Site-Specific Software: A Conversation with Sarah Friend
Charlie Robin Jones
Sarah FriendSarah Friend is an artist and software developer who engages software as a site-specific media, systems as speculative fictions, and worldbuilding as praxis. She is a participant in the Berlin Program for Artists, a co-curator of Ender Gallery, an artist residency taking place inside the game Minecraft, an alumni of Recurse Centre, and an organiser of Our Networks, a conference on all aspects of the distributed web.
“I’m creating structures for people to participate in and what happens is always surprising. Sometimes people troll you but often they sincerely engage you and make you think about the work in new ways.”
Sarah Friend, on the pleasure of engaging a public through her work
“A large portion of the NFT marketplace is people buying and selling JPEGs and as a developer I can’t help but feel the medium is not reaching its full potential. So I wanted to invert the idea of the JPEG.”
Sarah Friend, on not being onboard for the ‘JPEG Summer’ stage of the NFT boom
The crypto world is awash in protocols that have for better and worse given us many new forms to make sense of. Friend’s body of work is a sustained critique of these new typologies and lays bare how these new mechanics of generating wealth and ascribing value work. Rather than take this new vernacular—mining, minting, owning—for granted, we need to interrogate these new ways of relating and interacting.
A blockchain based game that says what it does and does what it says, clickmine is Friend’s take on the ‘clicker’ genre. In it, players click to ‘mine’ a virtual plot of land simultaneously minting ERC-20 (Ethereum) tokens, collecting power-ups, and ravaging the landscape. “As wealth is created, it is also destroyed,” she notes in her artist statement, and the commentary clearly extends beyond the browser-based game and applies to the broader crypto ecosystem as well.
“I like to describe Off as a massively multiplayer prisoners dilemma. Every player has the choice to collaborate or keep their NFT for themselves. It becomes a way to think about what ownership and value means.”
Sarah Friend’s Off is an NFT project that is artist edition, artwork, and multiplayer game all at once. 255 collectables, each the exact pixel dimension of various computer, smartphone, and tablet screens, contain both a public and a secret image. Hidden across all secret images is an encrypted essay and its key. With a majority of key shards required to decrypt the hidden sentences, the essay is revealed only if enough collectors are willing to share their images. “Will you choose to cooperate or defect?”
“The play of visibility and invisibility is an interesting strand of your work. You look at how one could show or hide things, or read them versus rendering them illegible.”
Charlie Robin Jones, on Friend’s tendency to give and take within her work
“My peer Martin Zeilinger noted that on NFT marketplaces if you compare the amount of screen real estate dedicated to the image, the actual work, versus its sale history—it’s incredibly revealing which is emphasized.”
Sarah Friend, on close reading NFT marketplace interfaces