Rare Pepe x Narcissus Gallery

A look back at the conversation between: Robness, Louis, Joe Looney, Eleonora Brizi, Rare Scrilla and Artnome (Jason Bailey) with Micol from VerticalCrypto Art. 

“Talking about the history of NFTs without Rare Pepe’s is like a retrospective on Cubism without Picasso.”

Jason Bailey, aka Artnome.

Joe Looney, professionally a mechanical engineer with a passion for web development and cryptos, built the Rare Pepe wallet in 2016, where you could trade Rare Pepe’s using bitcoins or PepeCash. He is one of the RarePepe scientists who certified which Pepes were to be chosen for the directory. 

He first got into Pepes when they were sold on eBay as rare or unique. Some were watermarked as a joke. The eBay auction that got to $5000 was eventually taken down. He saw it as an opportunity where these rare memes could be a collectable token and cryptos could come together. Initially, he built the wallet to manage his own collection and loved the freedom not to be accountable to anyone. 

The idea of CounterpartyWallet is to create tokens on bitcoins. Joe built a chrome extension wallet for counterparty tokens, very similar to MetaMask, way back in 2015, even before the launch of ethereum.  Before RareWallet, Joe had worked on a Counterparty web wallet for another project called “Spells of Genesis”. Rare Pepe removed needing a utility or meaning behind creating a token. Earlier tokens were used as game assets. The only two criteria for submissions were that it had to be safe for work and should not be low effort, as submissions on RarePepe wallet themselves required burning Pepecash.

In early 2018 (when the first NFTmania happened), as RarePepe was gaining popularity, the scientists selecting Rare Pepe’s and approving which ones would make it inside the directory found it untenable to approve a large number of submissions after the Rare Digital Art Festival. So they made a spontaneous decision to close the directory at 1774th Pepe to not water down the project. 

As Jason Bailey explains, there were progenitors of NFTs before Rare PepeWallet, but its magic lies in the fact that it was the first time there was a whole community of people making things, buying, selling, trading them. All the platforms we see today are primarily based on much of the technology and concepts we can see in the Rare Pepe wallet. He believes the wallet was and still is way ahead of its time, and other wallets still haven’t caught up to it with things like gift cards, access tokens and video game-related tokens.

Robness, an OG crypto artist since 2014, speaks about how he discovered the Rare Pepes from the Counterparty community on Telegram, where the dank Memes were first minted. When he first got into the community, he was beta testing for spells of genesis. The transmission of hilarity was what he referred to as the RarePepe community’s magic sauce. And that is what attracted him to RarePepe’s the most. He shares that some of the funniest, dankest memes brought together crypto traders, coders, artists, and people from all over the world in the initial days. It was unpredictable whether it would become valuable or lay the groundwork for the current crypto art movement.

Scrilla, mostly known as RareScrilla and with Robness, an OG crypto-artist and early bitcoin adopter, speaks about the stories behind Rare Pepes and how many people from different backgrounds, major creators, traders, enthusiasts have been an integral part of the history of the Rare Pepe community since the early days.

Scrilla also managed and maybe is (who knows) DJ Pepe. In the earlier days, they were just collecting memes and making fun of blockchains, Mimetics and ICOs – he discovered them around the end of series three.  From Oct 2016 to 2017, there was a massive influx of information on tokens, unlockable content, blockchain, crypto art, trading and memes. The first ten series had an OG style series, the next ten to twenty series was when the art was becoming a focus, and the last ones had artists from Venezuela who set the bar high. It was all decentralised, organic, peer to peer with the same ethos as bitcoin. 

One of the stories Scrilla shares is about the book of Orbs, a mobile wallet that iOS banned that considerably hurt the RarePepe community. He shares that looking at some of the Rare Pepe’s is like going down memory lane, similarly to what listening to an old music album feels like.

Jason contextualises it by sharing that when one looks at an image, again and again, it becomes iconic, and each time the image resurfaces, it adds to its inability to be erased. The importance of the early Rare Pepes as low effort lies in the participatory ground it gave to the people to join in the community.

Jason Bailey also shares how the RarePepe community had a spectrum of diverse people from different backgrounds and cultures, dispelling the fear that Pepe excludes a particular group of people. He adds that “Memes are going to be seen as the most important Art of our generation”. While building the RarePepe Wallet Joe Looney, took no commissions. There was no gatekeeping involved in who can submit a Pepe and who can not.

For Eleonora, Rare Pepes were her door to the crypto art space. She and Louis created a physical book called “The Rarest Book”, which documents the entirety of the Rare Pepe project. Unfortunately, only 300 of these books exist, and each links to the Counterparty blockchain with unique addresses.  To quote Jason Bailey, “Great art is the reflection of the time it came from, and this book is like a time capsule that uniquely captures the political, cultural events that were going on in a tongue and cheek way.”

Louis got interested in the Rare Pepe project because of the combination of crypto and Meme culture. It showed the possibilities of NFTs before they were known as NFTs. He believes Rare Pepes were an integral part of the genesis of crypto art. He shares a chart on how Memes evolve which brilliantly explains how the RarePepes became the market phenomenon. The four stages of RarePepe transcending from: 

  • Pre-Ironic Meme
  • Ironic Meme 
  • Post Ironic Meme 
  • Meta Ironic Meme, which we now know as NFTs.

The lack of credit for the Rare Pepe project on blockchain stems from what happened to the RarePepe Meme politically and the wrongful media depictions. Pepes have been one of the most popular and controversial memes in Internet culture. Pepes were associated with the Alt-Right movement in the USA and became the symbol of hate. Still, the rest of the world does not see Pepe in that context. Eleonora shares that during the Hong Kong protest against China, Pepe became a symbol of Peace.

As Jason and Scrilla put it, it’s unfortunate that the RarePepe Wallet and the project aren’t as popular in the crypto art world as they should be. However, if more people are aware of it, a lot of innovation could happen.

The conversation ends with everyone sharing their favourite RarePeps.

Narcissus Gallery, and its owners Akira and Ioannis, decided to organise a series of events to give recognition and awareness to Rare Pepe’s and its community. You can check the series of events organised as well as the auction that took place on Tuesday 25th of May here: http://narcissusgallery.com/rare-pepe-exhibition/index.html.

This is not the end of the Rare Pepe history – let’s see if we can get Rare Pepe’s even more recognition! 

Written by Nitika.

You can replay all the live conversation going here

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