2022 retrospective: The Art of Indifference
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The Art of Indifference: 2022 retrospective
Here we are going to recap, recollect, and review the wild year that the 0x Salon had in 2022, with particular emphasis on our ‘The Art of Indifference’ creative programme which constituted most of our activities over the year.
January & before
Though the year began in January, The Art Of Indifference has its roots late in the prior year. As 2022 began, we were midway through the first (and so far, only) iteration of our own residency programme. Check out the announcement and the collection of residency outputs for more on that. Indeed, our haste in bootstrapping a very ad hoc residency programme without securing any backing was one of the motivations for us to seek cultural funds. We looked into web3-based and traditional sources of financial support, and quickly discounted crypto-native funding source as (from direct prior experience) most crypto-linked sources expect some ‘kindness’ towards their enterprises in return for coin. If you’ve been following our journey over the past few years, we’re sure you can imagine why we were reluctant to compromise on our ideals. Thus, we began to scout for potential arts funding opportunities in late ‘22. Soon afterwards, we noticed an open call for the European Commission’s S+T+ARTS platform for their Repairing The Present initiative:
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to address the unintended consequences of steadfast technological development contributing to the European continent’s present social, economic, and environmental challenges
Given that we have—since 2020—been researching the implications and externalities of blockchain networks employing the energy-intensive proof-of-work consensus mechanism, and that one of the 21 themes of the S+T+ARTS call was ‘Blockchain Society’, we put together an application based in part on the summary of Wassim’s work-in-progress book ‘The Indifference Engine’ and the CPRU’s corpus of critical poetics and scripture. There’s a related lecture video from 2020’s Chaos Communication Congress here which provides an overview of the conceptual foundations.
In truth, as the first serious funding application we’d undertaken, we didn’t expect to get too far. Our proposal was really quite vague, so it was quite a surprise to be shortlisted by Blockchain Society residency host Art Hub Copenhagen. Our interview went pretty well until the question “so, uh, what are you actually planning to do?” came up. At that point, the Salon was working on a (still-unfinished) discourse card game ‘Fau0x Salon’ and had recently produced an improvised radio play ‘SWAN FAKE’ which was initiated by the Black Swan DAO Working Group at Trust, the Berlin artist-run workspace and digital community that the 0x Salon is based at. So we said something to the effect of “like those, but moar and bigger”. Another question tripped us up shortly after. Arts funding is usually given to individuals or collectives that conduct artistic activities and identify as artists (in some sense). Until this point, despite working creatively with sound, text, and image for decades, Wassim had avoided engaging in artistic identitarianism, partially due to a “serious” university job administering MIT’s cryptocurrency journal Cryptoeconomic Systemsundefined. So, Wassim was asked if he would be willing to present himself as an artist, in keeping with the 0x Salon as being, in many ways, an artist-operated collective. So, in the ‘morbid winterregnum’ between Christmas and New Year, biographies were rewritten and the needful was done. In a very well-timed coincidence, there was a very flattering feature published by Berlin Art Link entitled ‘Re-Thinking Creative Agency’, where the more artistic side of the Salon’s activities was foregrounded.
In late January, after a final pitch presentation, we found out we had been selected by the jury, we began to lay the groundwork for the proof-of-work to come. Parallel to this, Habib William Kherbek became the first recipient of a Fellowship at the 0x Salon, and joined The Art Of Indifference project team.
