This article looks at art and crytocurrency in a deeper way than tokenising a piece of art: this is about tokenising a part of a human being. Intrigued? Then read about Jon Don Capablanco, a Canadian artist who is looking at the source of life itself in a crypto environment. And then, of course, there is language and native speaking - one man's native is another's patois...
What makes a native speaker? We are well used to comparing American English with British English. Aside from dropping the letter ‘u’ a lot or replacing the letter ‘s’ with a ‘z’ (but pronounced zee not zed) American and British English have continued to grow apart, or rather American English continues to influence British English, replacing commonly used words and phrases and even changing inflections of tone.
‘Awesome’ and ‘cool’ have replaced ‘excellent’ and whatever other words British English previously used as an expression of said excellence and, moreover, the American terms are increasingly used as a standard reply to all manner of questions and comments. So, too, the distinctive American lilt and adoption of vocal fry have altered accents with teenagers growing up in Birmingham and Dublin sounding as though they have just walked off the set of Friends or The Big Bang Theory.
Then consider Hiberno English, the variety used in Ireland. As an island rich in writers and inheriting our ancient Gaelic language, most of what passes for English Literature is actually Hiberno-English Literature. Did you know that Oscar Wilde, Jonathan Swift, Bram Stoker, WB Yeats, James Joyce, Elizabeth Bowen, Samuel Beckett, Mary Lavin Seamus Heaney, John Banville, William Trevor, George Bernard Shaw, Oliver Goldsmith, Roddy Doyle, and CS Lewis are all Irish writers? Given that we Irish only began writing in English in the 18th Century, it’s a fair haul.
But why this discursion into the origins of language? My interview today is with Jon Don Capablanco, a Canadian artist invested in cryptocurrency. I am introduced via his PR manager, who uses an unusual combination of words in his emails, making me think that English is not his first language. Then, when I get to speak directly with Jon Don, whom I am assured is a native English speaker, I am surprised by his strong French accent. Of course, it turns out that Jon Don is a French Canadian from Montreal. I ask which is his native language, English or French? And he says both. Not having spoken with a French Canadian I am initially perplexed and then embarrassed by not knowing that Jon Don could be a native English speaker possessing a strong French accent. When I confess my dismay at my ignorance, Jon Don is very kind.
“It is not ignorance,” he says. “It is innocence.”
And I am won over. Of course, later on, this Franco-English will cause some confusion but I shall explain once we get there. For now, let me introduce the artist Jon Don Capablanco who is tokenising his semen with a cryptocurrency.
Jon Don grew up in Montreal with his sister and parents. His father is an entrepreneur and his mother a hairdresser.
“But I was always the black sheep of the family,” he says proudly. “Not in a destructive way – I was an artist who valued beauty – but I didn’t want to go down an ordinary path.”
He went to college to become a graphic designer. “I wanted to create and so I saw a commercial route as the way to work in my art. I was ignorant at first. Doing graphic design allowed me to find a way into art. At first, I was rebellious against the capitalist system and then I fell in love with capitalism. I wanted to be like Andy Warhol where art and money and finance was all twisted up together, all inextricably linked, and fused almost.”
Originally Jon Don worked for a big brand learning how to design. As a teenager he had begun to explore his sexuality and wanted to be sex liberal. “Of course, I was a teenage boy so this was a philosophical question. I was finding out who I was and I wanted to push over boundaries.”
Jon Don uses the term pre-adult and adult a lot. It seems a strange word to differentiate his passage from teenager to man but it also sounds good in his French accent. As an adult, he then moved into clothes design which he calls 'sex wear apparel' or 'lifestyle sex'.
I ask if he is into BDSM or the ‘lifestyle’ made famous by 50 Shades and Jon Don says no emphatically. He designed the sex wear apparel to be provocative with tough and uncompromising words. He is influenced by the sex playboy bunny in his designs with ‘chaud lapin’ or hot rabbit emblazoned on teeshirts and other wear.
This range is mostly sold to rave-goers and is doing very well, addressing the twin peaks of capitalism and art.
“Raves are big in Montreal, although not as big as in Berlin or the States.” He has dreams of overseas domination.
Then, three years ago, Jon Don discovered technology, in particular Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and blockchain. This totally bowled him over and pushed him into his next artistic phase.
“It was as if I was constipated as an artist,” he says. (Again that use of a word, effective, but slightly jarring in context.) “It was a hugely important moment for me. I felt as though I was facing my own truth and could see clearly my inner desire.
“I had three years to rebuild my mind. I was starting at ground zero. Before I was uncertain, ignorant and blind. Now, I was in the present. I began to meditate and I was inclusive of myself. I found myself going on a spiritual journey.
“I found I could love money and understand ownership. I also knew what it was to value something – anything – because its value was subjective.”
Jon Don references Kevin Abosch, the Irish photographer and artist who famously sold a limited print of a potato for $1 million and then went on to create his own cryptocurrency. Kevin Abosch has been an inspiration for Jon Don.
