Introduction, Symbology & Narrative, Iconography,
Numerology, Cryptography, Final Statement
First Apology Against The Pagans is a collection of 999 works created over the period 2018-2021 on Superchain. It is intended to be a definitional work of cryptographic art, elaborating on the central “crypto” themes of numbering, permanence, and devotion to a utopian cause. These 999 works establish the “Bloc” as a medium and the Superchain as a platform for art.
It has often been observed that crypto enthusiasts treat the technology like a religion. If we look at the broad sweep of human history, we see that the works which best incorporate numbering, permanence, and utopianism are works of Scripture. First Apology Against The Pagans draws heavily from world scripture as a theme and as a guide to its narrative structure.
“The entire universe is perfused with signs, if it is not composed exclusively of signs.”
– Charles Sanders Pierce
Central to the visual presence of religion in the world is the use of signs and symbols. Signs and symbols are also foundational in mathematics, the underlying discipline that enables cryptography and technology as a whole. And modern life is awash in symbols, from brand logos to the icons of cryptocurrencies.
Iconolatry (n): The worship of icons or images; worship or adoration of icons as idols.
We live in an iconolatrous era. The image is everywhere, and increasingly we communicate through the use of images alone. In its 999 pieces, First Apology is a sweeping look at symbology and iconography, from the ancient to the modern world.
We live, too, in an era of numbers; and a central characteristic of titling cryptographic art pieces has been the number. The collection explores numerological themes throughout, from 喜1 “The Genesis Bloc” to 喜999 “Revelation X:XX”. One work was created and published every day for almost three years to create a numbered narrative tapestry.
The creation of First Apology was begun in the East, continued in the West, and completed in the Center of the world map. Along the way, two forty-day fasts were completed of no food, only water. The first was in 2019, privately, beginning with 喜201 “Led By The Spirit” and ending with 喜240 “Forty Days, Forty Nights”. The second was in 2021, captured on-camera and on-blockchain to create 喜928 “How Do You Put A Human On A Blockchain?”
The title of the collection is an homage to the religious idea of persecution in the world, before the eventual triumph of a heavenly kingdom. “First Apology” is a reference to St. Justin Martyr of Palestine, who was killed by the Roman authorities in the Second Century for practicing his faith. St. Justin’s First Apology is a landmark work of religious apologetics. “Against The Pagans” is a reference to St. Augustine, whose seminal work On The City of God Against The Pagans paints human history as a conflict between the Earthly City and the City of God. The Earthly City, led by the Devil, consists of those who devote themselves to the cares and pleasures of the world, which is temporary. The City of God, by contrast, consists of those that shun these, devoting themselves instead to the truths of God. Though the City of God must endure suffering in the present time, it ultimately secures a victory that is total, final, and eternal.
Symbology and Narrative
The first piece, 喜1 “The Genesis Bloc”, is also the first Bloc in the Superchain. It establishes the Superchain symbol of “喜” as the index value for all the works contained thereafter. 喜 is the character in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean for “joy”. It is prized for its similarity to the number 8, which is a highly fortunate number in the East, and of course symbolic of the eternal and infinite. Finally, it is representative of a human being wearing a crown: man as ruling, rather than ruled by, technology; humanity expressing itself through art, as made in the image of God, as opposed to the coming threat of art made by machines.
The early symbology and simplicity is then developed. First started in China, and developed throughout Asia, the early works in the First Apology mine the riches of Eastern symbology, theology, and aesthetics for inspiration. These are combined with the overarching themes of the collection, and introducing an examination of the role of technology in art.
As the collection progresses, the Eastern is combined with the Western:
The exploration of iconography develops to include many symbols of the modern:
Historic images begin to be incorporated and adapted to reflect the history of art as originating in the religiously symbolic, and the development of sophisticated skill and technique into realizing these visions. Occasionally, the historic is adapted and filtered to monochrome, focusing attention on the imagery as opposed to the color; other times, it is heavily colorized, to draw contrast between the ancient and the modern style.
The famous use of symbology in the alchemic, occult, and astrological is drawn in:
Blocs 600 to 665 are named for the books of the King James Bible, with the incorporation of the scriptural moved from peripheral to central:
Bloc 666 (stylized XXX) blends the basic and the complex, establishing electricity and technology as worldly tools of the Earthly City, and formalizing the Adversary as its leader and the narrative foe:
The transition of technology to the center of the narrative opens up the exploration of space, cryptography, and the crypto community’s taste for numbers and lunar imagery:
As the narrative approaches the end, the idea of Adversarial control of technology is developed in thought and image:
The final Blocs of the collection move explicitly into eschatology, drawing from the book of Revelation. They imagine a future of all science and technology as part of an explicit government/demonic “Beast system”, with the Beast itself ultimately slain by God:
The works of First Apology Against The Pagans and the development of Superchain itself were deeply informed and inspired by Byzantine iconography, and Orthodox theology regarding the image. Icons of the Byzantine style, while simple, depict archetypes and symbols long known to followers of the tradition. In this way the simplest images can acquire infinite depth.
