In the series ‘The Rich Whisperer’, VICE editor Tim Fraanje examines how easy it is to become a millionaire and whether you really want to be rich in times of elite criticism, housing shortages and wealth inequality.
In March this year, internet artist Beeple sold a work like NFT through auction house Christie’s for more than 60 million euros. The hype surrounding NFTs, digital ownership certificates that, like bitcoin, use blockchain technology, has been on the rise for some time. But the sale of Beeple’s work shows that the established auction world also dares to burn its hands. Since then, something absurd has happened almost every week in the NFT world. For example, a British 12-year-old sold a picture of a whale for four tons, and Paris Hilton made a mediocre sketch of a cat. NFTs are sympathetic: in this technological revolution, for a change, it is not flash traders or stock speculators who are taking the prey, but artists and even amateur creatives. I attended an NFT workshop last September with successful NFT artist and collector Terence Baier to find out if this beautiful vision of the future is not too good to be true.
Terence lives with his wife and child in a cozy but inconspicuous townhouse in Apeldoorn and drives a blue Opel with a child seat. There is no indication that a future NFT millionaire lives here, because that is the planning. Terence has been collecting his first half million for ten months, but so far it is still hovering through cyberspace as a cryptocurrency. “I have lived in financial scarcity for so long that it would be unwise to cash it in at once,” he says as we drive together to Enschede, where he will provide his workshop. Enschede is also the city where Terence graduated from the art academy a few years ago. He was nominated for a number of awards and exhibited his works, but he could not cope with his art. “I had all kinds of jobs. In the post office, working in a call center, cleaning, everything I could do to keep myself going.”
NFTs seem to be a gift after ten years where the Rutte cabinets have kept their hands on the cutting edge, and it seems to be an advantage for art buyers that the artist is already dead. NFTs are a gift from God, especially for artists creating digital work: the NFT associated with a gif, jpeg, meme, or video is sold to one person. Ownership is registered on the blockchain, and each time the work is resold, the artist receives a percentage of the proceeds. This makes digital art suitable as an investment object, while previously it could be copied and pasted indefinitely without permission. In addition, NFTs are intervening in a new art market where people are pursuing a “decentralized” crypto-economy. It is not the government and the banks that have the power, but the users of the blockchain. Crypto enthusiasts therefore like to sponsor the art that is traded via blockchain. Terence is also confident of this future and, like many other NFT artists, is also an enthusiastic collector. He even sold 5,000 euros to NFTs and invested all that back into art from others. “You hyped each other constantly.” And it is necessary, he says, for: “The NFT community exists by the grace of its members. If everyone finds something else to invest in next year, it could collapse very quickly. ”
In fact, Terence’s cryptocurrency wealth is mainly due to his successful NFT trading, which he executes with great dedication. “I work continuously, non-stop. I really hate that I’t wasted time giving a workshop and this interview. Usually I have Discord open on one screen, Twitter and all NFT marketplaces on the other. Buying work from other artists and watching your collection grow is addictive.You feel like a child in the candy store.I once spent $ 15,000 on a weekend that I had earned earlier that weekend from appreciating another work.You see so much work go by “And you get so many ideas from it. Before you know it, the day is over.” Applying that inspiration in his own work, however, sometimes falls short, also because Terence has a ten-month-old child. “After this workshop, I want to reverse that action a bit and make more art. “People from the NFT community and my family sometimes say, ‘Are you still working at all?’
We have arrived in Enschede. Terence’s workshop is part of the Gogbot festival that takes place there. Gogbot is a festival about the relationship between art and technology. The theme is “Infocalypse now” and a lot of thought is given to how the dystopian present, where the internet overwhelms us with often dubious information, can further derail in the future. The station square has been fenced off and transformed into a land ruled by a giant robot. The office building where the workshop is held, Warp Technopolis, is one big eerie valley full of busy digital videos, computers, blacklights and conspiracy slogans chalked on the walls.
A very appropriate opportunity for a workshop on the potential of NFTs, according to artist Jacco Borggreve. Jacco asked Terence to provide the workshop in the Black Brick Underground, the basement of the building. Black Brick Underground is a work and exhibition space where he guides a group of young artists in making art. A large part of this group is present, to try for themselves what it is like to make an NFT. However, it is not Jacco’s goal to sell the concept with NFTs. “The workplace is not intended as a technical showcase, but to take a critical look at the phenomenon of NFTs. I find the conspiracy side of NFTs interesting, and therefore it fits in with the festival,” he says. NFTs are a revolutionary tool in the fight against the banks and the big money that a centralized economy would pursue. ”
Jacco himself has reservations about the democratic potential of the NFT because he believes they are essentially undemocratic. “I think you get a really bad culture if you take the idea of NFTs very far because it’s based on artificial scarcity. It goes against the philosophy of the internet.” Jacco believes copying and pasting are essential. “The Internet has as a radical condition that everything can be shared with everyone and that information can be spread exponentially. The Internet is viral. “In his own work, Jacco is experimenting a lot with the possibilities of the Internet, such as having a chip implanted that shows where he is on a website. So he is very aware of the dystopian side of that sub-philosophy.” Large companies as Facebook is abusing this by attaching an ad model to it. But the thinking behind it is democratic. ”
NFTs, which are introducing some form of ownership on the Internet, are a step back in time, Jacco believes. He compares them to Andy Warhol’s soapboxes from the 1960s, which have value only because they are unique pieces made by a famous artist. He believes that as an artist you should be able to make use of this technological development and is in itself positive that people make money with jpegs and gifs. “When it comes to dog pictures, who cares then.”
But if NFTs really start to have as much influence as Terence and the other NFT enthusiasts say, it will mean that the cultural revolution that the Internet has brought about will be abolished, Jacco says. “I will soon be installing a kitchen in my project room. If I then want to know how to lay a pipe, I can just go into YouTube and then I can lay that pipe. There are all kinds of books available in open source and archives that you can consult for a certain monthly fee. Suppose you are going to have a particular book soon and only five NFTs have been made of it. If more than five people need that information, the price will be sky-high. ” Jacco himself therefore has no NFTs. However, he has invested tens of thousands of euros of his own savings in this space and in setting up his artist collective, in the hope that in the long run it can become a state-funded institute with himself as director. “But maybe I’m very naive and principled.”
Other artists in the workshop also have some reservations about NFTs. Emily Ghazal mentions, for example, the climate impact. which is important because quite a few servers have to run to keep the NFTs up and running and to facilitate the crypto transactions. That she’s the only one selling something to anyone on the internet gives her mixed feelings, also because art does not always end up in the right context in the NFT world. A short clip from her twenty-minute-long film about the Arab Spring has been purchased by someone who collects aesthetic images of cities. Still, the gold rush is in the air: When Terence mentions the large sums he brings in, uh and ahs involuntarily rise from the audience. I also sense the silent hope in myself that I can sell my homemade NFT of a whale-gif drawn in Paint for the absurd amount of around 5000 euros.
That has not happened so far, and Jacco sent me an article about a rather sober investigation last week Nature where it was investigated that the NFT market may be as impenetrable as the regular art market: 75% of all NFTs give an average of 15 euros, while only 1% sell more than 1500 euros over the cyber disk. This makes Terence one of the lucky few who actually surfs along with the spirit of the times, aided by his avant-garde art, but certainly also by his willingness to take entrepreneurial risks.