The blurring of lines between physical art and the digital world is something that fascinated Kevin. He was no stranger to technology with a background in microbiology and cognitive science and has founded more than one tech startup, when not photographing the who’s who of celebrities in film and technology. His portrait commissions are not cheap, starting at €250,000, and in some high-profile cases have involved only two photographs. In a world in which digital photography has spawned a deluge of images, his paucity is to be admired.
Kevin had proven himself to be a quiet admirer of blockchain but less concerned with the world of cryptocurrencies. "To be honest, the price of digital currencies leaves me cold, but the possibilities of blockchain really excite me," Kevin claimed in 2017.
“As an artist, when you achieve some modicum of success, there are those that shift their attention from the artistic value of your work to the commercial value,” he explained.
“And as the work is an extension of the artist, you start to feel like you're being commodified — something to be traded or held onto – like a coin.”
From there, Kevin began to explore life as a commodity. “I think we are all born like newly-minted coins, but value can be ascribed perversely — one person is 'worthy' and the other is 'worthless'. “
Accordingly, Kevin created a blockchain crypto art project and the IAMA Coin was born. Kevin wanted to straddle the physical and the virtual.
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“I created 10 million virtual artworks that exist as tokens, called IAMA Coins. The tokens themselves are works of art but they also serve as proof of participation in the artistic project ‘I am a coin.’
“Each IAMA coin is based on the Ethereum blockchain and is therefore divisible up to 18 decimal points, yet any fraction of a token maintains the exact same intrinsic artistic value as a whole token, which truly excites me. In addition, the fact that the smallest fraction is as valuable as the entire 10 million tokens speaks to the power of artistic ideation.”
Once the virtual art was created, Kevin was able to commence work on the physical pieces. He allowed his own blood to be drawn and used as ink for a stamp featuring the contract address of the IAMA Coin wallet. A total of 100 images were created, using a fair degree of the artist’s blood – and these are the physical manifestations of the project.
“The IAMA Coin opens up the whole discussion of how we value art – and indeed ourselves,” said Kevin.
“I am also excited to be part of a broader movement on how technology has the capacity to shift power from traditional institutions and corporate behemoths to the people,” he said. “In a safe and responsible manner,” he added. “It’s like a velvet technical revolution.”
Back to Jon Don: “I love what Kevin did. He provoked the question of what is value. What is ownership? What are the principles of value?”
And so the SPERMA project was born.
“Sperma is an extension of myself: I create it, I sell it and someone will own part of me.”
Jon Don has a son Noah now aged seven. When he was born, Jon Don’s life utterly changed. Actually, he used the term ‘fucked-up’ and I had to go back and ask him what he meant. I could not balance the idea of being a father and of being fucked-up, at least not in the local meaning of that expression. Of course, Jon Don did not mean ‘screwed-up’ as I understood it but instead meant that he experienced the most intense emotions when his son was born.
“My mind just exploded. I experienced full mind-blowing consciousness. It was the most intense moment of clarity. I have never experienced anything as powerful as this. Suddenly I could see the possibilities of life far beyond just me.”
The art project, called Sperma with the token called SPRM, is a blurring of the lines between physical art and the digital world and is something that fascinates Jon Don. He began exploring life as a commodity – echoing Kevin’s blood token of last year
“I created one million virtual tokens that exist as ownership of my sperm specimen, called SPRM Coins. The tokens themselves are works of art but they also serve as proof of participation in the artistic project ‘Sperma.’
“The SPRM Coin opens up the whole discussion of how we value art – value and indeed ownership,” he says.
This work of art is thought-provocative to enlighten subjective meanings about capitalism and how we value our own life… as a commodity.
Jon Don has more questions than answers:
- Why not offer a new kind of ownership to the world?
- Why not decentralize a newborn through fatherhood shares?
- Why can’t we now officially own a human being as we own business shares?
- Why can’t we express humans as commodities in a financial excel spreadsheet?
“Being overly obsessed about life within a capitalist system, as an artist you see everything you do as an extension of yourself. Why not capitalise on my first ever producing assets, my semen?
The token sale is going live next week and will only last for a fortnight. The actual mechanics include Jon Don collected his semen. I checked he has not done this as yet or may wait for the end of the token sale. Jon Don has already identified his local artificial insemination clinic and the donation will be anonymous. The identity of the recipient woman and her newborn will also be kept confidential.
As Jon Don explains, “This work of art is conceptual yet digital certified. The coins are naturally backed by life.”
Jon Don feels that crypto-art is a new market. While you can't touch the artwork or hang it in your home, collectors can choose to hold their “SPRM,” sell it or give it to someone for a special occasion.
At one point in the press material, Jon Don is referred to as an ‘unknown artist’ but there is no ‘as yet’ inserted before this description. This use of language too may be attributed to his Franco-English.
At the end of this process I return to Jon Don’s PR manager, Toby, and request an image to go with the interview. This he provides and again uses slightly unusual language. He provides an image that I ‘demanded’. I don’t recall being that belligerent but maybe my Hiberno-English is less clear by return.
To learn more, visit www.capablanco.com
Address to procure your tokens. 0xb6ac1dC8F825b0226a9148A1FbF40e1538e57186
Half the proceeds from the sale will be donated to the La Bella Vita Foundation, an organization that offers free mental health programs for young people.