Nothing about Greg Smith’s exhibit here was particularly enjoyable to watch, which he probably wouldn’t be too hurt to hear. Encaustic-covered assemblages were hollowed out with runic marks and bolted to the wall with scraps of wood, stacked with pairs of cloth-stuffed nylons (evoking horrible camp sausages or lengths of intestine), or simply pressed together with so much wax it seemed like lard was squished into the surfaces of the works. Flotillas of jetsam included the small sculptures of rafts abandoned on the ground; the largest of these was equipped with a motorized armature that turned a screen door with a rambling banging sound. Indeed, Smith’s impossibly messy tapestries of scrap clothing took over much of the space; buried inside these rooms were bits of language, though most were unintelligible. It was all hypnotically repulsive (and possibly unwashed), chaotic in a way that was bound to make you laugh.
All of this was in service of Smith’s critique of the cryptocurrency/Web3/NFT ensemble, including the utopian promise of decentralized governance, dormitory anarcho-capitalism, and a larger art world. equity (if you accept that such a dream ever existed in the first place) has now become a rat’s nest of wealth extraction, metastatic capitalism and thinly veiled pyramid schemes. Ever since 2020, when NFTs made their crude debut, they’ve been a source of slapstick speculation and repugnant comic book art, their depressing vulgarity excused by evangelists as a necessary step towards a more just and green future. Meanwhile, their creation requires the deployment of horrific server farms, which produce the carbon equivalent of a battalion of tractor-trailers on the job – NFT proponents like to say that this absurd power consumption does not is nothing compared to the sins of the traditional art world, the validity of which is immaterial, as there is nothing redeeming in NFT art. Web3’s Promise feels a lot like a Western Hollywood production, the propped up saloon facades giving way to a hollow core and plenty of melodrama.
Smith has taken here as his main thesis the BIP39 protocol, a mnemonic device that strings together a twelve-word phrase from a vocabulary of 2,048 words as an access code to his digital crypto-wallet – which is in fact a load drivel, and what an attempt to explain it all sounds like, too. Smith’s Crazy Sculptural Quilt in wood, paint, hardware, textiles and other materials Chronic divorce: month after month, multiply the time scale when you never understand what the end looks like (all works 2022), is a bad crypto-speech dream. The work features the titular gnomic phrase painted randomly on a length of fabric sewn into the shape of a tarp. Several other works of art were used to form a calendar, but because BIP39 cuts the words for six months from the Gregorian version, some are identified by pidgin phrases that read either as concrete poetry or as the ramblings of ‘a fool, like MONTH UPON SYMBOL USED TWO WRITE LIST THAT ALLOW YOU TWO END ESCAPE. These experiments were funny but quickly turned to disaster: excised pages from the writings of Umberto Eco, Carl Sagan and Susan Sontag were rendered meaningless, their text corrupted by an invention intended to secure financial assets.
Smith’s chaotic, improvised builds go against the popular image of the tech-optimized brilliance and self-confidence of blockchain jockeys, effectively materializing the latter’s sloppy logic (to be fair, Smith’s work has always looked like this, but here his aesthetic found new purchase). In its disorienting breadth, the show offered a vision of a postlapsarian world in which language was not so much broken down as it had been deliberately abandoned, its degradation a marker of pride among a cohort of captains of finance who think they have unlocked an essential truth but mostly try to stun each other. The dream was perverted, like almost everything else, by money. It really is a nightmare, but as Smith deduced here, it’s going to get worse.