Following CryptoZR’s (Jiaying Liu) participation at the first CryptoArt-dedicated group exhibition at UCCA Lab in Beijing, the artist will have a solo exhibition at Guardian Art Center in Beijing from May 29 to June 13, 2021. Entitled ‘Cookie Cookie’, the exhibition is the first solo Blockchain and CryptoArt themed exhibition.
You were a Product Designer in Global SNS Department in Tencent. What are the differences and similarities between product design and art creation?
They’re completely different. At Tencent, functions, interaction and usability are our top priorities. We had to study users' habits through various user research. User interface is just a superficial layer.
While creating art is relatively free and personal. I am easily inspired by any phenomenon or social issue, as long as there is an artist element and had not been done before. In fact, in terms of art creating, I just have to convince myself and hopefully my creation could resonate with others. Therefore, I think that art is strongly related to the individual.
Poster of Exhibition 'Cookie Cookie'
The upcoming exhibition at Guardian is called ‘Cookie Cookie’. What does it mean? It seems to be the same kind of artwork as ‘Greed is Good’ (2019), not in the traditional sense of art works, but more like a game rule?
The exhibition title has two meanings in English and Chinese. In Chinese it is ‘a small goal’, which alludes to social issue memes and is named after one of my artworks on show, which was created with blockchain. We chose ‘Cookie Cookie’ as the English title of the exhibition, borrowing from a definition system in Internet. Cookie is also a trivial snack in everyday’s life. So it’s a double metaphor here.
One unavoidable topic in my art creation is money and its history, which was one of my research topics during my graduate studies. The Austrian School of Economics believes that finance should be under a liberal order. However, in more than 100 years from 1913 to today, we have never experienced such a massive plunder of property. Money in the bank depreciates every year. The inflation of US Dollar is as high as 96% compared to 100 years ago. To some extent, our properties are not as ‘anti-fragile’ as previously assumed (concept was developed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb).
Therefore, ‘Cookie Cookie’ came up.
Most people mistakenly think that the value of digital currency they own is equivalent to the amount of currency multiplied by its price on the exchange. I issued Small Goal (SG) coins on Uniswap and airdropped them to the community, and all of a sudden, some members in the community received a billion coins in their wallets. As soon as one made the move to sell, the coins went to zero. It's kind of like an occurrence under the rule I’ve set.
In my art practice, I tend to draw or make sculptures that can speak for themselves and further program them if needed. It’s impossible to explain ‘Cookie Cookie’ merely with a picture or a sculpture. On the contrary, ‘Smiley FED’, the work I created last year, was well expressed with just one picture. While in TopBidder, we modified the underlying protocol and established a new NFT rule. As long as someone bids 10% or more, the premium will go to the wallet of the previous bidder. The artwork is alive and can circulate on its own, in a sense.
The Internet disrupted many industries, and once tried to change the art industry as well. In your opinion, what did the Internet change about art? What changes did blockchain and NFT bring to the art industry?
There were lots of people from Internet circle that made several attempts to disrupt art world to no avail. The reason behind those failures is that Internet provides connectivity. Only after the emergence of blockchain, economic system of digital currency has been established. Now, it’s possible for us to see art world crumble.
A great deal of injustice exists in the art world. For artists who died at an early age, like Van Gogh, their works were only sold for astonishing prices after their death. This is capitalistic oppression. The art circle would not exist if there were no artists in it! Artists who create content and produce value become baby silkworms: producing silk during their entire lives for us to transform them into silk quilts. However, the income from the sale of silk quilts has nothing to do with the baby silkworms.
In my opinion, blockchain is here to challenge the inherent unfairness in society. What we are doing at TopBidder is to put artworks on the chain and give them freedom. To some extent, collectors can't ‘hide’ the artworks, they can only ‘collect & show off’, which means they can show off after collecting an artwork. In the traditional collecting sphere, the works on auction have almost nothing to do with artists themselves in fact. It is the middle dealers who earn the money. TopBidder, on the other hand, allows artists to make a profit in every round of auction.
A research suggests that out of 140 graduates of CAFA (China Central Academy of Fine Arts), only 4 of them have ended up working as artists. The life of young artists is very challenging. We hope that through TopBidder, we could help a small group of artists to solve their survival problems and retain them in the art circle.
TopBidder by CryptoZR
What kind of artwork is TopBidder in your creative context would you describe?
