Images courtesy of nfts_gratuits
In the Messages from the Metaverse series, VICE explores 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 enigmatic 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 miserable desert that is the NFT world. Since last year it became clear that digital property certificates for jpegs and gifs can make a lot of money, it seems that everyone feels obliged to squeeze every last drop out of every image. Kanye West recently explicitly expressed his frustration with all the people asking him to do an NFT when he doesn’t want to at all. The free NFTs from nft’s_gratuits is an ambiguous statement: they enter the NFT economy to playfully destroy the market there. 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 feel the need to reveal who he is, but he wants to talk to me. Free Guy makes comics and is also a technical support worker at a printing workshop. He already made the drawings that he now distributes as ‘free NFTs’ 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 in the blockchain as NFT and trying to collect a crypto fortune with it, he threw the NFT-like images on Instagram with the message that they belong to all 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.”
The 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 where these images are stored. But the fact that a unique NFT code is attached to an image 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 prank to the extreme by creating a huge download file containing all the NFTs in the world. That crypto fans, on the other hand, sometimes don’t understand copyright became clear when some of them paid millions for a rare release of the script for Jodorowsky’s botched Dunefilm adaptation. 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, say that their returns have increased tenfold (because: ten times zero is zero), or that they will soon be able to spend their profits on a jpeg of click a Lamborghini. 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 sorts of bots started talking to me about NFTs. One of them had two million followers. It’s very strange and fun to end up in this loop.” Just like in the normal economy, there seem to be all kinds of bots and algorithms trying to pump up 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 could take us to another economic crisis. “There is already so much speculation in stocks, in contemporary art and now also in crypto. All that money is disappearing from the real economy.” Free Guy sometimes receives angry messages from NFT evangelists who believe that this is finally a way to make money from making art. “They say: don’t you give artists money? It’s a gift for some people, of course, but in at the end of the day it’s only a few. The money is primarily made by the people who trade with it. It’s just a scam.”
Free Guy hopes to demonstrate the absurdity of NFTs with his project. At the same time, he is aware that he cannot influence the fate of the work he is giving away. “Maybe someone will turn it into a real NFT. It’s possible.” He says he wouldn’t care if it made a lot of money afterwards. “That would be completely absurd. But even then I don’t care because it’s already a big mess anyway. 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