Tag Archives: Arts

Here’s That Counterculture You Ordered

There’s a common complaint I hear lately, coming usually from members of Gen X who have resigned cynicism down to a tee, and the more unruly kinds of Boomer, the ones who genuinely don’t like the establishment they’re accused of having created and, supposedly, profited from.

The gripe runs along these lines; what happened to the younger generations, that they are so conformist, so obedient, and so unquestioning of the narratives strung out by middle class media and calculating corporations? Where is the cynicism, the rebelliousness? Where is the counterculture?

But at the same time, being interested in crypto, I notice something else, that many of the same people who complain about this perceived NPC-ish behavior are utterly dismissive of cryptocurrency and, in particular, NFTs, regarding them as tulips, a vapid fad, or a ponzi.

Perhaps you can see where I’m going with this. You wanted a counterculture? Well, NFTs are exactly that.

Maybe you didn’t notice, because NFTs are a little weird, confusing, and opaque. But then, it wouldn’t be a counterculture if it was normal, easily comprehended, and immediately accessible, would it?

When a counterculture manifests, it isn’t perfectly packaged with a theme song and a dance, declaring hey, here’s that counterculture you ordered. What it might instead look like is something sketchy, a little risky, foolish, frivolous, and pitched out on the edges.

It might look like something we should ignore, or–if there are risks involved–that we should investigate and perhaps criminalize.

It’s likely also to be extremely creative, lawless, and fast-moving, and for sure it can be–for those who got in early or who are good at comprehending its evolving mechanics–extremely profitable.

What’s more, as it becomes more obviously wealth-creating, confident, and colorful, it will drag in mainstream attention, and come to be either co-opted (diluting and corrupting it), or widely adopted (bringing its merits to the masses), depending on your perspective.

Does any of this start to look familiar, does it look like any digital movements that have caught your attention lately, or that you have ignored, or that you have seen declared pointless, while you rued herd-like societal compliance?

Or, more hopefully, is it a description of something you decided to jump in and play around with?

NFTs are the counterculture you ordered, but they didn’t come with a label, because organically disruptive movements tend to prioritize actions over statements. And yes, Paris Hilton owns an ape, because eventually the movements that matter will show up on TV, and then instead of ignoring them as inconsequential, they’ll for a moment be written off as celebrity decadence.

The thing is though, this particular innovation is attached to some changes that are going to be critical to the ways in which we transact, and transactions are the base material of our social infrastructure. First, as more of our everyday business takes place online, then secure, trustless, decentralized ownership of digital assets will become critical. And that is exactly what NFTs permit.

Then there is the fact that NFTs are crypto, and increased mainstream integration of bitcoin and cryptocurrency is coming down the line. In fact, it’s not coming, it’s operational now, in parallel. The future doesn’t arrive everywhere all at the same time, after all. But if you care to look, then you’ll notice that it’s here already, it’s just not evenly pooled.

On top of that, there is the trend towards gamification of, well, anything you like. There are DeFi platforms that feel like games, there is play-to-earn, there is even GameFi, and all of this is operating on various different flavors of magic internet money.

And then what is an NFT anyway? Just a piece of code. Linked to a JPEG. That a pseudonymous online collector bought for thousands of dollars. But using seven-year-old currency/fuel created by a peaceful philosopher-nerd who got annoyed one time at Blizzard Games.

And by the way, that same tech, that gives you a token attached to a monkey, might be used to trade goods, unlock real estate liquidity, self-sovereign your digital identity, get you into clubs both online and off, and who knows where else this all leads?

All accounted for, all secure, and all decentralized. The output of a strange, psychedelic game that runs on logic in its purest distillation–computer code–and that ultimately, preferably, returns ownership to where it always should have belonged: the free individual.

And that this profound transition started with some punks, and got attention through apes, makes it all the funnier, and ideal for the high weirdness of these shifting times.

Building completely new currencies, and always-on, globally-distributed means of transacting with anyone, anywhere, peer-to-peer, is radically anti-establishment. Involving JPEGs in the process is the icing on the cake.


