Originally posted by B Holmes on 23 September 2015
Cryptography dates back to the beginning of written language, and is derived from the Greek words kryptós, which means "hidden” or “secret"; and graphein, "writing".
Various cryptographic approaches have been used throughout history to secure sensitive information.
The Spartans used scytalae, a pair of matching rods that provided the encryption method, and key, for a written message.
Julius Caesar is credited for the first use of a substitution cipher, one of the simplest and most widely known encryption techniques. The Caesar cipher replaces each letter with a different one, a fixed number of places down the alphabet.
Sir Francis Bacon developed the baconian cipher, which used a bilateral system consisting of 5-bit binary encoding and utilised a typeface as the key. Baconian theorists hold that Sir Francis Bacon wrote the plays which were publicly attributed to William Shakespeare, and that the body of work is riddled with cryptography.
Cryptography and art continue to overlap to this day. On the grounds of the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, there stands a grand sculpture, named Kryptos. The sculpture was made by American artist Jim Sanborn, and contains four encrypted messages, one of which has never been decrypted.
“I chose to deal with the science of cryptography. Cryptography began in mathematics. Codes were developed, even from Caesar's time, based on number theory and mathematical principles. I decided to use those principles and designed a work that is encoded.”
- James Sanborn, Artist and Cryptographer
Russian media-artist Dmitry Morozov, a musician and engineer of strange sounding mechanisms, recently displayed his newest piece, a technological installation called Silk. The installation consists of a pair of two meter poles. Each pole has 5 diagonal strings which correspond to the market price of cryptocurrencies Bitcoin and Litecoin, and five major world currencies, the US dollar, Yuan, Euro, Canadian dollar and Russian Ruble.
“Silk is transforming the network data of cryptocurrency, which looks very abstract for the spectator, into the string sound of no less elusive nature. The rules of the transformation are defined, and in future the artwork exists autonomously, generating infinite number of variations and harmonies.”
- Dmitry Morozov, Artist
Specially made stepper motors, which are directed by computer algorithms, tune the strings. Each motor tunes the strings so precisely that even slight changes in market rates are made into sound. Morozov explained that the robotic system of the artwork is directed by a computer algorithm: “influenced by dynamic changes of data, the installation sounds like a complex sound instrument.”
Silk explores how progress in the areas of cryptography, mathematics and computer science, alongside new technologies, are affecting the financial system and as Morozov says, “inevitably changing the social structure of the society.”
The cryptographic strength of Bitcoin’s Blockchain is also helping the art world in different ways, proving authenticity and the provenance of art pieces.
Ascribe was started last year by three co-founders with backgrounds in art, technology, and finance. “We believe simplifying and streamlining the user interface for copyright management will be the driver behind an unprecedented explosion of creativity on the Internet. The more artists feel that they can safely show, sell and license their work without fear of having their work taken, the more they will produce. And we’ll all be a little better off because of it,” wrote Ascribe Director of Marketing Mike Klein.
The Berlin tech startup showcased their digital copyright and verification system, by giving away limited edition pictures. The proud owners of these pieces are able to prove the originality of their digital artwork by comparing the picture’s cryptographic hash with a corresponding hash on the blockchain.
The company raised $2m in their seed round earlier this year, and is currently focusing on developing the system further, and adding machine learning technology. This will allow for Ascribe to search the internet for any copyright violations for verified artwork.
Artequesta is developing software which tracks art and its provenance. In a previous interview, Rayah Levy, Founder and Director at ArteQuesta advised, “We plan to incorporate Bitcoin’s technology to use the Blockchain public ledger to track Certificates of Authenticity and market value purchases from buyer to buyer.”
During the interview, Levy advised that ArteQuesta were planning to refine their Fine Art Portfolio Management software by forming key partnerships with Bitcoin industry leaders including; Factom, a company which provides a data layer for the blockchain and focuses on database management and record-keeping; and also Proofofexistence.com, to time stamp and imbed documentation in the blockchain.
Levy goes on to discuss the possibilities of using Blockchain technology to track, attach, and maintain Certificates of Authenticity. “What this means for the art world is revolutionary. Both new investors and seasoned wealthy collectors can now use the Blockchain to track the history of ownership of artworks, which has significant historic implications.”