September 19, 2021

Cryptoanarchy: an interview with Martin Fischer

On one cold February night in 2003, residents of the Czech capital could observe a huge red sign question over Prague Castle, where isthe residence of the president of the country. Shortly thereafter, the same question mark replaced all advertisements in the Prague metro: in one night, it was displayed on more than 700 billboards at metro stations. It turned out that these were only the first tricks of the local art group Ztohoven. The question mark symbolized doubt in the Czech government and the course of humanity in general.

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Other partisan pranks followed. Giant cowards were raised over Prague Castle instead of a flag, a (fake) nuclear explosion in a Czech village was shown on a morning TV show as a result of a hack, and MPs received SMS messages allegedly from their colleagues calling for moral reform.

The interior of the Paralelní Polis Bitcoin coffee shop in the Czech Republic. : Paralelní Polis

And in 2014 Ztohoven co-founded Paralelní Polis with Slovakian hacker co-working space Progressbar. The striking black building in the center of Prague is named after the concept of the political thinker and dissident of the communist era Vaclav Benda, describing a society that exists independently, parallel to the state. Today Paralelní Polis is the only coffee shop in the world that accepts only Bitcoin; here, among other things, the Institute of Cryptanarchy is based and the annual HCPP hacker convention is held.

Graphic designer Martin Fischer was amongfirst members of Ztohoven and collaborated with Paralelní Polis from the very beginning. All this time, he has been creating works of art inspired by cryptanarchy, and last year he focused on Bitcoin posters for his project Cypherpunk Now.

The building that houses the Paralelní Polis and the Institute of Cryptanarchy. : Martin Fischer

Martin, your work is an important part of the Paralelní Polis identity; you made posters for HCPP conferences and even created a logo with a white triangle, right?

Yes, the triangle symbolizes three directionsParalelní Polis: education, art and technology. Paralelní Polis also has a slogan “go outside” and I explain it by saying that you are in a triangle and you are invited to go out into a much larger space outside of it ...

Now I have my own studio, but my ownI made the first prints at Paralelní Polis. When I got the equipment for screen printing in 2015, I had the idea to print my first works. I learned the whole screen printing process and made posters for HCPP in 2017, very well received by the hacker community.

Paralelní Polis does not have a CEO or someone in charge, which looks like an anarchist experiment. Are you anarchists?

It is hard to say. I personally do not support the destruction of the state. We have a wonderful medical system in the Czech Republic, we are all insured, and anyone can get a higher education for free ... But I also found a time when the state controlled everyone. I was 12 years old in 1989 when the system changed, and for the next decade people thought they had the freedom and power to do whatever they wanted. This decade has shaped my worldview.

However, I am definitely a cryptanarchist. For me, cryptanarchy is more about developing tools that bring freedom to the digital space. Freedom of speech, freedom of trade, etc.

The setting in Martin's studio. : Martin Fischer

And so you came to Bitcoin ...

For the past 20 years, I have been engaged in graphicdesigns, mainly for skateboard brands. It's easy for me to depict the key elements ... I've been skateboarding since he came to the Czech Republic after the revolution. It was just fun; we just wanted to ride the streets; no one thought it could lead to money and fame. Skateboarding is very popular today; children know they can get to the Olympics.

I switched to crypto art becausefelt like it was still underground and I can see how things are developing. A lot of amazing things happen here, but it's not mainstream yet. As with skateboarding, at first I didn't know if my work would be on sale; I just enjoyed making them.

Martin Fischer in the background of his work. : Bayaconstreetart

Do you have a goal to help Bitcoin become more popular with your art?

I can see some of my works on the wall inthe Bitcoin maximalist room in a film about the cryptocurrency underground, which will be filmed in 2040, like the famous surfer poster from one of the main characters of the series "Stranger Things"... My art is for those who are in the subject, and completely incomprehensible to those who do not belong to the crypto community ... and I like it.

So I don't think it promotes popularization, but it will remind you of a time when no one knew how it would turn out.

I think this is even more true given that all your posters are limited in circulation.

Yes, limited edition, it's all hand-printed. Each poster is made 20-40 copies, and the re-circulation always has a different color, except for the poster with Tim May's cryptanarchist manifesto, which can only be red and black. Each copy is numbered and has a blockchain-based certificate of authenticity.

What does it mean?

I believe that stencil prints alwaysthere must be some kind of authenticity to prove that you own the original. On the back of the prints, you can see various seals or certificates. Banksy seems to be cutting the notes in half: one half is glued to the back of the print, and the other is archived ... But I use digital certificates of authenticity written on the Bitcoin blockchain. Each print is signed and numbered, after which I photograph it and upload it to Verisart.com. After confirmation on the blockchain, I transfer the certificate to the new owner.

How does your creative process look like?

A sketch is always done first. It takes a few minutes to jot down an idea that comes to mind. If it doesn't work, I just focus on something else, but when I still manage to visualize the idea and feel like I did everything right, I get a kind of creative excitement and I don't stop until everything is ready for printing. It can take a day or a week, and sometimes I torture myself for a long time until the drawing satisfies me. Then, when the drawing is printed on transparent paper, I proceed to the screen printing process: I transfer the drawing to a stencil mounted on a large frame, mix the paints with an acrylic base and do the actual printing.

One of the famous Bitcoin evangelists and presenters of the financial broadcast Max Kaiser with the work of Martin Fischer. : Martin Fischer

Do you know who buys your work? Are they residents of Prague, bitcoiners from the network, or perhaps someone else? Yes, I know my clients, they are people from Crypto Twitter; I'm crazy about them. Mostly from the USA, then from Europe; I don't sell anything in the Czech Republic.

At first I was very shy about writing in English,so I have been reading Twitter for a year without posting any posts. But when I decided to focus on crypto art, I realized that I had something to show, and it worked ...

When I decided to do crypto art, the firston business I went to the Baltic Honeybadger conference, where I showed my work. I don’t like it, but it was very important to give one poster to Max Kaiser and take a picture with him. That was the beginning, and now I am successfully selling my work, so the conferences are very useful.

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