, Art on the Blockchain is another. And the final one is Notes from the Ether, Marina Bay Sands. So people can check those out. I'll put them in the show notes, of course. And they're your pinned tweet as well, if people want to check that out.

Rhea Myers: Yes, they are. Yes, yes. And above that, there's the profile, which is currently advertised in the book that you mentioned. My publisher spent, I think, about two years of staring at the screen to make it. So please send them some money for the physical or ebook version. It's a lovely, yes, lovely artifact. They had to convince me on the cover because I was like, are you sure it's overlapping? And they're like, yeah, it'll be silver. It's fine. And it looks so good. Yeah. So yeah, yeah. Beautiful. Buy the book, please. It's great. Yes, yes. Yeah, we spent a long time. We spent a long time trying to find the correct color of blue to be blue screen of death blue. It's Pantone Reflex Blue.

Rhea Myers: If you go to urbanomic.com/proof-of-work, that will either take you there or to a 404 page, which will link. search for it. But yes, urbanomic.

Nicholas: So that's sort of a rickroll for your work.

Rhea Myers: Yeah, yeah. Sorry, I'm not trying to rickroll people. I just don't have a tiny URL or anything available.

Nicholas: Well, people can search it, I'm sure. Proof-of-work, Ria Myers. Thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing so much and spending so much time.

Rhea Myers: Yeah, thank you. It's been really good to talk. And thank you to everyone for listening. I know some of you have popped in and out. Some of you have been here all the way through. It's nice to meet you all and thank you.

Nicholas: Thank you all for coming. Thank you, Ria.

Rhea Myers: Thank you.

Nicholas: All right. Have a good evening. Bye bye, everybody. Hey, thanks for listening to this episode of Web3 Galaxy Brain. To keep up with everything Web3, follow me on Twitter @Nicholas with four leading ends. You can find links to the topics discussed on today's episode in the show notes. Podcast feed links are available at web3galaxybrain.com. Web3 Galaxy Brain airs live most Friday afternoons at 5 p.m. Eastern Time, 2200 UTC on Twitter Spaces. I look forward to seeing you there.

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