July 4, 2022

Kevin Abosch is a Crypto Artist

Micol of VerticalCrypto Art speaks to the artist about his latest work and his enduring interest in cryptography
Credit: Kevin Abosch, When Rhetoric Leads to Wholesale Slaughter (detail), 2022. Courtesy of the artist
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Kevin Abosch is a Crypto Artist

Micol: Tell us about your latest work and how it relates to your prior practice?

Kevin Abosch: Control (2022) is just my latest attempt at probing the basic human rights being threatened in so-called “developed” nations with a focus on the dynamics of hegemonic control. As you know, in the United States, the Supreme Court has effectively ruled that women do not have the right to make decisions about their own bodies. Justice Clarence Thomas has made it clear that they’re coming for access to contraception and same-sex marriage. It’s grim.

Kevin Abosch, Control, 2022. Courtesy of the artist

M: You’ve often used tokenization to reveal what humans really value. Has the recent NFT explosion altered your thoughts about the technology, or value for that matter?

KA:  Anything that erodes the existing hierarchy in which the physical is deemed more valuable than the immaterial is of great societal value in my view. The blockchain has proven to be a valuable tool for artists and collectors alike. 

I’m often asked about what many see as the hyper-commercialization of NFTs. But it is no surprise that the efficiency the blockchain has brought to the art market can amplify the positive and negative elements that already existed. Sure, much of the activity is just a decentralized gambling game based on the traditional art market, but now the glassy-eyed keyboard speculators have a way to play their game with much less friction, which has led to an influx of people who probably never considered buying art before 2021. That said, as an artist who is also an avid collector, I am more grateful than ever that blockchain technology has empowered both artists and collectors. 

Kevin Abosch, Weaponizing Supply Chains, 2022. Courtesy of the artist

M: Your Sun Signals (2021) situate NFTs within a vast cosmic ecology. Other artists are also trying to reduce and reverse the environmental damage wrought by Web3. What prompted your particular approach to the issue?

KA: I live in the middle of nowhere in the South of France on 20 acres of land, much of which is well-exposed to the sun. With all the talk of how the blockchain and NFTs in particular were having a deleterious effect on the environment, how could I resist building a small solar farm? I can generate up to 48 kilowatt hours of power per day in the summer and use it to power my computer server. For my NFT project, Sun Signals — minted on the energy-gobbling Ethereum blockchain — I trained all the solar data on my solar-powered GPUs [graphics processing units]. It’s a start. Much of my minting lately has been on Tezos which I think also helps. 

Kevin Abosch, Sun Signals #0005, 2021. Courtesy of the artist

M: I’m interested to know how you distinguish your approach from other artists who use blockchain and NFTs as part of their practice.

KA: I have used the blockchain as a method in my practice since 2013. But I was already playing with cryptography well before the blockchain existed. My father was in MI5, the counter-intelligence branch of the British military during World War II. He was a German Jew, but had Czech papers so he was able to serve as an intelligence officer. Although he was Jewish, had they known he was German he could only have served on the front lines. In any case, he shared the most fantastical stories about the kinds of weapon you read about in 007 novels as well as cryptographic methods to send secure messages or decrypt enemy communications. I think this played no small part in my interest in encryption.  

I’m not a crypto maximalist, a cryptocurrency advocate, or even an NFT zealot. But I do like to use tools that help me raise the stakes as an artist. The blockchain for me is so much more than a ledger. It’s a playground — a forest in which I can play hide-and-seek, but it’s also a place where I can build things and invite people to interact with them. 99% of the art I make using the blockchain, I forget about, much like making sketches and tossing them in the bin. And since I usually use anonymous wallets for these experiments, I doubt they will ever be found. I used to tweet Ethereum wallet addresses with embedded hex-code messages. People would find them and respond to me on Twitter. I’ve since deleted the tweets and now have no record of those addresses. 

On one occasion I shared a work called Stealing The Contents of This Wallet Is A Crime (2018), in which I shared the private key to a wallet containing IAMA Coins — ERC-20 tokens that were connected to my body via my blood. It was a social experiment with predictable results. In the end, the pieces of me were stolen. Not only was it a case of grand theft but it was also a kidnapping. The blockchain has helped me to further explore where I end and where the public begins, and vice versa. In this sense, I can accept being referred to as a “crypto artist.”

Kevin Abosch, Crypto is a Scam, 2022. Courtesy of the artist

M: I know you’re a seasoned traveler. Is there something fundamentally itinerant or hybrid about artists who work across crypto’s border economy?

KA: I’ve traveled a lot, especially over the past decade, to some remote parts of the world, but I always find the crypto people, if they don’t find me. For those of us who consider ourselves global citizens, it feels natural to have a state agnostic means of exchanging value. I’m no anarchist, but increasingly we are forced to place ourselves in opposition to autocratic governments. My father, who lost his parents to the Nazis during the Holocaust, once told me: “We didn’t know how quickly rhetoric could turn to wholesale slaughter.” Yes, I like to keep moving. 

Kevin Abosch, When Rhetoric Leads To Wholesale Slaughter, 2022. Courtesy of the artist

M: What are the emergent properties of blockchain technology that most interest you, and what do you foresee for the next phase of Web3?

KA: I see the NFT as a node, around which collective and artificial intelligence can be built to create semi-autonomous and fully autonomous entities. This is what I spend most of my time working on these days. Employing game theory and game mechanics, I believe such entities can bring us tremendous value, most notably by making us more empathetic.  

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Kevin Abosch is an Irish conceptual artist who works across traditional mediums and generative methods, including machine learning and blockchain technology. His work addresses the nature of identity and value by posing ontological questions and responding to sociological dilemmas. Abosch has exhibited around the world, often in civic spaces, including The State Hermitage Museum, National Museum of China, National Gallery of Ireland, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Museum of Contemporary Art of Vojvodina, Bogotá Museum of Modern Art, ZKM Center for Art and Media, Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, and Dublin Airport.

Micol is founder and CEO of VerticalCrypto Art, a Web3 studio for art NFTs. She is interested in how blockchain technology and culture can create new paradigms and systems. VerticalCrypto Art is focused on elevating the discourse around the metaverse through curated content, exhibitions, auctions, and special projects as part of a mission to bridge the fine art, contemporary art, and Web3 artist economies.

Kevin Abosch will be exhibiting his latest work, Control (2022), at “Proof of People” NFT Festival for Art & Culture — presenting a physical pack of birth-control pills alongside the digital work, which serves as a scientific control within an on-site experiment conducted by the artist. “Proof of People” runs 6-8 July, 2022 at Fabric, London.