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What's in a transaction? A Conversation with Eduardo Enrique

What if there were a piece of blockchain art available for off-chain purchase only? Eduardo Enrique reveals the ideas and inspirations behind his latest series created for Boulevart, Dubai

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Eduardo Enrique NFT series CASH ONLY he showed in Dubai for the first time

Eduardo Enrique, CASH ONLY, presented in BOULEVART, Dubai, UAE, 2023

Recognised for the visual eloquence that audaciously combines cultural heritage and elements of contemporary pop culture, Eduardo Enrique is known to embrace his creative industry roots throughout his artistic practice. His latest series, CASH ONLY, explores the illicit dealings of an obscure antiquities market by using imagery and raw data of artifacts obtained from leading archeological institutions in the UAE and storing the pieces on the blockchain.

As the first-ever group of NFTs Enrique produced, CASH ONLY presents a concept that utilises the complexities of blockchain technology, while it refutes its decentralised and open policies by disabling the on-chain purchase. As the title suggests, the NFTs will only be available only for cash, through an off-chain acquisition. By imposing such a transactional limitation to the blockchain-based series, the artist gives a nod to the reality of the black antiquities market, subtly referencing the now-defunct Silk Road marketplace[1] as one of the original places of cryptocurrency trade.

Interested in the historical parallels and current cultural hints in the latest work by Eduardo Enrique, I’ve learned more about his perspective on the obscure antiquities market and its relations to contemporary consumerist symbols and the blockchain. While his viewpoints inspire deeper thinking about the everpresent shady practices in both the physical and digital art market, some of his answers have remained, just like the black market - rather cryptic.

Eduardo Enrique, Classy Clay

Eduardo Enrique, Classy Clay, 2023. Courtesy the artist and SO-FAR

Ana Bambić Kostov: Creating liaisons between brands and culture, while drawing inspiration from globalisation and cosmopolitanism is the common thread that connects your artistic body of work. The messages you convey are layered and subversive, collating unexpected concepts through familiar imagery. Your latest series of digital assemblages CASH ONLY follows this path by contrasting ancient pottery and contemporary found objects. Could you introduce the concept that prompted you to such a juxtaposition?

Eduardo Enrique: 2022 was a year marked by significant cultural turmoil in the countries where I spent the majority of my time. As a result of this nomadic journey, I produced work solely through digital means, which allowed me to imagine extreme examples of cultural decay and the disruption of folklore. Add my fixation with exploring the boundaries of material value into this equation, and you end up with the vandalization of artifact data from art and archaeological institutions across the globe.

ABK: Once you described yourself as a “huge” consumerist. How does consumerism stand in relation to the cultural artifacts (and their value) you frequently vandalise in your work?

EE: My work is often recognized for incorporating the Nike brand as a symbol of contemporary consumer culture. However, some objects in my collection challenge the traditional meaning of value far beyond the concept of branding, which has been my primary focus in 2021 and 2020. In recent months, I have intentionally exposed myself to the lesser-known side of the United Arab Emirates, particularly Dubai. This has inspired me to include unconventional objects such as hard helmets, cricket bats, and bed space advertisements in my work.

Eduardo Enrique, Untitled, 2023.

Eduardo Enrique, Untitled, 2023. Courtesy the artist and SO-FAR

ABK: CASH ONLY is a digital series and 9 works of the series are minted as NFTs. Given your background in advertising, and the importance of your artistic creative process, how did you find creating a solely digital body of artwork?

EE: Not many people know that I am, in fact, a native digital artist. Creating physical works that were not focused on aesthetic perfection started both as a creative and intellectual exercise during the first years of my art practice - I guess it brought the sense of comfort and liberation that I needed to get started.

ABK: In CASH ONLY we instantly relate to the contemporary visual segment, recognizing the brands and objects. You mentioned [in your statement] the title of the series refers to the black market practices and is related to an obscure antiquities market. What is the story behind the selection of the specific ancient artifacts you depict in this series?

