Last month saw multidisciplinary cryptoartist Hidden Forces publish Who’s the Controller Now?, a 2020 update of Diego Rivera’s infamously destroyed Man at the Crossroads fresco, on Async Art.
Yet the magic of Who’s the Controller Now? is only just beginning. That’s because 8 of the piece’s 9 Layer tokens, each of which can be used to affect the wider work’s appearance in unique ways, remain available for collecting.
As such, many rich visual and symbolic frontiers are still unlocked in this incredible piece. To get a better sense of what these frontiers are, let’s zoom in on the work’s provocative alterable Layers.
In Diego Rivera’s Man at the Crossroads, a workman controls the machinery at the center of the painting’s many tensions. In Hidden Forces’s corresponding Layer, "The Controller," collectors can alternatively choose between three new maestros: the young Taylor, Satoshi Nakamoto, or the combined visages of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Mexico’s most legendary painters and romantic loves.
Taylor is the central character of the entire work. She is the promise of today’s youth and the generations to come, signaling a culture of many colors replacing post-colonialism. Satoshi represents the people’s ability to take matters into their own hands, even against the full brunt of some of humanity’s most powerful vested interests. A wholly new financial power held in community. Lastly, Rivera and Kahlo together as one. The entwined artistic lives stand as a testament to an artist’s duty to chart their own course no matter what madness may come, a duty that’s among the most central themes in Who’s the Controller Now?
First layer to be collected, the updated fist from Rivera’s original is no longer holding an orb filled with teeming atomic activity. Instead, the Great Hand now either holds the Bitcoin, Ethereum, $WHALE, USD, or EUR symbols depending on the whims of this new collector at any given time.
This dynamic reflects the power of these global and permission-less cryptocurrencies to open up new horizons of creativity and borderless commerce.
Here, the four science-centric ellipses represent the elemental forces that great artists must master.
First is exploration, because an artist must understand how the world works and contend with its horizons, a dynamic represented here by SpaceX’s Dragon capsule drifting through space.
Then there’s creativity, as an artist must learn how to position objects within the world for maximum effect. This is expressed in the artificial life of the bottom-right ellipses, i.e. a human-written genome in a bacteria cell.
Third is a COVID-19 cell, a symbol of the unexpected pains and struggles we all suffer from and can never totally escape.
Then lastly there’s the particle physics ellipses pointing us to our inward matter and asking creators to look inside themselves and others and embrace the higher poetic nature of humanity.
The color-changing Layers symbolize the identity of each Controller and their inherent powers - Intellect, Empathy, and Energy. Collectors will soon be deciding those new relationships.
In "People’s Path to Power," we see Rivera’s statue of a headless Caesar and a Labor Day rally replaced with Lady Justice herself and scenes from America’s police brutality protests this year.
These protests can be depicted peacefully or anarchically depending on which Layer state is active at the time, but the message is clear. In these tumultuous times individuals are struggling against “the system” that has failed so many of us so deeply. The struggle with fundamental human needs not being met has repeated throughout history, a reality reflected in this token’s endlessly changeable visage.
Our choice is an active and constant one when it comes to working within a flawed system or attacking it from without. The challenge for artists is navigating these societal flashpoints with our integrity intact and enough energy and focus for our creative efforts.
The "State of the State" is the sister layer to "The People’s Path to Power," as its imagery starkly shows.
In this portion of the work we see militarized police units either taking up battle positions opposite of police brutality protesters or kneeling in symbolic deference to these activists. In the former image, these troopers are the fists of the bureaucratic machinery that, at its worst, perpetrates violence against its own people. In the latter, these forces adhere to their oaths and stand with the calls for justice reform and social progress. The chasm between these two possibilities was a battleground in 2020, and this Layer brings those battles to the forefront.
In this Layer we see a statue of the Mother of All Virtue in the Greco-Roman world, symbolizing humanity’s capacity for reason, either looking on or covering her eyes at mankind’s technological might and greatest contemporary challenges, like COVID-19 and mass extinctions. Here Prudence’s symbols shine. Will we cast aside the Mirror of Self-Awareness? Will we forsake the Wisdom of the Snake? Will our Symbols continue to serve us in a technological future?
We all now stand at the same precipice. We can devote our rising awareness and resources to tackling the massive issues of our time, or we can look away in ignorant bliss and suffer the consequences accordingly.
In Man at the Crossroads, Rivera depicted a beheaded Caesar to portray the decline of authoritarianism. It was a rallying cry, a call for civilization to continue steadily and fight decisively wherever authoritarianism reared its ugly head.
Yet with authoritarianism and fascism on the rise again in the 21st century, Hidden Forces re-envisions Lady Justice, i.e. liberty, equality, and democracy, as the mirror force hanging in the balance amid creeping decay. Was Rivera overly optimistic, or is history simply circling back again?
These are the questions Hidden Forces asks us to reexamine. In this layer, collectors can decide that balance by triggering Lady Justice to raise her sword and rally us to the good fight or suffer the fate of Decapitation in the face of ascending evil.
Climate change and other human-driven activities are tragically driving more and more species toward extinction - animals like white rhinos, red pandas, and orangutans. Is it too late to reverse our terrible course, or are we too far down the road of ruin to prevent scores more extinctions in the future? That’s one of the great questions of our time, and it’s the great question of "Darwin Weeps." Collectors can make a powerful statement on this horrific epochal drama by deciding whether life or death reign in this layer.
In "Visionary Auditions," what was once the controversial visage of Vladimir Lenin can be replaced with some of the most high-profile and controversial patriarchs of contemporary America, including Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Warren Buffet, and Bernie Sanders.
These patriarchs are like the Lenins of our time, just as they’re each a nexus of controversy in Hidden Forces’s Who’s the Controller Now? Lightning rods every one, to many beloved, to others - scorned. These men all wield tremendous influence in different ways and have become walking flashpoints wielding their power from society’s upper echelon.
These patriarchs inspire hopes and dreams, but have they become symbols of Possibility or Oppression? These are questions the collector of this layer will have to decide for themselves and the Masterwork.
If you’re interested in learning more about Who’s the Controller Now?, make sure you read my profile of Hidden Forces to learn about the artist as well as my write-up on the fascinating history behind the piece. You can bid on the piece’s remaining Layer tokens on Async Art.