Raw, academic, procedural, yet tantalisingly beautiful as it hovers between order and chaos, Autoglyphs occupy a unique position in the history of blockchain based art. Following on from the rarity driven, large scale crypto collectible Cryptopunks, Larva Labs’s second project Autoglyphs turns its focus back to art history proper, to academic and formal concerns around the question of what artistic gesture can be contained solely “on-chain”. While the vast majority of NFTs are hosted on decentralised servers, Autoglpyh #177 is contained entirely on Ethereum in just forty lines of code. It was the first of these experiments and marks a ground-breaking example of blockchain-based artistic purity. This is generative minimalism for the NFT age.

One of 512 unique Autoglyphs, this work carries the prestige of being offered by the first DAO to consign a work to a major auction house. The sale marks a major moment in the history of art collecting, showcasing the most important NFT DAO globally - Flamingo. It is a moment to reflect on the transformative potential these new “hive mind” collecting collectives could have on the nature of cultural collecting. DAO’s, or Decentralized Autonomous Organizations, are highly efficient and democratic ways of distinct groups organising on the blockchain. Trustless and secure, members of the DAO vote on proposals, build consensus and ultimately each have an equal say in the collecting journey of the DAO itself. What a collection they have built to date. As a member-managed organisation, Flamingo relies on smart contracts to facilitate the purchase of NFTs and offers its members the ability to secure NFT-focused purchases, investment strategies and exhibition and display opportunities. For the first time, communities can be involved with art collecting. Given the nature of NFTs as primarily displayed in the digital realm, the question of physical ownership (usually confined to a single location and therefore a private individual) fades in importance. As the value of NFTs rise and rise, DAO’s are being built to collectively crowd source the funds for ultra-rare and important NFTs, such as Glyphs. Given the principles baked into the blockchain, DAO’s are gaining credibility and stature on the NFT stage, with many collectors preferring the community based consensus building the DAO model offers, combined with the ability to amplify one's purchasing power. It is in many ways more enticing to be a DAO collector than an individual collector today.

Influenced by Sol Le Witt’s wall drawings, the Autoglyphs are instructional, code based generative art. Hall and Watkinson, inspired and humbled by the vast ground covered in digital art during the early 60s and early 70s, embrace the aesthetic of early generative art to produce similar results with a blockchain foundation. In a similar vein to the storage and compute issues faced by generative artists such as Ken Kownlton and Michael Noll in the early 1960s, the impracticalities of storing traditional image files such as JPEGs or PNGs on the blockchain inspired Autoglyphs creation. Unlike projects such as Cryptopunks, CryptoKitties or Rare Pepe, where the actual image files are stored in a database “off-chain”, the pair took on the challenge to experiment with what could realistically be stored “on chain”. The extreme restrictions of storing art on the blockchain creative limitations to explore and hone their concept. After extensive exploration of various generators and their compatibility with smart contracts, Autoglyphs were born. With an algorithm capable of producing billions of unique works, the scope for experimentation is endless; the duo restricted production to just 512 pieces, enough in their minds to “discover cool surprises” but not “hit it too hard and destroy the mystery of it”.

The distinction must be made between the image and the instructions used to generate the different representations. Unlike the instructions for how to write it, the viewable image is not generated on the blockchain. Instead, there is a ASCII representation of the glyph. Through providing instructions on the blockchain, the art can be rendered in detailed format, operating at any scale and in any material. Strongly echoing Le Witt’s artistic sentiment, anyone owning a glyph can generate it endlessly, with everything required stored within the blockchain code. Who owns the original NFT is an entirely different matter.