When Jack Butcher created the Checks VV non-fungible token (NFT) collection earlier this month, his intention wasn't to earn lots of money or spark movement in the NFT space reeling from the effects of a prolonged crypto winter. The former advertising professional, who recently founded a creative agency called Visualize Value, welcomed a new baby with his wife in the leadup to the launch of his 16,031-edition NFT project on Jan. 3.
The project, inspired by the ubiquitous blue checkmarks used on social media to denote a verified account, has since ballooned in popularity, doing 1,820 ETH (about $2.9 million) in secondary sales on OpenSea at the time of writing. It has even spawned a number of derivative projects made by the NFT community, propelling the project to meme status.
"It's just been nuts," Butcher told CoinDesk. "The timing of this is so crazy but you can't control it."
The Nashville-based artist began thinking about the project in 2021 at the height of NFT mania. "When we were in the crazy hype cycle of NFTs in 2021, I was so interested in the technology because I'd been making art on the internet for two or three years prior and NFTs created a market that pretty much didn't exist."
In March 2021, he released an artwork called "NFTs Explained," which satirically depicts the difference between a JPEG and an NFT with a verified blue checkmark to denote authenticity. "I've been stewing on that for some time," he said. That project sparked the idea for Checks VV, which Butcher says is an introspective on the evolution of authenticity on the internet.
'This artwork may or may not be notable.'
The concept of blue checkmarks representing verification was first introduced on Twitter in 2009 as a way to prevent notable figures such as politicians, brands and celebrities from being falsely impersonated online. Since then, the marking has become something of a status symbol across other platforms like Instagram and TikTok, denoting accounts with heightened authority and cultural significance.
Following Elon Musk's Twitter acquisition in October, the blue checkmark was put in the crosshairs and given new meaning. In the past, influencers and journalists had to apply for verification and prove their credentials in order to receive the coveted blue badge. In November 2022, the platform relaunched its Twitter Blue subscription, offering blue checkmarks to anyone that was willing to pay a monthly fee of $8.
The move was met with backlash from users who believed that offering verification for a fee defeated its purpose. Dozens of fake accounts impersonating influential figures began to pop up, wreaking havoc on the platform. Twitter Blue was paused and then was reinstated in December with additional safeguards in place, though the damage had been done. Many accounts that had long been verified on the platform, including those of journalists and policymakers, now came with a disclaimer attached to their blue mark: "This is a legacy verified account. It may or may not be notable."
"Twitter has been the environment and the host for NFT culture," Butcher said. "The notability that a checkmark denotes in the old world versus the new world is really where the idea came from."
Checks VV fashions the verification checkmark into a colorful 8x10 grid. Auctioned off as an open edition, the piece symbolized that all that was needed to buy a checkmark was $8.
"The intent of this piece is to capture a moment in time – the shifting context in which the process of verification takes place, in a society dominated by electronic culture and communication," Butcher wrote in his blurb about the project. "The coveted checkmark that was previously a badge bestowed by institutions, is now a symbol that merely means the holder can afford it and is prepared to pay for it."
"If no one is verified, everyone is verified. If no one is notable, everyone is notable."
Butcher said that the project has been perceived as both a critique of centralized authority and as a commentary on the degradation of veracity on the internet. But neither interpretation is necessarily the right or wrong one, he explained: "People interpret it differently because the symbol is so ubiquitous."
Creating a cultural movement
Despite its stylistic simplicity, the project has continued to gain popularity following its launch. According to OpenSea, the project's floor price peaked on Jan. 17 at 0.38 ETH, or about $600 – a 7,400% increase from its starting price of $8. Some Checks with notable edition numbers have even sold for way above the floor price. On Jan. 20, Checks 1 sold for 11.111 wrapped ETH (roughly $18,000 as of writing).
The NFT community has been quick to embrace the project and its cultural significance, modeling a number of derivative projects after the project's motifs. Blank Check, an open edition project created by jehoseph.eth, depicts the verified symbol on a blank bank check, while Checks Mate, a fixed mint, positioned the check mark on a chess board.
"I absolutely love it," Butcher said of the memefied collections based on his creation. "I'd like to think that a couple of years ago, some of the things that I made during the one-of-one season had an impact or made the rounds. But never did anything get remixed to this degree."
He credits many factors to the success of his project, including his already-existing network of supporters of his Visualize Value agency and the continued evolution of his idea through derivative projects.
"People feel like they own a part of [Checks] by making something new," he said. "It has made the whole thing that much more compelling."
In addition, he touted his transparency regarding his artistic process along with the simplicity of the project's mint mechanics.
"I think one thing that people underestimate about the lower cost open edition, or just more accessible ways to get your art out there, is that it builds a distribution channel like nothing you've ever experienced before," he said.
"It maybe feels more in line with the ethos of Web3 that has maybe been in conflict with a lot of that behavior in the space for so long," he added. "The sort of utopian narrative of Web3 has been a little disconnected from the reality of it."
Expanding the Checks ecosystem
In the weeks since the project launched, Butcher has been working to expand the premise of the original pieces and continue to build its cultural legacy.
"The question we are trying to answer is: Are checks more desirable if they are harder to get?" he wrote on Twitter on Jan. 8. "We can find out by incentivizing a reduction in supply."
Loosely inspired by Damian Hirst's NFT project The Currency, Butcher has decided to introduce a burn mechanic that allows holders to remove their edition from circulation and trade it in for an on-chain original featuring unique art and a smaller number of checks. Burning two original NFTs featuring 80 checks will turn them into a 40-check NFT. Then, burning two 40-check NFTs would create an original 20-check NFT, and so forth. At the end of the experiment, there is a possible supply of three black check marks – which would require the burning of 4,096 original editions to create.
"The option you have as a holder is to determine the journey that your piece goes through," Butcher explained. "The speculation is that people will have to coordinate to make that happen because obviously, it'd be a Herculean amount of effort and spending to get to accrue that many NFTs to burn."
So far, Butcher said that Check collectors are figuring out creative ways to move the project forward.
"People have been reaching out about getting access to their contracts to set up trustless [decentralized autonomous organizations] to pool checks together," he said.
On a higher level, the gamification of the project is a reflection of its source material, exploring the exclusivity of the blue checkmark and the status achieved when obtaining it.
"The idea is to make art that reflects the behavior of the crowd," Butcher explained. "[Blue checkmarks] used to be so elusive and such a divider and I think that represents the spirit of Web3, crypto and NFTs that resonate with me – this idea of ownership, authorship, provenance."
"A decentralized network can say something is notable, not an institution," he concluded.
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