Hello Alex, please tell us a bit about yourself, your background and what is it that you do at Aragon Black?
Hi ! So before diving into blockchain I was a PhD student in communication sciences and a teacher in philosophy and sociology in two different university. My thesis was about online suicide prevention protocols, whether it is a nation state platform or Facebook and Google algorithms. Basically I worked on how states and big corporation have used web 2.0 to polarize the most intimate parts of our lives. I left my PhD behind me after discovering the blockchain technology and explored with Olivier, Thibault and Nolwenn what could be done with it to reshape the book economy. Indeed, at that time, Olivier tried to publish a book based on his Phd, but he quickly discovered that the book economy was well centralized, and unfortunately that central power happens to have the final say on what should be read and what should be muted. So, with childlike enthusiasm, we said: lets decentralize this ! And we created Wespr, the Amazon killer (Laughs).
Do you remember the first time you heard about blockchain and what were your thoughts about this new techno?
Yeah, I was in Olivier's living room and we were talking about a mobile application we were trying to build which allowed to pin songs on geolocation coordinates. The life span of your songs would increase if you received "likes" from others and decrease if people disliked your song. It was basically a mobile application for making sound graffitis. And Olivier asked me « Have you heard about this 17 years old guy who built a kind of global computer called Ethereum? »
I hadn't heard of it, so I literally dived into it. And then, well, my nights became very short, probably because of an excess of hopes induced by all the possibilities offered by Ethereum. The discovery of blockchain acted as a powerful stimulus for our political imagination and created a whole bunch of questions and ideas that we collectively shared every night. We had been bookworms for many years, but blockchain revealed issues and ways to confront them, that we'd never seen before.
Would you say there is a real political significance in what you do with Pando and now Aragon Black? Is it important for you personally?
I have been implicated in political fight in the past and, during these struggles, I developed very strong friendships, beautiful loves, and shared some happy moments around small victories, which, obviously, never lasted very long. At the end, one conclusion had to be drawn: you can't win against cops. At least not like that. The military arsenal available to police forces paired with a totalitarian-like legal regime won't let you any chance in the fight. Even with pink paint-filled eggs you are considered as a dangerous terrorist.
Ethereum was a breath of fresh air in terms of political strategy. I remember the day I heard Luis say "we can make the revolution from the comfort of our sofa". I'd be lying if I said it didn't shock me at that time, but during few months, this sentence got deep into my mind, which led to this thought: the goal is not to destroy the state. The goal is to make it useless! In a way, it's a Chinese style strategy: let your enemy run out of steam and avoid head-on confrontation.
Since then, I like to think that at Aragon we create technologies that, perhaps, would allow us to become barbarians in the future. Just like before the 16th century where a vast majority of the global population lived in autonomy, developing their own modes of culture and organizing themselves in the shadow of the leviathan, outside of state's authority.
What are the topics you absolutely wanted to implement in Pando and that you intend to continue to defend in Aragon Black?
Pando is born from our collective desire to create new ways for creation. At the beginning, we were focused on books. Now, pando is designed for software because of obvious adoption issues and because there is a significant need for decentralized tools in this area, as the recent GitHub censorship showed it. But if we think about books, I would love to see the birth of something like a git-book on top of Pando to create use-cases in the field of literature.
In the world of literature, our society is still very attached to the figure of the author. The one and only. It is a cultural fact but tools such as DAOs will, I believe, make it possible to launch experiments that will decentralize this historical figure to create more collective and decentralized artworks.
Beside Pando and Aragon Black, you are involved in another project called the Distributed Gallery. What is it and how did it start?
Well, it’s a long story which started in 2017. The Distributed Gallery was the name we used to launch a bunch of artistic experimentations in the field of art because at that time, we often heard about connection between Art & Blockchain. It all started one evening with the Ready Made Token project. At that time, we discovered blockchain's ability to create scarcity with NFTs (non-fungible tokens). So we thought that we could transform a token into a work of art taking a common object and say "hey, this is a work of art!", a little like Marcel Duchamp did. The problem is that to do such a performative act, we had to be already recognized as an artist... and we were unknown. So we tried to get Bansky to sign the token for us, but without success. And then one night, Nolwenn came back with an idea, and said "There is this very famous artist named Richard Prince who appropriates the work of others and signs them with his name". So we said: "lets sign the token with the name of Richard Prince, if he appropriates the token, we've won, if he says it's not his work, he makes the work of art known and we also win". Checkmate. A few weeks later, Richard Prince was invited by a festival organized by DADA in New York to talk about his new artwork called "The Ready Made Token".
