What happens when the Internet steals your face? This film finds out (2022)

What happens when the Internet steals your face? This film finds out (2)

Feature

Model Krystall Schott’s face is the first Google image result for ‘face’ – it’s haunted her since 2016. Mónica Belevan and Charlie Curran’s Accursed Share project seeks to place the power back in her hands as an NFT

TextAshleigh Kane

NFTs exploded into mainstream consciousness this year when, on March 11 – exactly 365 days since the WHO declared a global pandemic – a then-relatively unknown artist named Beeple sold an artwork at auction for $69.3 million USD. It wasn’t just any artwork, “The First 5,000 Days” was (and is) an NFT. Meaning: it exists wholly online, consisting of a digital media file and a ‘smart contract’.

Paying close attention to this brave new world was writer Mónica Belevan and filmmaker Charlie Curran. Earlier this year, they joined forces to form Accursed Share, an “arts project with the ethos of a gunrunner”, which borrows its name from Georges Batailles’ three-part essay/book about the political economy, written in 1949. “After the battle of Gamestop, as Bitcoin ripped towards new heights, with Finance Punk as Urban Dictionary’s word of the day, and as the NFT space went supernova – christening Beeple as the third most valuable living artist behind Jeff Koons and David Hockney,” explains Curran, “we realised that we were witnessing the birth of possibly the most important subculture of our lifetimes.”

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Accursed Share hits the ground running with one helluva promise: to reclaim the ‘face’ of a model named Krystall Schott from the algorithm. In 2016, Schott’s photo was taken backstage at New York Fashion Week, which, for a working model, seems innocent enough. But then something really strange happened, and that photo became the number one search image result for “face” on Google. It’s a fleeting moment that’s haunted her ever since, as she has no agency over the image or the subsequent profits it collects for illustrating articles peddling face creams, oils, and the like.

For Belevan and Curran, it’s a ‘cursed image’, and the very reason it’s taking centre stage for Accursed Share’s debut project, Curse – a 1/1 edition NFT and accompanying film titled What Do You Do When The Internet Steals Your Face?, is premiering on NOWNESS. The intention is that power can be placed back in Schott’s hands – symbolically, but also through the infinite royalties from the sale and resale of the NFT. Thus, ultimately transforming the image from “cursed” to “blessed”.

Below, we catch up with Belevan, Curran, and Schott to speak about ownership in the digital age, what it’s like to have your face stolen, and what exactly makes a cursed image.

What happens when the Internet steals your face? This film finds out (8)

How did Accursed Share come to be?

Charlie Curran: Accursed Share is a lot of things, but the easiest way to talk about it for me personally is to pretend that it’s a startup. People seem to treat the idea as something a little less crazy when I do that at least.

The seed of Accursed Share was planted somewhere in the depths of lockdown last year when I happened to stumble on the writings of Mónica Belevan. I knew I had to be working with her because she was one of the only voices writing about ‘right now’ while the artworld seemed to have completely checked out in the face of Covid – just nothing to say.

As we started collaborating and began to connect with an unlikely network of outsiders – artists, writers, thinkers, shitposters, and terminally online souls – we began to see where all of these tectonic trend lines were set to intersect.

After the battle of Gamestop, as Bitcoin ripped towards new heights, with Finance Punk as Urban Dictionary’s word of the day, and as the NFT space went supernova – christening Beeple as the third most valuable living artist behind Jeff Koons and David Hockney – we realised that we were witnessing the birth of possibly the most important subculture of our lifetimes.

Mónica Belevan: Accursed Share sprung from a series of conversations Charlie, John (Connor) and I began having early this year, probing and exploring NFTs, how they were being used, and what they could become. The only one among us who was fully conversant in the subject at the time was John, then a product manager for Upland, the fastest growing blockchain game and NFT metaverse. So we had a very good Stalker there.

I arrived at NFTs not through crypto, but through Covidian Æsthetics, a project I started in March, 2020, tracking contemporary sentiment. My background is three-pronged – philosophy, design, history – and those three feelers tingled simultaneously when I first became acquainted with the concept of the NFT. Here was something new, a medium and, potentially, a lifeform. I described NFT platforms as the ‘undertheorised arrowheads in the emergence of complete ecosystems for art production and consumption’ that could soon give the gallery circuits a run for their money. The decentralised ledger also impressed me as an innovation possibly comparable to double-entry bookkeeping, but for art collection.

“We’re working with artists and creators whose ideas, enabled by cryptography, can push the state of the art, and invent a scene conducive to the high stakes art we’re so desperately lacking today, by disseminating the tools we make along the way for anyone to access” – Charlie Curran

What is Accursed Share’s M.O.? What are you hoping to put out into the world?

Charlie Curran: Accursed Share is that rarest of things, something new.

