The “mining” of virtual currencies rewards the completion of work required to verify, record, and secure transactions. New currency is released when transaction information is accepted into the network’s ledger. In order to be accepted, this information must be combined with a numerical sequence from a certain range, which can only be arrived at by trial and error.
Twice daily a tanker truck crosses a bridge to make a slow round-trip across a sand island, to a lone house on a walled slice of lawn at the far end. Seen from forty-five floors above, the surface of the island is level and unmarred, except for the tracks left by the truck, and its boundaries are a series of perfect Bézier curves.
While luck remains a factor in being first to arrive at one valid sequence, difficulty levels continually adjust to maintain a regular average interval of time between successes. More nodes and faster hardware produce more guesses per second; lowered odds follow, necessitating further increases in processing power.
Newly planted palm trees line a highway for hours, partially obscuring the national energy company’s installations out by the wavering horizon. The fronds of each tree are still bundled in burlap, and they bend wildly in different directions as if each were subject to its own weather system.
As the currency progresses towards a distant predetermined limit of total units to be released, purpose-built equipment and pooled efforts among large groups of users become requisites for competitiveness.
Inland, a five-story corrugated metal pyramid, housing an automotive museum, looms over the ruin of a recreation of a traditional village. Garbage, broken furniture, and two rusted satellite dishes are embedded around a warren of thatched-roof shelters, where the first drifts of finer, redder sand collect into the suggestion of a border; the desert beginning in earnest.
Both the manufacture of this equipment and the electrical supply required for its operation rely heavily on the extraction and refining of non-renewable resources.
The humid night sky weighing down the city takes its cast from the particular green that illuminates the façades of houses of worship here. It’s the same color that decades of selective reporting have indelibly linked to night vision, the hue of photocathodes and phosphors intensifying and focusing available light into the Claude-glass atmospherics of remote administration.
The cost of hardware and the amount of energy required to power an operation eventually begin to determine profitability. “Mining” becomes simultaneously figurative and literal—a kind of syllepsis—and questions emerge about the capacity of the technology to combat the centralization of economic power.
Hotel carpet, curtains, tinted window glass, and the hot reflection of the sun off the skyline frame a man standing on a small scaffold that has been custom built to match the compound curve of the exterior of the building’s façade. Working methodically with a squeegee, he disappears below the floor-plane in minutes and the windows begin to streak with dust again.
Along with the elegant illusions of frictionlessness and abstraction, distinctions between physical and computational labor and resources collapse.
KEVIN ZUCKER (b.1976, lives in New York) has had solo shows worldwide, and has been featured in group exhibitions at the New Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, and MoMA/PS1, amongst others. Zucker’s work has been discussed in publications ranging from Artforum to The New York Times, and is in public and private collections internationally, including the Albright-Knox, LACMA, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. He is represented by Eleven Rivington (NY) and Linn Lühn (Dusseldorf).