Six days ago, advertising student Stijn van Schaik gave up his soul. He sold it as NFT for a mere 300 euros. He also saved her some credits, went viral, and caught the attention of conspiracy theorists.
He didn’t do it for the money, he says, but purely for the art. He thought that the amount of 300 euros was a good round amount, at that time exactly 0.1 Ethereum (a crypto currency). “I think it’s important to stress that it was never about the money for me, I didn’t want to ask too much for it. I’ve put in quite a bit of time and if you convert it to an hourly rate you don’t even get minimum wage I think.
He turned his soul into an NFT: a non-fungible token. That is a unique and irreplaceable proprietary digital certificate. You can create this certificate digitally and link it to a digital object. It then records this on a blockchain, a public database. NFT de Stijn – titled ‘Soul of Stinus‘- consists of an image and a contract. That contract also stipulates what the copper can do with the soul, use it for the afterlife, for example, or sacrifice it.
His rather remarkable idea is the result of a school assignment to the Willem de Kooning Academy. ‘We had to work with the issue of financial uncertainty,’ he explains. “We had to investigate that, we had to look for something that was unfair and create a campaign around that issue. Now I think that the power that institutions have, like banks, but also platforms like Uber, is unfair. Cryptocurrency can be a solution for this, it leaves banks and intermediaries out of the game. With my campaign I wanted to generate attention for that side of cryptocurrencies.’
The idea was there and it also had a target group: Generation X, approximately people between 45 and 60 years old. “First I wanted to use a format that this generation is very familiar with: a commercial. The only problem was that the subject is too complicated, it is almost impossible to explain it very briefly”, he says. “That’s why I started thinking about how I could create news with a clickbait-style headline to reach people. That’s how I came up with the idea for an NFT: there’s a lot of hype around it, it’s easy to share, there’s already a platform for it, and there’s a lot of buzz and criticism. A little controversy helps.
A month and a half before the first article appeared
His approach was strategic. ‘You can’t just upload anything,’ she says, ‘I believe in a world of content, spreading your message through all kinds of media. I uploaded my soul’s NFT to an NFT market, created a website, and posted the contract text on it as well. And I’ve posted on tons of forums and written a press release. That didn’t really pick up at the beginning, it took a month and a half before someone wrote the first article. I posted that article back on the forums and pretended it had already gotten a lot of attention.’
“I was in the middle of a week of exams, but I couldn’t really study”
Initially, there was interest mainly from Brazil and India, and after a while the ball started rolling and Stijn was continually contacted for interviews. This is how his story began i love sciencein it indian times, on Russian and Spanish news sites, all kinds of crypto forums, and in AD. He did radio interviews on Flemish radio and Radio 1. ‘I was in the middle of a week of exams, but I couldn’t really study, an article was being written every hour. YouTube videos were made about me. It was so weird. But I thought: what is more important, a breakthrough or passing some exams?’, says the student who, in addition to his WdKA education, he is also studying cultural sciences at Erasmus University.
‘The buyer understood the message’
His ‘soul’ has been bought by a lover of digital art like NFT’s. “My tactic was not to overvalue it in the hope that a collector would buy it, which they did. As an artist or art student, it feels awkward to have to explain your art, but this buyer got the message right and wrote an article about it explaining my idea exactly.’
In the meantime, the buyer has put Stijn’s soul up for sale again for an amount in crypto of approximately 3.6 million euros. Steven doesn’t care. “It was never about the money for me.” There is a reason why the buyer now asks such a large amount for it, one of the famous monkeys also left for a little less than that price (one of the so-called ‘boring monkeys’, ed.). ‘Their idea of him is: if those soulless monkeys sell for that much money, then someone’s most valuable possession is certainly worth it. The same amount has been requested more often for the most heartless projects.’ Unlike many other NFTs, the buyer/seller writes, the soul of Stijn is truly unique.
Now that you see this amount, isn’t it very attractive to sell another soul? Maybe from someone else? “No, I only have one soul and I also promised not to do any more NFTs after this. I don’t want to milk it, that gives it more power. He still got messages if he wanted to sell a friend’s soul, for example. But that would go against my principles. Seriously, I have received strange offers. The good news is that if Stijn’s soul is sold, he keeps a percentage. It is not said that his soul will actually sell for the asking price, but if it is, it may still fetch him a fair amount.
“I would be satanic or brainwashed, luckily I know I’m not.”
There is a lot of positive attention for your project, but also a lot of criticism. ‘I realize people are skeptical about it. Especially people who are critical of the government. there is even Conspiracy theories I think about myself. It would be satanic or brainwashed, luckily I know I’m not. Now in the photo with some items I’m wearing a shirt that says ‘obey the propaganda‘ of the band Propaganda. He hadn’t thought of that at all, but people do all sorts of things, of course. Screenshots of me were circulating on group apps with thousands of people. Weird. It’s a strange feeling, but in a way it also reinforces my project.’
One of the starting points of his artistic project was to discover what life would be like with a ‘decentralized soul’. He now has a week of experience with his soulless existence. What note? ‘Since I sold my soul I have had many positive and negative experiences. I have been evicted from my house -I live in an anti-squat- and I don’t sleep well. That makes sense because my idea has really worked and it’s also exciting. And I have very little time for the things that really matter like school and my private life.’
He is now 21 years old and therefore has to go on without a soul for the rest of his life. How does she feel? “If I regret it, I hope someone will share their soul with me,” she laughs. But she understands that some people have mixed feelings about it. ‘Of course you can look at your soul in different ways, more spiritually or more scientifically. Before I did this, I only told a few people about it. My parents knew about it, I just told my grandmother, that she is a believer.’
Text: Edith van Gameren
Photo: Stijn van Schaik