Imagine NFTs Are Alive

On Mass, surveillance and the Death of NFTs

by Anika Meier

It’s the year 2024, NFTs are still alive, even though critics have already proclaimed the death of NFTs years ago. So now NFTs stand in a row alongside things that have been declared dead in the history of art, alongside painting and the author. But painting and the author have survived every crisis so far. Pronounced dead and yet not dead. Reinvention follows crisis.

While there have been many reasons why painting has been declared dead since 1839 — photography, industrialization, abstraction, and late capitalism — when it comes to NFTs, there is only one reason: the market has collapsed. Prices have collapsed.

What is an author? Michel Foucault asked this in 1968. What are NFTs? That’s what we’ll be asking ourselves in 2024.

“Unlike most art forms, you can’t make an NFT without the market," writes artist Sarah Friend in her essay Asset Logics (2022) in Texte zur Kunst. “The market is the default," she states. Once minted, the artwork is an asset, which is seen in a financial relationship with other assets. Or, as A.V. Marraccini writes in Artforum in the same year, “all NFTs become a kind of performance of exchange." Or, as I called NFTs in 2021 in Kunstforum: Wallet Art.

Without their market, most NFTs would simply be digital art, like back when people still talked about computer art, net art and new media art without the blockchain and everyone knew what was meant.

Without the blockchain and its market, MASS by James Bloom could not live. MASS is the third chapter in Bloom's trilogy, which reflects on shared networked data structures. BURNER, GOLD and MASS react differently to network changes: BURNER reacts to Ethereum gas prices, GOLD to its own NFT market and MASS to all wallet activity by its owners.

“I wanted to clarify what I'm doing with these blockchain art series. Simply the fact of an artwork at the centre of a network of people, connected by on-chain tokens." says Bloom.

“MASS is a surveillance machine, recording every action its owners take on-chain and communicating them back to the group through changes in the compositions," he says. Once a collector has bought into the community, if they interact with anything on the blockchain, MASS records it and changes the mass that comprises an artwork.

MASS is an answer to the question of what NFTs are. At the same time, it’s an abstract, broken impression of online social systems. It is dynamic networked blockchain art in the age of the ‘metaverse’. We all live in our niches online, the digital present is fragmented. The metaverse is like an online metropolis but instead of moving across the city, we stay in our neighborhood. Our community is our comfort zone.

Individual elements exist in space, detached from each other yet connected to each other through the space they share. Similar to the NFTs in the collection MASS, which stand alone but can only be perceived en masse. The elements in each artwork are taken from 3D worlds. Bloom has deconstructed these digital objects, “the building blocks of our shared online environment," as he calls them, “to try and reveal them."

MASS needs the blockchain and the market, data and the network, as well as collectors and their activities. What happens on the blockchain for each individual is represented within MASS. Even though everything happens in the same space, the movements appear differently to each viewer.

MASS can actually die. Specifically, when the owners no longer make transactions on the blockchain. The NFTs would become lifeless because the MASS market would collapse along with the network that sustains it. The ending remains open, as Bloom demonstrates what NFTs are.