Photographer and activist Benjamin (Ben) Von Wong is well known for his work that raises awareness of various environmental and sociological issues. In his latest project Skull of Satoshi, Ben points out to the massive impact Bitcoin has had on climate change.
For this project, Ben and his team collected electronic waste and recycled Styrofoam and painstakingly assembled them all together in an 11-foot-tall skull with laser eyes. After 1,000 hours of work, the setup was ready for some epic photos, and Ben shared them with us, as well as the story behind this project.
[Related reading: Photographing a 10 foot tall extinction thermometer]
Bitcoin’s impact on the environment
To understand the idea of this project better, let’s start with the impact Bitcoin has on the environment. As you probably know, it takes a lot of power and tons of electronic components to mine Bitcoin. Ben gives a great comparison so you get the idea: a single Google search takes 1080 Joules of energy, an hour of streaming of Netflix takes 288,000 Joules. And a single Bitcoin transaction takes 6,995,000,000 Joules.
According to TIME, the process that safeguards the Bitcoin network, uses more power globally per year than most countries. Let that sink in. It also consumes about twice as much electricity as Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Apple combined. Bitcoin miners have also started buying old coal power plants, contributing to the burning of fossil fuels.
Other than vast energy consumption and air pollution, Bitcoin mining also generates a massive amount of electronic waste. Over 30,000 tons every single year, according to the BBC. And Ben had the idea of showing all of these aspects through his project.
The idea behind the project
Through the Skull of Satoshi, Ben wanted to show the connection between Bitcoin mining and electronic waste, fossil fuels, and energy consumption. This is why it made sense to cover the piece in circuit boards. The plant chimneys on top of the skull and the wires at the bottom bring the whole piece together, symbolizing all of three major issues.
Ben also wanted the skull to have laser eyes. There was a trend that had Bitcoin supporters change their profile pictures to add “laser eyes.” And why it’s no longer a fad, Ben just couldn’t miss the chance to use it for the project. After all, it became a symbol of supporting Bitcoin – and it sure added extra creepy vibe to the skull and the final shots.
Building the Skull of Satoshi
Ben and his team built the gigantic skull using wood, recycled Styrofoam, and over 300 pieces of electronic waste. Building the wooden CNC construction of the skull seems complicated – but that turned out to be the simplest part. Cutting the Styrofoam and carving it out to create the final shape was a major pain in the neck and took plenty of time.
The team faced another challenge when they searched for electronic waste to use for the project. After lots of rejection, a local nonprofit Unirecycle donated six giant pallets of various electronic components. Now all that was left was manually sorting, organizing, and fitting each and every piece onto the skull.
For the laser eyes, ben used a pair of battery-powered disco lights and a smoke machine. A pretty cheerful setup for such a gloomy concept, but hey, it works!
The photo shoot
“With 1,000 human hours of work, we brought the Skull of Satoshi to life in a huge abandoned warehouse,” Ben explains. He and his team got permission from Demolition company Delsan Aim to shoot in one of their buildings slated for demolition. It was a perfect spot, and they used long tube lights to give it a dystopian cyberpunk vibe.
Using a couple of red fairy lights and some tape, Ben also created “real-world laser eyes” for his volunteer models to wear for the shoot. It turned out amazing!
The impact of the Skull of Satoshi
Like Ben’s other projects, the Skull of Satoshi was also built to draw the attention of the public to the problem and get people involved in the solution. Greenpeace has offered to take the Skull of Satoshi on tour, where they will protest in different places to build awareness of Bitcoin’s impact on the environment.
“Since Bitcoin is truly decentralized, a substantial code change can only happen if the majority of the community supports the decision,” Ben explains. “This means that they too, need to signal their support for a less energy-intensive code.” You can join the efforts too, and you’ll learn more about it here. You can also create your own remixes of Ben’s Skull of Satoshi and use it in your AI-generated work. You’ll learn more about it from the video: