NFT artworks and how I counter the mis-conception concerning their uniqueness as an artwork


In the midst of the current growth of NFT artworks, and to counter the mis-conception concerning their uniqueness as an artwork, I will now produce all new works with NFC tag encrypted certification, with each new work leaving the studio embedded with a digitally & physically signed NFC (near field communication) tag. This tag securely authenticates the artwork simply by passing any web enabled mobile phone close. Scanning the tag will bring up the artworks encrypted provenance as having originated from the studio directly to the scanning device; confirming the artwork and tag provenance. Every time the tag is scanned it will delete the old code and create an entirely new encryption ensuring a future proof anti-counterfeit system with no third parties involved or the need to download a special app. This internally developed system places the studio as a standard bearer for uncompromising provenance verification without the unnecessary carbon footprint associated with a blockchain based system.

unique artwork nfc authentication and verification outside of the blockchain
a high pass (x-ray type) scan through a print showing signature recto & NFC encrypted tag verso.

This final point is an important one for consideration in evaluating other artwork verification systems, their footprint. Based on the number of Bitcoin transactions alone that took place over a 12 month period 2020-2021, the total energy usage to be around 123 Terawatt Hours (TWh) or 123 billion kWh. This means that Bitcoin alone uses more energy than the annual energy consumption of Norway. Researchers found that a single Bitcoin transaction uses an average of 1,173 Kilowatt Hours (kWh). If we consider that the average monthly electricity usage for a UK household is 350 kWh, that’s enough to power the typical UK home for more than three months from one single transaction. (Sources Money Supermarket, GlobalCarbonAtlas.org & Enerdata.net). I am noting the worst case scenario here as BitCoin is one of the heavier energy loaded systems out there, but surely verification of art should not carry such any carbon burden in my view.

The only thing unique about an NFT is the small piece of blockchain code attached to the digital asset in question, there can be (and usually are) thousands of copies of the actual NFT out there but only the blockchain code owner has the knowledge that they do in fact own the original copy. By turning this notion on its head and further enforcing the singular uniqueness of every piece leaving the studio, because there simply are no copies of my work leaving the studio - each piece is unique. The owner of the print, sculpture or painting also owns the authentication tag that is attached to it along with the unique encrypted code.

So what are NFC Tags ? NFC tags come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The simplest ones are often built in the form of a square or circular sticker. These kinds of tags have an extremely simple construction — they consist of a thin copper coil and a small storage space on a microchip.

The coil allows the tag to wirelessly receive power from the NFC reader through a process known as electromagnetic induction. Essentially, whenever you bring a powered NFC reader (web enabled mobile) near the tag, the latter gets energised and transmits any stored data within its microchip to the device. The system we are implementing has an extra layer of security whereby every time the piece/tag is scanned, a new encrypted code is generated with the previous scan history logged in the database. Tags may also use public-key encryption if sensitive data is involved to prevent spoofing and other malicious attacks.

art provenance encrypted NFC tag

Each tag is unique and will be pre-coded in the studio to perform its authentication process, then paired with its corresponding artwork.

So far, we’ve only discussed NFC tags, but what about readers? Well, we’ve already established that NFC readers supply power and read data from passive tags. In order to achieve this, NFC readers need a power source to pass an electric current through a coil of their own. This generates an alternating magnetic field in the reader’s immediate vicinity. Bringing a tag in this magnetic field’s range finally results in inductive coupling between the two coils, thanks to Faraday’s law of induction.

Once the tag is powered, the actual data transfer process is rather simple too. Readers can detect how an NFC tag modulates the electromagnetic field. A technique known as Manchester coding is used to determine binary values (zeros and ones) from the electromagnetic pulses. You don’t need to know any of this to actually use an NFC tag or reader in the real world, just pass your phone past the signature of the piece and your phone will do the rest.

empirical research and evidence enthalpy of fusion by alexander james hamilton
Plate 1027 from 'Empirical research & evidence' 2022,

unique 161324 × 2338 inch print with embedded NFC encrypted provenance tag

Since 2013 all the photographic works I have produced are unique, with no editions ever to be released. The current reproducible capacity of photography is both its force and its failing, I am provoked by the notion that a painting is intrinsically more valuable than a photograph primarily because of its singular uniqueness. To counter this perception, I only produce unique prints from each work in an attempt to challenge the ideas concerning the spiritual and economic valuation of artworks and to create an exciting tension between their individual present and relinquished, reproducible past.

Uncompromising artwork provenance verification without needing to donwnload an app, and with no associated carbon footprint; Distil Ennui Studio ™ ®  since 1990.

empirical research evidence in art 0603
Plate 0603 from 'Empirical research & evidence' 2022,
unique 161324 × 2338 inch print with embedded NFC encrypted provenance tag

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