Uncirculated Fake Internet Money

Learn The Real Way Steve Pikelny Makes his Money.

The artifacts in Uncirculated Fake Internet Money come from your project Fake Internet Money. What drew you to paper currency as the subject for that project?

I've always been fascinated by the design of paper currency. There's something weirdly metaphysical about all of those intricate webbing patterns on US currency that makes it feel like it has some sort of inherent value... even though it's just this inherently useless inanimate object. And I thought it was interesting that these patterns mainly originated as a stamp of authenticity because you needed really expensive machinery to produce it.

That is, machinery that essentially functioned as a tool for creating a form of generative art. In addition, the more I researched paper currency for this project the more parallels I saw with NFTs: there are entire markets and communities of people who collect paper currency on the basis of aesthetics, misprints, weird serial numbers, and historical relevance. In many cases, such as the 100 Trillion Zimbabwean dollar, the collectable value of the note was actually worth a lot more than its nominal value as currency. So, the parallels between all this and generative art NFTs really drew me in, and I felt like I had to explore that relationship.

How did the algorithm and outputs evolve as you worked on the piece?

It took me a long time to really nail that webbing-like rosette pattern, so there's actually a lot of work that went into this project that didn't produce any particularly interesting artifacts other than the first three entries of the uncirculated collection. Then there was a period of refining that pattern into usable components. Aside from that, I mainly struggled with developing a solid layout system that provided a good level of variety while also being balanced and coherent. And that was really the bulk of the work.

Once I had something I was happy with I was able to spend my time refining things and tackling all the little details that give the project character, like serial numbers, color schemes, misprints, etc. I also flip flopped a bit on the aspect ratio. So the first 20 represent that process of iterating on the project, and then the last five are test outputs from the final algorithm. Those are bills that, for the most part, represent the edge of what's possible within the system. When I discovered them in testing I thought they were really beautiful and I held onto the images. So, I'm glad that I found a way to let them see the light of day.

What is it about commemorative collectibles that made you want to present the collection in this way on uncirculatedmoney.com?

Even though I was sitting on these images and wanted to get them out into the world, there's this sort of expectation in the NFT world of canonical authenticity, and one must not disrupt the sanctity of the collection. And given how tenuous the value of NFTs are as these immaterial line items on a ledger, it kind of makes sense. You need to draw the line about what the thing is and isn't somewhere.

So I felt like the whole commemorative collectible concept highlights that this is fundamentally a different but related collection in a way that sticks to the universe of paper currency collecting. So when we were batting around ideas for how to present the collection and landed on this, it felt like the obvious way to move forward was to give it a sort of sleazy infomercial kind of vibe. It's an aesthetic that's pretty close to some of my other work, and it really hits on some of the nostalgia I feel for early aughts television commercials.

How do you characterize the role of finance in your work more widely? Do you feel you were able to address this with Fake Internet Money?

I think one of the more interesting aspects of this project is that I was fortunate enough to release it around the peak of the NFT hype cycle in 2021. So even though I released this project which explicitly calls out its own artificiality and worthlessness, we saw some pretty insane market behavior. For example, maybe six hours after the project was minted out FIM #802 was sold on the secondary market for about $19,000.00. And then within 20 minutes it was sold again for about $57,000.00. By comparison, this was more than I made in the entirety of my last Art Blocks drop, which I worked on full time for two months. And to be fair, FIM #802 is an absolute grail in terms of rarity, so in the heat of the mania I kind of get it. But is it really worth a full year's median American salary? It's not even particularly aesthetically pleasing. If you look at it outside of the context of the rest of the collection it just looks kind of stupid and fucked up.

And while that might be the most egregious example, when you look at the market behavior of the whole collection it's fascinating how much real money was thrown after fake money. The ironic thing about all of this though is that the secondary market for Fake Internet Money has actually held up a lot better than most other Art Blocks projects over the last year. And ultimately, I get the sense that most FIM collectors at this point are satisfied customers, even if a lot of them lost their shirt. I think a lot of them appreciate the irony of the whole situation and enjoyed participating in the big dumb spectacle of it all.



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