Pretending to be a startup, Accursed Share is an arts project with the ethos of a gunrunner. I like to refer to it as our very own ‘DARPA for dumb shit’ because it’s just that, an incubator for a new kind of art that could be – set against the birth of an entirely new artistic medium. As with the birth of photography, with all of the attendant pearl-clutching from those who said it would never rise to the level of art, the invention of cryptographically unique digital works is going to shake up everything – from fashion to selfies, tickets to fundraising… literally everything.

There’s not a lot of middle-ground for us, there’s a very real sense of ‘if not you, then who?’ Either artists are going to lead and invent the tools, technologies, and language for this new medium – like they always have – or the Winklevoss twins will do it for us.

Accursed Share is our answer to this moment. We’re working with artists and creators whose ideas, enabled by cryptography, can push the state of the art, and invent a scene conducive to the high stakes art we’re so desperately lacking today, by disseminating the tools we make along the way for anyone to access.

That name ‘Accursed Share’ is borrowed from Georges Bataille’s three-part essay/book about the political economy. Why did you want to take that name and how does what Bataille wrote about relate to what Accursed Share is doing?

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Mónica Belevan: For one, it’s a hell of an icebreaker. But two things that caught my eye, when I first waded into this space, was how aggressive it was, in terms of competition and of criticism. There were two dominant discursive axes – waste, destructiveness, on the side of the critics, and sovereignty on that of its supporters – the convergence of which basically spells out ‘accursed share’, especially as it relates to art production. Pent-up post pandemic exuberance phased into the sacrificial expenditure of real energy and we will remember the solar economy was always going to be carbon-intensive. For more than superficial reasons, the displays of most NFT platforms remind me of Aztec tzompantlis.

Though I started dabbling with the Bataillean implications of crypto last year, the throughline into NFTs was confirmed for me when, on March 11, 2021 – a year to the day since the declaration of the pandemic – Beeple sold ‘The First 5,000 Days’ at Christie’s for $69 million (USD). Like it or not, it signalled one of those art historical standoffs in acceptance and transgression, that reminded me a bit of certain provocations undertaken a century earlier.

The Beeple sale marked an entente between worlds, and Accursed Share is now aiming to position itself between them like a devil at their crossroads with three complementary objectives: a) to become a sort of Canva for smart contract templates, b) to provoke and produce art that helps delimit and expand the Kunstwollen, and c) to serve as interdisciplinary translators between this new frontier and some more established realms we are close to, such as the fine arts, academia, and even crypto.

What happens when the Internet steals your face? This film finds out (10)

Curse is Accursed Share’s first project, of which Krystall is the face. How did she come into this project? Why did it feel right to do it now?

Charlie Curran: We joked that a curse would be the worst thing you could ever hope to see attached to an NFT – because they’re mathematically indestructible. You’d never be able to shake it. But the truth at the heart of that joke is at the core of the controversy surrounding NFTs, their ownership, and scarcity in the age of digital reproduction. “If there are infinite VHS tapes in the world, and they can be infinitely copied – what makes the haunted tape in the movie The Ring unique? It’s cursed.

We started scouring any and every curse or cursed thing we could find for clues about how `we could take that question at the heart of NFTs and raise it into something significant. After spending an embarrassing amount of time thinking we’d hit a dead end, by fate or by chance the curse came to us.

A friend of mine from working in the fashion industry, the artist and model Krystall Schott, posted on Facebook about a cursed image that had haunted her the last half-decade – a questionably captured image of herself taken backstage at New York Fashion Week in 2016 by a photographer that, for reasons algorithmically unknowable, has stayed as the first Google search result for “face.”

Her name isn’t credited. The image was sold, resold, indexed, Googled, and has stayed one of the most seen face in the world nobody knows about, never failing to return to top billing. It is “The Face” of Faces. It’s jokes at parties, and thousands of high school art classes using her image as drawing reference – but it’s also something she’s never been able to shake and can’t do anything about.

We accidentally caught a dragon by the tail, stumbling on this cursed image incarnate that asks all the same questions NFTs do about ownership and authorship – while NFT technology alone would allow Krystall the chance to “save face.” Making and selling this piece will empower her to renegotiate her relationship to her face on her terms.

So this is a cursed NFT in every sense, not the least of which is, the curse can be lifted and turned into a blessing.

What happens when the Internet steals your face? This film finds out (12)

Krystall, why did you want to be involved in this project in this specific way? What does it mean, to you, to be involved?

Krystall Schott: I had been thinking about how weird it was that I had this title as the top search result for face for a while, and always wondered if there was some way I could use it – it was, after all, using me. When NFTs began to happen, I saw friends stating they were a way for artists to find justice in a digital world, and it just seemed right that I should make one. I posted that I planned to make an NFT, and Charlie saw it. When he reached out to me and explained the company ethos, it felt meant to be.

Lately, I’ve been making a lot of art about personal struggle and ownership. I just released a song called ‘Clam’ specifically about owning your body and not being ashamed or afraid or feeling cursed by some aspect of it. It’s about using your experiences to create beautiful things, especially after being used for a long time. In this context, the Curse NFT is me claiming ownership of my face.