After this story, we did a second work, a more massive one. The Chaos machine. It also started with a kind of joke - that's often how it starts with us - but ended up in the form of two 100 kg machines. Each one connected to the other, each one burning banknotes and emetting music stored on IPFS. While the banknote is burning, it produces a chaos-coin in the form of a paper-wallet. During summer 2018, Gaspard, Olivier, Nolwenn , Xavier and I built the two machines in Xavier's workshop. It was great moments of comradeship, working together all day long, partying together in the evening, and restarting again the process in the morning!
We don’t often talk about the machine, we don't like to - its meaningless and bla-bla - and moreover, we believe the machine talks for itself. So, I will just paste this quote of the philosopher Bernard Aspe, a friend of ours, who wrote a beautiful text about the Chaos Machine :
« what is made visible in the consumption of the banknote is what, as citizens, we do not have the power to do: destroy the currency. But what is also visible here is that the designers of the machine have taken this power. They don’t have that power, but they take it anyway. No one has given them the authority to do so; but that does not prevent them from implementing the capacity to do so. Two meanings of «power» are therefore in conflict here »
Do you feel there is a link between these projects and if so, what would be that link?
Yes, let's say that the Distributed gallery is an opportunity to make experiments where the result of our attempts is perceptible over a short period of time. It allows to experiment with blockchain technology on shorter time frames than a project like Pando which will take several years before producing the effects we want to see.
Fork is a big issue in the Pando Network vision. Let's imagine we could roll back time for an instant: at the moment when "The DAO" crashed, were you a pro-fork person or a non-fork person?
I would have been a "pro-friend" and so, I would have followed my friends on this issue, and would have continue the fight together, no matter what!
Collaboration is a very big issue in your project, so let's talk a bit more about your team. How did you meet the rest of Aragon Black?
I like the very simple idea that we all trust each other and remain a small team with a horizontal mode of organization. Being able to work together on projects that make sense to all of us is the most important thing.
In your opinion, what is it that keeps Aragon Black's team motivated towards the same vision?
I think we all have the will to build something that will remain forever on earth and for the common good. The important thing now is to leave to those who will come after us an infrastructure to organize themselves.
What is your personal and human contribution to your team?
I guess I'm a close friend for every member of the team. As soon as I can give a hand, I try to be available and take care of our small community.
Conversely, what is the weird/annoying thing that you do, and that your team could or has noticed about you?
I'm often engaged in crazy and sometimes stupid projects for which I have an enthusiasm that I can't contain.
Let’s talk a bit more about you. Beside Pando and Aragon Black, what are your hobbies/interests?
I like to play tennis with my friend Marco (who is a poetic figure that has been with us from the beginning, as a witness), and sometimes with Olivier. I also love to go fishing on the coast. I go with Marco and sometimes with my girlfriend, who's much better than me these days.
If you had to choose an author that could be your leitmotiv author, which one would it be and why?
Oh, it would most certainly be Michel Foucault, because of his strategic thinking and the precision of his writings in terms of analyzing power mechanisms. He's definitely one of the few authors I'll read until the end of my days.
Can you give us a quote that has inspired you in many ways so far!?
Its a quote from Michel Foucault in The Order of Discourse:
Desire says: "I should not like to enter this risky order of discourse; I should not like to be involved in its peremptoriness and decisiveness; I should like it to be all around me like a calm, deep transparence, infinitely open, where others would fit in with my expectations, and from which truths would emerge one by one; I should only have to let myself be carried, within it and by it, like a happy wreck"
Let’s end with this, if you had to create “The” playlist of your journey within the blockchain ecosystem, what would you choose for your opening song?
Within the blockchain ecosystem... Well, this time it would be Bateau Ivre from Columbine