Going From Viral to Scarce
Distributed tokens have taken on many new faces since its birth in 2008, moving from the iconic golden ‘B’ to the wide-eyed young doge and a growing zoo of kitties, pandas, and many more. And while the earlier visual iterations of cryptocurrency were simply to give a recognizable facade to intangible money, these types of images are actually now fostering new communal value.
And strangely enough, attaching scarce images to the blockchain has opened the window to capture the true potential value of one of the internet’s most elusive yet pervasive figures – memes.
The earliest example of this was the Rare Pepe, transforming what was delegated to anonymous trolls into a legitimate store of social value. To explore all this, we snagged coffee with Louis Parker and Eleonora Brizi, creators of both
The Creative Crypto (CC): Welcome Eleonora and Louis! To start things off Louis, can you share with us how the Rare Pepe project emerged and how did you get involved?
Louis – My earliest primordial memories of Pepe were from 4chan Internet culture and the origin of the frog was a creation by cartoonist Matt Furie. He created this image and it struck a resonant chord with internet subculture over the years. People typically associate the Pepe image with internet trolls and you can really see how that manifested as different iterations such as the happy frog or a sad frog. The iconic one is the smug Pepe. He knows more than you. He’s in on the joke and you’re not, and that emotion became the foundation for his use around the internet. For me, Pepe was the first unifying poster child for internet culture.
The Rare Pepe is the idea that there is a scarce supply of these unique Pepes to create an incentive to make, sell, and trade them as collectible internet moments. All 1,774 artworks were linked to tokens on the Counterparty blockchain. And of course, this was all a bit ironic because people were posting their Rare Pepe images onto image boards where anyone could download them and so forth.
There was really never an official launch. People kind of congregated together around this spontaneous art project, just because they wanted to. There are a lot of South American and Japanese artists. These were absolutely incredible, with progressively more amazing pieces of art. So people were making these pathways and trading them or just giving them away. No one had ever really done this before. It’s just a cool fun thing for interested people to submit to. And then after a while, Pepecash was created to exchange them on a native currency.
CC: Has blockchain and the Rare Pepe project changed the nature in which you approach Pepe?
Louis – Establishing a rareness to Rare Pepes has allowed us to sculpt subculture, to be nurtured and refined as internet or pop culture. I think it’s the concept of ownership and economy. What blockchain does is create a commerce engine and you can plug in whatever your idea is and if it resonates with the userbase, then you can create a commerce community.
Now we have commercial information which is active because it’s based on
But imagine there was a community of people who understood what it was and propagating those images. Within that, there’s a new purpose to
repetition and growth with blockchain.
CC: How has the Rare Pepe affected the Pepe or internet community at large?
Louis – I would say surprisingly not much. I was thinking there could have been more influence from this rapid project into the social hive at large, but I don’t think it had enough energy inside to make that effect. It did,
There’s also something to be said about the interoperability with the Counterparty assets. They’ve taken on a life of their own. No one is really sure where it’s going, but we continue to communicate and help each other.
CC: Let’s shift over to the book and exhibition. To start it off Eleonora, how did you get into this?
Eleonora – So I had just moved to New York for the first time a few months ago. I was in China for six years and had never heard of cryptocurrency before. A friend invited me to the “Introduction to Crypto Art + Crypto Art Gallery” at the The National Arts Club. I was a little shocked by what I was hearing, not understanding much but very attracted to the new way of approaching art that Louis was discussing as a panel speaker.
Though I technically worked in the art world for several years, which included working for Ai Weiwei, my background is actually in studying Chinese culture and I didn’t enter the field as a typical practitioner or curator. My perspective on creative practice was much more open to learning and experimenting with new topics. So I approached Louis during the event and ended up having dinner all of a sudden with a dozen other people in the blockchain art scene – Dada, SuperRare, the New Art Academy, and more. The way they spoke of blockchain continued to shock me and I was fascinated enough to learn more and see how I could enter this conversation with my background.
CC: How quickly did you move on creating the book?
Eleonora – I connected with Louis after that event and we decided that we couldn’t just let the project trail off. We wanted to create something lasting and compile all the creative work of the Rare Pepe project.
Within a few weeks after our first talks, we announced it and planned its launch by the time of the New Art Academy’s ArtTech + Blockchain Connect NYC conference in late October. We presented them for sale for the first time at this event.
The book fully documents the entirety of the project and includes an introductory interview with us. It contains all 1,774 of the illustrations and images with their information including quantity, series, and chronological order. There are only 300 of these books that exist and each is linked to the Counterparty blockchain with unique addresses.
CC: And tell us about the exhibition. What was it like to bring together the energy of Rare Pepe into one place?
Eleonora – We held the pop-up exhibition at the Bushwick Generator in Brooklyn like a true art opening. We had ‘Pepe Wine’, workshops to draw your own Pepes, copies of the
CC: After your experiences putting these projects together, where do you think this type of blockchain culture will lead us?
Louis – The point is to keep things not very complicated. Keep it fun. And this is what we’re trying to do in an industry where false idols exist. You have a lot of that in the traditional art world right now, where the bottom line is to extract as much commodified value from any artist as possible. It’s all about extracting value as opposed to giving value. And the irony is that if everyone’s giving value, everyone’s going to receive exponentially. Here in
We’re all in a preschool stage right now, stumbling around trying to figure it out what’s going on, which is how we learn.
Eleonora – We’re all in a preschool stage right now, stumbling around trying to figure it out what’s going on, which is how we learn. At first, we’re applying the old models to the new emergence of cooperation and creativity. It’s obviously not going to work as well in the long run. We have to try things and break things so we can find a way in which everyone involved in a project is contributing something.
Thank you so much Eleonora and Louis! If you’d like to purchase one these rare compendiums of Rare Pepe, you can pick up a copy (for $100) by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.