When Bitcoin was first unleashed on the world nearly a decade ago, its anonymous creator Satoshi Nakamoto imagined that it would become a peer-to-peer currency system that could one day replace money controlled by nation states. The first block on the Bitcoin blockchain—called the genesis block—included a small message from Nakamoto: A headline that read, “Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks.”
The Bitcoin blockchain now consists of over 500,000 such blocks and a new one is added roughly every ten minutes. Most of these blocks contain data related to sending and receiving Bitcoin, but the blockchain also contains its fair share of short messages—like the one Nakamoto put in the first-ever block of data—photos, and even artworks hidden among the data if you know where to look and how to extract them.
This week, Florida design agency Branger_Briz released an interactive art project called Messages from the Mines that explores the Bitcoin blockchain and reveals the artworks and messages hidden among the code. There are several ways to encode information in Bitcoin, and so messages might be hidden in the Bitcoin wallet addresses themselves or appended as signatures on otherwise normal Bitcoin transactions. Finding them can be tricky if you don’t know what you’re looking for, but that’s exactly what Messages from the Mines’ was designed to do.
“Today, the distributed ledger contains hidden love messages, cryptic poems, ASCII art, signatures, eulogies and more,” Branger_Briz wrote about the project. “These messages are a creative abuse of the transaction protocol, a form of digital graffiti, unique cultural artefacts forever embedded in one of the most contemporary digital technologies.”
Considering that Bitcoin is still struggling to find a way to be useful in the real world, these digital graffiti artists’ decision to turn the blockchain into a hidden gallery might be its best use case yet.