By Virginia Valenzuela, Arts Editor
Film director, digital artist, and installation creator Marco Brambilla has just released a new NFT that is taking aim at celebrities of the crypto-world. “Winklevii: Bigger Than Both of Us” is a computer-generated art piece featuring the Winklevoss twins that utilizes sound samples, collage, and the uncanny. It was released this past Saturday, on the twins’ 40th birthday.
“I wanted it to look like a kinetic statue. So the idea was a Roman bust that takes on life, and is fed by currency,” Brambilla said.
Using actual quotes from the brothers, “Winklevii” opens with a medium close-up of one of the Winklevoss twins speaking directly to the camera. He begins with a few simple phrases that capture the energy of the burgeoning crypto space: “Very excited, pumped, excellent, mission that we all believe in…” And soon enough the head turns to reveal the other Winklevoss twin in the same medium close-up, this time saying, “Very excited, large global consciousness, opportunity fund…” These phrases among others spin like speech bubbles above the heads of the rotating twins, quickening their pace as the dialogue, and the faces of the twins themselves, begin to take on a life of their own.
Marco Brambilla has worked with collage before, using video files that tie in with sound, but this is the first time he has created a piece inspired by sampled audio alone. The sound bytes came from various appearances on financial news services and interviews with the Winklevoss twins where they were talking about the future of Bitcoin. According to Brambilla, the phrases included were those that came up over and over again.
“The financial world has this terminology, a lexicon, that’s its own language, and the way they speak is in that language. So words like ‘pumped,’ ‘global consciousness,’ ‘opportunity fund,’ ‘micro payments,’ these buzz words came up in so many of the interviews,” Brambilla said. “It becomes a mantra, and when you repeat and you loop it and you cycle it, it becomes almost hypnotic.”
The hypnotic nature of “Winklevii” is intensified by the steady drumbeat that accompanies the dialogue. It begins subtle enough, like a heartbeat you hear as you lay your head on someone’s chest, but as the brothers begin to speak frantically – their speech overlapping, their two heads blossoming into many – the heartbeat becomes a drumbeat, ominous if not exhilarating.
“The idea is that the heartbeat becomes a war chant, like a marching call to action.” Brambilla told SuperRare. “Because all of these words, when you think about it, the language that they use, is all call to action, it’s all aspirational.”
So much of the language, culture, and business of crypto has been driven by hype: which coins to buy, what functions one blockchain has over another, the possibilities of a truly decentralized financial system, and the list goes on. But the ecosystem doesn’t survive on talk alone. Cryptocurrency can only work when enough individuals, businesses, and governments decide to use it, which is why this element of mantra fits so perfectly with the image of the Winkelvoss twins. They were two of the earliest adopters of Bitcoin, and have since made almost $3 billion in crypto.
The Winklevii founded Gemini (lol), a crypto exchange, in 2015, and acquired Nifty Gateway, an NFT trading platform, in 2018. When it was announced in The New York Times that the pair had become the first well-known Bitcoin billionaires, their mythology was transformed. They were no longer the Harvard jocks who were betrayed by the nerd who founded Facebook; they were the triumphant colossus in the Bitcoin revolution.
Brambilla’s twins are based on Roman busts, which is why they appear from the shoulders up, pale-skinned and unclothed. “I wanted it to look like a kinetic statue. So the idea was a Roman bust that takes on life, and is fed by currency,” Brambilla said. “The currency feeds the energy, and it takes the concept of neo-classical art, and it takes sophisticated computer graphics–because it was made using models that are very sophisticated, like the way you would do it in a Marvel action movie–and yet its energy becomes more and more about entropy.”
Entropy can be defined as a lack of predictability, which is a perfect way to describe the highs and lows of the volatile crypto market. But it can also be defined as a decline into disorder, a theme which permeates throughout Brambilla’s “Winklevii” as the twins’ faces twist and turn, disrupting their normal layout: their eyeballs popping out of their sockets and their teeth dislodging from their jaws like a horror-themed Looney Tune before they reset. But in addition to the Roman bust aesthetic, which according to Brambilla, taps into the twins’ “iconic, larger-than-life expressions,” we see the marks of a more modern artist who found inspiration in unsettling imagery: human forms rewritten in the abstract.
“The animation was inspired by Francis Bacon’s paintings, which I’ve always loved from the very beginning, so by deconstructing their face, and by creating this sort of cyclone of information, visually, [it fit in with the theme of the familiar becoming alien]. Francis Bacon has this idea of creating a metahuman, a portrait of a human that doesn’t look human, but when you look at it you recognize the emotion behind it. So that was the idea for the piece: recognizing this emotion of energy and enthusiasm, and obsession.”
Obsession, revolution, opportunity, synergy, words that themselves decompose into the abstract as they become overused and oversaturated, the perfect vehicle for satire. Brambilla’s piece may be poking fun at the Romulus and Remus of the crypto age, but it also aims to get people to think critically about what exactly is happening with crypto, to ask the questions about benefits, vulnerabilities, applications, and threats. Seeing the twins bare, and repeating their own most-used words and phrases, opens a window into the naked subconscious of not only two of the biggest names (and faces) of crypto, but the industry itself.
“The real concept here is that everything becomes interchangeable. Once you reduce ideas to buzzwords, they become interchangeable, and I think the same thing is going to happen with the crypto artworld and NFT world, where there’s one part of the market that’s interested in speculation, and then there’s another part of the market that’s interested in longevity and building a better creative ecosystem.”
And while we wait for economists, engineers, entrepreneurs, artists and collectors to come to meaningful conclusions to these questions, we can at least sit back and enjoy watching the Winklevoss twins spin in and out of chaos.