“It’s about using your experiences to create beautiful things, especially after being used for a long time. In this context, the Curse NFT is me claiming ownership of my face” – Krystall Schott

Charlie and Mónica, how does the story you’re telling through Krystall’s face relate to current times? And why were NFTs the best medium to communicate your intentions?

Mónica Belevan: NFTs were the only medium by which Krystall could reclaim her face and, and Curse explores this as a case study and a possibility space. Let’s not forget this image has been living a glaringly public and parallel life since 2016. Krystall had no further recourse. Her appeals to authority served no purpose. One can’t quite sue an algorithm (or not yet). And so Krystall has spent years without any reasonable hope of having her uncomfortable situation acknowledged, repaired or subverted. But the sale of the Curse NFT should radically change that. Its purchase will ensure that Krystall is compensated for her trouble, and a new, definitive, authorised and responsive image of her will eventually override the older, wholly unresponsive one.

What makes a cursed image?

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Krystall Schott: I think of a cursed image as anything that haunts you or follows you around. Things you can’t escape and are always reminded of.

Mónica Belevan: I began investigating this topic separately late last year and concluded there are very few such things. An eyesore, no matter how memorable, is not per se a cursed image; which I think must exude a type of sillage. So Krystall’s case is actually paradigmatic. It is a model curse image: an image that has actively and effectively haunted a person, disturbed and distorted her reality.

What happens when the Internet steals your face? This film finds out (14)

You’ve been working on this with an amazing technical team. The production values are very high. How do you hope it will contribute (or change) the NFT landscape?

Charlie Curran: NFTs as a medium are young, but Accursed Share as a group is coming from a real background in the arts, production, fashion, tech, filmmaking, and even theory; so, all jokes aside, we take this very seriously, with a real sense that the stories we tell and the worlds we build will become the horizons that we can collectively imagine – so we’re going to do it right, because the NFT space doesn’t have to be just beanie babies and trading cards, and it will not.

In the case of Curse, we wanted to push our luck. For better or worse, when we share what we’re doing and why we viscerally know that it is worthwhile, the collaborators we’d never have dreamed of being able to work with just get it and help us make it work because they know it’s the good fight too. When we decided with Krystall that the piece would be based around a 3D scan of her face, I decided we’d find the best for it, whomever that was. I started cold-calling everyone and anyone with a 3D scanner in North America, asking as many questions as I could until we figured out how it all worked, and who we needed to talk to. Everyone said the same name: Brian Adler was ‘the G.O.A.T.’ Followed with ‘…good luck with that.’

Brian’s credits are genuinely silly, he’s actually that guy. Avatar 2, Black Widow, Avengers: End Game, Justice League, Black Panther, Joker, John Wick… the list is just endless. Any major recent Hollywood film – that’s Brian. Not knowing any better, I wrote to him sharing Krystall’s story, what we planned to do with it, why we needed his help, and he just got it.

That’s just one example, but it’s how we’ve approached every collaborator at Accursed Share. Whether it’s bringing production values to match the revolutionary potential of the medium we plan to see pop off, pioneering new technologies to usher in the next wave of dynamic NFTs, or bringing on the sound designer of Midsommar, this is the tip of the spear and we want to work with the real ones, full stop.

Krystall Schott: It seems that for a lot of artists, NFTs are a side thought; a photo of a physical art piece, or a digital version of something that can only be really experienced in person. We wanted to use the blockchain to create a unique piece that couldn’t be experienced or created in any other way than on the blockchain.

Why will the ‘Curse’ NFT be linked to the rise and fall of Ethereum?

Krystall Schott: The NFT is being sold for Ethereum. Ethereum determines it’s worth. It’s a risk, but my current value is determined by search results. Search results being internet 2.0s version of status, and ETH price being internet 3.0s version of status, I’d take that bet – the conversion is worth it.

How will the general public be able to get involved? And what does this all mean for the future of the actual image of Krystall that lives on Google?

Krystall Schott: The first person to inform me about my face on Google discovered it while looking for drawing references. Another friend who teaches high school art also brought it to my attention when her class learned about drawing facial structure. The public is already participating. I wonder how many people have cut, pasted, printed and redrawn my face? We’ve already had fan art NFTs minted as well. It’s the internet. There’s no telling. It could get really weird.

Mónica Belevan: Also, if Krystall’s curse has been opaquely participatory, its lifting should be transparently so. The collector who buys her new image will activate the curse-lifting mechanism by repairing Krystall’s financial losses of years and restoring her symbolic control over her face. Even should the cursed image linger on Google, the new image will become the vector of emotional investment. It will dominate a narrative in which its evil twin is finally recaptured and contained.

Auction tickets will be available from August 18. Find out more via www.accursedshare.net

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