An Exploration of Art, Finance, Feminism, and Technology
The most celebrated artists have often been undervalued in their lifetimes. After the finished work is sold, however much it grows in value, the artist doesn’t reap a reward from the growth. Instead the collectors, speculators, and brokers profit. That is something that Sarah Meyohas set out to change with Bitchcoin.
Who is Sarah Meyohas?
A French-American Artist who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a B.A. in International Studies, as well as a B.S. in Economics via Wharton. Sarah then went on to complete a Masters in Fine Art through Yale University. She has consistently made waves in the world, with her abstracted approach to the intersect between diverse subjects. Sarah has been featured in The New York Times, Time Magazine, Wired, Vice, and Forbes, and made appearances on CNBC, PBS, and CBC. Sara lives, and works in an eponymously named gallery, in Queens NY.
Defying categorizations and expectations, she blurs the lines between art, and business, gallery owner, and artist. This article began as a simple research report on Bitchcoin, which has evolved into a dizzying exploration of the life and career of Sarah Meyohas. This journey is full of mirrors, an exploration of finance and an assortment of vehicles for the exchange of value, as well as a playful dance between digital, and analog.
Undoubtedly. My academic choices have shaped me. Whether it was pattern making in Florence, philosophy in Havana, or finance in Philadelphia, these disparate experiences are all part and parcel of the same pursuit. It has now taken the form of art, as a single lens through which to see a constellation of bodies and ideas.
Her first exposure to the Press was with a project called “Business Nude.” In her last days at The Wharton School of Business, Sarah took photographs of a disrobed classmate in the corporate, male-dominated, space of Huntsman Hall. These photos were then turned into postcards and sold online.
Danielle is a business student and a sexual woman. Can she, as such, reclaim this space?
The tropes of a Helmut Nude pose or a classical nude on a pedestal hold a mirror to our own assumptions and fantasies.
The images are initially produced as postcards, giving the digital image bodily form to be handed, sent, distributed. They achieve scale as a commercial rather than fine art object.
As the roots mater and pater suggest, material is inherently female and pattern inherently male. Perhaps as a postcard, a material form, the commodification of the image can feminize the pattern of distribution and the currency of the image.
As her nude body fills a space in the interior’s symmetry, as the postcards are exchanged in people’s hands, libidinal and market economies meet. -
Gold Glitched and Celestial Gold
Sarah worked on two projects which related to Gold, while at Yale. Gold is considered to be the metal of the sun. As such, it symbolizes the spirit, the source of all life. In a more contemporary reading, which stretches back throughout history, Gold is representative of value. The metal is a seemingly universal currency and the most precious of metals. It does not tarnish, and is a good conductor of electricity, making it useful in electronic applications. Having a yellow colour when in a solid state, it gives off a variety of colours when broken down into particles, and becomes translucent when formed into a thin sheet.
Gold holds a wealth of properties, both substantive and symbolic. All of this combines to make a perfect medium of artistic expression, which Meyohas explores thoroughly.
In a project called “Celestial Gold,” she explores the idea of gold, as well as its uses as a medium of expression. “Gold Glitched” is a discussion and representation of an event in 2013 when an unusually high volume in the gold futures market tripped a circuit breaker and halted trading for 20 seconds. When trading began again, those gold futures were trading about ten dollars lower. Being on the futures market is already an abstraction where gold itself isn’t the object of trade, but the investor is making a wager on a future difference in price. When the market comes to a halt, the representation of those contracts is dematerialized even further. That moment when the power is turned off, and the market is in limbo, fuels her imagination.
The material properties of gold also call forth sublimation. It is both light and solid, spirit and body. Due to these properties, gold was used as the background of much medieval iconography as a way of denying time and place, endowing the illustration with a spiritual rather than linear perspective. -Gold Glitched
Around the 1960’s art began to be treated as an investment. As it passes through the hands of collectors value is driven ever upward, with each sale. Art is no longer traded for taste and style alone but as a speculative asset. Today, teams of data analysts work to determine what the value of an artistic work might be in the future. Contemplating the relationship between art and investment aligns perfectly with the education and inspirational forces which flow through Sarah Meyohas.
As Sarah was completing her MFA at Yale, Bitchcoin was coming into life. In collaboration with the “Where” gallery in New York, Meyohas brought to the world an entirely new product for investors and speculators in art. On February 15th, 2015 Bitchcoin was released to the world. Each Bitchcoin is backed by 25 square inches of a photographic print of Sarah’s art. Each time new Bitchcoins are created, an unframed archival chromogenic print gets stored in a bank vault. The tokens, in turn, are redeemable for any of her prints, for the rest of her career. The first image to back Bitchcoin is titled “Speculation.”
The Bitchcoins may be traded on the open market and can fluctuate in value. Bitchcoin flips the current investment model on its head. Similar to any other ICO, Sarah retains a stake in the coin, allowing her to benefit should their value increase.
Beyond that, Bitchcoin is a work of conceptual art. The launch included an exhibition of a mining rig, in the Where gallery, which computed bitchcoin into creation. A coin backed by a photograph stands in contrast to the paper money we value. Moreover, photographs do not typically hold value in art, because whoever owns the film can make more. Traditionally only numbered prints have held that honor. Everything that Sarah does is mind-bending, and a testament to her brilliance. The range of nuanced meaning in each of her works is entirely beyond my ken.
