Buried in the Ethereum blockchain, the cryptocurrency's public log of events, is a huge drawing of a penis. It'll be there forever, or for as long as the blockchain exists.
The crude text drawing of a dick, made with ASCII characters, is one of three works embedded in Ethereum by Swedish artists Ida Jonsson and Simon Saarinen. Besides Permanent Phallus , there's also Permanent Meme (an upside down "OK" sign which earns you a punch if you see it below the waist in the schoolyard), and Permanent Tag , a string of ASCII text which reads, "Ida and Simon were here."
People have long used blockchains, mainly Bitcoin, to store images and other arbitrary data permanently. It's not possible to overwrite or effectively change blockchain records except for in highly extraordinary circumstances. Last year, financial broker TD Ameritrade put an ad in the form of an ASCII drawing on the Bitcoin blockchain.
"We could have developed a webpage with our art that is connected to the blockchain, but then the art wouldn't have been permanent enough for us," Jonsson said in an email. "The idea was to create 'doodles' similar to those millions of kids (and adults) are drawings on toilets with sharpies, and spraying on walls with paint but this time forever on the blockchain. Sort of creating internet graffiti that is impossible to remove."
Johnsson and Saarinen hired developer Lavi Malik to help encode the works on the Ethereum blockchain using smart contracts. Anybody can look up the transactions and see the drawings using either a typical blockchain explorer (just navigate to the transaction input data and click the ASCII option or, on Etherscan, UTF-8) or a service specifically for viewing transaction data.
And if you're thinking to yourself, "Hey, this is pretty childish." Well, that's the point.
"Our artworks aim to be a manifestation against being adult," Jonsson said. "Blockchain is a very sophisticated and intellectual platform, and making something that seems like a pointless drawing on such platform felt very liberating."
In case you can't be bothered to check on the blockchain, here's Permanent Phallus:
Listen to CYBER, Motherboard’s new weekly podcast about hacking and cybersecurity.