Art on the blockchain

Many years ago, in my late teens, I used to attend The Gathering. It’s a fantastic combination of people, passion, dedication and fun mixed together for a few days each Easter.

If you’re not familiar with computer culture this whole thing might seem very alien, and, for many, somewhat a waste of time. But for those of us whom are familiar with this domain, and especially those of us who had some experience with the demoscene, it brings back a feeling of accomplishment.

This accomplishment is tied in with creating multimedia, before it was even called multimedia, mixing graphics, animations, music, and computer code. But it wasn’t like it is today, where your computer can easily spit out 4k video, add graphics and surround sound without much issue. No, back then if was difficult enough to make it do any one of those things with ease, and certainly not all together.

Beyond by Conspiracy, 64k intro

The embedded video above is an example of such an accomplishment. It’s what’s called an intro, created by Conspiracy, is a small Hungarian group. It took 1st prize at st(ART) 2004. Everything you see in that video is produced by a computer, real time, and all the code and content to make it happen fits within a limit of 64 thousand bytes. 64 kB, as it’s also labeled, is comparable to writing a ~10 thousand word blog post, when comparing raw storage requirements.

What about blockchain?

Blockchain is at a similar point of technical capabilities right now. It’s costly, slow, or simply impossible to store or process much data on it. It will improve over time, and it needs to if it is to take on much of the typical use cases we talk about. But right now it’s a challenge to develop the most simple of things on it.

And this challenge is one I welcome, and it’s why I brought in the above demoscene topic. Because even with the limitations of blockchain currently, people are building fantastic stuff on top. Everything for decentralized representations of value, to fully functional marketplaces without any central point of failure, to games, supply chains and beyond. It’s all happening.

For some time I’ve wanted to see how I could incorporate something related to art on the blockchain in a form which includes the actual art being stored on-chain.

There are other examples where the blockchain itself only serves as a secondary element to the art, for example by proving ownership. Due to the cost, lack of speed, and limited storage capabilities, this approach makes sense for many. But it’s not the type of “demoscene challenge” I’m referring to.

This is the underlying reason I developed The Million DAI Website. It’s a play on The Million Dollar Homepage, which, when it was released in 2005, played very much on the state of the internet at that time.

The Million DAI Website plays on the current state of blockchain, using DeFi as a tool to allow people to buy and sell tiles. A tile is a 10 x 10 collection of pixels, with a minimum price of 100 DAI. And owners of a tile can draw on these pixels. These then become part of history, as they are stored on-chain.

It’s important to understand that this is not an attempt for me to amass 1 million DAI and become rich over night. That would be a bit crude, and the site doesn’t work like that because tile owners can always sell their tile back to the smart contract. New owners can also outbid existing owners, in an attempt to keep the site active. While pixel art and its limitations is one pillar in The Million DAI Website, another is precisely this fact that the site does not represent a one way transfer of money.

Blockchain and DeFi makes the world a more efficient place, one where third-parties that don’t add value are removed from the value chain, because it’s easier to remove them than in your traditional setting. Because it’s so easy to transfer value, whatever that value is, on-chain, it also makes perfect sense that you can instantly sell your tile back and receive your original amount of DAI.

It also makes perfect sense to allow the smart contract to receive the interest earned on this DAI while it’s kept in escrow, and this plays on a third pillar, which is what’s often labeled balance sheet as a business model.

Anyway, looking a head, I will spend some time experimenting with pixel art on the blockchain, using The Million DAI Website as a platform. And because it’s an open playground I hope others will take on the challenge as well.