To solve deep-rooted problems in art industry one by one with new technologies like NFT and blockchain.
In your opinion, is NFT just a new form of expression and technique for art? Or is it something that completely brings about changes?
I think we’re in the initial stage of NFTs currently. And I’m looking forward to strong impacts and therefore huge changes.
I am a curator. Besides museums, I also curated many art exhibitions in public spaces, such as luxury plazas, large shopping malls, and art township projects. Exhibitions in public spaces make it possible for artists to establish a closer relationship with spaces, with the wider public and with the public domain. Art township is to go to some tourist spots or villages and invite artists to create according to the local culture. In fact, I think this practice can be extended to the NFT side.
In my opinion, NFT brings a new kind of public space or new publicness to the existing art. This kind of publicness is not just a place for display, it is at all levels. For instance, in the past, you must go to a certain art museum to see artworks. Even if you are engaged in art village construction, you need to go to the local area to see the artworks. Now, we are doing an exhibition in a virtual space, and the degree of public friendliness, public integration, and the convenience of public participation has been improved by orders of magnitude. Originally, an exhibition could be watched by hundreds or thousands of people, but now in theory there can be countless people at the same time and in the same space. From this perspective, NFT art provides sufficient publicness.
Another point is that previous works hope to have a relationship with the audience, and even many hope to interact with the audience. When we set up the exhibition and when the artists create works, we are not letting the work exist independently, but thinking about how the work will relate to the space and the audience. Especially, installation works and performance works cannot exist if there is no audience. I think NFTs take another step forward. Lots of NFT artworks we know about generate interaction naturally because of the blockchain and encryption technology, and even the audience can join in the creation processes. From the academic point of view, it blurs the so-called boundary between author and reader. We see that many artists use encryption technology to create an original work or mother copy, and then he will invite viewers and collectors to join and continue to create. All these ‘creators’ come at different times to make different changes, therefore product innumerable new possibilities.
In the end, there may be hundreds of people participating in one artwork. Who is the author? It is no longer something that can be summarized by traditional concept. This is a kind of order challenge or advancement to the existing art. A lot of changes have taken place in terms of space and the relationship between creators and audiences. Of course, the possibilities in the business field that we are more familiar with have also increased. The so-called blockchain spirit is focused on decentralization, from which new orders are born and may disrupt and wipe out the old order. Under this new order, it may be easier for artists to sell their works, and for collectors to establish relationships with artists. Things exist in centralized old order like middlemen would disappear.
As you just mentioned, in the current blockchain world, the relationship between artists, fans, and communities has become particularly important. From the curator's perspective, how can you better help these art pieces to connect with communities? Is it different from traditional art curation?
The key lies in the ‘publicness’ I just mentioned which is brought by NFTs and reflects exactly the feature of decentralization. Artists had fans before, but they would not actively build some kind of fan groups or interact and communicate with fans on a daily basis. They have not even imagined such things. I think this is also a new kind of publicness that NFTs bring to art, or we should say it's a change to the old relationship. It’s not only a change of technology or tool, but also a real change of concept which is very important.
But are these changes brought by blockchain or NFT technology? I think this may have two sides. On the one hand, a certain structure must be on the verge of needing to be changed, and only then will there be a new technological force to make progress. There’s a popular meme called ‘Involution’ last year which means a certain system, or a certain mechanism has reached its end, and the input-output rate and productivity have become unreasonably low. At this time, the emergence of new technologies may bring about significant and meaningful changes. But on the other hand, can new technologies necessarily change the old system? I don’t think so. The key lies in the system itself. In fact, the art system has not changed much in the past 100 years. Artists create in their studio, then enter the gallery system, and then raise discussions from critics. If endorsed, artists could enter the system of collectors and the higher-level art museum system. Luckily, fewer artists enter the national and international art museums, become international-level artists, and attract more collectors. This cycle has not changed for hundreds of years.
Many other industries have undergone huge changes in terms of technology and economic structure. I suppose the art industry should not be an exception. Its fundamental structure will always be influenced by technology, humanistic spirit, politics, and even finance. When major changes take place in these aspects, the concept and the entire structure of the art circle will follow and change. Lots of crypto art institutions and platforms would establish communities and connect with fans. Rather than a change in form, I believe it's more of a change in perception. This kind of relationship between artists and fans will definitely have an impact on the artist's creation.
