Damien Hirst’s “The Currency” is the best explanation of NFTs


English artist Damien Hirst’s newest challenge, The Currency, is an art work in two varieties. Its bodily kind is 10,000 distinctive hand-painted A4 sheets coated in colourful dots. In the similar method as paper cash, every sheet features a holographic picture of Hirst, a signature, a microdot, and—in place of a serial quantity—a small particular person message.

The second half of the art work is that every of these hand-painted sheets has a corresponding NFT (nonfungible token). NFTs are digital certificates of possession that exist on the safe on-line ledgers which might be referred to as blockchains.

The best way The Forex works is that collectors won’t be shopping for the bodily art work instantly. As a substitute, they will pay $2,000 for the NFT after which have a 12 months to resolve whether or not they need the digital or the bodily model. As soon as the collector selects one, the different shall be destroyed.


So what is happening right here, and what does it inform us about artwork and cash?

What is cash?

Hirst has primarily created a range of cash, on the rationale that cash is primarily a social phenomenon constructed round religion and belief. In doing so, he touches on an attention-grabbing paradox. Nonfungible implies that a token is a once-off. This is to distinction it with fungible objects like {dollars}, that are all the similar and could be traded like-for-like—the similar method as many cryptocurrencies akin to ethereum or dogecoin. Fungibility is one of the essential properties of any forex in accordance with conventional economics.

However is it what it appears? By creating 10,000 particular person items that mimic actual currencies, Hirst is highlighting with the distinctive markings of every work that even fungible currencies have some nonfungible properties—for instance, most currencies may have completely different serial numbers and difficulty dates on every be aware. This helps to underline that cash is an idea that turns into ever more durable to pin down once you take a look at it extra intently.

The work additional contests our sense of what cash is by elevating questions on one other of its important properties—that of a medium of trade. A piece by a well-known artist would hardly ever be thought of as a medium of trade. As a substitute, it will usually be handled as a scarce retailer of worth, like gold.

Hirst is asking if it actually needs to be this fashion. By producing 10,000 works in the model of a forex, he is clearly having enjoyable by exhibiting how cash is malleable and may shape-shift relying on the context.

What is artwork?

What issues most, bodily or digital artwork? Hirst is not the first to ask this query in the context of NFTs. A couple of months in the past, an organization referred to as Injective Protocol bought a 2006 work by Banksy referred to as Morons, which satirizes an artwork public sale, for $95,000. It then burned the piece dwell on Twitter in order that solely a digital model survived on an NFT. It then bought the NFT for $380,000.


I’ve previously discussed how the folks at Injective had cleverly determined to play on our choice for the bodily over the digital. By destroying the bodily model after which claiming the NFT signature would stand in for the art work, it drew consideration to the profit that an NFT can’t be destroyed by vandals akin to themselves.

At a time when there had been an explosion in demand for NFT artwork and different collectibles, with some trading hands for tens of millions of kilos, this was a touch upon the persistent query regarding whether or not NFTs actually suggest possession. For a lot of, the puzzle is why somebody would really feel that proudly owning a digital model fairly than an “precise” art work constitutes possession in any respect.

Clearly, Hirst will get it. He is approaching the query of possession by distilling it right down to its purest financial and business kind—actually the art work as cash. When folks specific puzzlement at NFTs, actually what they imply is how will you spend cash on one thing so worthless? The concept digital possession is equal to bodily possession is nonetheless unacceptable to the majority of folks.

What Hirst is highlighting is how the “puzzle” is simply solved by recognizing that there are two communities all for his art work: those that worth his conventional bodily items and people who worth his NFT items. He does this, I believe, to point out how worth by no means is smart when it is faraway from the cultural neighborhood that has ascribed that worth to it. Every neighborhood is a thriller to the different. Zoom out, nonetheless, and they’re nearer than they think about, finally bonding as followers of Hirst.

For most individuals, the puzzle is nonetheless the NFT neighborhood. This tradition is populated by passionate blockchain fanatics and crypto-natives, younger individuals who grew up with cryptocurrencies. For them, a blockchain pockets shops their worth. This could imply fungible currencies like bitcoin or ethereum, but in addition, increasingly, their artwork assortment. These collections symbolize their tastes and pursuits and inform us a bit about who they’re, and what they worth.

A very clear-cut instance of this may be somebody who, after the 12 months has handed, decides to say the NFT of Hirst’s work and reject the bodily model. What higher transfer to sign dedication to a blockchain future? When the 12 months is up and we see how many individuals selected to maintain the NFT, it’d even give an attention-grabbing indication of to what extent this new digital era is changing into the dominant one.

Paul Dylan-Ennis is a lecturer/assistant professor in administration info techniques at the University College Dublin. This text is republished from The Conversation underneath a Artistic Commons license. Learn the original article.