An Art Historical Analysis- ripcache

January 22, 2024
9 min read
neutral by ripcache, 2023

Neutral by ripcache is an outstanding example of the artists’ uncompromising aesthetic, whose conceptual message speaks directly to our contemporary zeitgeist. The work comes from the Public//Private series of only 12 unique works, of which Neutral is number 7. The piece is presented in two forms: a 2ft x 2ft physical screen print on a metal panel and its digital twin artwork, stored on the Ethereum blockchain. Developed in collaboration with Transient labs, the concept emerged out of the desire to investigate an artwork that exists both in the digital and physical art worlds to address permanence, where the value of one cannot exist without the other. The work offers a powerful commentary on the evolving discourse of surveillance, data privacy, ownership control and the potential of blockchain on anonymity.

Conceptual Framework

ripcache embraces the rebellious spirit of street art in its portrayal of the omnipresent surveillance camera as a symbol of defiance and protest, exploring both its pervasiveness and its impact on online identity. This aligns with Banksy’s social commentaries on surveillance culture, evident in works such as In Countryside CCTV (2006), from his series of “Crude Oils”, where Banksy inserts a stencil surveillance camera into an Old Masters work. Here, Banksy juxtaposes the idyllic imagery of the countryside with the intrusion of a surveillance camera, challenging the notion that rural areas are exempt from pervasive monitoring. Likewise reflecting the intrusion of surveillance into national identity, Banksy’s mural, One Nation Under CCTV (2014) situated right next to a CCTV camera depicts a child painting the slogan, while being watched by a police officer and a dog. Works such as Spy Booth (2014) residing in a wall on Cheltenham, the home of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) wittingly portrays spies eavesdropping on a telephone booth, offering satirical commentary on intelligence agencies’ encroachment into private communications. ripcache continues this narrative, furthering the discourse on surveillance’s impact in the digital age and challenging traditional art just as Banksy did in the streets by integrating blockchain technology.

Banksy, Countryside CCTV, 2006, Oil on Canvas, 80 x 110cm | Banksy, Spy Booth, 2014, Location: Cheltenham, England | Banksy, One Nation Under CCTV, 2007 Location: Newman Street in London

Banksy’s approach in Countryside CCTV references Pop Art concepts by appropriating an old Master painting and stenciling a Surveillance Camera as a mass consumed object. ripcache can similarly be seen as expanding upon Warhol’s investigation into mass consumption like in his works with repeated motifs like the Brillo Box or Campbell Soup Cans series. Indeed, Warhol famously appropriated familiar images from consumer culture and mass media, among them celebrities, tabloid news, photographs and comic strips. ripcache, on the other hand, directs his attention towards the ubiquitous nature of surveillance cameras pointing to the fusion of technology and societal dynamics. The artist broadens Warhol’s scrutiny to the realm of technology, compelling us to reflect on the implications of the perpetual monitoring in our digitized society. Neutral becomes a commentary on the evolving dynamics of mass surveillance, paying homage to Warhol’s legacy and emphasizing the enduring relevance of pop art as a vehicle for social commentary.

Andy Warhol, Brillo Box (Soap Pads), 1964, Polyvinyl acetate and silkscreen ink on wood, New York, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) | Andy Warhol, Campbell’s Soup Cans, 1962, Acrylic with metallic enamel paint on canvas, Licensed by Campbell’s Soup Co. All rights reserved.

ripcache can likewise be seen as a modern-day successor of Bruce Nauman’s conceptual exploration of pre-emptive surveillance. In Nauman’s work, Going Around the Corner Piece with Live and Taped Monitors, 1970 visitors are forced to be both the viewers and the participants. As the visitors walk on one side of the wall, they become aware that their actions are being recorded. Nauman’s intention for this work resided in investigating how people changed their behaviors when they knew they were being watched. His pioneering works, created prior to the widespread prevalence of surveillance cameras, laid the groundwork for artists such as Julia Scher’s immersive installations, Jenny Holzer’s text-based works, and Ryoji Ikeda’s audio-visual explorations to investigate surveillance in different mediums. ripcache continues this legacy by adapting it for use within blockchain as an artistic expression medium.

Bruce Nauman, Going Around the Corner Piece with Live and Taped Monitors 1970, Private collection

“The ‘Public/Private’ project is a reflection of the tension between public and private spaces in our digital lives.”

— ripcache

Symbolism Binary Aesthetics and Visual Elements:

Paying homage to the foundational origins of computing and reminiscent of pop art aesthetics, Neutral depicts a monochrome representation of an old-school surveillance camera against an acid green/yellow backdrop composed of diagonal stripes. The rare use of color in this piece serves to represent the “gray area” of privacy and surveillance that go beyond a simple binary. The choice of color also connects to the pH scale, measuring the acidity or alkalinity of a substance and ranges from 0 to 14, with 7 being considered neutral, hence the title of the work. The camera, coupled with the incorporation of elements from vintage computer interfaces conveys a sense of nostalgia that points to the enduring impact of technology on our collective consciousness. The inclusion of familiar symbols like the exit cross or minimizing line on the pop ups surrounding the camera, with text fragments such as “access key 1.0” and “REC” highlights the nature of privacy and the constant recording of our actions. Meandering wires weave in and out of the composition, serving as a metaphor for the dual concepts of technological interconnectedness and the complexities inherent in the now-indistinguishable gap between privacy and surveillance.

