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In this story, Bitcoin, cryptocurrencies, and the blockchain in general, thus represent the current morphology of the mineral in this “mineral history of currency and typography.” Except, typography’s ontological status here is as code. Cryptographically generated hashes represents another kind of typographic manifestation. This typography does not hold the aural or semantic value of human language. The claims “inscribed” upon the blockchain are beyond the domain of political speech, and foreclose on the capacity of an individual ([individuals > 51%] on a blockchain network) to dispute claims inscribed therein. Notwithstanding the possibility of generating a political schism by creating competing cryptocurrencies (though you would still be creating a cryptocurrency), there is no bank to topple, no state to smash, there are no records to be burned. Indeed, the immutability of claims are vested in the impersonal, depoliticized network—the distributed ledger.

What ties these artifact/moments together is not a progressive, teleological chronology that celebrates Bitcoin as the apex of what started with the clay tablet. Rather the concatenation of these documentary forms figures a discursive unity along the lines of immutability, and puts into relief the way that these documents function to “...triangulate the relationship between the individual and authority,” and attempt to “set in stone,” or “get on paper,” “put in black and white” otherwise contingent political arrangements.

This project thus explores what graphic design’s capacities as a discipline could be, and speculates on the ways in which its history, centering the document, might shape its disciplinary identity, and its capacity to think and act politically against the managerial and colonial “zero point.” This would be not only a matter of dissolving its disciplinary coordinates with a fervent exploration of new forms, but an undoing of the limited scope imagined for it by its historiography. What this may open up is some space for an understanding of graphic design’s capacity for structural agency and critique by looking to the ways in which it has, through the document, been an instrument of the political.

Delany Boutkan, Marten Kuijpers, Klaas Kuitenbrouwer, Setareh Noorani
Alex Walker