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Art Blocks

Why Hams?

Similar to bitcoin’s immaculate conception, sail-o-bots aka Sea Hams have become a remarkable force in the Art Blocks community that is unlikely to be duplicated. The hams’ unique and nuanced provenance has made them the meme token of Art Blocks. Combining a funny meme with a redemption arc, and a little help from some big names along the way, solidified hams’ prominence in the Art Blocks annals.

Sail-o-bots stand (float?) in stark contrast to most of the projects on Art Blocks. They look silly and not serious. Their art rarely, if ever, inspires. To make things worse, the generative art code doesn’t work on Firefox. However to criticize artistry clashes with the Art Blocks culture, where everyone is typically kind, respectful, supportive and overwhelmingly positive. 

Some users in the #blocktalk channel would hint at hams’ lack of artistic weight, but no one crossed into outright negative territory. Hams were playfully made fun of by comparing their faces to the rum ham in S2 E7 of Always Sunny in Philadelphia. This is the origin of calling them hams.

Sail-o-bot. Rum Ham. Ham.

Sail-o-bots started to have identity. Ham humor breathed meme life into the sail-o-bots. This was short lived.

On July 19, the bad news came out: sail-o-bots’ code was ripped from Che-Yu Wu without properly attributing credit. One look at this NFT (minted around March-April?) and the origin of sail-o-bots (released June 28) is obvious.

Strange Robots from Che-Yu Wu

This was like a gut punch to the Art Blocks community. A plagiarizer had slipped through the cracks and deceived us for money. Bah! While some collectors dumped their sail-o-bots for dust, others threatened to send them to a burn address. There was a sudden feeling the hams were worthless.

However, after an investigation and arbitration period, snowfro announced a resolution was made, rightfully awarding Che-Yu past and future royalties. An unfortunate event happened, and the community was willing to step up and make it right. In an uncoordinated, yet community-wide gesture of apology and gratitude, the hams were embraced. Hams became a symbol of compassion of the Art Blocks community. This is a powerful and valuable signal to future artists considering working with Art Blocks.

Renowned artist Dmitri Cherniak sent a ham token to Che-Yu, along with purchasing one for himself (a big deal for someone who never purchases art on the secondary market) and also sketching hams for his twitter following. Other Art Blocks artists joined in on adding hams to their collection as well, including Tyler Hobbs, the creator of Fidenzas. Mr. Cherniak has bid on Ham #0 in an effort to return it to Che-Yu, but at time of writing it has not been resolved. 

Renowned collector Vincent Van Dough began buying hams to celebrate his huge NFT acquisitions. VVD wouldn’t chat in #blocktalk, but he would communicate and celebrate with a ham buy shortly after making a big purchase. He is now the biggest holder of hams by a decent margin. That’s a lot of celebratory ham purchases! Mr. Van Dough recently sent Che-Yu Ham #5.

The above events were like a massive pressure relief valve being opened for the community. Once unthinkable, we can now make fun of an Art Blocks project. We can make fun of the ham art, while also appreciating how hams evoke happiness with their out-of-this-world facial expressions. Che-Yu made a playful piece that he did not intend for AB, yet fate found a way to give it to the Art Blocks community. It’s hard to imagine another way for an AB piece to have the dynamics of silliness, playfulness and community.

Whether you like it or not, tokenization of memes and culture is here to stay. Dogecoin is here to stay. Hams are here to stay. Discussion of WHY humans want/like/need/crave/fomo this stuff is for another essay. It’s a real phenomenon that I’m not sure anyone understands. Knowing the story and reflecting on the provenance feels valuable. Maybe that’s why there’s something comfortable about holding a ham.

The culture of Art Blocks makes it hard for organic memes to appear and sustain because the community must present itself seriously. The perfect recipe of art, fun, betrayal, redemption, community and luck was necessary for the ham meme to manifest. Now we have a token that represents the goodwill of our community, all by accident.