Rhea Myers


Tokens Equal Text, 2019, Ethereum ERC-998 and ERC-721 tokens

“Tokens Equal Text” consists of an edition of 32 Ethereum ERC-998 composable tokens each of which owns four child ERC-721 non-fungible tokens. The ERC-721 tokens have short descriptive texts encoded as their ID numbers. This makes the ERC-998 tokens compositions of those text fragments. The content of that composition can be decrypted if the viewer knows that the token IDs can be misread as text rather than numbers.

That content can be further decrypted if the viewer recognises that these fragments of text describe key visual tropes of the Vaporwave movement. Vaporwave is a 2000s Internet-based musical and cultural genre devoted to the sampling and ironization of muzak, digital kitsch aesthetics, and consumerist signifiers of wealth and property, from the the long 1980s. Its status as appropriation art puts it in a precarious relationship with the ownership of the sources of its tropes as intellectual property.

The question of whether a given trope fits the aesthetic of Vaporwave is key to the genre’s accompanying discourse, with canonical tropes establishing the content of that aesthetic. A composition of textual references to these canonical tropes at least admits of the question “is this aesthetic”? Which is the key question of art and art criticism, however crookedly reflected.

Using Ethereum Web3 browser app code to displaying the texts of tokens in visual compositions using “aesthetic” (in the Vaporwave sense) typography and colours nudges along a positive answer to that question, and thereby to decryption of the work’s content. It also prevents the recovery of that content from being a mere puzzle. The easy recovery of the work’s content foregrounds the presence of compositional and indexical structure that reward contemplation.

The “Rare Art” market demands something aesthetic to own. “Tokens Equal Text” loops this desire back through references the complexly unownable aesthetics of Vaporwave in order to both satisfy and frustrate it. By doing so, it places the anxieties of blockchain “true digital ownership” into a state of mutual critical interrogation with the anxieties of the art market.

Preview here: https://opensea.io/images/tokens-equal-text