EE: Acquiring one of my digital works as a collector means you are not only receiving a “JPEG file”, but also the artwork's raw data used to generate that image. This includes valuable and sophisticated archival data that museums have invested millions of dollars producing in recent years, which makes the acquisition of my work a thoughtful and valuable experience for the collector - yet a legally questionable one from the creator’s standpoint. When it comes down to the acquisition of heritage artifacts, it seems to me that the parallels between the physical and the digital are becoming more and more apparent.

ABK: What role do the particular brands and contemporary objects play in this series, especially concerning the black market allusions?

EE: The black market allusions mentioned in my artist statement solemnly reference the process of getting your hands on ancient artifacts such as the ones used as raw material to produce the work - not particularly to the contemporary objects. Although, you are more than welcome to create a connection between the illegal trading and the contemporary objects I chose to work with. At the end of the day, I assume there’s nothing the black market cannot get you, whether it is sneakers or workers. You’re giving this a very dark twist - thank you!

Eduardo Enrique, Once Upon a Time

Eduardo Enrique, Once Upon a Time, 2023. Courtesy the artist and SO-FAR

ABK: Although the works on display will come in NFT format, they are minted through your personal archive, and unavailable for purchase via existing decentralized systems - but only for cash. What kind of energy does such a transaction-specific quality instill into the concept?

EE: I’m certainly interested in bringing to the collector some of that the tension between the legal and the illegal that creating this body of work has put me through, and also in changing the way people interact with NFTs.

I believe that digital art and crypto are still two separate entities. However, I also believe that trading digital assets for physical cash is no different from buying physical objects with digital money. We need to create more experiences that merge the physical and digital worlds. For me, the blockchain is the source of truth that digital art history has been missing. I'm excited about using it to record events in real time, and I think it has the potential to change the way we think about art and history.

ABK: The series lives on the blockchain, while it defies the openness of the decentralised market. There is a parallel linking it back to the origins of the blockchain and the infamous Silk Road marketplace on the darknet. In what way did the early blockchain black market influence the creation of CASH ONLY?


ABK: In an interview, you once mentioned that it’s hard to “bitch about” art when the artist is present. So, will you be there?

EE: Spot me and you get a piece for free - that is how sure I am that you won’t.

Eduardo Enrique, Air Supply

Eduardo Enrique, Air Supply, 2023. Courtesy the artist and SO-FAR


Curated by SO-FAR, CASH ONLY will be presented during BOULEVART , a three-day February event aimed at celebrating Dubai’s position as a hub for the Web3 global community, organised by Art in Space Gallery until 26 February 2023 at The Foundry , Downtown Dubai. 9 individual items from the series will be minted through the artist’s personal NFT archive, yet not available for purchase through conventional cryptocurrency.

OpenSea CASH ONLY collection available here .

Artists and Contributors

Ana Bambic Kostov portrait picture

Ana Bambic Kostov

Ana Bambić Kostov is an art writer, editor, and content manager serving as the Senior Editor at SO-FAR. She has a keen interest in contemporary art and new practices involving digital media. As an art historian, she wrote articles and catalogs and helped numerous artists and organizations curate their website content. Working as Chief Editor of Widewalls magazine until 2017, she immersed herself in the international contemporary and urban art scene. Since, she worked with several international galleries, Discovery Art Fair, International Summer Academy in Salzburg, Homo Faber Guide, and assisted in different art projects internationally.

Eduardo Enrique

Having worked in the creative industry for a decade, Eduardo Enrique had his first foray into the visual arts when he was propelled by a strong urge to produce artworks as a form of social commentary. Drawing from his background as a Creative Director where he motivates his clients to understand the underpinnings of culture and its societal impacts, his artistic praxis similarly calls attention to the nuances that pop culture can have on the human psyche.

The artist explicitly denies talking about his nationality, as he maintains that one should not be judged based on their geographical origin. To that end, Eduardo looks towards elucidating universal human conditions as he believes that there are intrinsic qualities that connect us beyond borders and boundaries.