For most of us, bitcoin doesn’t make much sense. The cryptocurrency has been trusted for almost 200,000 transactions totaling more than $45 million dollars, but it still feels unfamiliar.It’s digital; it’s global; it breezes through national and legal barriers. We literally can’t grasp it. This week at IDEAS CITY, Foamspace is trying to explain bitcoin in a new way . The interactive installation puts cryptocurrency in the context of the city, making both a bit easier to understand.
IDEAS CITY is part conference and part art fair. It was founded by the New Museum in 2011 and made a mission of bringing art, education, and civic action to public places. The theme of this year’s IDEAS CITY is Invisible City, and explores “transparency and surveillance, citizenship and representation, expression and suppression, participation and dissent, and the enduring quest for visibility in the city.”
What sort of project do those themes inspire? There will be a painting by drones, a “performative conference” in hot air balloons, pop-up playgrounds, and Foamspace.
Foamspace is the bitcoin equivalent of Monopoly. Participants learn about bitcoin through a simplified, fun version of the currency. But where Monopoly is competitive, Foamspace is communal. And at the end of the game, the play money becomes a real investment fund.
Ryan King and Katya Zavyalova started the project in January 2015 and found inspiration in the IDEAS CITY prompt: “The theme for this year’s IDEAS CITY Festival is the Invisible City and the material we chose to use for our installation is omnipresent yet invisible in our everyday lives: EPS Geofoam.”
Geofoam blocks are usually a structural support inside of buildings. Foamspace puts the out-of-sight material into public view to demonstrate bitcoin exchanges.
For one weekend, the foam blocks will transform into an urban installation in downtown Manhattan. And the Foamspace Coin digital platform will give viewers a free stake in this inside-out structure. Visitors can sign up for Foamspace Coin and receive a share of the digital currency before it has any real value.
At the installation’s close, the blocks will be loaded up and sold back the manufacturer. The proceeds of the sale will be loaded into the Foamspace Coins fund. With real money now attached to the free coins, original participants can vote to invest in new projects. The fund will grow or shrink depending on how those investments fare. New participants can buy coins at market price.
Cofounder Ryan King explains: “We want to introduce bitcoin to a larger public without scaring them away. We plan to do so by having a user-friendly interface, but also the blocks as a visual reference for complicated bitcoin blockchain explanations. Our main goal is to organize a community that can initiate and fund their own architecture, pavilions and art installations. There is a lack of that today.”
The educational experience is designed to scale and spread beyond its original home. As King describes, “The very essence of Foamspace is that it can work as a protocol that is replicable and scalable.”
He goes on to say: “We imagined a means to capture and store the value from the festival–in the form of a coin–and mobilize this to another site with a yet-to-be-determined project. Instead of having our foam blocks move to another site, they are sold to start a fund. What then becomes mobile is not the form of the architecture, but the activity of the community members.”
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