Go inside the worlds of art, fashion, design, and lifestyle.
This week, Sarah Meyohas returns to her project Bitchcoin with a sale in collaboration with the auction house Phillips, now through May 28. Originally created in 2015 (ahead of the debut of Ethereum), Bitchcoin utilizes the blockchain to tokenize Meyohas’s own art—much how one obtains NFTs today using cryptocurrency.
Offering commentary on the subjective value of art and a nod to the gold standard, the sale with Phillips includes a total of 480 Bitchcoins, sold in five bundles, as NFTs. Instead of the digital photograph to which the Bitchcoins were originally linked, each token stands for a physical relic from the artist’s Cloud of Petals—pieces from the collection of preserved rose petals.
We last spoke with the artist Meyohas in 2018, about a year after the launch of her AI-centered series, Cloud of Petals. For the work, the artist invited 16 male workers to the abandoned New Jersey Bell Labs, where, for four days, the team picked apart 100,000 rose petals. Choosing the most beautiful for pressing—a task depending on the men’s subjectivity—the petals were entered as a data set for an artificial intelligence algorithm that would then generate an infinite representation of the physical petals. This, then, served as the basis of four installations, including a film, a mosaic, a sculptural series, and a virtual reality experience.
To learn more about Cloud of Petals, the evolution of Bitchcoin, and how the two have come to interact, Whitewall caught up with the artist.
WHITEWALL: Tell us about this NFT launch of Bitchcoin and its evolution since you first introduced the concept in 2015.
SARAH MEYOHAS: The main difference is that this edition is backed by the pressed petals as opposed to a photograph. This is not an insignificant difference. In a sense the first one, backed by the photograph was also playing on the fact that photography itself has to be printed / rendered materially scarce in an edition in order for it to accumulate any sort of financial value.
NFT's have now moved past that. That's kind of their genius —taking freely available information, and not necessarily selling ownership of it, but allowing a token to be pointing to an image, and for that token to be able to accumulate value.
So for the latest Bitchcoin release—I'm backing with something physical again (and the link to the gold standard metaphorically remains) but instead of it being a photograph, it is the proof of a performance, biological material that I can't go back in time and create more of, and the petals, chosen as they were, represent human subjectivity. My "gold" is a set of petals that represent a choice about beauty.
WW: Given the fact that Bitchcoin predates Ethereum, when you first launched the project, did you have any idea where the world of digital art and its tokenization on the blockchain was heading?
SM: Did I know in the rational sense of knowing? No. But I sometimes do peer a little further into the future....art is a field that allows me to do that!
WW: When you first conceived Cloud of Petals was it intended to interact with Bitchcoin?
SM: I had some vague sense that Bitchcoin was backed by photography, and here I was creating a giant dataset of petals, and maybe that would be useful. But of course, things never end up the way you think they will. It ended up being the pressed petals! A big distinction!
WW: What kind of viewer/user experience are you hoping to create in a multifaceted experience like this, which entangles tangible artworks with technology?
SM: It's funny. At the most basic level, a sense of attachment to the project, both Cloud of Petals and Bitchcoin. Buying Bitchcoin is saying that it's historical project, and deserves to be looked at, etc.
But in a different way, I can't believe I'm saying this, but it does feel a little bit like "world-building" which is this oft-bandied term these days. But I guess it's true...
WW: When we spoke to you about Cloud of Petals in 2018, we discussed ideas of meaning and value in relation to the exhibition, where you said that value goes past economics. Have your thoughts on this evolved or remained the same during the development of this NFT series? How would you imagine your patrons might view concepts of value in relation to their purchase of Bitchcoin?
SM: One evolution is my thinking around stewardship. Buying an artwork can be many things—hopefully first for love, and desire, and appreciation, but undoubtedly also sometimes as an investment. But there's a third part and that is becoming the steward of that artwork, caring for it. And sometimes, this is an unnecessary responsibility to bear. In this case, I get to remain the steward of the petals, and yet their value can float, can circulate, can remain relevant. That the value of the project Cloud of Petals is not simply tied to its material incarnation.
I wish this could be applied to other very valuable things whose value doesn't fit neatly into a market...hint, hint, the environment.