Owls NFTs Are Driving a Resurgence in ASCII Artwork

    Owls NFTs have been on an absolute tear not too long ago. Having dropped on March 3, the 10,000-piece assortment of randomly-generated colourful textual content artwork owls has already executed greater than 11,000 ETH ($17 million) in buying and selling quantity on the secondary market and at present has a flooring worth of 0.184 ETH.

    Little is understood in regards to the assortment, whose Twitter account is only a month outdated and whose creator not too long ago self-doxxed to disclose that they go by Rei. What is definite is that the mission has rekindled curiosity in ASCII artwork NFTs and different on-chain tasks that make up a exceptional a part of the historical past of crypto artwork.

    In distinction to their novelty, Owls NFTs come from an extended line of minimal, text-based tasks and experiments that maintain a vital place within the often-overlooked annals of Web3 and whose influences lengthen far past the distributed ledger technology itself. Extra so than any mission in current reminiscence, Owls’ reputation 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.

    A group of colorful birds made out of text on a black background.
    Credit score: Owls

    Earlier than diving into the newly resurgent meta round ASCII and comparable, text-based visible artwork media, we should first perceive their origins. ASCII (the American Customary Code for Data Change) is a typical character encoding format for textual content knowledge on-line, whose historical past dates again to 1963.

    One of many very first recorded items of ASCII artwork was created by laptop 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.  

    A text-composed image of a nude woman reclining on her side.
    Credit score: Kenneth Knowlton and Leon Harmon

    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 individuals would use the then newly-invented typewriter to interact in what some have labeled “artyping.”

    Given this legacy, it’s becoming that among the earliest types of crypto artwork got here to be via the medium of ASCII. Among the many tasks which have the respect of holding that title is the storied NFT assortment Punycodes, NFT artwork that emerged out of the Namecoin distributed ledger technology 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 money,” 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 distributed ledger technology. For a small payment, Namecoin customers may register a website on-chain, successfully creating an NFT that saved that area’s knowledge.

    This growth would show to be a cornerstone within the historical past of NFTs. Having created a approach to retailer fundamental knowledge on the distributed ledger technology, 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 may now add symbols, emojis, and ASCII characters to the Namecoin chain.

    Puncycodes’ Oncyber gallery. Credit score: Punycodes

    The end result was Punycodes, among the first visible artwork NFTs within the historical past of crypto artwork. It’s vital to notice that this “collection” of NFTs didn’t come about with the intentionality that mission builders create a group at present. Quite, Punycodes was extra of a cheerful 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 broadly thought to be the primary intentionally-made piece of generative NFT artwork (a piece that was additionally initially saved on Namecoin).

    Whereas there may be some debate about whether or not or not Punycodes are true “NFTs” or “art NFTs” within the sense that we all know them as at present, their pedigree and legitimacy are no less than partially backed up by Vitalik Buterin himself, who, in Ethereum’s whitepaper, refers to Namecoin’s domains as “non-fungible assets.” These NFTs are an important a part of crypto artwork’s historical past as a result of they expanded the constraints of what might be executed utilizing distributed ledger technology tech.

    ChainFaces enters the chat

    Punycodes’ cultural affect continues to reverberate via 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 type 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 type of NFT battlefield by which holders can enter their NFTs for the prospect to win a share of a crypto reward. 

    A face composed of simple text drawings.
    Credit score: ChainFaces

    In the course of the month-long match, 17,031 ChainFaces did battle. A complete of 12,775 “died” and had 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, absolutely on-chain nature has its lineage in tasks like Punycodes. Notably, ChainFaces has seen a marked surge in gross sales and buying and selling quantity not too long ago, a few of which can be attributable to the eye Owls has introduced it and different tasks prefer it not too long ago.

    Autoglyphs is one other mission that many view as the primary “fully on-chain” generative artwork mission on the Ethereum distributed ledger technology. Created by CryptoPunks creators Larva Labs in 2019, Autoglyphs is a variation of ASCII artwork saved inside the similar contract that permits for the artwork’s very creation. Solely 512 items exist, and the NFTs within the assortment stay broadly sought-after.

    A kaleidescope-esque image of black text symbols on a white background forming a star-shaped piece of art.
    Autoglyphs #113. Credit score: Autoglyphs

    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 via a important public recalibration relating to the course, cohesion, and significance of the NFTs beneath its banner, several owl-themed tasks 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 word the nostalgia in the best way metas kind and repeat over time within the NFT area. Others discovered a possibility to poke enjoyable on the fickle nature of a Web3 group that stumbles over itself for simplistic textual content artwork tasks whereas remaining comparatively lukewarm towards the launch of an NFT mission backed by animation big Pixar.

    Placing all of it in perspective

    Final October, self-described knowledge scientist Chainleft compiled a timeline of among the most important on-chain tasks 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 several 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 another.  

    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 precious: a cause to mirror on the ecosystem’s historical past and an opportunity to contemplate its future. That issues an incredible deal in an area that seemingly calls for its inhabitants transfer and assume at a relentless breakneck tempo whereas all the time being looking out for the following massive factor. In the end, Owls’ on-chain ASCII artwork is a love letter to the earliest foundations of the NFT area as we all know it at present.

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