Sniffing Out Wall Street Corruption with the Bitcoin Rat

‘Friday Finds’ are unique articles that highlight a quirky affair concerning the blockchain space. These are the topics perfect for happy hour conversations and weekend brunches – a fun and nonserious example of blockchain tech’s impact on the world.

“I got this rat, this gnawing, cheese eating f’n rat and it brings up questions…” – Frank Costello

In New York City, there is a tradition.  When a company is mistreating its employees, the union protestors use a large, noticeable tool, in an attempt to shame them.  For years, this has been a large inflatable rat. The practice dates back decades, and many New Yorkers have even developed a nickname for the rat, “Scabby”.

It looks as though Nelson Saiers, a street artist, has decided to use this template, but for a different narrative: he installed a large white inflatable rat covered in lines of bitcoin code to stare down none other than the Federal Reserve.  

Saiers made headlines previously as he actually has experience in the financial sector, ultimately deciding to walk away from a lucrative Wall Street position to follow his artistic passion. He was a managing director and derivatives trader at Deutsche Bank, one of the most highly-regarded financial institutions in the world, but now spends his time creating art that often highlights aspects of the finance system that others might not know about or do not get enough exposure. In this one work of art, he simultaneously commemorates the creation of bitcoin while criticizing the taxpayer-funded relief of banks – both of which occurred around the same time period ten years ago.

Nelson Saiers has cultivated a reputation as the “Warhol of Wall Street”, and many have pointed out that the timing might be significant, considering that it is ten years after the financial crisis that caused a recession in the United States with global repercussions. In an interview, Saiers elaborated that the art piece was further influenced by Lichtenstein and that the piece also had a separate meaning, referencing a lab rat. He points out that the Federal Reserve and central banks had to experiment with a way to bail out of the economic crisis, but that this experiment “grew fangs and have far reaching aspects even 10 years later”. He also pointed out that the art piece was meant to comically ask whether cryptocurrencies and digital assets would replace fiat currencies. In one eye of the rat is a bitcoin logo and the other eye shows the Lichtenstein influence, as it references the globally-known work “Sweet Dreams Baby.” Interestingly enough, there is another nod to cryptocurrency within this reference itself. In the original work, there is a punch and a large “POW!” prominently displayed – so much so that the work is often called “Pow” instead of “Street Dreams Baby.”  “POW” also is a well-known cryptocurrency acronym referring to “proof of work,” a type of blockchain protocol.

Roy Lichtenstein, “Sweet Dreams Baby”, 1965

That doesn’t seem to be the only significance in using a rat in the art piece. The billionaire CEO of Berkshire Hathaway and easily one of the most famous investors in the world, Warren Buffett, infamously called bitcoin “probably rat poison squared.”  This wasn’t the first time that Buffett had slammed bitcoin, but many in the cryptocurrency community felt as though this was the most striking criticism, and some questioned his intentions for doing so.  In fact, a clothing line was developed in response to the comments. It is clear that the Saiers himself had this quote in mind when creating the work, telling Coindesk, “if the Fed is a rat, maybe rat poison is a good thing.”

Saiers even recalled a quote from Banksy, the internationally-known street artist, referring to rats and compared his characterization of rats to Bitcoin. Banksy infamously said that “rats are despised but can knock down civilizations,” and Saiers points out that bitcoin might not be beloved by financial institutions, but certainly has proven itself to be powerful and more resilient than many had previously thought.

Saiers has stated that he plans to let the work stand for a week, or as long as the weather permits, and then plans to auction it off for charity.  He singled out one specific organization, Elevate New York, that works with underprivileged children in the Bronx. 

This piece was authored by CC contributor Neil Mathew

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