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A Short History of NFT Trash Art
BY ERIC P. RHODES - Eric is an award-winning Crypto Art artist, renowned Trash Art artist, and creator of the iconic NFT collection, Unofficial Punks. Working exclusively in the Web3 space since 2019. 💬 Follow Eric on Twitter
An Emerging Digital Genre
Trash Art is a new genre that uses existing media to create new works much in the same way collage and installation works took found or junk objects and incorporated them into a larger piece. Its history of thought and progression is outlined in the text below. This article is the second in a two-part series. The previous article informs the discussion about trash art.
The trash art movement began with a conversation about what defines art; the role of curation on-chain; and the role technology plays in the creation of art. Does a shortcut disqualify a work from being considered art? For many, these are the questions that started the discourse about Trash Art.
In my post “The problem with remixes,” I discuss the issues trash artists face. I wrote, “Remixes are new creations that use existing content. They are not exact copies, forgeries, or compilations,” and I pointed out the threat centralized platforms see in NFT Trash Art is the risk of litigation due to copyright infringement. This was written in response to the artist Robness’s suspension from SuperRare for his work 64 Gallon Toter (2020), a modified, re-imagined stock image pulled from the Home Depot website.
After Robness’s suspension, many artists started to create other trash artworks. The term “trash art” developed over a period of roughly three months. The use of “trash” in relation to this genre was used by none other than Robness on January 10, 2020:¹
BEING PART OF THE TRASH GIF SCENE HAS BEEN AMAZING, I AM ALSO DECLARING IT AS A THING AND IT DIDN'T HAVE A NAME UNTIL NOW. EXPECT MORE TRASH GIFS COMING AND WELCOME TO THE PART OF THE CRYPTO ART SCENE THAT MOST HATE BUT I LOVE.
— ROBNΞSS \/IRTUAL🇺🇸 (@robnessofficial) January 10, 2020
On February 5, 2020, artist Barbara Tosti sent out a tweet with the hashtag “#trashart”², but it wasn’t until j1mmy.eth responded to JayDelay.eth on March 20, 2020, that the term really stuck:³
i'm not wrong about this. we are a small community and no one wants to take part in this trash art except for the trolly "artists". if it was just Rob, who i actually like, we wouldn't be having this conversation, but he has a bunch of wannabe's swimming in his wake. enough.
— j1mmy.eth🦩 (@j1mmyeth) March 20, 2020
The events surrounding Robness’s suspension and the conversations that followed gave this phenomenon its name: thus, Trash Art became a movement and response to censorship from centralized platforms.
A year later, j1mmy.eth, well-known collector and creator of Avastars, came on the Outer Realm Podcast for our Trash Art Week series. On this one-year-later episode, j1mmy.eth talked about the discussions around Trash Art, and his revised opinion about the movement.
After starting to collect on-chain NFT pieces, j1mmy.eth saw this new art form where artists were “just throwing these like, sorry, shitty tokens on these platforms. As a collector, it pissed me off at the time because I felt like it was devaluing my other tokens, and I also felt like it wasn’t art.”⁴
At the time, j1mmy.eth referred to these works as “trash art.” He has since to come around about trash art, and now believes it’s a beautiful form of art.⁵
When the debate was raging on, curated platforms like SuperRare and KnownOrigin took notice. Worried about backlash from collectors and possible copyright violations, they began to remove trash art pieces minted and posted on their sites, which led to the suspension of certain trash artists.
Other artists have accused trash artists of stealing their original work, and these complaints led to the removal of NFTs from various marketplaces. This happened to CryptoTonya’s BTC Bitch Remix #1; Nino Arterio’s An Original Art; and Max Osiris’ I1O I1O I1O [EDIT] LOVE. In Osiris’ case, he was banned from SuperRare, again, for his piece, which was renamed and is still available to view.
Some say Trash Art is a money grab; others say it’s both a money grab and unoriginal.
Case in point: Max Osiris was banned from Foundation for his low effort “NFT” piece that sold for 1 ETH. After another artist’s tweet went viral for criticizing the NFT, which is a picture of Osiris’ desk with “low effort ‘NFT’” written in pencil. On March 14, 2021, Osiris replied to a tweet from Guto Martino (@gutomartino) who asked, “Why did they ban you?”⁶
the forever "profile is under review" essentially a ban without an explanation. i'd LOVE to know.
was it the piece called "foundation app invite" that even they acknowledged was a conceptual / perfomance piece?
or the one long pube (which was a parody piece of another artist)? pic.twitter.com/eDFtAY8KCL
— 🔥 MÅxXx Ø$iR!S :://:: httpxx :://:: 💮 (@maxosirisart) March 14, 2021
In the Observer, Amanda Silberling wrote about Max Osiris and the low effort “NFT” piece; she shared her thoughts on the questions trash art provokes:⁷
But this incident raises the same questions that artists have been asking for ages: how do we determine an artwork’s monetary value? What makes an artwork good? Is a piece of art inherently better if it takes more time to create — for example, a large-scale, intricately painted mural versus a photograph? NFTs are novel to the art world, but the conversations they’ve inspired are nothing new.
Trash art will continue to provoke and push the bounds, as it’s meant to. That’s what makes it such a powerful on-chain movement. You can censor trash art, but you can’t stop it.
