Burning of Banksy. Source: video screenshot, Youtube / Burnt Banksy
The blockchain company bought Banksy’s work and burned it. But instead of destroying the value of art, they claim to have made it more valuable because it can be sold as blockchain-based art.
The owner of this art, Burnt Banksy, is now selling it: the auction ends today, and at the time of writing, the highest bid was 39 ETH ($ 65,000).
The company behind the stunt, Injective Protocol, bought the screenshot from a New York gallery for $ 95,000. They then broadcast his burning live on the BurntBanksy Twitter account.
But why would anyone buy a piece of art just to burn it? To understand the answer, you need to plunge into the cunning world of “NFT” art .
It combines the niche subculture of cryptoassets with longstanding philosophical questions about the nature of art. Unsurprisingly, people find it difficult to explain all this.
Simply put, an NFT (Non-Fungible Token) work of art is made up of two things. First, a work of art, usually digital, but sometimes physical. Secondly, it is a digital token representing art, also created by an artist.
In the past, artists could provide a gallery with a signature or certificate to authenticate a work of art. This is a method of verifying or proving that it was indeed a painting by, say, Matisse or Klimt.
In 2008, the creator of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto , introduced a new verification method known as blockchain. Blockchains have historically been used to record financial transactions, but they are quite flexible. You can find everything from collectible games to new funding methods these days, and it all lives on blockchains.
The most important feature of blockchain for art is that decentralized public blockchains are extremely difficult to change. The artist can provide proof of the authenticity of the artwork that cannot be altered. This proof can then be auctioned off from artist to collector, making blockchain art very liquid.
Collectors buy “non-fungible” tokens (NFT). Non-fungibility means that one or a limited edition is produced. NFT tokens cannot be replicated.
In some cases, the art will be stored on the blockchain, but more often the NFT will refer to an external work of art. While many people may not consider this to be “art possession,” it is clear that many collectors disagree with them. It is understood that NFT artwork is rare and therefore valuable.
Nyan Cat. Screenshot.
Newcomers to the NFT market may be struck by the poor quality of the artwork. Without barriers to entry, everyone is free to become a blockchain artist – and it shows. But this is a naive reading of what is happening. Blockchain art is in demand for more than just aesthetic reasons.
For example, many NFTs like Cryptopunks are in demand due to their age, like blockchain antiques. The most expensive Cryptopunk sold for $ 1.6 million and at first glance is nothing more than crudely drawn pixel art.
Cryptobanks are the oldest NFTs, and it is their data that is attractive – their “metadata” – for example, their longevity on the blockchain. To understand what’s going on, you need to look not at art, but at the environment.
Other NFTs, such as the Nyan Cat meme that sold for $ 600,000, are already widespread memes. But they are prestigious precisely in their NFT form, because the creator “signed” the work on the blockchain.
But why would anyone want to destroy original artwork? Well, here’s what the BurntBanksy team said about this:
If you had an NFT and a physical part, the value would be primarily in the physical part. By removing the physical element from existence and having only the NFT, we can guarantee that the NFT, thanks to the ability of the smart contracts of the blockchain, no one can change the part, and that it is the real and only part that exists in the world. Thus, the cost of the physical part will be transferred to the NFT.
To most, this probably sounds like gibberish. I suspect the collective is acting somewhat provocatively, changing our usual preference for physical over digital. However, their argument follows the ideal blockchain logic. They argue that if we have a work of art and an NFT, then most people will consider the former as “real” art.
To change this, they decided to burn what many would consider objectively valuable work of art, Banksy, and leave only the NFT. Unlike physical art, which can be burned, shredded, or broken, NFT is a digital token that lives on an immutable blockchain. It cannot be destroyed, and therefore, according to their logic, it must be completely protected from vandals such as themselves.
With the “real” work of art gone, NFT is now replacing the real work. Of course, they are hinting that this is a potential shift from “real” to NFT in general, and their trick underscores this. Interestingly, their act also suggests that they have become artists themselves.
By burning a real chunk, they turn it into a chunk of only NFTs. To see the value of NFT, we must look not only at art but also at blockchain.
Finally, it is interesting that the collective decided to choose Banksy’s artwork for destruction, given that the artist destroyed a piece of his own art live in 2018, just after it was auctioned off. Perhaps the work of these vandals is closer in spirit to the artist’s original than it seems at first glance.