Saturday, October 9, 2021


Here's a piece that appears in some irrelevant arts publication, which is getting passed around a little as very important and insightful. It's a fairly easy read. Let's see how important and insightful it is.

Paragraph one. An inauspicious start, as it is gibberish. Yes, it's some sort of allegorical blather, aiming to draw out some sort of "my art is separate from me, and yet connected to me" as if that was special, except that this describes literally 100% of all the art ever made. Moving on.

Google reports a shocking 2 hits — total — for the complete sentence "Where do you locate your art?” one of which is this mess, the second being some PDF from the 1980s, on monoskop. I suppose some people might like to say it, but to be perfectly honest, I am dubious. Then we repeat the sentiment of the first paragraph, only moreso. Somehow the art is "not exactly there, but is in excess of there." whatever that might mean. Nothing, obviously, except that our writer is a bit overwrought.

The third paragraph is a bit vague. Does Kuo mean that his art, specifically, derives its meaning somehow by its perpetual failure to be pinpointed? I think yes, that must be what it means, rather than something like all art, or some other category of art. Given that Kuo's art is, basically, apps for phones, I confess that this bit is a little hard to follow. It seems honestly like it's right there in the phone, on that one chip. Or not, whatever, where is the art in a Monet, reeeeally? Surely it exists in the liminal space between the viewer and the canvas, or some similar bullshit. Again, whatever the hell Kuo means here it probably applies to Monet and everyone else equally, and it remains completely opaque what any of this has to do with the derivation of meaning.

Next graf. The meaning has a complexity that something something. What is "its [the meaning's] formulation" exactly? Is this somehow related to the perpetual failure to be located exactly? Honestly, I'm not seeing a hell of a lot of simplicity to belie here, but maybe this notional simple formulation is something Kuo hasn't told us. At this point anything is possible. Anyways Kuo's gestures emerge from nothing, cool.

Then they go somewhere, in the next graf. "There" I guess. Where else would they go?

And now the favorite device of the shoddy art writer, the next graf opens with the pronoun "This" which could refer to pretty much anything, but whatever it refers to is definitely a fiction, which certainly doesn't narrow the field down at all. It's probably not "the art" but whatever it is is filled with meaning which somehow it lends to the art. "It follows that..." it most certainly does not follow. This mouths the approximate noises of an argument, but is certainly no such thing. Let us graciously assume the conclusion, unsupported as it is, that "something [presumably the art, Kuo's art?] is meaningful because it comes from nothing."

Next graf, I can get behind this one. The idea that something's meaning is fluid if its own nature is fluid seems reasonable to me. So, yeah, if we're unsure what the hell it is, its meaning could grow. Presumably we are, again, talking about Kuo's art again, though how we got from an imprecision of location to an imprecision of nature is completely opaque to me. This is again a standard device of the shoddy art writer: talk about X a lot and make some pretend arguments about X and then just act like you were talking about Y all along. Given that the arguments about X were trash in the first place, it's not clear what this accomplishes, rhetorically, but whatever.

At this point we begin to move past what appears to be largely linguistic meaningless posturing, and move on to something a little meatier. I will now drop the paragraph-by-paragraph nitpicking, and look to the larger shape of the thing.

Kuo begins to discuss "value" without bothering to unpack that. Is this monetary value? Some abstraction of value like social value? Kuo seems to think that value should somehow relate to labor, which is bonkers when we're talking about art. This feels like a superficial and pointless nod to Marxism. Kuo wants to break that labor down into individual gestures, whatever "gesture" means, for some reason. I guess the total labor is after all the sum of all the little bits of labor, so somehow the (undefined) value is to relate to the sum of the (undefined) gestures?

There seem to be several problems in here, but let us soldier on anyways, again allowing the conclusion: some useful notion of "value" is equated to the sum of the "gestures" of making the art. Each gesture is a little snippet of labor which, recall, crosses over from Kuo to some difficult to pinpoint "there," and the whole acquires "meaning" somehow or other in the process, either because the gestures come from nothing, or perhaps because "there" is hard to pinpoint. Kuo's gestures generate meaning by their... motion(?), and are summed up into value, and obviously art is somehow a result as well.

Honestly, it's not clear how much any of this matters because at this point Kuo will not be returning to any discussion of gestures or labor.

Now we come to what seems to simply be a personal crisis "oh no, I think it might not actually be worth anything" and a cry for a buyer, to "redeem" the value of the labor, that sum of the gestures. "Value" remains a bit vague, but we're maybe closing on on a cash-value as, at least, a proxy for whatever inherent value Kuo is talking about. A buyer will appear in due course, but will not really help Kuo out.

Following this we have some mysticism around "code" describing the ERC-721 interface, and some stuff about tokens being things that are owned. This is a false mysticism. Land deeds, for instance, have exactly the same properties, along with quite a bit of other nifty stuff like subdivision. NFTs are, essentially, what deeds would be if they were invented at 2am by a drunken idiot, and implemented in software by another drunken idiot. Kuo should not be bamboozled here. Kuo writes code. Kuo is attempting to bamboozle you with pseudo-mysticism.

We get a sort of clumsy analogy launched here where NFTs come from nothing just like Kuo's gestures, and recall that it is the coming from nothing that imbues Kuo's art with its meaning, except when it's the mystery of location that does that. Or maybe both do. But yeah yeah, meaning isn't value, and NFTs aren't art. Ok. Kuo will not be returning to the analogy, despite the fact that he obviously spent the entire article up to this point specifically setting up the analogy, which he has just dismissed.

