An Initial Soul Offering on the Blockchain.
Decentralized applications promise self-sovereign identity, decentralized governance, prediction markets, global access to finance, and other planetary paradigm shifts. But when you look closer, the ecosystem is still young. Technology remains amoral, and each new innovation has it’s dark side. Playing into the fanaticism surrounding blockchain technology and it foundations as a faith-based system, HODLism: An Initial Soul Offering is an interactive investigation exploring blockchain as a religious experience.
Recipient of an Ethereal Summit Arts Grant, the installation invited conference attendees to kneel and pray to Father Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonym of the creator of Bitcoin, at an altar to decentralization. Focusing on transparent transactions, as a prayer was entered into the terminal it was immediately visible to al via LED lights. Prayers were also algorithmically converted into a private keys that were used in an attempt to unlock Satoshi’s original bitcoin wallets, which would in turn reveal the chosen one.
interaction · experiential · blockchain
4 weeks, April - May 2018
Tyler Gumb, Nour Malaeb, Azucena Romá, Python Coding: Alex Tsankov
My Contribution —
Creative Direction, Production Design
Vice News, Wired, Bloomberg, Forbes, Motherboard
One of the most valued offerings of the Blockchain is high-level transparency. As soon as information is stored onto the blockchain it becomes immutable, where it can never be altered or deleted. Focusing on transparent transactions, as a prayer was entered into the terminal it was automatically converted into a hash then shared via LED strips to all. All participants involved agreed to this transparency, which instilled mutual trust into the experience.
Is blockchain technology creating a new religion?
Consensys, a blockchain software technology company, was seeking proposals for artwork at their annual Ethereal Summit, a two-day conference of storytelling and knowledge sharing around a blockchain-powered future.
Working with my art collective, Vapor Ants (formerly known as Picnic), we met up to brainstorm. After researching and finally understanding the blockchain space, we drew several comparisons between the fanaticism, hopes, mysticism and underlying principles of blockchain and religion. Building on this we proposed a three part religious experience:
The main altar experience was based off the verb 'HODL,' a term used by the cryptocurrency community for holding onto cryptocurrency as long as possible rather than selling it in order to reap higher value later. Building off the self-control to HODL, we wanted to impose an expression of penance for attendees by having them kneel on a pillow embedded with sensors, bestowing crypto blessings on those who knelt the longest.
We also envisioned a reliquary of items marrying historical religious objects and modern day religious "miracles" like the 'virgin Mary toast' with blockchain culture. Instead of the holy grail, we pitched ideas such as “the first GPU to mine bitcoin" and a toaster offering pieces of toast with a "holy hashes" burnt onto them.
The Prayer Terminal
Similar to a confessional booth, the third part of the proposal was a prayer terminal where people could type in prayers to Father Satoshi Nakamoto. The prayers would then be cryptographically hashed into private keys that would be used to attempt to unlock Father Satoshi Nakamoto's wallets. A real-world set of bitcoin wallets that have never had any bitcoin withdrawn from them and contain bitcoin worth millions of dollars at the time.
Our proposal was one of the selected grant recipients, part of the feedback we received from the Ethereal arts team was to scale back our three part experience into one main experience. Moving forward the design became a hybrid of the three original ideas - we decided that a central shrine surrounded by multiple prayer terminals each outfitted with 7" displays. This would allow for more people to interact with the experience at once in an intimate, individual manner.
How might we design a techno-futuristic shrine?
I had some ideas of how a circular shrine might look. Remembering these really amazing retro-chic 1970's mineral oil rain lamps I crush on that have oil droplets on filaments of string that create the illusion of rainfall. I imagined having a figure of Satoshi inside surrounded by peaceful greenery and offerings from dedicated worshippers.
But how might we transform this traditional shrine into a futuristic techno-shrine? Of course this meant adding all the LEDs! But how would the lights be placed? How would they indicate to followers that their prayers were communicated in real-time to his holiness Father Satoshi in the digital void?
The filaments of streaming mineral oil and thoughts of LEDs reminded me of to a project I'd seen a few years back from designer extraordinaire Dan Goods at an AIGA conference. It was the perfect inspiration. His sculpture "Pulse of Exploration" reacts to real-time communications between 30+ interplanetary spacecraft missions and the Deep Space Network. Communications sent to a spacecraft triggers streams of light upward and information sent back to Earth triggers lights downward. The more activity in the lights, the more data is being transmitted.
One of the most valued offerings of the Blockchain is high-level transparency. As soon as information is stored onto the blockchain it becomes immutable, where it can never be altered or deleted. Focusing on transparent transactions, as a prayer was entered into the terminal it was automatically converted into a hash then shared via LED strips to all. All participants involved agreed to this transparency, which instilled mutual trust into the experience. Once we had an idea of how the LEDs would function and how the shrine would be setup, Nour rendered some examples of what it might look like.
Shrine Development & Testing
Tyler and Nour began wiring and programming the LEDs to achieve the look and feel we wanted, while we worked with Alex Tsankov to write the python application that would hash users' prayers into private keys. Nour also designed and fabricated the wooden terminals, while Tyler focused on content for the interactions.
In parallel, I created an extensive moodboard that would lead us in developing the shrine aesthetics. The objects chosen were inspired by shrines I'd seen my Latin-American grandmother make as well as inspiration online from various religions. The final objects included various plants, candles, framed photographs of crypto icons, mirrors, crystals, and lucky cats to create an ethereal vibe.bringing the shrine to life.