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Source [On NFTs]


On the occasion of the launch of On NFTs, the first major full scale art historical study on NFTs published by Taschen, Robert Alice is releasing a generative text art series named SOURCE (On NFTS). The 400 works poetically distill the pre-history of NFTs into large contemporary digital colour fields. Born from On NFTs conceptually, the project also physically and aesthetically is tied to the book. The works form the endpapers of the book, marking the first and last NFTs that one will discover when they open On NFTs. The font used in the project is the same font used as the body text within the book, and the land- scape ratio is the exact size of a double page spread in On NFTs.

Endpapers from Robert Alice and TASCHEN's On NFTs

Influenced by their work writing and editing On NFTs, SOURCE [On NFTS] is about history, how it is formed, the chaotic and many-threaded nature of it. The philosophical basis of the work centers around the idea of collision, both poetically and aesthetically. Poetically, language is collided together from disparate strands of history: politics, art, science fiction and technology. Sometimes separated by thousands of years, each of the 30 texts has been selected by Robert Alice as it reveals something specific about the cultural ecology of where NFTs came out of.

Works of science fiction are collided with seminal digital art history manifestos, cryptography white papers are collided with 7th century Chinese philosophical texts, interweaving these disparate histories together to create new meaning influenced by concrete poetry. Using NLP trained on each text to create a kind of etymological fingerprint; adjectives, nouns and proper nouns are chaotically collided together to create phrases that celebrate juxtaposition. Released at a time where AI’s hallucinate, and the nature of truth has become a political battleground, the works more broadly speak to the nature of language and history in our contemporary moment.

Frontcovers for the 30 texts trained using NLP for the text strings in SOURCE [On NFTs]

Aesthetically, each work is the collision between two outputs, spliced together in a way that echoes the NLP text phrases. Built entirely out of NLP phrases, the text works used only glyphs and characters as their medium, echoing the opening lines of On NFTs (see above) and drawing to the fore the reality that blockchains and NFTs are fundamentally a text-based medium. Resulting from this collision of two images, the final works veer from order to chaos and back again, at times the source phrases are highly eligible, at other times encrypted, abstracted and enveloped into further areas of text, lost to the whims of history. Influenced by the aesthetics of DNA sequencing, data and blueprints, texts are compressed and expanded to suggest the passage of time and the idea of a source or common identity that runs through these disparate histories. A work that fundamentally deals with the nature of art history, the works draw from many aesthetic historical standards within the history of text art, from the abstraction of Twombly, to the erasure of Ligon and Bradford, the works also draw on line making of artists such as Julie Mehretu. The works also explore the history of digital and programmatic arts, allusions to both Autoglyphs and Chromie Squiggles are complemented with references to works such as Ferdinand Kriwet’s poetic-programmatic discs from the 1960s.


Robert Alice

Cosmo Lindsay, Head of Research
Digital Practice, NFT Development


The creative process behind the work is an exercise in, again, collision through collage, and one can think of the algorithm as a series of treatises, or chapters that unfold, a collection of several smaller algorithms that interact within chaotic bounds to create the generative digital paintings. The algorithm is creatively written by four ‘authors’: SOURCES, TEXTURES, MASKS and COLOURS.


As discussed above and explored below, the text generated provides the specific glyphs that create the compositions for both the layers and the masks. Compressed and expanded, the texts are both readable to create poetic variation but also when compressed the curves and lines of the glyph strings themselves create fields of colour. For the creation of each work, two texts are spliced together for each work and the titles of the books/papers (see below) will listed as traits for viewers to explore. Segmented into libraries of ‘ART’, ‘CULTURE’, BLOCKCHAIN’, ‘POLITICS’ and ‘FICTION’. The older the books the less they come up, making more historic texts rarer. History is informed more by near history, than ancient history, and the algorithm accounts for this.