Some symbolism around zero, which seems inappropriate here since zero is just what we programmers call a "magic number" in this context. It's a special number, which when used in a specific context, alters the meaning of mechanism from "move this thing" to "create this thing" (which is terrible programming practice, by the way, but these are crypto-bros designing this shit, so of course. Remember the 2am drunks? Those guys.) so zero in this context is not worthless, it is literally a mystic sigil that alters behavior of the NFT-machine. But whatever, moving on.

Amusingly, in the very next paragraph Kuo implies that NFTs are eternal, but if he'd actually read the code he links to, he'd see that Transfer()ing something to that worthless zero address destroys it. Create NFTs by moving them from zero to somewhere, destroy them in perfect symmetry by moving them back to zero. So, I dunno what the hell he's on about here. I mean, sure, nobody does that. But they could? You could presumably write a smart contract that destroyed the thing after 10 sales. Banksy? Paging Mr. Banksy?

Now we're on to obsessing over value, which, yeah, is a thing? I'm not quite sure how we got from the mechanics of ERC-721 and the metaphysics of zero to suddenly people are freaking about about what their NFTs are worth, because "They believe in something" but here we are. It's certainly true, they do, and they do. This statement, though, comes completely out of the blue and is in no way connected to anything Kuo has said earlier. He might as well have said "And also, cows poop" which is equally true.

Ok, ok, a token's value is held in the destination wallet, uh huh, uh huh. Wait, now we're talking about a token's meaning? Kuo has literally never even hinted that NFTs have meaning, but suddenly we're hip-deep in analysis of their meaning. "Oblivious to nothing, an NFT collapses meaning into a sum." Speaking of... uh, meaning. That sentence doesn't. Seriously, it just doesn't mean anything at all. It's gibberish. Is this a reference to things having meaning because they come from nothing? Does this apply to NFTs as well as Kuo's art? Kuo insists that tokens must mean something because they are purchased, which, frankly, does not appear to follow at all. Kuo has insisted that value and meaning are distinct, and up until this moment mentioned nothing about an NFT except its value.

At this point Kuo's philosophizing around NFTs is just a car crash. There's just random shit all over the place that might once have been a point, but it's all fucked up now for sure and some of it is on fire.

Ok now we get into what appears to be the crux of the thing. Kuo is upset that people are buying NFTs of his art as, apparently, investments. They don't love Kuo, they're just hoping to make a quick buck. More complaining, a nod to web3 (no, web3 doesn't mean anything, it isn't anything, it's just a trash pile of buzzwords) and a little race baiting for flavor.

This makes Kuo feel like NULL which is bad, and then some more gibberish about a gap between 0 (zero) and nothing, which is bad, and which mutates in the very last line into a gap not between nothing and something else, but left by nothing. Unless that is somehow a different gap?

Look, I know it's just sort of allegorical poetry but this sort of shoddy language makes me slightly crazy. Even Shelly wasn't this shoddy, if he had a gap twixt his heart and his gizzard, it did not suddenly become a different gap although it was wont to be compared with dozens of other gaps.

All in all this appears to be Kuo wanting to be loved for his labor, his loving gestures which make art, his intense furrowed brown that imbues his art with meaning, and now he has these dickheads buying his shit as an investment, and that makes him sad. It's not clear whether he's sad that they're dickheads, or that they're buying his art as an investment.

All the business about 0 and NULL and ERC-721 seems to be irrelevant. This is exactly what would happen if some dudes were buying Kuo's art in a gallery and having it drop-shipped directly to their Swiss Vault.

This is the big important think piece? Or art whateverthefuck? I don't even know what this is supposed to be, let alone what it's supposed to mean. When you peel away the gibberish and the pointless analogies that lead nowhere, you're left with some dude whining about how NFT bros are buying his art in a way that makes him feel bad. I dunno, he could stop offering NFTs of his art?

As an aside, fulcrum arts somehow manages to combine a very modern feel with an almost geocities insensibility to design, it's almost incredible how bad their site looks while still sporting that very 2021 Wordpress Template flavah.


  1. I wish you'd stop making me read this stuff, especially on a Sunday morning. Anyway... You're not wrong, but I think it's easy to miss a certain level of poorly-flagged irony (never mind code, the guy need to use emojis) and indeed self-flagellation in this piece. I assume this is his own self-description:

    "His recent and upcoming projects aim to crystallize his position as a hateful little thing whose body fills up white space out of resentment and necessity."



    1. Just imagine me reading it on a Saturday night! Party-time!

      I always wonder if this is an accurate reflection of how these people's brains work, or if this is some sort of performance they are taught. It resembles the ravings of a lunatic (I have spent more time than I should admit listening to crazy people) in that the same ideas surface and then vanish, over and over, never leading anywhere. But the vocabulary and phraseology are more or less erudite.

      It's a pile of lunatic thought-fragments pasted together with Essay mortar, like "and so we see" and "it follows that" and "nevertheless."

      Is it mere laziness? Are these people so whacked out on Ritalin that they're seeing double? What the hell is going on here?

      What is clear is that there's some sort of agreement between readers and writers: I won't read it, so you don't have to write it. It's not exactly contributing to the greatness of Human Civilization.

    2. This is some next-level artspeak.

  2. Worthless tokens, worthless art, worthless writing. It all adds up!

  3. Maybe it's a form of verbal hypnosis and some people are just immune.