In the first Lockdown, Frankfurt artists Il-Jin Atem Choi and René Schohe launched the project “dadacoin”. A conversation about the value of art, NFT and criticism in times of Bitcoins.
In the context of recent developments in art and cryptography, Bitcoin and the Corona pandemic, Frankfurt-based artists Il-Jin Atem Choi and René Schohe launched the “dadacoin” project. In this interview, Il-Jin Atem Choi explains the art project, what Digital Dadaism means, and what the whole thing has to do with the much-discussed NFTs.
Matthias Ulrich: How did the dadacoin project come about?
Il-Jin Atem Choi: Since April/May 2020, more or less caused by Corona, I have been actively following the bitcoin price trend and started researching on YouTube: What is bitcoin? How does bitcoin function? What is the difference between bitcoin and blockchain? Now this may be merely basic knowledge, but what interests me about it first and foremost is the social side. To my mind, a blockchain initially resembles a decentral book, book as in bookkeeping. In it, transactions are described, who owns what, at what point in time, and how much of a specific currency gets transferred. A blockchain is to a certain extent comparable with a conventional bank account, such as exists on countless computers worldwide and decentralized.
In other words, it is an alternative currency in the digital domain?
Bitcoin is the first digital currency to be thought through properly. It is – or so Saifedean Ammous, the author of “The Bitcoin Standard”, suggests – actually the hardest currency ever developed in human history, harder than gold. And why is that so? Bitcoin is limited to 21 million bitcoins, meaning the supply cannot at any point in time be raised artificially, so it is essentially inflation-proof. The major problem with digital currencies before bitcoin was double spending, meaning the possibility that they could be multiplied to an unlimited extent. As regards a currency, this means that a sum X that moves from A to B is then transferred on to C, and so forth. And bitcoin has solved this problem by means of a puzzle (laughs), a cryptographic task. Each transfer is based on such a puzzle and can be verified by everyone. The blockchain would recognize abuse and prevent the transaction; that’s what is called “Proof of Work”. Admittedly, it’s not exactly easy to understand how exactly double spending is prevented by a puzzle.
On the art side, the latest hype are non-fungible tokens or NFTs for short, meaning an artwork that exists as a digital document. How does the problem of double spending arise with such an artwork?
Such an artwork can in principle exist an infinite number of times, but what only exists once is the digital certificate or the digital track that shows someone has purchased the artwork in question. My favorite example is NBA Top Shot. A short clip of basketball player LeBron James recorded $ 100,000 as an NFT for example, while the same clip had previously been watched by a few million viewers on YouTube. And the only difference is the digital certificate.
It is [...] the hardest currency ever developed in the history of mankind, harder than gold.
I consider this as a contradiction to a certain degree, namely if on the one hand, the new opportunities using digital art on platforms that can be viewed anywhere drive the liberalization of art production, distribution and marketing while on the other hand, only a certificate spells the difference between the original work and reproduced versions.
I regard this as a bit of a setback, namely back to the Concept Art of the 1960s when a Sol LeWitt could exist on the one hand with a certificate and, on the other, without – and this did not involve a different artwork. What is new is the impossibility of fraud, something the blockchain guarantees. “You claim you have the certificate and then everyone in the blockchain confirms this immediately, or they do not if the certificate belongs to a different person.” Another new aspect is that NFTs mainly get sold by auction because only in that way and through their sale can production of such digitally certified artworks happen in the first place.
So how can an image posted on Instagram emerge in the next step as an artwork?
To that end, the image (or video, audio clip or other medium) simply needs to be uploaded onto the corresponding platforms, such as Rarible, Foundation, SuperRare or Nifty Gateway. Setting up an account there normally does not involve registration fees. As soon as the images appear there, they can also be potentially sold. Unlike with commercial art galleries, the platforms do not demand any further commission. The one or other service provider goes a step further, if, for example, an artwork changes hands, generally at a higher price than the original sales price, and then the artist again receives a certain percentage of the profits. And I would say that is indeed something positive.
If we take the example of the artist Beeple, one of whose works sold at Christie’s (on the Nifty Gateway platform) for just short of 70 million dollars, who earns from the transaction and how much?
[Pause] I don’t know. But I assume that all three parties involved, namely Christie’s, the artist, and the digital platform, all had a share of the profits. And if traditional art criticism then afterwards really tears into the Beeple piece, I personally tend to see it as a typical instance of “the Empire strikes back”. Rightly so, I think, as the piece does not have any greater value or quality than a piece by a sophomore at an art academy. And it makes sense to me that the high standards that the artworld has set as regards quality and integrity apply and old territories get defended. Not that this will have any impact on the artists on the platforms, as that is a different market, namely a market for entertainment, stars, brands, and influencers and thus one where the art world plays no particular role.