Though our S+T+ARTS residency at Art Hub Copenhagen didn’t officially start until March, due to the complexity of our proposals we felt it was wise to set about building a project team immediately. In February, the 0x Salon Writers’ Club was inaugurated, with Fellow Claire S. Tolan and Resident Katharine Tyndall joining Wassim and Will for 2-3 evenings per month at Trust as we began to map out plans of action for our The Art Of Indifference programme consisting of the play ‘THE BLACK HOLE OF MONEY’ and digital adventure game ‘THE IMMACULATE MISCONCEPTION’. From our Sweeping Statements newsletter:
Drama is definitely in the air at the Salon these days as our literary crew has begun working on a new, even more ambitious theatre piece than SWAN FAKE. This time, it’s a multi-act stage drama about the forked up future towards which Bitcoin is leading us all - THE BLACK HOLE OF MONEY. Will humanity find a way to live with our crypto-symbiont? Will we all surrender to the black hole sun of money? Or will we fight to establish our right to live as free, decentralised beings? Even our writers don’t know for sure, but rest assured, the group has been relentlessly hashing out ideas and sifting through the ether for digital gold. We’ll have more substantive news for you on our writings and upcoming performances very soon.
And so it began. The table below is an early attempt at sketching out possible futures for the 21st century, which we would use to inform both the play script and the game options. We chose four ‘strategies’ which humans could collectively adopt to attempt to mitigate Bitcoin; accelerate, regulate, capitulate, and insurrection. More on all that later!
We were also joined by two more Fellows, whose work would begin in earnest further down the road. Anna-Luise Lorenz was charged with leading the visual identity and interactive design work on THE IMMACULATE MISCONCEPTION, and Steven Warwick was enlisted to work on theatrical and dramaturgical aspects of THE BLACK HOLE OF MONEY.
Relatedly, Wassim’s scholarly research on proof-of-work continued in parallel. In somewhat poetic timing, the article ‘Bitcointingency: An Economics of Indeterminacy’ was published by the Weird Economies platform on Valentine’s Day. The concluding remarks point the way towards the speculative eschatologies which we would spend the year ‘mining’. From the text:
Finally…speculations around two possible endgames for Bitcoin’s thermocapital singularity: one is a blessed timeline where proof-of-work provides the necessary incentives to bootstrap Earth’s clean energy generation into a boundless—but incredibly unequal—post-scarcity future. One might think of this as a Childhood’s End timeline. The other is less rosy, insofar as Bitcoin would lock capital and ecology into a zero-sum game where resource scarcity tips the balance in favour of competition as opposed to cooperation, and machines become direct antagonists of nature. Perhaps this might be the Stalker/Roadside Picnic timeline, or a Bitlerian Jihad invoking Frank Herbert’s prehistory of Dune. In such a case, rather than being a new form of artificial life as zealots proclaim, Bitcoin appears more akin to anti-life, or even a form of ‘artificial death’.
In March, our S+T+ARTS Repairing The Present residency began in earnest. We were welcomed very warmly in Denmark by the Art Hub, who immediately began to help us acclimatise to the local environs and to meet interesting and relevant artists, technologists, and other players in the Danish cultural scene. We made a project announcement, which is excerpted here:
Under the banner of ‘The Art Of Indifference’ (which is a reference to 0x005 The Indifference Engine), we will collaboratively interrogate the implications and externalities of proof-of-work based networks such as Bitcoin and Ethereum, probing the tensions they create between capital and ecology in our current scarcity-based global economic regime. We will conduct a multi-modal programme of artistic and pedagogical experiments in 2022, working towards two main families of outputs: participatory games and performed works.
April was spent with activities in both Denmark and Germany, as a lot of factfinding took place on the ground in Copenhagen and its surrounds. We established a fresh rapport with old friends at the Kulturværftet in Helsingør, (in the shadow of Hamlet’s castle) and duly booked the world premiere performance of ‘THE BLACK HOLE OF MONEY’ in an August mini-residency at the largest theatre in The Culture Yard’s complex, commissioned and hosted by CLICK Festival.
Parallel to this, the Writers’ Club continued to meet in Berlin, and several key project characters emerged. Firstly, the play’s unreliable narrator, a time-travelling Bitcoin icon named The Runestone Cowboy.
In May, Wassim gave a lecture at the Art Hub in Copenhagen, in conversation with Lars Bang Larsen, laying out the theoretical underpinnings and creative progress to date of the project.