Furtherfield, Artists Re: Thinking the Blockchain, 2017

Rosa Menkman, The Glitch Moment(um), 2011

Casey Reas and Ben Fry,Processing:a programming handbook for visual designers and artists, 2007  

Lucy Lippard, Six Years The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972, 1973

Frieder Nake, There should be no Computer Art, 1971

Seth Siegelaub and Robert Projansky, The Artist’s Reserved Rights Transfer And Sale Agreement, 1971

Experiments in Art and, Archive, f.1966

Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, 1935


Claudia Hart, A Feminist Manifesta of the Blockchain, 2021

Vitalik Buterin, Ethereum Whitepaper, 2014

Hal Finney, Bitcoin and Me, 2013

Satoshi Nakamoto, Bitcoin Whitepaper, 2008

Nick Szabo, Shelling Out The Origins of Money, 2002

Eric Hughes, Cypherpunk Manifesto, 1993

Timothy C.May, Crypto Anarchist Manifesto, 1988


Neal Stephenson, Cryptonomicon, 1999

William Gibson, Neuromancer, 1984

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1949

Jorge Luis Borges, The Library of Babel, 1941


Donna Haraway, A Cyborg Manifesto, 1985

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859

Jean Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, 1762

John Milton, Areopagitica, 1644

Laozi, The Tao-te Ching, 4th century BC


Judy Wajcaman, TechnoFeminism, 2004

Pekka Himanen, The Hacker Ethic and The Spirit of the Information Age, 2001

Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, 1981

Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle, 1967

Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage_ An Inventory of Effects, 1967

Ramónn Llull, The Book of the Lover and the Beloved, c.1283


The colour field layers, referred to as TEXT[URE], consist of six different uniquely generative textures that the typehead produces using different noise algorithms, scales, letter kerning, colour variance fields and randomness to compress, stretch, break and extrude the plaintext of each artwork in abstract fields. In some outputs, text is rendered plainly, in others glyphs are broken down to create sketch-like outputs that are reminiscent of handwriting or the blueprints of a typographer. These various styles of outputs from the contemporary to the old, reflective of the different age of texts that are being shown. 

On Gaze  Soft gaze colour fields using noise waves to modulate text strings into abstract clouds 

On Walls  Flat walls of colour that suggest at times digital artboards and at the other spectrum the stone reliefs of early writings

On Script  Plaintext 

On DATA   Plaintext that is compressed and stretched rapidly to mimic DNA and data strings

On Wire   Nebulous broken lines of text that create decentralised network structures

On Line  Tightly kerned strings of text that give the impression of chains of text interwoven together 

Their rarity is placed in order from top to bottom and is factored on aesthetic lines. 


The main emergent generative structure of the algorithm is the mask or splice feature. Text is fragmented, broken down, and rendered both legible and illegible through the masking algorith. The relationship between the mask and the two submasks that sit below it creates a large variation of mask structures that dictate the main compositional structure of each work. The four traits for masks: 

On Masks Supersize glyphs that give broad arcs and shapes to the masks 

On DNA Tight strings of interwoven text that give the appearance of DNA strings

On Plaintext Readable plaintext in a variety of sizes 

On Webs Tight to very tight interweavings of text to create tightly woven webs 

On Ghosts  Rarest forms of tightly woven masks to the point that you see the layer below - gauzelike.  

The more complex the structure the rarer it is. This being said each work is a blend of between 1 or 3 of these mask types so each work may have more or less elements from each. 


Influenced by digital grafffiti, colour is equally explored in a series of treatises or chapters, where 12 colour compositions and their underlying palettes are rotated around the RGB spectrum or flipped in order to produce variation. The colour palettes are in order in terms of their rarity: 

On Twins A simple pairing of white and a colour 

On Acid Bright, acidic colours 

On Light High contrast layers 

On Mono Monochrome works that work with a single colour

On Flat Flat colour that pairs with On Walls in the Textures section 

On Pierce Black and white set against a coloured layer

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SOURCE [On NFTs], Christie's New York. March 2024.


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