To my knowledge, 200 Bitchcoins have been created. However, I don’t see any evidence that an electronic wallet was released, or that it has become possible to exchange them online. However, Bitchcoin has undoubtedly left its mark on the world. It continues to inspire and captivate artists within the cryptocurrency community, and its ideal may still come into fuition down the line. I still hold out hope that I’ll be able to find it on Coinmarketcap someday, and that perhaps I could add Bitchcoin to my odd collection of cryptocurrencies.
“I would like to see an art market that allows collectors to invest in an artist as a value producer, rather than investing in a single piece. Artists and collectors are linked in a more symbiotic way” - Sarah Meyohas
In 2016 Meyohas continued to expand upon the relationship between art and finance. She did that, by making trades on the Stock Market, and then drawing in real time the change she made to the line on the stock chart. On her page about the exhibit, she discusses how a stock price is used to value a company, and how ephemeral that evaluation can be. The fundamental analysis of a business can be quite divergent from the line on a chart. A line in the sand drawn by a push and pull between buyers and the sellers in a moment of time.
Her work explores the interplay between finance, art, and everything. Apparently, this exhibit cost her 10s of thousands of dollars lost to trading for the sake of the discussion.
Think back to “Gold Glitched,” where gold represents the union of spirit and matter. The line on the chart, when the market was down, evoked an extra-dimensional deathlike void. In “Stock Performance,” the lines on her canvas evoke life. Each of us is born in a variety of circumstances, with a distinct set of assets. As we ply our wares on the market of life, the line on the chart moves. However insubstantial, however remote. We too make trades and shape value along with the participants in our sphere of influence. Just as ownership of stock swaps hands and outlives its stewards, life moves on, even when we do not.
Cloud of Petals
Last year, Meyohas undertook her most ambitious project yet. Like many great creations, it began as a dream. A dream of petals and pixels aswirl. The result: a Virtual Reality installment, featuring a digital cloud of rose petals, guided by artificial intelligence. The creation of this exhibit involved setting up shop in the building which was formerly the site of Bell Labs. The researchers who worked at Bell Labs credited with the development of radio astronomy, the transistor, the laser, information theory, Unix, as well as the programming languages C and C++. In a building made of mirrored glass, where one could easily argue that the internet was conceived, Sarah paid 16 men to disassemble 10,000 roses, choose the most beautiful petals, and photograph them. The images were then digitized and used as inputs for an artificial neural network.
“The petals are in the cloud. The field of critical interpretation is open. The petals, all one hundred thousand, are used as inputs for an artificial neural network. Each neural unit is connected to many others, and together create a system that is self-learning and trained, rather than programmed.” - http://www.sarahmeyohas.com/
At each stop through the career and work of Sarah Meyohas, I feel unequipped to do justice to her vision. With “Cloud of Petals,” more than ever. Roses, the most commercialized flower, torn apart by the hands of men, in a space where information technology was born, in order to re-create them digitally. All of that mixed in with virtual reality, artificial intelligence, mirrors, and a 14 foot python snaking through switchboard wires.
While the artist gestures toward lingering social commentaries relating to what has been traditionally associated with women’s work versus men’s work, the exhibition becomes a site for contemplation about a post-human reality and the future of labor in the face of automation. Meyohas serves up a weighty conceit, sincerely formalist in her intentions, yet rooted in a scientific rigor that suggests a certain faith in the potential of what is to come. - Red Bull Arts New York
Each exhibit seems perfectly positioned to expand upon her previous work. She takes the commonplace and compels you to consider it from a not so common angle. If you want to catch a glimpse of her vision, my words won’t take you there. I lost myself in dozens of articles, poured through the depths of Google, and here is the result. If you want to know more, the links I provide at the bottom of this post are an excellent place to start.
At 27 years of age, it appears as though she has enough time to blow quite a few more minds. I look forward to seeing what she comes up with next.
To My Slothicornian Friends:
I hope that this article and the work of Sarah Meyohas can offer some inspiration for all of us. The potential union of art and cryptocurrency is vast. We can get lost in the abyss, find the union of influencer and influenced, and be created by the movement, as we shape the space we move within.
- 34st.com - Undress for Success
- creators.vice.com - Some Metals are Precious, but this Art is Golden
- cargocollective.com - Gold Glitched
- wherecontainer.tumber.com - Where 6: “Prediction,” with Sarah Meyohas
- hypocritereader.com - Abstracting Art
- vice.com - Will ‘BitchCoin’ Offer Artists a New Way to Make a Living?
- Cryptocurrencies, Explained: Why Artists Are Already Leaving Bitcoin Behind for Something Bigger
- sfaq.us - Financialization and the Art Market
- hyperallergic.com - “BitchCoin” Currency Challenges the Way We Buy Art
- time.com - Sarah Meyohas Stock Performance Gallery
- artspace.com - Sarah Meyohas Stock Performance
- redbullartsnewyork.com - Cloud of Petals
- anothermag.com - The Artist using an Algorithm to Generate Rose Petals
- interviewmagazine.com - This dreamy new show explores nature and technology through 10,000 disassembled roses