Travelling to the Baltic island of Bornholm, Wassim spent a spring weekend inhabiting the cyber cowboy to write a series of prologue soliloquies to connect scenes from various timelines that would form the fabric of the play. We also held a series of workshops to solicit feedback on our plans in Berlin, Copenhagen, and cyberspace.
May heralded the advent of what one might call “When $HASHY Met SHAlly”. Animated by Bertram von Undall, $HASHY is a virtual influencer promoted by the ‘thermocapitalist cartel’ that wants to keep Bitcoin mining with scant regard to the ongoing breakdown of planetary ecology.
From our newsletter:
Here’s a little teaser for our Bitcoinic vision of a brighter future (or at least an energy intensive one). Say hello to your new friend $HASHY, a cheery anthropomorphised Bitcoin mining machine who is destined for a close up in the 0x Salon’s play, THE BLACK HOLE OF MONEY. $HASHY as well as other friends and technoserfs, take centre stage in mid-August at CLICK Festival in Helsingør, Denmark at THE BLACK HOLE OF MONEY’S theatrical world premiere. Cheer up! The future is smiling.
June & July
The early summer was full of action, particularly in preparation for our theatre residency. We held a recital event at our spiritual home in Berlin, at the Trust workspace.
From the event announcement:
To prepare for our upcoming THE BLACK HOLE OF MONEY theatre premiere (CLICK Festival, Helsingør, Denmark, 19 August) and also celebrate the release of our SWAN FAKE radio play, we're throwing a recital event. Come to Trust for an evening with the 0x Salon The Art Of Indifference team as we share scenes and soliloquies from both works, exploring myriad possible futures with a series of morally ambiguous characters and unreliable narrators.
As part of the 0x Salon’s STARTS ‘Repairing The Present’ Fellowship, we have been collectively preparing a speculative theatre production called THE BLACK HOLE OF MONEY. Spanning the entire 21st century, we are guided by our narrator—a time-travelling cowboy—across multiple parallel timelines originating from present day events. Bitcoin mediates a game of chicken between capital, ecology and the humans who scramble to coordinate and respond to the crises it creates. Characters represent the principal stakeholders in the Bitcoin economy, and their emissaries. Faced with Earth’s quickening deterioration, Earth’s unwitting protagonists can adopt various strategies: acceleration of the quest for limitless energy, attempt to tame Bitcoin with regulation, conducting insurrectionary uprisings, or acquiescence to the new machine god.
The world premiere of the play takes place at CLICK Festival Helsingør, Denmark on 18th & 19th August. Join us as we elaborate Shakespearean corruptions for the 21st century, in the shadow of Hamlet’s castle (no, really).”
August was mostly about our theatre premiere, with important work on THE IMMACULATE MISCONCEPTION ongoing.
From our event announcement:
At long last, the (transcendental) time (machine) has come:
On the 19th of August 2022, THE BLACK HOLE OF MONEY by the 0x Salon will make its world premiere hosted by Click at the Kulturværftet (Culture Yard) in Helsingør, Denmark. The play was written and produced as part of Wassim Z. Alsindi & 0x Salon’s S+T+ARTS Repairing The Present Fellowship and associated residency at Art Hub Copenhagen.
THE BLACK HOLE OF MONEY was written by the 0x Salon Writers’ Club, with a virtual character animated by Bertram von Undall, and editorial, musical, and staging input from 0x Salon Fellow Steven Warwick and Klara Kofen. If you’re wondering how you can partake, fear not, the material undergirding THE BLACK HOLE OF MONEY will be reimagined subsequently as THE IMMACULATE MISCONCEPTION game under the direction of Wassim and Anna-Luise Lorenz in the months to come.