In an interview in Foma Magazine, Max Osiris talks about his creative process:⁸
Most of my pieces start with a base layer of a subject I want to explore or a specific visual that I feel I can expand stylistically and play with. I call my work “transdimensional” — and by that I mean I like to place every layer and level of the object through a sort of disentanglement, break apart the thing in my own psyche, and play with submeanings of its own aspects weave them in and out of itself.
Jay Delay writes in the article “Digital Trash”:⁹
We the artists have come together to try to preserve our community by NOT setting a limit on the quality of art and the selection of artists. Our goal is NOT to censor freedom of speech and expression or to keep our community pre-approved on who can participate.
Both statements contain similar aspects: altering visuals in an attempt to reorient onlookers and make them realize that these scenes and images seen as mundane or unimportant are, in fact, art. Appealing or ugly. Complex or simple. All interpretations are welcome. This is the message behind Trash Art.
The discussion of “what is” and “what is not” art has been constant over the centuries. New forms are almost universally rejected by the established class. Some look at Hirst’s A Thousand Years and are immediately disgusted — this visceral response is to the art. How is a decaying cow’s head art?
Take Jay Delay’s GANG GREEN (2020): a colorful, fluid illustration of a large foot and hairy ankle. This work takes something otherwise unappealing and makes it beautiful. The foot is ever-present, but the colors and textures elevate the piece. GANG GREEN is a classic work of trash art and one that doesn’t use the on-the-nose trashcan reference.¹⁰
The current art community wants original pieces, beautiful works, to offer for sale. The smooth, sleek, and visually appealing is seen as desirable.
Trash Art doesn’t meet these criteria, yet it has the same hallmarks of the found art and junk art movements. The dadaist collage was a genre often unappealing, but the works by artists such as Pablo Picasso and Marcel Janco came with intention and perspective.
Though the Trash Art movement has developed a cult following, it still faces criticism and community backlash. Trash artists still have their work taken down. Other artists who don’t understand the significance of this movement deride pieces in the genre.
Like movements before, trash art will prevail and hold an important place in on-chain art history. To push boundaries, to reimagine what art can be, and to reject the gatekeeping of centralized platforms — this is trash art.
I am one of the pioneers of the Trash Art movement and have also been kicked off SuperRare in 2020 (before being reinstated in 2022). I tried to write objectively. I specifically looked to avoid writing hyperbolic or biased editorializations in this article. However, like you, I am human, and bias can still unconsciously seep into my writing. My hope is that if any bias is perceived, then you will allow a small amount of leeway here. Thanks for your understanding.
More Trash Art Resources
Trash Art Week 2021, Trash Art: One Year Later
Crypto Art Week 2020, Trash Art Panel
The Angels’ Wing, What is Trash Art with Eric Rhodes and Empress Trash
Trash art vs. Glitch art, NFT Culture
What is Trash Art? by Brady Evan Walker - Think of Trash Art as the conceptual love-child of Junk Art and Glitch Art.
#TRASHART: NFT GARBOLOGY L’Avant Galerie Vossen
ROBNESS AND THE TRASH ART REVOLUTION by Aleksandra Artamonovskaja - The enfant terrible speaks to Aleksandra Artamonovskaja about memes, fakes, and freedom.
The Depths of Trash by crashblossom, VerticalCrypto - This editorial explores where the spirit of trash art lives on in today’s NFT space.
Second Realm’s Trash Art Gallery by Eric P. Rhodes - This article expands breaks down trash art into three essential parts. The movement, the meme, and the aesthetic.
What is A Trash Art? The Upcycling Themed NFT Movement Explained, The NFT Brief
An NFT of a trashcan sold for $252k by Ian Dean, Creative Bloq
What exactly is Trash Art? The Beginnings of a Crypto Art Movement by Aleksandra Artamonovskaja, NFTs.WTF
Digital Trash: Historical Accounts from the Birth of the Trash Gif Revolution to the Dawn of the Spam Art Rebellion (A Brief History of the Degenerative Arts) by Jay Delay, FOMAmag
Speaking Truth to Power by Beatriz Helena Ramos, DADA.art
Immutable Trash: Crypto Art Revisits Arguments on Censorship and Meaning by Darren Klein, Cointelegraph
Trash Art: An Animated Gif Movement Within the Crypto Art Space by Reethu Ravi, NFT Evening
$TRSH gallery - The first trash art museum constructed in Cryptovoxels by the god-father himself, Robness.
RATS (Rapid Art Token Swaps) - Decentralized artists' collectives & experiments in art-based economy.
Trashart.io - An electric art renaissance.
Ultimate Trash Art Directory - a directory of Twitter accounts for known participants and supporters of the Trash Art movement.
Taking the Trash Out - An exhibition on trash art by Seeing Aliens via JPG, the NFT curation protocol.
❤️Trash Art Supporters
BAE (Blockchain Art Exchange) - Founded in 2018, the BAE is one of the first Crypto Art platforms to launch.
Future Art - An immersive NFT Crypto-Art event that combines large-scale projections, live music and theatrical performers alongside AR VR lounges and cocktail bars.
House of 555 - 555 is Trash. Everyone can create & mint - no $ETH & no KYC, KYA only. An alternative gallery for established & emerging artists. Includes a virtual gallery as well.
M○C△ (Museum of Crypto Art) - Founded by @co1born. Challenges, creates conflict, provokes. M○C△ puts forward a broad representation of perspectives meant to upend our sense of who we are. It poses two questions: “what is art?” and “who decides?”
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