recommending institutionRIAT – Research Institute for Arts & Technology
time periodJune 2017 - June 2017
In 2008 the collective pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto introduced Bitcoin within a self-published paper, a digital decentralized peer to peer payment system. Hidden within the original code was a reference to an article from the The Times 'Chancellor on brink of second bailout for bank'. This reference alongside the opening statement of Satoshi's white paper outlined how Bitcoin could function as an alternative means of exchange that would not require a centralised financial institution. A bank that is too big to fail. Bitcoin is an experiment that is testing the hypothesis that money can exist without a bank, without a central institution.
This inaugural cryptographically and hence deflationary secure currency was not only a statement to the financial crisis but also stimulated a multitude of other experiments exploring decentralisation. Communities around alternative cryptocurrencies (“altcoins”) are re-enacting and experimenting with various different social and economic aspects of value and organisational structures. Through doing this they establish clear parallels to artistic collectives and artistic experiments. These alternative cryptocurrencies (“altcoins”) are often introduced through self-published white papers or online announcements, and represent hypotheses by the respective creators until they can show a significant user-base and ultimately are accepted in online cryptocurrency exchanges (see Newman and Tarasiewicz, 2015).
The general approach of these new use cases for the blockchain is based on the replacement of existing, centralised sources of trust (e.g. notaries, banks or even law and governments altogether) by decentralised cryptographic peer-to-peer processes. Herein the necessity of collective pseudonyms becomes evident: as they are facilitating “collective action and creating reputational capital” (Post, 1996), they are also necessary as agents for invention - to introduce and disrupt, and to facilitate unconditional progress. Additionally in the context of surveillance and censorship, pseudonymous collectives play the important role of shielding individual agents from harm and therefore are necessary for voicing critique.
Collective pseudonyms have a long and vivid history, especially in the context of art and research. Besides offering a safe zone for collective communications activities, pseudonymity also offers a kind of limited liability as well as potential for the accumulation of reputational capital. Having a long background even dating back to ancient history, more recent examples can be read in context of the internet and its evolving communication channels. The residency of Satoshi Nakomoto facilities the opportunity for further collective pseudonym practice in the blockchain at the the Research Institute for Arts and Technology.