Crypto Investor and NFT Creator Pak on Why They Don’t Identify as an Artist, and Their Recent Collaboration With Julian Assange
The crypto artist Pak has teamed up with jailed WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to launch a collection of NFTs titled “Censored,” which just went live today in a 48-hour two-part online sale. The proceeds will go toward Assange’s legal battles, as well as freedom of information causes.
The Febraury 7 launch date coincides with the deadline for Assange’s lawyers to ask the U.K. Supreme Court to reconsider the U.S. government’s extradition case against him.
The first part of “Censored” consists of a public auction of a single-edition NFT work Clock, featuring a muted timer counting the number of days Assange has spent behind bars. Proceeds will go to the Hamburg-based non-profit Wau Holland Foundation, which has been backing WikiLeaks since 2009.
The second part of the sale is a play on the “pay what you want” sales concept. Buyers can tokenize a message to create a piece that belongs to an open-edition NFT in the “Censored” collection. Buyers choose to pay whatever they want for it, and there is no limit to the number of tokenized messages to be created within the 48-hour window. (Each crypto wallet can be connected with one tokenized message only and buyers are required to pay for fees when minting an NFT work.)
The work follows in the footsteps of another crowd-sourced NFT work by Pak, “Merge,” which sold in fragments to nearly 30,000 buyers for a collective $91.8 million in December.
The newly formed AssangeDAO, “a collective of cypherpunks” formed to bid on the single-edition NFT work Clock, has in five days already raised more than 13,252 ETH ($41.4 million) on JuiceBox, a crypto version of Kickstarter. (That breaks the record previously set by ConstitutionDAO, which raised 11,613 ETH ($36.7 million) on JuiceBox in an unsuccessful attempt to buy a rare copy of the U.S. Constitution at Sotheby’s.
Nearly six hours after the release of “Censored,” some 14,000 tokenized messages have been created by crypto users. They can be viewed on OpenSea.
Assange has been confined in a London prison since April 2019 after his asylum at the city’s Ecuadorian Embassy ended. He now faces espionage charges stemming from the 2010 WikiLeaks publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked files related to the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He could face sentence of up to 175 years if convicted in the U.S. The U.K. court’s ruling in December to allow Assange to be extradited to the U.S. sparked an outcry from advocates for press freedom, including Chinese artist-activist Ai Weiwei.
Artnet News caught up with the mysterious digital artist Pak just before the launch of “Censored.” Here’s what they had to say.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gestures from the window of a prison van as he is driven into Southwark Crown Court in London on May 1, 2019, before being sentenced to 50 weeks in prison for breaching his bail conditions in 2012. Photo by Daniel Leal/AFP via Getty Images.
How did you and Julian Assange begin your collaboration?
A few months ago, I was contacted by Julian’s brother, Gabriel [Shipton]. I had the chance to learn the story of Julian in depth. At the time, I was working on a drop with the theme of freedom because of my personal problems as a creator in art space: I constantly feel gatekeeping and censorship. I am in love with creating different mechanisms to communicate my messages. For “Censored,” the drop needed a good reason to exist and Julian was just the perfect fit.
The biggest message is censored as usual.
Your release date coincides with an important deadline in Assange’s extradition case. How closely have you been following this over the years and what is your impression of this political chess game and the court processes so far?
Politics? What is that?
Money from the sale will go to the Wau Holland Foundation, which supports WikiLeaks. What will the cut be?
The proceeds from the auction of Clock 1/1 will support the Wau Holland Foundation in support of Julian’s cause, while the proceeds from the open edition (Censored x/x) will support organizations dedicated to information freedom, digital privacy, education, health, and human and animal rights. In other words, everything that is censored eventually returns to the people.
Why is freedom of information important to you and how can the crypto world play a role in this fight?
Why did you want to include an “open edition” work in “Censored,”? Is it important in your NFT collections more broadly?
In my early 2020 drop, X, I invented the open edition mechanism. It was referred to then as “infinite editions,” and its purpose was to dynamically address the supply-demand dilemma. Over the course of a year (which is a century in crypto years), the open edition mechanism established itself as the most successful method of reaching out to individuals and building a community. I’ve adapted my open edition design into a variety of other configurations, including “Fungible Open Editions” for my drop with Sotheby’s and “Stacking Open Editions” for my most recent record breaker, Merge. As a result, I believe it is critical to preserve its beauty in a collection that speaks to so many of us. This is the first time an open edition drop has been made available for free under a “pay what you want” model. I think it will once again alter the landscape indefinitely.
Why did you call this “one of the biggest collections ever released”? Biggest in terms of what?
“Merge” currently holds the record for the largest community built around a single collection, with more than 30,000 individual collectors. “Censored,” in my opinion, is a strong candidate for a similar spot.
You use “they” as your pronoun and your identity remains unknown. Do you think you will remain anonymous forever? Why is that important to you, particularly in light of your support for a pro-transparency cause like WikiLeaks?
I’m not anonymous. I am Pak, as shown by my public record. I try to keep my physique separate from my work because I feel that when people see a face, they automatically recall it when they hear the name. Rather than that, I’d want people to recall my works.
You have said you originally discovered crypto art a few days before your first drop. But when did you start paying attention to art? What about crypto? How do they intersect in your NFTs?
As an early investor in Bitcoin, I’ve always considered cryptocurrency to be my domain. As you can see, I’ve been creating digital art for almost two decades, so I see it as my creative domain. This was an excellent intersection of the two. I do not believe I create art; rather, I believe I create design at the nexus of beauty and technology. I don’t consider myself an artist.
Some critics have suggested that the mechanism of the sales of your work is your way to play with or challenge certain concepts in economics and production. You have spoken about gamification being key to value in crypto-art. How do you view your general mission?
I don’t care if it’s art or not, I care if it’s interesting or not. Why would it be valuable if it’s not intriguing?
You’ve said the future of art will be “contract-level innovations, even for art.” What do you mean by that?
NFTs achieved prominence via what we’ve labeled crypto-art, which has been originally all about the image, the pixels, and the “right click save as” file. The file, or image, is only one of the elements of the metadata of the token of the contract of the blockchain. Since the beginning, I’ve concentrated on the other depths of this medium; I find the minuscule detail, “the image,” tedious, despite the fact that I feel I am capable of creating them. Concentrating on the image and judging the output of this medium only on their looks is a naive frame of view that is NGMI [not going to make it]. Would you choose a banknote solely based on the image on it? Only if you’re ignorant.
What is your take on the idea of ownership? Will the idea of sole ownership of a work of art (or an NFT) become obsolete in the future?
Ownership? We’re not there yet.
You seem to be critical of the art market, yet you work with major auction houses. What are you trying to achieve there?
What do you think is missing in the crypto-art industry? What would you like to see more of? Less of?
History is missing, and we’re creating it together.