Bitcoin Artwork for a Cause: An Interview with cryptograffiti

Nakamoto by cryptograffiti Credit cards, adhesive on wood (2014) (Photo Credit: cryptograffiti)

Nakamoto by cryptograffiti
Credit cards, adhesive on wood (2014)
(Photo Credit: cryptograffiti)

Bitcoin enthusiast cryptograffiti has found a new use for credit cards – cutting them up and using them to create Bitcoin-themed artwork.

The pseudonymous artist uses his art to demonstrate Bitcoin’s disruption potential and to show his disdain for the banking industry. Upon taking a closer look at his collages, one can make out the logos of Visa, HSBC, and Citibank. The tiny pieces of credit cards create an image of global disruption, a Bitcoin symbol within resin, a portrait of Dorian Nakamoto, and more.

Banks play a large role in cryptograffiti’s street art as well; his Instagram & Twitter are both filled with photos of his Bitcoin messages posted on ATMs and on bank walls.

In many ways, cryptograffiti is using his artwork for the greater good by spreading the Bitcoin message to the general public. He’s also currently holding an auction to benefit Dorian Nakamoto on bitify. The piece being auctioned is his portrait of Nakamoto, which is signed by Nakamoto himself. Out of respect, cryptograffiti remained vague about Nakamoto’s current situation, saying only, “Well, Dorian is a friend, and without going into too much detail, he is in need of financial help. This inspired me to pitch in.”

There’s still time to make a bid on the portrait. The auction will close tomorrow, November 11, at 9PM ET. The current bid at the time of posting is $1,251, or .3516 BTC.

Detail of Nakamoto (Photo Credit: cryptograffiti)

Detail of Nakamoto by cryptograffiti – Dorian Nakamoto’s signature
(Photo Credit: cryptograffiti)

Emily Braun: How did you first learn about Bitcoin?

cryptograffiti: Several years ago, a developer hired for a startup I was working on requested to be paid in Bitcoin. I thought he was joking. Had I followed through with it, he would be quite wealthy today.

Braun: What aspects of it most appealed to you?

cryptograffiti: Around that same time, I read about a hypothetical use case re: how cryptocurrencies could combat email spam. To summarise, if a provider were to charge a negligible amount of bits to send an email, spamming would no longer make economic sense. This excited me about the breadth of possibilities for Bitcoin.

Braun: How has your perception of Bitcoin changed since you first heard about it, if at all?

cryptograffiti: I went from, “Wow, this is fascinating. I hope it catches on,” to, “It’s only a matter of time before this catches on.” In the past couple of years, I have been traveling extensively in Latin America. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought to myself, “Ugh, a global currency would make this much more convenient.” Efficiency is such a big driver of innovation. Companies are made or lost based on the number of clicks it takes to complete a task. There have been countless examples of monetary inefficiency just within my recent travels, which have solidified my beliefs that change is afoot.

Braun: Have you noticed changes in the public perception of Bitcoin since you first learned of it?

cryptograffiti: Yes; in fact, for a long time, I videotaped street interviews for a project documenting this very subject. I would simply ask strangers, “What is Bitcoin?” It was surprising how even in the some of the most tech-centric places on Earth, e.g. the Mission District of San Francisco, people were still in the dark. I scrapped the project because it was predictable. Over time, people gradually became more aware.

More recently, The Economist’s cover story has gone a long way in legitimizing cryptocurrencies within my circle of friends. Previously, our conversations focused on the negative press garnered by BTC-funded ransoms and illicit drug markets. Whereas in the past week, coverage of the blockchain’s capabilities has served as a counterbalance and inspired more positive discussions.

Braun: What aspect of banking is most in need of disruption?

cryptograffiti: Accountability. Individuals have gotten away with despicable acts under the veil of being a corporation. We’re going to look back on the last few decades in shock with what Wall Street was allowed to get away with.