Right Click Save

I can just right-click and save that for free. Look at it any time I want. In fact I’m looking at it now, and I haven’t paid a cent.”

This, or something along these lines, is a thing some people say when they see an NFT for sale.

Their logic states that since buying an NFT is paying for ownership of an image which can be looked at, and right-click-saved, by anyone, freely, why on earth would you pay to own the NFT? They might even go as far as to do a quick right-click-save, for demonstration purposes, and show you the image: there it is, on their device. Not a penny transacted.

Genius. Let’s all give up and go home. Pack up the metaverse because it’s over, just like that.

Or perhaps not. Let’s, for a start, put aside the knowledge that NFTs have multiple utilities, and are not just media for art. That’s a huge thing to put aside, but still, we’ll concentrate on the idea of NFT as image.

That you can do a right-click-save is evidently true, but to think that is the be-all-and-end-all, and proves anything, shows a profound misunderstanding of, basically, everything.

Right-click-saving is very easy, but you can, in essence, already right-click-save traditional, non-digital art. It’s called making a copy. This might be entirely legal, or it might be outright fraud, but either way, it’s nothing new. Can you hang a Gustav Klimt artwork on your wall, at very low cost? According to the right-click-savers this is possible, since whether or not it’s an original, verified piece, is irrelevant. All that matters is that it looks the same.

And part of that might be true. All that matters is that you enjoy looking at it. But in that case, you’re overlooking the idea of some objects being deliberately marked out as unique, and you’re also dismissive of something many people think is very important: provenance.

NFTs have a much higher standard of provenance than traditional art. In fact, NFTs have absolutely flawless records. When you buy a piece of physical art, you’re relying on signatures, pieces of paper, and public consensus. All forgeable, all demonstrably not reliable.

And all sidestepped cleanly by blockchain technology.

When you buy an NFT, there is simply no doubt as to the authenticity of what you’re getting, since that data–about creation and ownership–is locked immutably on to the blockchain.

But then there’s that other dismissal, from the committed right-click-saver,

“Ok, but I can still just look at it for free.”

That’s true, you can. But… so what? When someone buys a piece of art, do they immediately take it home and lock it in a box, taking furtive, hungry peeks late at night, fearful that someone else will see their artwork? If they’ve hung it on the wall, do they flip it around when they have visitors, so no-one can see it?

Here’s an image by Takashi Murakami:

If the owner of that piece happened to find this site, what would they think, about us looking at the image? Not much, is my guess, because I’m fairly sure that’s not how it works. As in, we don’t buy art in order to have a monopoly on looking at it.

Where you might be on firmer ground is to claim that some of the pieces being sold at astronomical prices are not art, or at least don’t fit your categorization of good art, or are over-valued. That’s fine, but that’s just, like, your opinion, man.

And (unlike the technology underlying NFTs) such ideas are nothing new. My first memory of people expressing these kinds of sentiments was with regard to Tracey Emin’s work in the 1990s. And it may well have been me expressing the sentiments.

But the fact is that Emin’s work was categorized as art, and on display in an art gallery, and Emin was called an artist, and will be remembered as a rich and famous artist, and, well, you get the idea.

The point is, “it’s not art”, is not much of a takedown, particularly when aimed at headline-status pieces of work, and anyway, it can only be directed at specific pieces, not the underlying technology and medium of delivery.

Besides which, I’m not even sure that all of the owners paying enormous sums for CryptoPunks do believe that they’re purchasing art, or that it matters either way. What we can say for certain is that they’re taking ownership of a provably scarce item, which has acquired some degree of historical or cultural fame, is collectible, and which they believe has–or is imbued with through their actions–a value of [x preferred cryptocurrency].

And let’s get on to the money. Is it crass to talk about loot in relation to art? Is your collection just another stash in the vault? Shouldn’t we all simply be interested in beauty and creativity? Perhaps, but that depends on what we enjoy, and these things are not all mutually exclusive.