This metaphysical dimension is also understood by the theorists of semiotics:
“A symbol is always in general and, however precise its translation, an artist can restore to it only its movement: there is no word-for-word rendering. Moreover, nothing is harder to understand than a symbolic work. A symbol always transcends the one who makes use of it and makes him say in reality more than he is aware of expressing.”
– Albert Camus
“Semiotics is in principle the discipline studying everything which can be used in order to lie. If something cannot be used to tell a lie, conversely it cannot be used to tell the truth: it cannot in fact be used “to tell” at all.”
– Umberto Eco
The Byzantine tradition, well aware of the capability of all images to lie, uses archetypal imagery to direct the viewer to truth. The figures in icons are often pictured holding pieces of scripture, because while the image may be unreliable, the Word is the truth of God.
Inspired by this, Superchain is constructed so that every Bloc must have at least one image as well as one piece of text. This allows the artist to elaborate and create richer works. While signs and symbols are explored at various levels of complexity throughout the narrative tapestry of the First Apology, the final eschatological “chapter” strips the iconography down to the most fundamental, and extends the use of words to elaborate the images.
The use of numbers is foundational to the entire practice of cryptography. It has also taken on a central role in cryptographic art, from the random and algorithmic creation of generative art pieces to the labeling of the works within the large collections that result.
Numerology has also had a long history in the occult and esoteric, as well as Eastern spiritual practice. The divination numbers of the I Ching have been used in China for thousands of years. The Jewish mysticism of the Kabbalah and the secret brotherhoods of the Freemasons have fanatical devotion to numbers. And all scriptural books and verses are distinguished by their numbering.
First Apology Against The Pagans is filled with “easter eggs” for those with a numerological eye. Many traditions are referenced. Early in the narrative, the number 8 is particularly common, as the symbol of the infinite and eternal. 8 is also “33” mirrored and merged, 33 being notable as the favorite number of the Freemasons (as their highest rank), the third numerological “Master Number”, and the age of Jesus at crucifixion. Two eights, 88 “喜喜“ or “Double Happiness” from Chinese culture also feature, as do three eights, 888 “Super Rich”, a particularly auspicious number in China.
Towards its conclusion, the First Apology narrative tapestry rolls all the numerology into the supremacy of God, as is the tradition in Christian numerology, where the name of Jesus (Ιησους) has the perfect value 888. The final piece, Revelation X:XX, is found at 喜999, symbolizing the “Number of the Beast” inverted and thus the defeat of the Adversary.
By limiting the collection to 999 pieces, First Apology allows for a full exploration of the themes of the work, particularly the numerological aspects, while offering a clean thematic and numeric slate at 喜1000 and beyond for new artists to create on Superchain.
Cryptography & Technology
Superchain is designed to be “above chains”, as per the Latin meaning of the word “super”. Each Bloc is a cryptographically signed work, that also includes the hash value of every previous work in the tapestry, thus creating a chain of Blocs – a blockchain. By eliminating the technological dependence on any single blockchain, Superchain is a “free agent” in terms of where its content is stored and viewable, increasing robustness. True to form for a crypto project, it has a whitepaper, stored on Superchain at 喜887 “Superchain Whitepaper” which lays out the artistic and technological vision of the platform.
First Apology aims to set a landmark standard for meaning in crypto art, particularly the meaning enabled by censorship resistance and permanence.
The censorship resistance of crypto art allows for it to sidestep cultural gatekeepers, and enables artists to address controversial or taboo topics in a staid cultural environment. Over the course of the three years across many countries making the First Apology, many artists and creatives provided input who had found themselves censored in their own nations, including the USA and China. Crypto art can break these chains.
The permanence, and immutability, of crypto art is a sea change from the cultural incentives that have existed in the internet age and in the modern world of art. The internet has become dominated by social media platforms where content is ephemeral, and much of the “old internet” no longer exists. The world of art has followed, being increasingly trends-based, whether that is aesthetic trends or in the selection of artists who find viewership for only a short time. By bucking these trends, crypto art can create spaces where art is created and can be appreciated forever – and thus artists can once again aspire to the eternal.
It has taken almost three years to complete this work, due both to the amount of labor involved and the intentional design of Superchain to only accommodate one work per day. That is roughly the time it took for Michelangelo to complete the David, and while I can claim no such mastery, I do hope that the work will inspire people to fight against all odds against the various Goliaths oppressing us today.
First Apology is a large volume of work into which I have poured my heart, soul, and a slice of my mind. Ultimately, it is intended to inspire happy warriors, to bring joy – as the 喜 symbol represents. Viewing any one piece in the collection is to view just 0.1% of the whole. I hope that you might return to it more than once over time, and engage with its various “chapters”. And in the end, amongst them all, I hope you might find a few pieces that will stick with you forever.