Owls NFTs have been on an absolute tear lately. Having dropped on March 3, the 10,000-piece assortment of randomly-generated colourful textual content artwork owls has already finished greater than 11,000 ETH ($17 million) in buying and selling quantity on the secondary market and at present has a ground worth of 0.184 ETH.
Little is thought in regards to the assortment, whose Twitter account is only a month previous and whose creator lately self-doxxed to disclose that they go by Rei. What is for certain is that the mission has rekindled curiosity in ASCII artwork NFTs and different on-chain initiatives that make up a exceptional a part of the historical past of crypto artwork.
In distinction to their novelty, Owls NFTs come from a protracted line of minimal, text-based initiatives and experiments that maintain an important place within the often-overlooked annals of Web3 and whose influences prolong far past the blockchain itself. Extra so than any mission in current reminiscence, Owls’ recognition has given the group trigger for reflection on the character of that historical past and the way developments develop, fade, and reemerge within the crypto artwork ecosystem.
Earlier than diving into the newly resurgent meta round ASCII and related, text-based visible artwork media, we should first perceive their origins. ASCII (the American Customary Code for Info Alternate) is a typical character encoding format for textual content information on-line, whose historical past dates again to 1963.
One of many very first recorded items of ASCII artwork was created by pc artwork pioneer Kenneth Knowlton who labored for the well-known Bell Labs and is credited with laying the muse for computer-generated imagery in TV and movie. Alongside Leon Harmon, a cyberneticist who additionally labored at Bell, the 2 created Pc Nude (Research in Notion 1) in 1966.
However this model of text-based creative experimentation precedes the Sixties by a large margin. Diving even deeper into historical past, we discover that inventive expression within the religious and aesthetic vein of ASCII artwork goes way back to the Nineties when folks would use the then newly-invented typewriter to interact in what some have labeled “artyping.”
Given this legacy, it’s becoming that a few of the earliest types of crypto artwork got here to be by way of the medium of ASCII. Among the many initiatives which have the consideration of holding that title is the storied NFT assortment Punycodes, NFT artwork that emerged out of the Namecoin blockchain greater than a decade in the past.
Namecoin had launched in early 2011 as a decentralized area identify system (DNS) to retailer area registration data. As Bitcoin was heralded as a system that “freed cash,” so, too, was Namecoin billed as making a liberated, decentralized naming system that was censorship-resistant; centralized organizations and governmental our bodies couldn’t take down an web area that was registered on the blockchain. For a small charge, Namecoin customers might register a site on-chain, successfully creating an NFT that saved that area’s information.
This growth would show to be a cornerstone within the historical past of NFTs. Having created a approach to retailer primary information on the blockchain, Namecoin builders had inadvertently created a brand new creative canvas. Early Namecoin DNS experimenters started utilizing the chain to retailer simplistic visible data on their domains utilizing an encoding language referred to as Punycode. With Punycode, experimenters might now add symbols, emojis, and ASCII characters to the Namecoin chain.
The consequence was Punycodes, a few of the first visible artwork NFTs within the historical past of crypto artwork. It’s necessary to notice that this “assortment” of NFTs didn’t come about with the intentionality that mission builders create a set as we speak. Reasonably, Punycodes was extra of a contented accident that noticed a brand new technological functionality collide with human curiosity and playfulness. This stands in stark distinction to Jennifer and Kevin McCoy’s Quantum, for instance, which is extensively thought to be the primary intentionally-made piece of generative NFT artwork (a piece that was additionally initially saved on Namecoin).
Whereas there’s some debate about whether or not or not Punycodes are true “NFTs” or “artwork NFTs” within the sense that we all know them as as we speak, their pedigree and legitimacy are at the least partially backed up by Vitalik Buterin himself, who, in Ethereum’s whitepaper, refers to Namecoin’s domains as “non-fungible belongings.” These NFTs are an important a part of crypto artwork’s historical past as a result of they expanded the constraints of what may very well be finished utilizing blockchain tech.
ChainFaces enters the chat
Punycodes’ cultural influence continues to reverberate by way of Web3. Quick ahead to January 2020, and the on-chain generative ASCII assortment of textual content “faces” referred to as ChainFaces arrived on the scene as a form of successor to Punycodes.
The gathering’s creator, Nate Alex, a Web3 builder, creator, investor, and founder, used an algorithm to generate the ten,000 faces within the assortment from textual content and emojis. Alex would later reveal the second stage of that assortment’s evolution, ChainFaces Area, a form of NFT battlefield wherein holders can enter their NFTs for the prospect to win a share of a crypto reward.
Throughout the month-long event, 17,031 ChainFaces did battle. A complete of 12,775 “died” and have been faraway from the circulating provide of the gathering, and people who remained had generative scars utilized to their tokens. Like Owls, ChainFaces’ text-based, totally on-chain nature has its lineage in initiatives like Punycodes. Notably, ChainFaces has seen a marked surge in gross sales and buying and selling quantity lately, a few of which can be attributable to the eye Owls has introduced it and different initiatives prefer it lately.
Autoglyphs is one other mission that many view as the primary “totally on-chain” generative artwork mission on the Ethereum blockchain. Created by CryptoPunks creators Larva Labs in 2019, Autoglyphs is a variation of ASCII artwork saved throughout the identical contract that permits for the artwork’s very creation. Solely 512 items exist, and the NFTs within the assortment stay extensively sought-after.
The Moonbirds connection
Aside from shining a highlight on each on-chain and ASCII-based artwork, Owls has caught the eye of the Moonbirds group, with some holders of the Proof Collective NFTs gladly welcoming the bird-themed tokens into their collections. And with Proof going by way of a vital public recalibration concerning the route, cohesion, and significance of the NFTs underneath its banner, a number of owl-themed initiatives have been (considerably jokingly) asserting themselves as the brand new avian rulers of the hen NFT scene.
Neighborhood reactions to the entire Owls-induced shake-up have been different. Some, like artist Bryan Brinkman, couldn’t assist however observe the nostalgia in the best way metas kind and repeat over time within the NFT area. Others discovered a chance to poke enjoyable on the fickle nature of a Web3 group that stumbles over itself for simplistic textual content artwork initiatives whereas remaining comparatively lukewarm towards the launch of an NFT mission backed by animation large Pixar.
Placing all of it in perspective
Final October, self-described information scientist Chainleft compiled a timeline of a few of the most vital on-chain initiatives in NFT historical past, showcasing 2011’s Punycodes, 2015’s Linagee Identify Registrar, ChainFaces’ 2020 creation, in addition to 2021’s on-chain sport EtherOrcs, amongst a number of others. There are dozens extra which have helped set up priority for what got here after within the crypto artwork area, and Owls is as steeped in that legacy as every other.
Whereas Owls’ buying and selling quantity and recognition are undoubtedly spectacular, the mission’s rise has given the crypto artwork group one thing way more priceless: a motive to replicate on the ecosystem’s historical past and an opportunity to contemplate its future. That issues a terrific deal in an area that seemingly calls for its inhabitants transfer and assume at a continuing breakneck tempo whereas all the time being looking out for the following huge factor. Finally, Owls’ on-chain ASCII artwork is a love letter to the earliest foundations of the NFT area as we all know it as we speak.