Images courtesy of nfts_gratuits
In the Messages from the Metaverse series, VICE roams this virtual universe to see if it’s good enough to replace the physical world.
Recently, I came across an account on Instagram full of confusing images, including crazy sci-fi creatures, miners and golden men. The images are offered as “free NFTs” and are accompanied by texts such as “BREAK FREE FROM THE BLOCKCHAIN”. The account called ‘nfts_gratuits’ thus forms an oasis of generosity in the stingy desert that is the NFT world. Since last year it turned out that digital certificates of ownership for JPEGs and GIFs can bring in a lot of money, it seems everyone feels obligated to squeeze every last drop of every image. Kanye West recently expressed his frustration with all the people asking him to do an NFT when he doesn’t want to. The free NFTs from nft’s_gratuits is a more ambiguous statement: they enter the NFT economy to playfully destroy the market. We spoke to the manufacturer.
The images and texts from nft_gratuits appear to come directly from uncanny valley. It is hard to tell whether they are produced by an algorithm (as is the case with much NFT art) or by a human. However, the latter is the case as it turns out when I send a message. Behind the strange images is a Parisian artist who hides behind the pseudonym “Free Guy”* for this project. As usual in the NFT scene, he doesn’t want to reveal who he is, but he wants to talk to me. Free Guy makes comics and is also a technical assistant at a printing workshop. The drawings he now gives out as ‘free NFTs’ were already made three years ago. “I don’t know why. I didn’t really use them back then, I just turned them into a book and sold it at zine festivals. But then the hype came up last year and I thought: these look like NFTs!”
But instead of putting the cartoon characters on the blockchain as NFTs and trying to amass a crypto fortune with them, he threw the NFT-esque images on Instagram and said they belong to all of humanity. “This is already the case with things that artists post on Instagram. And even if you buy a real NFT, you don’t even have rights to print it on, say, a T-shirt. It’s just a contract. And you say: this is mine.”
This weakness of NFTs has long been the subject of ridicule on the Internet. In fact, NFTs are nothing more than pieces of computer code that have been agreed upon to determine the ownership of memes and artwork. It is often a kind of road map to a place where the images are stored. But the fact that an image has a unique NFT code does not mean that you can no longer share or copy that image yourself. It’s a feature heavily used by trolls who don’t like this new ownership system. Someone took this joke extremely far by making a huge download file with all the NFTs in the world. That crypto fans, on the other hand, sometimes don’t understand copyright was shown when some of them paid millions for a rare edition of the script of Jodorowsky’s failed dune– filming. They thought they bought the rights with it, but they just have a very expensive book.
nft_gratuits builds on this confusion. His account is therefore often used to ridicule NFTs: people respond with extreme gratitude to his generous gesture, saying that their returns have increased tenfold (because: ten times zero is zero) or that they will soon spend a jpeg on zero with their a Lamborghini to click. Yet not everyone understands the irony.
“A lot of people message me and ask me to send the free NFT. And when I started using the hashtag ‘nft’, all kinds of bots started talking to me about NFTs. One of them had two million followers. It’s very strange and funny to end up in this loop.” As in mainstream economics, there are apparently all kinds of bots and algorithms trying to inflate the NFT bubble completely automatically. In addition to the heavy environmental impact that NFTs carry, Free Guy is concerned about NFTs for that reason. He thinks they can lead us into another economic crisis. “There is already so much speculation with stocks, with contemporary art and now also with crypto. All that money disappears from the real economy.” Free Guy sometimes gets angry messages from NFT evangelists who think this is finally a way to make money making art. “They say: don’t you sometimes give artists money? Of course it is a gift from God for some people, but at the end of the day, there are only a few. Most of the money is earned by the people who trade with. It’s just a scam.”
Free Guy hopes with his project to demonstrate the absurdity of NFTs. At the same time, he is aware that he cannot influence the fate of the work he is giving away. “Maybe someone will make it a real NFT. It’s possible.” He says he wouldn’t mind if it made a lot of money afterwards. “That would be completely absurd. But even then I don’t care because it’s still one big mess. I can’t stop it, no one can stop it. There are already too many people in it, and too many bots.”
*name known to the editor