Yes, I experience artistry and emotion, and in that case cost doesn’t matter. But I also enjoy spectacle, and the human circus, and when you inject many millions of dollars into an emergent phenomenon, and have the cash flow freely, and actually, it’s not dollars anymore, it’s a new, decentralized, highly volatile currency, that’s programmable, and didn’t exist in the 1990s when Emin had a messy bed and Bowie was making drum & bass and talking about the internet… and so introduce that factor–the liquidity and speculation–and then the carousel really speeds up, and it might even take off and go into orbit.

That was a long sentence.

But what I’m saying here is that sure, you can right-click-save for free. But do you think those people who made hundreds of thousands of dollars flipping NFTs just right-click-saved? Or how about the many more people who made a thousand dollars, or a few hundred, by moving assets they like, in ecosystems they can navigate, with people they understand. Actually, forget profit, are they having fun? Did they have their fun with just a right… click… save?

What the frugal right-click-savers are essentially saying, in this case, is that a game is being played, but they very strongly do not want to participate. Well, that’s fine. No-one is demanding they join in. But I wonder, do they make a point of walking past chess players, or poker nights, or photography contests, and announcing loudly that they will not be taking part?

Do they stand outside art galleries featuring works they don’t like, and proclaim to anyone passing by that it’s all a waste of money and a rip off? Or visit anime events, where rare collectibles change hands for significant amounts of money, and declare that they will buy nothing?

Maybe they should. That would be quite a performance, and, in the end, all part of the spectacle.


The world of NFTs is composed mainly of chaos. It’s an absurdist, explosive flow of hope, pixels, and wild, multi-chain financial speculation. And, just occasionally–flashing past as you were laying down some tokens on a chunk of virtual land at the edge of a yet-to-be-sculpted new metaverse–something elusive and worthwhile: some art, whatever that means.

Loaded with care on to the Cardano blockchain is one such project–a light-filled, artistic one, I mean–that goes by the name of Pandorea. All done, it will consist of 5,000 unique, procedurally generated NFTs.

1,000 of these, the Pioneer edition, dropped earlier this month, and sold out rapidly. The next drop, the Discovery Edition, will go ahead 29th October at 9pm UTC, and will see the remaining 4,000 pieces minted.

To get a better idea of what the project is, what generative art means, and where CNFTs are headed, I fired a few questions into the Pandorea vicinity, and was generously graced with some insights.

Can you give us some information about who you are?

Pandorea is a tight team of three: myself, my brother and my housemate. My brother and  I come from creative backgrounds, we both work as practicing artists in the media arts space and are particularly interested in generative art. I’ve also worked for many years in tangible computing and interactive installation.

My brother has his own media art studio called Ature that specializes in generative media.

My housemate is the illustrious developer. We’re super close friends so it’s really nice living and working in the same environment.

Is this your first NFT project?

Yep, first one, but it was a long time in the making. We had a series of artworks for several months prior and were looking for the right place to launch. I’ve dabbled in a few NFT spaces previously, but was particularly drawn to the Cardano ecosystem. It seemed so exciting and fresh (not to mention the ludicrously low gas fees).

Why Cardano, rather than the alternatives?

I’ve been very interested in Cardano for some time. I had seen how strong the community was, but was uncertain about the CNFT community. We were instantly overwhelmed by how welcoming and supportive the space was, right off the bat.

There is also something exciting about being involved in something so early on. It’s like the wild west of NFTs. We definitely feel we made the right call.

Some CNFT drops have had technical problems. How was yours, did the first drop go smoothly?

Silky smooth. It was a bit stressful leading into it but we were super pleased with how the first drop went. Fingers crossed the second drop of 4k goes just as well!

The Pandorea pieces are visually stunning, have you ever printed one and and hung it on the wall?

Funny, that’s actually how Pandorea started. My brother was selling physical prints before they became CNFTs.

After doing a few giveaways, we realized that there was quite an interest in having an accompanying physical print, so we continued to develop them and utilize different mediums, including framed prints and aluminium.

The community has been super creative too, it’s so wholesome to see people printing their Pandoreas on silk and glass (and even a T-shirt or two).

For people who don’t know, what’s generative art?

