Rhea Myers, Titled (Information as Property as Art) [Ethereum Null Address]
In the 1960s, Conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth became renowned for his philosophical investigations into the nature of art. The Buffalo AKG collection includes a set of six panels by Kosuth called Titled (Art as Idea as Idea) from 1967-68, which each feature reproductions of the dictionary definition of the word “nothing” in a different language. In these works, art is literally “nothing”—but also a way of framing the world that has the power to transform “nothing” into “something.” Ultimately, Kosuth’s conceptual games invite us to question the nature of language itself, and even of seemingly fundamental concepts like “nothing.” For example, the dramatic variation between the Danish, English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish panels may prompt us to wonder if “nothing” is less of a universal concept than a social construction that is defined and experienced differently across cultures.
Rhea Myers updates Kosuth’s Conceptual gambit for the blockchain age. Her text-based work Titled (Information as Property as Art) [Ethereum Null Address] presents what is known as the “null address” on the Ethereum blockchain. While the presentation here takes the form of a PDF that mimics the visual style of Kosuth’s works (with white text on a black background), the “work itself” is the idea of the null address and its expression in text, just as Kosuth’s work is the idea of nothing and its definition. The work therefore can be presented by the collector in other ways, such as in vinyl lettering on a wall. As Myers explains about this address,
It is the empty address, the invalid address, the address that no-one can own or control. On the Ethereum blockchain it is nowhere, it is nobody’s, it is nothing. There should be nothing there. But whether by accident or by design, thousands of Ether and thousands of NFTs have been sent to the null address, from where they can never return. They may have been sent by human error. Or they may have been sent there to be “burned,” to be destroyed and put out of circulation. For NFTs, the null address is their inferno.
Paradoxically, the null address is both the richest address and also the one with the lowest value, as its contents can never be claimed. By symbolically turning it into an artwork that is listed for sale, Myers re-stages the conundrums of Kosuth’s work: what does it mean to “own” “nothing”? How does the simple act of calling something “art” give value to it, in both aesthetic and economic terms? As Myers observes, “The null address cannot be owned, but art turns the unownable into property by proxy, symbolically via depiction.” In this way, Myers uses Conceptual strategies to contribute to the current discourse on the value of digital art. Her work concretizes (or perhaps “dematerializes”) the thorny conversations around property and ownership triggered by the rise of Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs): Is owning an NFT like owning “nothing,” or like owning “something,” or perhaps like “owning” both nothing and something?
Just as Kosuth’s “Nothings” invite us to consider the nature of both art and language, Myers’s “Null Address” ultimately raises questions about the nature of both art and code, and specifically, how we might understand code as yet another language (like English or Spanish, for example). In fact, to the extent that all digital code boils down to a series of zeroes and ones, we can say that code itself is fundamentally a language of “nothing” and “something.” Like all languages, this binary language is shaped by its cultural context: Myers often cites Sadie Plant’s 1997 book Zeroes and Ones: Digital Women and the New Technoculture, which argues that zero is culturally coded as feminine and one as masculine. In this light, Titled—with its long string of forty consecutive zeroes, turning “nothing” into a very assertive “something”—is also about gender politics, and especially how our perception of value is never simply a matter of objective quantification.
- Extra Large Acrylic: 11.4 x 7.5 x 1.1 inches
- Comes with US plug and custom cable
Rhea Myers is an artist, hacker, and writer originally from the UK now based in British Columbia, Canada. Her work places technology and culture in mutual interrogation to produce new ways of seeing the world as it unfolds around us. Since 2014 she has been using the blockchain to do so.