Six months in the making, the 0x Salon Writers’ Club—comprising Wassim Z. Alsindi, Habib William Kherbek, Claire Tolan, and Katharine Tyndall—have collectively prepared an iron ore d’oeuvre that will render all other plays about digital currencies effectively obsolete. The play explores four possible timelines for Bitcoin’s (and, incidentally, humanity’s) future. Can we regulate the Coin? Can we/should we fight against it? Should we give up and just keep hashing? Or, should we press the #Accelerate-or and see what happens? Only the Cowboy-Out-Of-Time narrating our coup de theatre knows for certain, and even he’s not sure which timeline to invest in. The uncertainty promises to have audiences HODLing on to the edges of their seats…
Not since the Murder of Gonzago debuted at Elsinor Castle has a group of travelling players brought forth a coup de theatre of such epochal proportions. Indeed, many of you, dear friends and colleagues have asked how it went. What we can safely say is: by all accounts, it did occur. Scattered around are fragments of documentation to whet the appetite, with video highlights to follow soon. In the meantime, perhaps a little time spent with $HASHY and the Runestone Cowboy might give you an idea of what’s coming (onstage and beyond…)
In September we turned our full focus to THE IMMACULATE MISCONCEPTION, with it being exhibited at MEET Digital Culture Center in Milan at the end of the month.
Several offcuts from the play also appeared:
Now conjecture of a new time regime,
When creeping gossip, and the dark forest,
Fills the wide vassal of the network graph.
From peer to peer, through the foul tomb of Litecoin,
The hum of Ethereum army stilly sounds,
That the staking sentinels almost receive
The secret whispers of each other's private key;
Fire answers fire, and through their pale skin
Each developer sees the other's encumber'd faith;
Seed phrase threatens seed phrase, in high and boastful praise
Piercing the Template's dull ears; and from the city-state rents,
The armourers, accomplishing the Knights,
With busy spammers drying rivers up,
Give dreadful nodes of preparation:
The contoury cliques do flow, the clocks do troll,
And the third-party hour of drowsy morning Namecoin.
$HASHincourt ::: Henry V, Act IV Prologue
There is no a priori nature
In the beginning
there was the proof-of-word
And the proof-of-word made $ME
$I am the
From the observer’s gaze
$THOU Shalt Not Covet
$THY Neighbour’s Clocks
Timechain is a paradox
If nature is unjust
$WE must destroy it
October, November & December
With our project work complete, all that remained was to show our warez.
On the topic of debuts, our interactive story-game THE IMMACULATE MISCONCEPTION was included in the S+T+ARTS exhibition :REWORLD (4th-30th October) at MEET Digital Culture Center in Milan. :REWORLD is the first of a series of three exhibition that concludes our ‘Repairing The Present’ residency at Art Hub Copenhagen. The exhibition speaks of worlding as a core activity in digital culture: an emerging domain of constructed reality that must face its own sustainability challenges and contradictions. As the blockchain economy appears to be going through a belated moment of critical self-awareness, :REWORLD follows on from the drama in Denmark, importing the Salon’s satire into the realm of gaming.
We made the papers! The S+T+ARTS Repairing The Present got a writeup on science/art entanglements in Italian broadsheet Il Messaggero. THE IMMACULATE MISCONCEPTION was the featured image, whilst the work was on view at :REWORLD at MEET Digital Culture Center in Milan.
THE IMMACULATE MISCONCEPTION explores the four possible futures our writing team developed for Bitcoin (accelerate (hashtag optional); capitulate to the machinic god; attempt to bring the Coin under a regulatory regime; or resist implacably its advance). Instead of dramatising the narrative, we have developed an interactive game which allows players to enter the narrative themselves. You make the choices to determine which future we land.
Other related works were published, including the project's soundtrack and the Delphic Utterances of the TradeWyfe.
In the words of the Runestone Cowboy (the unreliable narrator of our play THE BLACK HOLE OF MONEY):
Now it’s time to tell you about the TradeWyfe. And quite frankly, I don’t wanna. Sticky business alright, hee-haw. Oh yeah, she was real alright, not just an icon to paint on your mining rig. She was a mathemagician, and could solve mining hashes in her mind… one thing led to another and her bathwater became a holy relic. Every dome city in the Northern Hemisphere made her their Patreon Saint. She settled down in the richest, most powerful dome in the land and took her pick of the devs as concubines: two dozen of ‘em, if the rumours are true. They got up to all sorts of off-chain swapping… things that would make even the most degenerate coin flipper red in the face. Asperger was an Austrian you know, just like Mises and Rothbard. I think you know what I’m getting at.