Great question, I’m sure it can be defined in many different ways but for me, generative art is a process. The term generative simply refers to the way in which it’s produced.

It’s a beautiful way to make art because although it’s being created by a set of predetermined rules and limitations, the outcome can be greater than the sum of its parts.

This is a slippery concept known as emergence: simple rules creating incredibly complex visual forms and images.

Pandorea is about nature, but on a high tech medium. Is there a conflict between nature and technology?

Having grown up on the Australian coast we were all privileged to have been immersed in nature from a young age. Diving into the ocean, playing in rockpools, and going for bushwalks was all pretty standard. Pandorea is inspired by textures and colours found in nature.

I think too often people create a binary distinction between nature and technology. I hope with Pandorea that line becomes blurred, and people see that the two can actually exist in symbiosis.

Which is your favourite Pandorea piece?

I think the Radiant pieces are hypnotising, I love seeing the rippling effects and how closely they mimic a gentle breeze over the ocean, or wind over sand dunes. It’s quite meditative.

What do you hope for the project after it finishes minting?

It’s hard to predict what will happen after minting, but we hope that the community will continue to vibe the artworks!

Our roadmap into the future consists of minting our utility token–Pandorea Token–that will be dropped to long-term holders. This token is redeemable for a physical print on paper or aluminium, which is pretty awesome.

Have you got any plans for other future projects?

After minting we’re straight into our next project, Pandorea Emergence, which will be an entirely different, limited series of generative artworks inspired by nature.

We’ll also be collaborating with established artists, and integrating changes into our Explorer over at pandorea.art.

Which other NFT projects or artists are you a fan of?

Of course we’re big fans of unsigs, the OG gen-art project in the CNFT space. I’m also particularly keen on Aeoniumsky. I find his work super captivating and so meticulously detailed.

How do you imagine NFTs in general, or CNFTs in particular, developing in the future?

I envision that we’re in a period where everyone is still figuring out what the CNFT space can actually be. There’s going to be a lot of weird projects and growing pains, but I hope that eventually it can further develop as a place to discover exciting new generative art projects that are a bit more than cartoon collectibles.

For more information on the Discovery Edition drop, taking place 29th October at 9pm UTC, visit pandorea.art, check the Discord, or follow the project on Twitter.

Good Intentions

“Robert Oppenheimer, a little while before he died, said that it’s perfectly obvious the whole world is going to hell. The only possible chance that it might not is that we do not attempt to prevent it from doing so. Because you see, all the troubles going on in the world now are being supervised by people with very good intentions. There are attempts to keep things in order, to clean things up, to forbid this and prevent that, possible horrendous damage. And the more we try, you see, to put everything to rights, the more we make fantastic messes, and it gets worse, and maybe that’s the way it’s got to be. Maybe I shouldn’t say anything at all about the folly of trying to put things to right, but simply on the principle of Blake, let the fool persist in his folly so that he will become wise.”

That’s from a talk by the masterly Alan Watts, a compelling philosopher and Bodhisattva. I don’t know when the talk was given, but Alan died in 1973, and it’s striking that what he says here seems so operative and resonant, given the decades that have passed since he articulated such ideas.

Is it better, then, not to do good? Certainly, that phrase, a do-gooder makes me shudder a little. No-one wants to be a do-gooder, and not a goody-two-shoes either. Where would be the fun in that?

And at an institutional level, it becomes not just tiresome and graceless, but impositional, restrictive, and ultimately dangerous. Institutions have power. The authorities have clout. When they decide that a certain behaviour is good, it means other ways of conducting oneself might be bad, which means they may not let you do them for much longer.

Or in this age of self-censorship, you may not let yourself do them.

And it might then follow that English author TH White’s words become unfortunately relevant.

“Everything which is not forbidden is compulsory.”

So how do we avoid such a future?

Let’s turn to a contemporary figure, who got to the essential core of how best to proceed from here in a single word:


And since we’re on the topic of Yeezy, and I can’t help but detect a certain mysticism in the air at the moment, let’s work with this too: