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Yacht parties, tank tops, McLarens: For the last three years, the eponymous annual Bitcoin conference has taken root in Miami, celebrating the excess of crypto’s nouveau riche while showcasing a unique and particularly masculine strain of financialized tribalism.
Though the conference’s latest iteration last month featured notably smaller crowds and less exuberance than in past years, it also appears to have broken new barriers for a new and very different kind of eye-popping excess. On May 18, pseudonymous conceptual artist OONA sold a loaf of bread to a collector for 0.5 BTC, or just over $13,400 worth.
The sale was not a trick or a gag. The loaf was real, perishable country bread. It was really sold to a man, Vladimir Kravets, who did in fact pay thousands of dollars for it.
— OONA: 𝖲 𝖯 𝖱 𝖤 𝖠 𝖣 (@madebyoona) May 19, 2023
In fairness, the loaf—made in partnership with Bitcoin NFT marketplace DIBA—was unlike other grocery store varieties, as it contained a hardware wallet that stored an undisclosed amount of BTC. But neither the artist nor Kravets plan to disclose the amount.
That may be because the actual value of "Bit.Bread," as the piece is titled, has nothing to do with money itself. As with OONA’s previous works, it instead investigates the perception of value, particularly as that perception pertains to gender—an often fraught subject in the male-dominated crypto industry.
“It fundamentally investigates the ways in which this technology is more progressive than the people that use it,” OONA told Decrypt of "Bit.Bread."
Since 2021, OONA has created works of performance art at crypto conferences, always sporting glasses and a draped mask that conceals her identity. Her work has focused on the treatment and perception of women in crypto, and the ways in which crypto—a technology the artist believes can financially and politically liberate and empower people of all backgrounds—has emerged within a culture that she believes does not adequately respect or include women.
At Art Basel Miami last December, OONA, with the help of performance artist Lori Baldwin, auctioned off a cup of her own breast milk—milked live in front of a large audience—before being escorted away by conference security. The piece, "Milking the Artist," received a high bid of $200,000.
They're both part of a progression of performance art activations, as detailed in a recent blog post by OONA, including tokenizing and auctioning off butter that she had churned. It's a juxtaposition between the "permanent" and "perishable," as she describes it.
That piece and "Bit.Bread" both riff on edible symbols of the kitchen, in an effort to interrogate the value placed on women in crypto-related environments. That value is typically minimal, and often reduced to sexualization and objectification, according to the artist.
What’s more, the degree of crypto-specific sexism that OONA has repeatedly, personally encountered has generally risen with the tide of crypto prices and speculative frenzy.
“At the 2022 Avalanche Summit, I was asked what my hourly rate was at least five times, because people assumed that I was a prostitute,” OONA recounted. “Going back this year, most conversations were about my performance art.”
Same thing at Bitcoin Miami: Last year, during the waning days of the bull market, OONA said that she had to repeatedly fight off men intent on trying to rip off her mask to reveal her face. This year, in the doldrums of the bear market, such an invasion of her artistic and physical privacy never once occurred.
In that sense, "Bit.Bread" can be interpreted as a reflection on the relationship between speculation and gender. So far, crypto’s speculative excesses have typically encouraged a hyper-masculine subculture, one personified by the “crypto bro” stereotype.
But that doesn’t mean speculation is itself harmful, according to OONA. On the contrary, speculation is at the heart of Bitcoin’s promise as a tool and value system that she believes will hopefully, eventually, lift up people of all backgrounds.
“I wanted to connect speculation around the value of women with speculation around Bitcoin,” she said, adding that both "involve a new set of knowledge, a new way of interacting, and a new way of perceiving self-sovereignty.”
Editor's note: This article was updated after publication to correct the date that the bread was sold.