Crypto Certs seeks to overhaul the traditional model for the production and financing of art
Ed Fornieles made a name for himself a few years back as the poster boy for post-internet art through a series of immersive performances in London, which included a gallery frat party at Guest Projects (“Animal House”, 2011) and an award ceremony honouring Zac Efron at Serpentine Gallery Pavilion (“The Dreamy Awards”, 2012). Since, the multimedia artist’s oeuvre has tackled themes of cultural positioning, social anxiety, and peer pressure, in an ongoing narrative that undulates along the boundary between the real world and its online counterpart. For his latest project, Fornieles unites his interest in abstract data with real-world structures, as he seeks to overhaul the traditional financial model for the production of art.
Having recognised the economic constraints of creating conceptual art, not only for artists but also galleries, Fornieles conceived an idea to decentralise the industry and alleviate some of the pressures of being a modern artist. The project, titled Crypto Certs, offers collectors and investors the chance to take more of an active role in the creation of art.
“The current system rewards repetition of past successes, so you end up getting into loops of repeating the same type of work over and over again just for the sake of survival” – Ed Fornieles
Rather than a single cash injection for a single artwork, Fornieles’s aim is for people to invest in an artist’s career. The Crypto Certs themselves are original prints designed by him, blending multiple references from his life and career. By purchasing a Crypto Cert, priced at €550, a collector owns not only the original piece of art – aka the certificate – but also a stake in future profits. “It’s another way of sourcing capital for production and then rewarding that upfront cash with a percentage of the profits,” he says. “If you look at the current models which exist, they rely on very small groups of collectors and it’s prone to risk. As soon as the chain of sales is broken, it leaves both the artist and the gallery exposed. So this is a way of using larger networks of support to diffuse that risk for both parties.”
However, he adds, Crypto Certs comes with its own risks. “Crypto Certs are also quite dark; they point to a future much like the present where everyone is trading themselves on an open market, selling their futures in the hope they might transcend and reach blue-chip status.”
Described as “a hybrid between a financial product and an art print”, the Crypto Certs employ Ethereum blockchain technology to store and distribute value. Each certificate contains a key embedded under a scratch panel, which entitles the holder to a percentage of an Ethereum fund generated through the sale of other certificates. As more sales occur, the Ethereum fund grows and all proceeds from the program are funnelled into the development and production of the artist’s new projects. When the buyer wants to cash out, they scratch a panel and damage the certificate, destroying the art work but taking their profits.
The certificate itself was inspired by artist-come-art-world-troll Brad Troemel, founder of prolific “post-internet” art website The Jogging. Fornieles says he was inspired by a sculpture in which Troemel embedded a physical key worth ten Bitcoins. He sold the piece for £5,000, just before cryptocurrency began to gain traction. Fornieles wagers that “at the height of bitcoin speculation, that one piece of artwork was probably worth $1 million and at that point, the collector destroyed the artwork and released the funds”.
The piece raised important questions for Fornieles, namely what is art and at what point does it become a faceless investment? “When the collector goes ‘fuck the art’, it becomes nothing more than a speculative investment,” he ponders. “What does it take to retain the integrity of the work?”
Speaking with Fornieles, it’s clear that his technological lexicon holds him somewhere between Wall Street native and the artist he is. “It’s really a way of transferring an artist’s cultural capital into real capital.” However, Crypto Certs does more than just create funds, it also encourages originality. “The current system rewards repetition of past successes, so you end up getting into loops of repeating the same type of work over and over again just for the sake of survival, and then the gallery reinforces that,” he says. “This is a way of liberating production from that kind of pressure.”
The biggest test, however, is whether Crypto Certs is a viable model for financial stability in the art world. While the project is still in the early stages of development, Fornieles hopes that it will soon be used by other artists too, replacing traditional forms of fundraising. “Artists have always produced prints and have used them as a fundraising device to fund their studios in some way”, he says, “so really this is just an extension of that. Hopefully, it will bring it more into the present and make the narrative more alive.”
Learn more about Crypto Certs here