In the barren depths of northeastern China, Bitcoin mines churn day and night, consuming enormous amounts of electricity and emitting such heat that the indoor temperature persists at 40 degrees Celsius. Constantly spinning CPUs and cooling fans emit a low-rumbling buzz that roars of the post-financial crisis era.
Aaajiao (Xu Wenkai) created the 2011 audio installation Poor Mining based on the noises generated from the excavation of this virtual currency. A specially built computer connected to the internet mines for Bitcoin in real time during the exhibition, while a contact microphone collects the noises it makes and plays them back through a set of exposed speakers. Neon lights mounted on the wall next to the installation bare the artist’s account password for the entire world to see. The piece is, in essence, a classroom for the training of new media miners. Based on Xu’s research into cybernetic theory, it creates a simplified simulation of a far larger virtual structure to reflect on capital’s explorations of this futuristic currency and its driving logic.
As a virtual currency, Bitcoin is essentially a commodity with its supply is regulated by software. The creation of Bitcoin value is dependent on computing power, so stronger investments lead to bigger returns, echoing offline models and running contrary to the utopian principles of openness, fairness, and deregulation behind the creation of this intangible platform outside any central bank. This seemingly open system, heavily dependent on real-world computing power, levitates Bitcoin into a no man’s land in the physical world, where it continues to grow in a space currently devoid of barriers.
Text by Sasha Zhao
Translated by Frank Qian