“I want my art to provoke thought on this topic and hopefully encourage a dialogue on what privacy means in the 21st century.” — ripcache

The conceptual artist Barbara Kruger, known for her use of bold red, and monochrome type overlaid with images of cultural critique shares a similar aesthetic and conceptual message with ripcache’s Neutral. Kruger often implicates the viewer by placing her works publically within charged spaces like shopping malls. Both Kruger and ripcache prompt contemplation on the intricate intersection of technology, privacy, and societal dynamics. Some impactful artworks such as Don’t Shoot, 2013, Untitled (Surveillance is your Busy Work), 1983, and Untitled (Tell Us Something We Don’t Know), 1987 share common elements with RIPCAHCE’s work such as the use of text, and color accents against monochrome graphic imagery. In Don’t Shoot, Kruger alludes to the camera being used as a weapon. Likewise, in Untitled (Tell Us Something We Don’t Know), rows of eyes mirroring consecutive surveillance cameras coupled with a provocative title further investigates the implication of privacy and surveillance.

Babara Kruger, Untitled (Tell Us Something We Don’t Know), 1987, gelatin silver print, in artist’s frame, 48⅛ by 65½ in. (22.2 by 166.4 cm.) | Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Don’t Shoot), 2013, digital print on vinyl, 96 x 94 in. (243.8 x 238.8 cm.) | Barbara Kruger, SURVEILLANCE IS YOUR BUSYWORK c.1980, Original Subway Poster

Social Commentary and Viewer Participation

Playing with value, commodity and accumulation, Neutral invites viewers to question their complicity in the pervasive phenomenon of surveillance. Much like the voyeuristic gaze associated with pop art, this work prompts contemplation on the act of seeing and being seen in a world saturated with surveillance

"The act of destruction is symbolic of the sacrifices and compromises we often make to maintain our digital privacy" - ripcache

More importantly, the work goes beyond the visual to present a profound choice for the collector. Much like Kruger or Ai Wei Wei’s engagement with the political implications of surveillance, ripcache’s work compels the collector to actively participate in the future of the work by physically altering the artwork, should they wish to unlock its digital counterpart. To do this, the collector must scratch away the physical artwork in the area that contains the Ethereum private key as the only way to access its digital twin. This deliberate action irreversibly separates the physical and digital components, highlighting the complex relationship between permanence and impermanence in the artworld. This transformative process also echoes the irreversible actions observed in privacy concerns. Equally, it highlights one’s agency over their digital identity and how they can actively influence it, initiating conversations around data ownership and control.

Likewise, Félix Gonzalez-Torres, known for his minimalist and conceptual artworks, often created pieces that invited viewer interaction and subsequently, their implication to the overall meaning of the work beyond its mere appearance. Untitled (Portrait of Ross), 1981 comprises a pile of individually wrapped candies, amounting to the overall weight of his partner. Although the body is absent (aesthetically speaking), the candies refer to the weight of a body, weighing 175 pounds (Ross’s ideal weight before having AIDS). Viewers are encouraged to take a piece, causing a gradual depletion of the installation, and ultimately being implicated in his partner’s deterioration. This act of participation transforms the artwork, making the audience an integral part of its evolution. This ultimately implicates them in the changing nature of the piece both metaphorically and physically. In both cases, the alteration of the artwork is not merely a physical act but a profound conceptual shift. Moreover, both artists challenge the notion of permanence in art. Gonzalez-Torres’ use of consumable materials implies the transient nature of art, life, love, and loss, while ripcache’s integration of blockchain technology emphasizes the digital imprints we leave behind. The act of altering the artwork becomes a metaphorical acknowledgment of the impermanence and malleability of our experiences in the face of societal and technological shifts.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, “Untitled” (Portrait of Ross in L.A.), Candies in variously colored wrappers, endless supply, Dimensions vary with installation; ideal weight 175 lbs. © The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation.

“Permanence, in the context of ‘Public/Private,’ can be viewed as a reflection of the digital imprints we leave behind.” — ripcache

Community Engagement and Interactivity

ripcache’s dedication to community engagement and interactivity comes from a desire to understand the human condition. Where is the value of this artwork held for the collector? The collector is faced with a consequential choice — will they, in a certain sense, destroy the physical in order to access the digital counterpart? This raises questions about the nature of value in art and how we define it. Just like Warhol’s Brillo Boxes, which are exact replicas of commercial packaging, challenge the distinction between art and everyday objects. It also raises questions on the evolving significance of tangible and digital forms, and, fundamentally, how this dynamic addresses the concept of permanence in the broader context of art. Drawing parallels from the surveillance scenarios in the immersive installations of Julia Scher, as seen in works like Predictive Engineering (1993 — present), ripcache prompts the audience to become contributors, inviting them to physically alter the artwork to access its digital counterpart, should they decide to do so. This process positions the audience as active participants in the evolving dialogue on privacy, surveillance, and the impact of technology. In doing so, ripcache also sets a new standard by infusing blockchain with community interaction as active participants to the future of the work, with all its conceptual implications.

Julia Scher, Predictive Engineering, 1993–present Multichannel video and sound installation, with live cameras, sensors, microphone, mirrors, tape, plastic balls, drone, and text-messaging service; dimensions variable. Installation view: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

As a whole, Neutral speaks to the evolving dynamics of art, technology, identity and the human experience. It not only aligns with the conceptual rigor seen in Nauman’s earlier works but also contributes to the contemporary complicated discourse associated with privacy and surveillance. At the heart of ripcache’s oeuvre lies the inherent contradictions found within unbound intermediaries — between the Private and the Public, between permanence and impermanence.

Co-owning ripcache’s public//private #7 here.

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