Futures

The Art of Bitcoin’s Millions, Via The Lower East Side

The virtual currency continues its bid for world domination with an art exhibition in Downtown Manhattan.

The image of Janet Yellen, Chair of the Federal Reserve, an aghast look on her face, TARGET: INFLATION inscribed on her bra and a Wall Street bull bursting from her groin area, dominates the rear wall of WhiteBox, the art space on Broome Street in Downtown Manhattan.

A playable board game occupies the center space. Twelve pictures on the left wall depict subjects such as a cannabis leaf, an AK47 and a petrol pump, while on the opposite wall the same images are surrounded by dancing alphabet letters.

The show is called Corporation & Fister and the art is the work of Corp Cru, a collective founded by Jason Meyers, an investment banker.

Meyers explains that the images to the left represent the Old Monetary Order—you know, gold, paper, the jingle in your pocket—and that those on the right represent the New Monetary Order, which will be fueled by Bitcoin. So, this isn’t just a show, it’s a salvo in a war and protagonists deeply into Bitcoin include Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, the twins who invented but failed to develop the concept behind Facebook.

Bitcoin’s supposed slingshot is the (supposedly) uncrackable cryptography of blockchain which generates it. That’s why Meyers and a Bitcoin community of about 20,000 are confident they will see the New Order elbowing its way into the space of the Old—and not too long from now either.

During the 2008 meltdown Meyers and partners developed one of the first FinTech Companies, companies that specialized in tech. “We spent millions building it to a point where Facebook came aboard as a client,” he says. But the regulators clambered on board shortly after. “Once they affix themselves to you there is no out,” he says. Demands for voluminous documents and interrogatories followed. “You can’t say no or they will shut you out of the business,” he says.

They were shut down anyway.

The squelching of the Facebook relationship cost Meyers and his partners several million dollars and striking back loomed large in his mind. He saw Yellen as the regulators’ capo and his initial thought was to silkscreen her image onto a number of canvases, Warhol-fashion but then he decided to silkscreen thousands of Yellens onto paper and sticker them on walls.

Why bring street art strategies to a big digit business brawl?

“I grew up in the aesthetic culture of the Lower East Side,” he says. In his teens that aesthetic had been Punk. “I can be anywhere physically and never leave the Lower East Side. It’s poster after poster that’s been torn off, it’s the graffiti and the stickers.”

He showed me an image of the thickly-graffitied wall of the bathroom at the long-gone club, CBGB’s.

“That was a creative microcosm of my mind,” he says. “So, when it came to this project I combined that with my experience in the investment banking world.”

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He called a partner, Jason Rodriguez, an expert silk screener, for help. Rodriguez mentioned that he was thinking of making a parody of the board game, Operation. “I got it in a moment,” Jason Meyers says. “The minute he said that I curated it in my head. It was like a vision.”

The board game came first. Then he set to developing a show which would both deal with life under what he terms the “corporatocracy” of the Federal Reserve, with blockchain and Bitcoin as weapons of deliverance. Both had been presented to the world in the form of a brilliantly efficient cryptographic code as recently as 2008 in a paper by Satoshi Nakamoto.

No proven photographs of Nakamoto exist and he disappeared in 2011. The enigma is appropriate. The notion of a digital currency was first floated in the early 90s by the Cypherpunks, a small San Francisco group, who were freedom of information absolutists, believers in total transparency—Julian Assange was associated with the group—while being somewhat covert, wary of prying eyes. A Cypherpunk manifesto issued in 1993 opens: Privacy is necessary for an open society in the electronic age. Privacy is not secrecy.

The paradox persists. Handlers of Bitcoin refer to it as a “crypto-currency” to this day and Meyers told me that the swirl of letters on the twelve images in WhiteBox form an encoded message “Nobody has managed to decrypt it yet,” he added.

What does the message indicate?

“If the blockchain becomes what I believe it will become, that phrase will tell you what it will achieve,” he said.

Last Thursday Meyers moderated a panel that discussed Blockchain, Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies at WhiteBox, along with such other heavy hitters in the biz, as Brad Chun, Nick Spanos, co-founder of Bitcoin Center, NYC, and Carol R. Van Cleef, who handles such matters for the law firm, BakerHostetler.

The discussion soon grew feisty. There were inquiries from the audience about the darker possibilities of virtual currencies. Its potential uses as a vehicle for fraud and money laundering got attention.

“You can roll up a hundred million dollars and ship them to Belize,” Meyers observed.

“When banks are robbed, nobody blames the money,” Nick Spanos said. A hefty fellow in a leather jacket and a trenchant Libertarian, Spanos takes rosy view of the future of crypto-currency. “Wake up! Smell the coffee! And buy Bitcoin!” he said.

“If the Wright Brothers had had to abide by regulations we’d be walking to Europe.” He added, “Borders are going to disappear. Governments are going to lose their power.”

Somebody in the audience brought up the subject of the DAO. A tricky one, this. The DAO was a virtual currency that used blockchain. It started up worth $150 million after crowdfunding in May 2016. Hackers found a hole, sucking out $50 million, and it collapsed that July.

But the WhiteBox panelist responded that they were unmoved by the fate of Dao. The cryptography of blockchain, which involves constant auditing, was unassailable. They were the future. “Everyone will be incentivized so that they can get paid more bitcoin,” Jason Meyers said. “It makes every industry legible and authentic. And it all comes from Satoshi. But he is in this rabbit hole. Nobody knows who he is.”