From those murky jacuzzi waters, the Son of Bitcoin was conceived. An Immaculate Miss-Coinception if ever there was one. The faithful coiners, they went off the deep end. She went from being glorified, to beatified, and then deified. Today, she's a phantasmic fantasy, 'twixt Madonna and martyr.
Excerpt from THE BLACK HOLE OF MONEY play script, publication forthcoming
Did someone mention the witches in the Scottish play? No? Here’s an extended version of the TradeWyfe’s Delphic Utterances, with parts borrowed from other CPRU works such as The Necroprimitivist Manifesto:
White Boy Zero-Summer
Parade / Trade, Womb / Tomb, Life / Wyfe
Fork around and find out
Sacred cow, hammer and plough, we must summon the apocalypse DAO
Tallowed Be $THY Name
Iron ore d'oeuvre
Our Satoshi, Who Art Frozen A Head of His Time
“we are the clock operators, we are the hashers of strings”
$MY code, made flesh. The Turing Shroud, Corpus Algorithmi
Proof-of-Burnt-Offerings For An Indifferent God
An I/O for an I/O, a proof for a proof.
$THOU Shalt Not Covet $THY Neighbour’s Clocks
If nature is unjust, destroy nature. Satanic Metaversessssss!!!!
For now, the work looks like it’s done. But proof-of-work has no chill, and cycle always continues. We are currently working towards a publication of the script, a series of animated shorts following $HASHY around as it gaslights the planet, and a new project PROPHET MOTIVES:
PROPHET MOTIVES is an open transdisciplinary, transmedia creative project that aims to render explicit the spiritual, libidinal, and mytho-poetic underpinnings of human relationships to the technological artefacts they create. Bitcoin's headless mode of operation promises "No Gods, No Rulers, Only Rules", acknowledging only that "Code is Law", but this ignores a nascent but incipient machinic faith community, powered by eschatalogical imperatives and teleological drives.
For as long as there has been financial capital, risk and speculation have orbited, manipulated and harvested from it. As narrative feedback machines, simultaneously reading and rewriting realities, markets exist as a distributed conversation amongst speculators driven by profit motives and an appetite for divination and prophecy. Despite the ostensible ‘neutrality’ afforded by technology advances, recognisable human characteristics and archetypes appear again and again. The messianic cult leader, the charlatan, the snake-oil salesman, the pseudo-gnostic teacher, the bad faith detractor, are identifiable at every point of economic history, hiding their agendas and incentives from the naive token-holding utopian believers, and the (sometimes) well-meaning Rube Goldberg machine operators. Reifying cults of personality, chicaneries, and charlatanry of contemporary speculative epistemologies (financial and otherwise), PROPHET MOTIVES exists in order to raise important and urgent questions of zealotry, fairness, and transparency of socio-technical systems.
Massive thanks to all at S+T+ARTS, residency hosts Art Hub Copenhagen, CLICK Festival, Kulturvaerftet & videographer Christian Brems.
The Art of Indifference Team:
Concept & Creative Direction: Wassim Z. Alsindi
Writers: Wassim Z. Alsindi, Habib William Kherbek, Claire Tolan, Katharine Tyndall
Game design, visual direction: Anna-Luise Lorenz
Staging, direction, lighting: Steven Warwick, Klara Kofen
Graphics, animation, video editing: Bertram von Undall, Anna-Luise Lorenz, Joel Galvin, Laura Cugusi
Performers: Neil Bennun, Lassi Bondesen, Peter Palluth, Nynne Roberta Pedersen Pedersen
#reworld #rewild #retool
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