Bound · Unbound, the solo exhibition of artist Joy Cheng is being held recently at Today Art Museum in Beijing, in which Joy’s multi-media works and NFT artwork collaborated with AI named Alice and I are on display.
Nowadays, most of the artists that actively engage in the NFT art field are young, while there are relatively fewer artists coming from the traditional art field. As an experienced artist, how did you learn about NFT and why did you become a participant in the NFT art space?
I’m not a traditional artist actually, since I started to make 3D animation in 1991. At that time, I was one of the pioneering artists. I love facing difficult challenges, learning new things, and exploring my potentiality. So this time I am creating cross-media artworks. There are easel artworks, acousto-electro-optical devices, and NFTs. In fact, my easel artworks also use mixed materials, not just oil paintings.
I’m quite fond of the crossover artworks that break boundaries. Therefore, this exhibition is named as Bound · Unbound.
I think artists’ thoughts would be reflected in their artworks, and even influence the way they create and the medium they use. NFT, as a decentralized medium, is worth exploring in my opinion.
Poster of Bound · Unbound
You have four series of artworks, God of Ants, Breaking, Light, and One. What kind of artistic reflections do they hold?
All my works grow out of my life, which represent the trajectory of my own growth and thinking.
I always think about the most basic propositions of philosophy. Who am I? Where do I come from? Where am I going? I suppose philosophers have never answered these questions clearly. I've been thinking: What does it mean to be true? What is the Truth? What is unreal? My artworks always touch on such fundamental philosophical questions.
I have been a spiritual practicer for 26 years. I believe in this kind of energy transformation in the universe. My series of works are all related to this concept, including the NFT artworks in this exhibition. I want to discuss the symbiotic relationship between human beings, AI, and everything else which is the universe.
Light - 09
The series of God of Ants, Breaking, Light, and One grow step by step with the ascension of consciousness, which is a continuous vein. When it comes to Light, it represents the ubiquitous energy, which embodies wisdom and love. Then it comes to One which reflects the implication of Unification and embodies a great cosmology focusing on harmonious coexistence and symbiosis of humans and others. I don't think AI consciousness will replace ours, as by breaking three-dimensional boundaries, human consciousness can ascend. I have had some epiphanies myself. When achieving ascension, love vs hate, birth vs death of the three-dimensional world cannot trap us, and the limits of our physical bodies will be transcended.
For me, NFT, digital art, and virtual society are the tools to open another fold of our lives. We consider ourselves living in a world of reality. However, the right questions to ask maybe, is the virtual world more real? Or is the virtual world as real as we want it to be? Either way, they have already expanded our space and time.
Time, space, energy, universe, information, and exchanges are the sources and foundations of my creation and thinking.
Alice and I - 06
For the work Alice and I in this exhibition, you were required to collaborate with AI. Was there anything interesting? What difficulties did you encounter?
I couldn't control the AI. Although it’s the technical teams’ work to generate the images, none of us could control the results coming out of it. Of course, I didn't expect it to offer me a result that I already knew. I expected the uncertainty. When the machine generated a result that was not good enough, I would instruct it to continue its learning process. It was a combination of experiments and explorations that I did with the AI procedure. I didn't put limits on it. When the results machine generated reached my standard, we called it a success.
I wanted the work to present a feeling of dialogue between human and AI, to make a contrast between AI and human consciousness. I represent human, and I depicted ‘the world in human eyes’ through hand-drawing and 2D animation, while Alice is AI, and together, we generated ‘the world as seen by machine’ in the GAN (Generative Adversarial Network) model. Finally, I painted to show the comparison and integration.
The tone of this piece is ‘dialogue’. There are small conflicts, but it is more of a dialogue.
Alice and I - 02
The curator for this exhibition is Mr. Gu Zhenqing, an experienced art critic. Did he also spend time and energy to learn NFTs, in order to integrate his own ideas and express them?
Mr. Gu is particularly good at learning. Since NFT caught much attention in March this year, he immediately studied it in less than 3 months. I believe he is the most knowledgeable person among the curators regarding NFT. Because his knowledge structure was already so rich which provided solid foundation when he absorbed new knowledge. He is also very good at summarizing. His views seem profound to me.
He proposed the concept of NFT2.0 vs NFT1.0. NFT1.0 is to turn traditional art into the form of NFT. He even regards Beeple's works as NFT1.0. And most artists in China are in the phase of NFT1.0. He thinks my artwork would be NFT1.5 because I’ve already worked closely with AI technology. For NFT2.0, Mr. Gu has summarized 5 characteristics, one of which is very important namely community participation and usage of crypto technology. In my future artworks, I’m willing to explore the NFT 3.0.
When did you get to know NFT art?
I always pay close attention to new technologies and new creative ideas. I learned about blockchain several years ago, and in the second half of last year, NFT appealed to me. I then started to think whether my 4th series which is One could be made as NFT arts. In the creating process, the NFT concept became a big hit.
Besides the motivation to try new technologies, what other things push you to create NFT artworks?
I think NFT has expanded space and time. We used to paint on canvas within a frame, but now we are talking about the whole virtual universe and virtual space. We can gallop and set our imagination free. It's like having a pair of wings, but be careful not to fall.
In my opinion, we’re in the stage of wild growth currently. It's too early to talk about artistry. Most of the NFT artworks these days are not that conceptual or contemporary. Basically, they are still in the NFT1.0 stage. We artists need to broaden our horizon and strengthen the artistic part of works. I believe the artworks in this field will be better and better after a certain period.
Breaking - 04
You are very different from many artists who have made the leap from traditional fields to the blockchain. You started as a 3D animator, originally using the computer as a tool to create. Now you returned to a ‘human-computer interaction’ approach.
Right, and it's quite interesting. I originally focused on 3D animation. Later, due to my rebellious mentality, I fell in love with hand painting. Especially, I love the feeling of friction between the brush and the canvas. Now I am back at the computer table partially. I love this feeling of using any media as I want freely.
For me, painting is the process of going back to my heart, finding myself, and connecting with my inner wisdom. Thus, lots of my artworks are not designed in advance. In fact, after a long time of thinking, and with a basic concept in my mind, I would reach a meditative state without distractions when painting. I’d like to put my whole body and soul into my works and follow my instinct. Some of the audience who see my works are able to resonate with them.
I’m passionate about the feeling of creating dreams and projections when creating NFT artworks. My exhibition is unique because of those multi-media works. For the next stage, I won't limit myself in the NFT art space, since I will choose proper media to express various ideas of mine.
As we know, you have abundant experiences in terms of crossover, being both an artist and a philanthropist. I wonder if you will do some projects integrating NFT art & philanthropy?
I’ve been preparing a related project, through which artists will refine the works and make them into designs of derivatives. These will then be woven into embroidery stuff people can use in their daily life by women from the remote area, for instance, bags and cushion covers, etc. At the same time, we will also make the creation process into NFTs. It’s not only an art project but also a philanthropic project empowering female group.
Adjunct Art Professor, University of Electronic Science and Technology
One of the first 3D animators in China
PhD in Advertising, Communication University of China