I’ve always wanted to make a system-level conceptual artwork. Conceptual Art emerged after World War I, as artists discovered that the aristocrats and elites who used to support them and invited them to draw portraits were the very people who started the war. So, they decided not to serve this group of people with their visual artworks. They started to ‘anti-collect’. They did a lot of performance art and installation art, so that collectors couldn’t buy them and use them as financial instruments. After World War II, the voice of ‘anti-collecting’ became even louder. Duchamp after World War I and Joseph Beuys after World War II are representative figures.
TopBidder brings up a concept that all collectors can add thoughts or make progresses into artworks. And the auction record of each collector is kept permanently on chain.
We were determined to do something systematic and aesthetic. We ought to change the relationship between artists and collectors. The work should be logically self-consistent in terms of artistry and have financial attributes at the same time.
When and under which circumstances did you start to making blockchain art?
To be honest, at first, I didn't know that blockchain could be used for art creation.
In 2016, I enrolled at the graduate school of the Central Academy of Fine Arts. In my first year, I wrongly assumed that becoming famous was easy. In my second year, I was frustrated at myself for not fulfilling my dream of becoming an artist as I discovered that all the techniques, materials, languages and themes that I came up with had been used by others already. I took a year off from school then, since I was quite occupied by my startup at that period.
Everything changed at the end of 2017. We started doing something out of boredom: we issued new coins and airdropped them to more than 570,000 wallets with 88,888 coins each. There were no notes or descriptions attached to the coins. However, 10 days later, those coins became valuable because people started to buy them on the exchange. This was exactly the ‘liberal order’ coined by the Austrian School of Economics – it signified a liberal choice of people. Since then, I've been thinking that there's an artistic implication in the whole event.
During this period, several teachers helped me a lot. The first one was Mr. Shi Jinsong (史金淞), who once said to me, ‘You know what, Jiaying? You have a submachine gun on your shoulder that you’re unaware of. You are still learning how to throw darts. That is wrong.’ I didn't understand it at that time, but what he said planted a seed in my mind. Another one was Mr. Song Dong (宋冬). At the graduation dinner, he talked to me. ‘You are different from all the other students. You come to school to see what everyone else is doing, and then you set yourself apart from the rest through your art practice’ he said. The third one was my supervisor Mr. Wu Jian’an (邬建安). Wu would normally teach us to be more like ourselves, which was honestly rare in our school. He kept pushing me to find my own direction, he would hold a yardstick and tell me which one could be art. This is crucially important.
I remember Mr. Wu got excited after hearing the story of coin airdropping to wallets with 88,888 each, and said loudly in front of the whole class, ‘This is great art’!
After that, I was enlightened. I believe art creation using the technology of blockchain as the foundation is what I really love and excel at.
What is the overall theme of your art?
To eliminate exploitation (partially).
Centralized institutions could be evil. Blockchain is decentralized. That means all information is shared, to some extent. Decentralization brings de-institutionalization.
Later, decentralized exchanges like Curve, Uniswap and Balancer emerged, none of which had issuance fees.
YAP721 by CryptoZR
One of your pieces on TopBidder called YAP721, whose price is currently 30.12 ETH, highest on the platform. Could you share with us the story behind it?
There’s an island called Yap in Micronesia. The islanders used stone coins as a currency a thousand years ago, and the number and size of stone coins determined the amount of wealth. The process of trading was to record the ownership of the stone coins before being transferred to a new owner, and a consensus was therefore reached. One interesting story is that a family once got a colossal high-quality stone coin, which later sunk in the sea due to a shipwreck on the way back to Yap Island. While the stone was lost physically, however, local people still believed that it existed in theory and are fully aware that this particular family was rich.
It’s no exaggeration to say Yap Stone Coin is the earliest version of blockchain. Instead of the encryption algorithm of blockchain, it used the memory in human brains.
My work YAP721 was made as a bronze sculpture, 1.98m in diameter and 40cm thick. On the front of the sculpture, I engraved the hex code that constructs Bitcoin in the very beginning, and on the back, I will engrave the public key address of each bidder.
YAP721 is symbolic and retrospective. I made an animation of it and minted into an NFT. The NFT in virtual world is closely connected to the physical sculpture since I would do some carving work literally once someone bids online. So collectors’ action becomes part of the artwork as well. To some extent, YAP721 is an artwork bridging the virtual and physical world.
