“I would challenge artists: Ask not what Bitcoin can do for you. Ask what you can do for Bitcoin,” Max Mellenbruch told me.
Mellenbruch himself is certainly taking that challenge to heart with his Kialara, a physical Bitcoin that doubles as an intricate & breathtaking art piece. First announced in a Reddit post last year, the Kialara immediately became a coveted collector’s item for cryptocurrency enthusiasts. “I bought one just because of the art,” one commenter responded. “I probably won’t ever load it…For now, I will just appreciate it as artwork.” In the post, Mellenbruch explained the deliberate design of his creation, from the complex multi-layered approach to the yin & yang inspired symbolism.
These pieces were created with the idea that they would never be opened. I like to think of the public & private keys as a ‘medium’ in my art.
– Max Mellenbruch
Throughout most of his life, Mellenbruch has been surrounded by art: “Both my parents are artists who work in traditional media. So I was immersed in art from day one and spent countless happy hours of my childhood sketching, painting, and making claymation movies.” His creative background shines through with the careful and thoughtful consideration of each Kialara. Since 2014, he has constructed several variations of the original Kialara, including the Kialara Labyrinth, which incorporates a puzzle into the design.
Last week, Mellenbruch announced the latest edition: the Kialara Signature Series. The series seamlessly weaves the original artwork of artists Julia Tourianski and Ricky Allman into the Kialara. “Artists are visionaries. They imagine the unimaginable,” Mellenbruch said. “Every work of art shows that problems can have more than one solution — that there can be many equally valid solutions.” For this project, he asked both artists to create a piece that followed just two simple rules: traditional media only and no Bitcoin logos.
The rules were important to Mellenbruch. “As much as I enjoy my forays in digital art, I’m spending less time in front of a computer these days, and I’m happy about that,” he said. “Traditional art is linear and requires commitment. There’s no ‘undo’ function and less margin for error, and I like how this echoes the permanency of the blockchain itself.” Mellenbruch also sees power in the combination of traditional media artwork and the “technologically sophisticated housing” of the Kialaras.
The restrictions with the Bitcoin logo allowed for deeper symbolic exploration. Allman chose to focus on mining; in particular, he looked at the metaphor that mining provided for the generation of new economies. “I am interested in a future of self-replicating and evolving architecture that mines its own materials and disposes of its own waste,” he wrote in his artist statement. Allman is also interested in the contrast between traditional mines and digital mines: “[Traditional mines] are destructive to ecosystems, as we reshape the earth to squeeze out its treasures. Digital mines are the opposite; they are constructive, bringing communities together across the world.”
Allman is a strong supporter of Bitcoin, thanks to an introduction given to him by Mellenbruch – Mellenbruch convinced him to sell a painting for Bitcoin, knowing he’d be interested in it. “I think Bitcoin is a brilliant invention that has the potential to solve so many problems as we inevitably head to a new global community,” he told me. He also recognizes the significance of a multidisciplinary approach, citing art as the “main thing that makes any technology truly loved and valuable”.
Tourianski took a much different approach to the project, basing her work on Théodore Géricault’s ‘The Raft of the Medusa‘. Her painting shows a variety of colorful animals on a raft, each representing a different characteristic of the Bitcoin ecosystem. To Tourianski, art and Bitcoin have much in common. “Art has this feeling of beautiful permanency, which echoes Bitcoin’s very literal quality of forever,” she described to me. When asked about the importance of integrating art and Bitcoin, she responded, “Art and Bitcoin do not need to be integrated, as Bitcoin is the result of an artistic process. Instead, Bitcoin should not be seen as a cold technical tool, but as a living concept that was born from a creative process by which it will continue to be reinforced.”
“Ricky and Julia both produced beautiful pieces that evoke the incredible possibilities that Bitcoin envisions,” said Mellenbruch of the final creations. He of course agrees with both of the artists on the inherent connected nature of art and Bitcoin. “Making art out of Bitcoin and Bitcoin out of art is a very literal melding of my belief in the power and value of both,” he said.
The pieces are limited editions of 500, and they are currently on sale for an introductory price of $159. The units arrive fully assembled and non-denominated, and every bar is hand-signed and numbered by the artist. Each order comes with an easel, so the new owner is easily able to display these works of art.
“Bitcoin has the potential to open doors for you worldwide,” Mellenbruch offered as a bit of final advice to artists. “Read up on the technology. Learn the history. Embrace it as a form of payment, for starters. And have fun with it.”
– Emily Braun
This article originally appeared in CoinCafe