On the other hand, one could get the impression that everything that has to date ruled in art, from production and presentation through to sales, including the respective authorizing agents, is being called into question here. And it is only about the fact that the number of likes or hits on digital platforms is something that a conventional exhibition will hardly ever achieve … So let’s now get on at long last to talking about “dadacoin” – your and René Schohe’s art project.
The collaboration with René started during the pandemic, when I curated an exhibition of his images for Frankfurt exhibition space fffriedrich. The exhibition was scheduled to open at exactly the time the very first lockdown set in, and no one saw it as a consequence! This and other absurdities prompted us to declare the coming of “Digital Dadaism”. In a kind of epiphany, ‘dadacoin’ appeared before us, meaning a fungible, cryptographic token. And we asked ourselves whether, alongside the monetary value of art and the artwork per se, there should not be a third level involved that can be considered the inherent value of the artwork. Artworks that, for example, never get displayed or never land in the market, nevertheless exist. The dadacoin stands for that inherent value. And with this idea we founded dadacoin technologies GmbH as a start-up in the sense of artistic entrepreneurship. In general, we associate the unity of art and life with Dada, an extension that has now, for instance, become completely acceptable in art in the form of artistic political activism.
In a kind of epiphany, the dadacoin stood before us, a fungible cryptographic token.
Is dadacoin exclusively meant for art and artworks?
dadacoin is not an NFT, as it is based precisely on exchangeability. dadacoin exclusively addresses artists. This means that individual artists make a dadacoin contribution in the form of a poetic, Dadaist, aphoristic sentence they choose. It can be a slogan, an exhibition title, a motto for life, the title of an artwork or a dialog, and it definitely has to be written. These contributions are then collected in the dadabible and the owners then have access to dadacoins. Artists’ second contribution is their self-estimated value, as it were, which subjectively attaches a price to a fictitious work on an A4 sheet of paper. In my case, the value is currently about 150 Euros because that is the price I would be happy with. Like bitcoin, dadacoin is also hard-capped, limited to a specific number, whereby at dadacoin the maximum number is 4141.
To summarize, your project consists of text contributions that are visible to owners of dadacoins. dadacoin is exclusively meant for artists…
The making yes, but anyone can be a buyer.
But I want to buy artworks, for example one of your drawings.
Correct. On the dadacoin.com website you are expected to buy a work using the corresponding number of dadacoins. Depending on the current value of the dadacoin, e.g., 1 dadacoin = 1,500 Euros, the price of 150 Euros would then be 0.1 dadacoins.
Surely I could do that without the platform, simply by asking the artist what the work costs, transferring that sum, and then I own the piece.
In the crypto world you first have to invest, because the first step is to create the 4141 dadacoins (to “dig”) and to sell them, too. Parallel to this, we are working to open the platform to artists who can display and sell their works on it. One of the advantages is that artists always get paid immediately if they do sell and this is secured by Ethereum blockchain. What I have not mentioned is that dadacoin is based technically on Ethereum, which is the second largest cryptocurrency after bitcoin in terms of market capitalization.
[Pause] Other than digging, meaning creating a dadacoin that is exclusively reserved for artists, we also want to include non-artists. If, for example, the status of a dadacoinpro is reached, which means ownership of at least 10 dadacoins, then you can also vote in the so-called relevance index. The dadacoin relevance index will be a meta-ranking that consists of a hybrid of all known artist rankings and can be checked and changed by the dadacoinpros. It’s not ready for launch yet. At present, we invite artists we recognize and who see themselves as working professionally to simply take part in the dadacoin ecosystem (be it in the iterative “Digital Dadaism” group show, trading an artwork for dadacoins, or participating in dadacoin digging).
One of the advantages is that artists are always paid immediately when they sell and this is secured by the Ethereum blockchain.
You, meaning René and you.
Exactly. To us, what counts is the claim to really be active as a fine artist.
If I understand it correctly, that’s something that is consciously avoided with an NFT because the idea is to liberalize art, make it more democratic.
The key difference to NFTs is that we seek to strengthen the role of the artists. In art there are really a lot of gatekeepers, and bar a few exceptions they are none of them artists, and that applies to NFTs, too. And that is precisely not the case with dadacoin, which is the radical opposite as the gatekeepers are exclusively artists.
As with the Secession… Isn’t there a risk that only certain networks will be activated and this will obstruct diversity?
We’re trying to use all sorts of decentralized elements to solve this, by being recommended to others, for example, and hopefully through lots of artists soon sending enquiries to dadacoin. In the end, everyone can take part and benefit from it.