Digital art is nothing new to vonMash, which presents its “Afro-delic” creations that combine drawing, video and audio. But when South Africa started considering selling his work as crypto art on the blockchain, he refused.
“I’m not entirely in favor of it, because of the power consumption it requires,” he explains.
Selling artwork in the form of NFT (non-fungible tokens, in French) uses the same technology as cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. The buyer receives a verified digital code, which proves that the work is original.
The blessing for artists is that if their work appreciates in value and is resold, they receive a percentage of each future sale.
“If someone else buys my NFT, I automatically get a share of that money,” vonMash says in his studio in north Johannesburg. Whereas in the traditional art market, if a buyer pays a hundred dollars and then “resells the work for 100,000, I won’t get a penny” of this added value.
What vonMash worries like other artists is how to verify these digital codes.
Ownership of the artwork is validated through mathematical puzzles so complex that calculations require entire repositories of computers. Companies that solve these puzzles are rewarded with new tokens, and their solutions add a “block” to the authentication chain.
These calculations consume large amounts of energy, often produced by coal-fired power plants.
Most NFTs are currently traded on a platform called Ethereum. Technology watchdog Digiconomist estimates that Ethereum uses as much electricity as the entire Netherlands, with a carbon footprint similar to that of Singapore.
– K-pop fans are upset –
vonMash points out that “the energy it takes to validate artwork is insane”.
These climate concerns elicit harsh criticism against NFTs. In South Korea, K-pop fans launched a strong campaign last year against projects of well-known groups like BTS and ACE.
“Essentially, NFTs are a giant hierarchical scheme that destroys the environment,” confirms the widely retweeted comment from @choicewithACE, typical of posts that prompted the group to cancel their offer. Hybe’s label, BTS’ music label, has postponed its launch in search of more eco-friendly alternatives.
In South Africa, concern for the environment is self-evident to many artists. Collective The Tree created a platform for artists to sell NFTs and then collaborated with an organization in Cape Town called Greenpop that plants trees to offset the carbon emitted.
Vahatwani Makheli claims that this system encouraged him to sell two of his NFTs. “The world is constantly changing,” said the artist in his loft in the center of bustling Johannesburg. “If I stick to what I know, the bus will leave without me.”
For vonMash, the solution is to bypass Ethereum to put its business on a platform called Cardano, using a different authentication scheme.
Instead of solving the more difficult puzzles – electricity consumption – companies can simply donate tokens they already have.
In fact, they use their money in the form of cryptocurrency to ensure the authenticity of a digital piece of art. If someone tries to tamper with the system or simply messes up, he may lose his financial participation in the network.
The technology behind it can be confusing, but social impact consultant Candida Hines says “in short, there are NFTs with options that are less harmful to the environment.”
“Ultimately, blockchain developers have to commit to sustainability,” she says, “and care about keeping the less genius people, including artists, informed about it.”