Braun: Where do you see the future of Bitcoin heading?

cryptograffiti: Omnipresent public wallets will transform everyone into digital buskers. We’re starting to see this now with the increase of crowdsourcing campaigns for everyday people, for example to show gratitude for a heroic act. Cryptocurrencies will make the process seamless by eliminating platform registration friction. As a result, “micro-campaigns” will proliferate. “First person to help me I.D. the third track in this DJ mix gets X number of bits.” A fledgling public speaker posted her first debate online? Viewers send bitcoin as encouragement to keep it up. Was your comment the most liked on a Facebook page? Said page has earmarked you bits redeemable for their services. This is already occurring on a very small scale, but with growth in the number of Bitcoin users coupled with an increase in online platforms integrating Bitcoin, we will see the frequency with which this happens grow exponentially.

Braun: Is there anything that you’d like to see change with regards to Bitcoin?

cryptograffiti: We need more positivity and less censorship within the community.

Braun: Why do you find Bitcoin to be a compelling subject matter for artwork?

cryptograffiti: Bitcoin is a combination of two of my favorite things: disruptive innovation + a good underdog story. We’re in the nascent stages of something amazing. I’ve had jobs in the past where I was not inspired by the product. This is the polar opposite.

Braun: What are your main goals in your work?

cryptograffiti: I love to create things that inspire others. I also would rather my work be divisive, than receive no reaction at all. If a piece causes people to think, it’s all the more rewarding.

Braun: Why do you choose to remain pseudonymous?

cryptograffiti: Considering my subject matter, it’s for the best. There are people in positions of great power who despise Bitcoin and as a result, my work.

Braun: I loved your Reddit post about how bank slogans seem more appropriate for Bitcoin. If you could only pick one, which current bank slogan do you think best applies to Bitcoin?

cryptograffiti: Allahabad Bank, the oldest joint stock bank in India’s slogan is, “A tradition of trust.”

Free Charlie by cryptograffiti (Photo Credit: cryptograffiti)

Free Charlie by cryptograffiti
(Photo Credit: cryptograffiti)

Braun: Have you ever gotten any sort of reaction from a bank?

cryptograffiti: One of the largest banks in the world has sent a cease and desist. That is all I would like to say on the subject.

Braun: Have you ever observed reactions to your work from customers at a bank or Western Union location?

cryptograffiti: When I was photographing “Banker with a Conscience” at the New York Stock Exchange, a surprising number of high fives took place. Also, after putting up the “Free Charlie” piece at a HSBC location (right), it was taken down by an employee and thrown in the trash. Someone witnessed this, scanned the QR code included on the art, and left me a message saying they put it back up on the wall. She had a bunch of questions about the meaning behind the work and subsequently Bitcoin.

Braun: How could Bitcoin or related technology benefit artists?

cryptograffiti: So many ways. Square has done a good job of facilitating impulse buys at art shows while eliminating the risks of accepting checks. Bitcoin will provide the same benefits sans fees. Also, my earlier comment about micro-campaigns applies. Gallery attendees will more readily become patrons with the efficacy of Bitcoin. If an artist’s work is sold out or out of price range, one can still show support even if the artist is tied up speaking with another attendee. Furthermore, the current standard art dealer commission is 50%. I think more money will end up in artists’ pockets as Bitcoin is but one of many catalysts that will increase online art purchases. There is also some interesting innovation happening with licensing digital art through the blockchain. Artists can put digital hashes on the blockchain that prove the work has been licensed to potential buyers. The license can limit the number of times the work is able to be replicated, thereby creating scarcity. I could go on and on. It’s exciting.

Braun: Are there any ways that Bitcoin has already benefited you as an artist?

cryptograffiti: Yes, I was the first artist to utilise a public facing wallet to receive donations for street art. Passersby send me bits in support of the work.

– Emily Braun

To check out more work on cryptograffiti’s website, click here!
To view the auction & make a bid, click here!

All photos in this post are credited to cryptograffiti.

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