How Digital Artist 0xDEAFBEEF’s New NFT Project Reimagines Muybridge’s 19th-Century Motion Studies for the Blockchain

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Time may be currency, but for 0xDEAFBEEF, it’s raw material. The generative artist, in his short yet rich career, has worked with time-based media from sound to animation, while exploring ways to on-chain these multimedia concepts. His latest collection continues in the same vein, but also, reaches back through the eras to revisit a pioneering artwork that similarly bottles time.

0xDEAFBEEF is the sixth artist to participate in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s ongoing blockchain series, Remembrance of Things Future. Created in partnership with Web3 consultancy Cactoid Labs, the initiative asks digital creators to produce new work that reinterprets art and objects in the museum’s collection. Its first iteration featured artists including Ix Shells, Emily Xie, and Sarah Zucker. 

For his turn, 0xDEAFBEEF picked as his touchstone Eadweard Muybridge’s 19th-century studies of human and animal motion. Through the ages, these groundbreaking sequential images have furthered scientific understanding and photographic techniques, and for 0xDEAFBEEF offered “a wealth of themes and historical context.” 

Eadweard Muybridge, (1886). Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

“I was previously aware of the horse images from my time studying computer animation,” 0xDEAFBEEF told Artnet News. “But seeing his work now more deeply and broadly, I felt like there was an enigmatic quality of these images that was familiar and yet mysterious and engaging.” 

After diving into the life and legacy of Muybridge (“the maverick eccentric”), 0xDEAFBEEF has conceived a two-part project titled Noumenon and Chronophotograph, released on May 1 and May 4, respectively. Both are the products of the artist’s attempts to “draw connections between photography and blockchain as time-based mediums.” 

The first, Noumenon, is a 16-part generative series of audiovisual works, in which abstract, origami-esque figures flit about what looks like a distressed film cel. A code-designed chorus of synth squibs accompanies the black-and-white animation, underscoring 0xDEAFBEEF’s signature synthesis of sound and moving image. 

“Noumenon is meant to represent the unknowable reality beyond the capacity of our senses—how to communicate that in a sensuous way?” he explained. “Sound in combination with movement is a powerful medium in which to convey a feeling.”

0xDEAFBEEF, still from (2023). Photo courtesy of the artist

Chronophotograph serves as a companion piece that collects “metaphorical observations” of a Noumenon. In other words, one could think of the Noumenon as object and Chronophotograph as a camera’s eye.  

Using a special blockchain transaction called “releaseShutter,” collectors can capture a sequential chronophotographic record of a Noumenon—much like how Muybridge photographed a horse in motion—which will be minted as a token on the blockchain. Each Chronophotograph taken of a Noumenon also increases in resolution, mirroring the development of camera technology. 

0xDEAFBEEF, (2023). Photo courtesy of the artist

A further participatory element is built into this part of the project. An owner of a Noumenon token can delegate an individual to activate the “releaseShutter” function, which will then list the delegate’s address on the blockchain as the “photographer” of the Chronophotograph.  

Such interactivity, said 0xDEAFBEEF, expands the use of NFTs beyond that of “an ownership tracking mechanism.” 

“That’s a great use, but only one use of the rich potential of programmable blockchains, which I see more generally as a means of structuring social interactions around a common reference point,” he added. “I think the participatory/interactive dimension is a unique affordance of this medium and worth exploring, as it has been by many artists.” 

0xDEAFBEEF, (2023). Photo courtesy of the artist

Not that you or your delegate can hit “releaseShutter” an endless amount of times though: a “time lock” ensures that collectors have to wait a block of time—12 seconds—before they can create another Chronophotograph. That time block then doubles between Chronophotographs, so that “eventually, you’re going to be waiting a day, then two days, and then months, years, and millennia before you can do the next one,” said 0xDEAFBEEF.  

In theory, the increasing resolution of and the wait between Chronographs could extend infinitely. But, as 0xDEAFBEEF recognizes, reality imposes limits. There’s the meager human lifespan, if not the ceiling on computing technology. Even if machines may be developed in the future to handle an image with many millions of pixels, the fact is, “it’ll probably break,” he said. 

“In reality, you’re going to run into a limit,” he continued. “There’s the heat death of the universe, the sun will run out—you have practical limits that you will eventually run into.” 

Time, though, observed or unobserved, keeps chugging on. 

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