Exactly! Not only YAP721, but also your previous works like ‘Red and Blue’ and ‘Zero Dollar’, they all have different forms of interaction with collectors or communities. Why did you bring interactive elements to your art?
There is no encyclopedia for all art creation methods. We have to adopt a method vaguely from our studies in art history or fine art cases and let it determine our creative process. Thus for me, the method must be a brand new one. I wouldn’t use any method created and used by others.
At first, I thought carefully what are the essentials of blockchain? Transactional, monetary, decentralized. I used these essences to create, like TopBidder.
Red & Blue by CryptoZR
I created ‘Red and Blue’ in the stage of language research. I created 100 gradient color blocks, with the top left block using color from the Chinese national flag and the bottom right from the American national flag. The work was released during the US-China trade war. I deliberately did not announce this association between the work and current affairs. However, in the last week of the auction, someone started buying the top left and bottom right blocks. Chinese artist Mr. Wu Shanzhuan (吴山专) once said, to buy is to create. Why would they buy them? My bidders were expressing their stance through bidding. That, I think, is the right innovation we should make with NFTs.
Since ‘Out of Nothing’ (2017), you established a community and got your own followers on chain. For many traditional artists who want to release NFT works, establishing a community is relatively difficult. How did you do it? What experience can you share?
At the very beginning, ProChain, which my partner and I founded in 2017, established a community once with more than 200,000 members. Later on, we got 30,000-40,000 members in the core of YFII project. We got members whose rank is the highest in the Chinese blockchain circle, a user group that has gone through several rounds of cleaning.
Art creations based on blockchain, once placed inside the chain, can naturally reach this group of people.
Community is a very important feature of blockchain. The blockchain circle is much smaller than the Internet circle, so every individual on chain is concerned about their reputation, and hopes to make blockchain world a better place with his/her technical ability, operation ability or other abilities.
CHIJIN by CryptoZR
I noticed that you opened ‘CHIJIN’ Gallery on Cryptovoxels. Is there any new project under construction?
Right, we’ve already conducted two exhibitions in CHIJIN, and several are currently being curated. There are hundreds of works in it.
In addition, we bought a dozen plots of land in Cryptovoxels and are building a 12-meter-tall thing on the waterfront these days. The architecture will be made in the shape of the octopus from <The Call of Cthulhu>, with tentacles reaching out to other buildings and the sea. A circular building will be in the middle, just like the Guggenheim Museum. I find it quite interesting that virtual galleries can achieve many things that galleries offline cannot do.
What are the highlights of your ‘Cookie Cookie’ solo exhibition at Guardian at the end of May? Could you reveal some in advance?
Okay. The Guardian will exhibit 11 works of mine on ‘Cookie Cookie’. We will mount ‘Zero Dollar’ from ‘Sound Money’ Series onto a wall with a hollowed-out center, in which the audience can put their faces for photos. Additionally, we will build a 3-meter-tall glass ‘confession house’ filled with futuristic laser materials, where each audience can scan a code, input his/her name to issue a digital currency named after him/her.
The exhibition curator, Mr. Li Zhenhua, who is also the curator of the Film sector at Art Basel in Hong Kong, asked for my contact info through Mr. Wu after watching my graduation exhibition at CAFA. Digital media is his major, but he learned to obtain a crypto digital identity very quickly. We plan to make ‘Cookie Cookie’ a traveling exhibition throughout the world. It will be held in HOW Art Museum in Shanghai next year.
You seem to be a very prolific artist so far. Do you think inspiration would run out one day in the future?
Inspiration is a mysterious thing. When I was 6 or 7 years old, lots of signals and ideas would come into my head every night. I wrote down all the ideas before going to sleep. Things got worse in high school. I stayed up until 3:00am or 4:00am almost every day. I showed my supervisor those notebooks from my childhood when I got into CAFA. They’re great art originals, he said.
In my opinion, the technical development of blockchain is just beginning. If there are new technologies after blockchain, I will use them as long as they are in the vein of my artistic expression. So, technology itself is not the block that prevents me from creating. Will ideas dry up? I suppose not. I will merely consider whether a certain concept is meaningful or not. There may be a day when I feel all my thoughts expressed and all my creations delivered, I shall move on to something else.