On Wednesday, digital art collective Art Blocks is set to release the latest collaboration born from its partnership with iconic New York-based modern art exhibitor Pace Gallery: “World Flag,” a collection of 195 visual art Ethereum NFTs from the Irish contemporary artist John Gerrard. 

Each “World Flag” piece depicts the flag of a different nation emitted as a stream of smoke, juxtaposed against a variety of desolate, dystopian desert backgrounds. The works—which appear as looping videos that can be viewed from different angles by dragging on a screen—are in fact all miniature, constantly evolving virtual worlds powered by game engine technology.

A combination of WebGL—modern computer code for interactive 3D graphics—and on-chain mechanisms permit each “World Flag” piece to appear in the same daily and seasonal lighting conditions as would be experienced locally in the geographic centers of each country depicted.


That sort of immersive melding of physical landscapes and digital elements is part and parcel for Gerrard, whose works have pioneered the use of simulation within contemporary art for almost 20 years. With “World Flag,” Gerrard—a noted environmental advocate—hopes to call attention to the futility of national borders and tribal mentalities in an era dominated by global challenges like climate change.

“If we keep gathering together under these national flags and competing across borders, we're not going to deal with climate change,” Gerrard told Decrypt. “We fight at climate change conferences about resources. Nobody comes to a conclusion, and we're burning 100 million barrels of oil a day.”

One of Gerrard’s past installations, “Leaf Work,” on display at Galway International Arts Festival in 2020. Photo: Ross Kavanagh

The 195 “World Flag” pieces will be released on Wednesday in the order of each country’s recorded CO2 emissions, from highest to lowest. That means China, then the United States, then India will be up first. Fiji, the world’s only carbon negative country, will be the collection’s final release. 

As with all Art Blocks collections, “World Flag” also includes generative elements: only upon the collection's release will the flags of each nation be paired, by randomized computer code, with various desert backgrounds that each represent the sorry state of the Earth if decisive collective action on the climate is not soon taken. There are four possible desert backgrounds for “World Flag” pieces, each with varying rarity levels.


Gerrard does not consider himself a generative artist, nor an NFT artist; he is a contemporary artist who uses cutting-edge technology as a toolkit to communicate about contemporary issues. That doesn’t mean, however, that the medium of his pieces is incidental; far from it.

“Artists need to use the most contemporary tools to critique contemporary conditions,” Gerrard said. “One hundred years ago, [“World Flag”] would have been painted, I have no doubt. But there is no way in hell you would drag me screaming and kicking to canvas right now. Because data is the most contemporary language, the most powerful language, that we have right now.”

To the artist, there is clear synergy between the challenges evoked in “World Flag” and the technology used to convey the project. The promise of digital technologies like the blockchain and WebGL, Gerrard believes, is that they instantaneously eliminate borders and make any resource—be it political will, or art—universally attainable. 

“The NFT mechanism is so much more democratic than where I've come from, showing work at Art Basel for decades,” Gerrard said. “The browser is probably the most important public art space we have right now, because it is accessible to people all over the world.”

“World Flag” pieces will go on sale beginning at 12pm EST Wednesday via Dutch auction, with a starting price of 11 ETH, or roughly $20,374 at writing, per piece. The price will gradually drop over the course of the sale until every piece is sold, with every buyer ultimately paying the same price as the final buyer.

Furthermore, 10% of the artist's proceeds from the sale will benefit Hometree, a charity dedicated to renovating and restoring temperate rainforests in Ireland.

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