The publicness we just talked about is the major challenge everyone needs to face in and after the pandemic. In the post-epidemic era, the relationship between people, the relationship between people and society, and even the relationship between countries is quite different from the past. The loneliness and isolation was unprecedented. Blockchain technology has changed the relationship between people a lot. For example, it is hard to imagine previous artists would have such a connection with collectors.
New technologies bring freshness and the possibilities of change to the art field. In your opinion, how long will this crypto art boom, underpinned by blockchain technology, last?
Blockchain technology or encryption technology can theoretically disrupt these inherent relationships and rebuild a new one in art space. It’s an idealized process. In my opinion, the way we look at NFT art and our expectation for it, is kind of like things in the 1980s or 1990s when we expected a lot from Internet. Technologies were in the embryonic stage mostly at that time, however everyone was full of expectations for it. In the past ten years, such expectations and hopes shattered gradually. The Internet does not seem to be what we expected, or that many ideals have not been realized in the new world brought by the Internet. In the 1980s and 1990s, there’s no way to imagine the changes that the Internet has made to our entire world today, including entertainment, payment, values, the relationship between people, and the relationship between people and society. But at the same time, it also brought problems that we did not expect back then, such as the violation of personal privacy, the control of individuals by large capital or large institutions. People are submerged in the sea of information or driven by entertainment which are fueled by the Internet culture.
I feel like many people today are full of expectations for blockchain and encryption art, while others are full of doubts. We know that any new order would encounter resistances. I personally think that, after 10 or 20 years, blockchain and NFT will definitely change at least some of the orders in the cultural and artistic world. Are all the things it brings good? I don't think so necessarily. But it’s absolutely a new direction, and a direction worth exploring.
From a curator’s perspective, what do you think is the biggest difference between traditional curation and crypto art curation? What are the difficulties?
Recently, I co-founded an organization to do curation work for crypto art. What's interesting is that exhibitions we curated these days are presented online and offline at the same time. We have been doing offline exhibitions for so many years, so we know all the tricks. However, virtual space can be infinite in a sense, which is very different from physical space. Herein lies the biggest challenge. If there is a set of established methodology for exhibitions in physical space, then the methodology for virtual exhibition is in its groping stage with no proven patterns or established laws.
Poster of Digital Group exhibited at CHIJIN Art Museum
Digital art didn’t win much attention before. Part of the reason may be that audience encounter certain technical problems when they appreciate digital arts. In this case, doing offline exhibitions can better attract traditional audiences. Therefore, for us curators, it is a test of our understanding of physical vs virtual space on the one hand, and how to attract audience on the other. If all the audience influx into the virtual exhibition at once, there would be thresholds for many people. But after attending the exhibition offline, he/she may be interested in a virtual city or a virtual art gallery.
How is the work distribution for curation of online exhibition? I mean, to plan an online exhibition, it’s your job to propose some ideas, right? Will there be engineers to do the technical part? Do you need to master any technology skill?
The curator may not necessarily need to code or engineer, but he still needs to understand the technologies and principles. As a curator, I’m responsible for the presentation of artworks, which definitely involve some tech issues. The display of traditional works in art galleries is relatively limited, while it seems limitless in a virtual space.
It may be just a GIF in the artist’s computer. I need to communicate more with the artist, to describe my understanding of space, technology and connection between the work and the whole venue. It’s much easier to implement our imagination in virtual world than in physical world. Just like in the movie <Ready Player One>, you may be nobody in the real world, but you could achieve a lot in the virtual space.
Poster of <Ready Player One>
In your opinion, will a Chinese-style, leading NFT art genre emerge in the future which is unique from western mainstream?
This is a very interesting question. Let me put it radically: in the past 300 years, no concept that has influenced the process of modernization and postmodernism was born in China, regardless of cultural or philosophical concepts. Under this circumstance, it is impossible to expect high productivity and innovation in terms of its art section.
What is the relationship between Chinese crypto art and the West or the world? We know that the germination of modern and contemporary art in China began in the 1980s after the Cultural Revolution. It developed all the way seeing the so-called 1985 New Wave Art Movement and then the 1989 Modern Art Exhibition in China. These 40 years witnessed the development of Chinese contemporary art. In fact, it is a complete copy of Western art development over the past century, or the process after the Second World War. Till today, we still don’t see that much originality of art in China. Of course, there are many reasons for this. The fundamental reason is that no original ideological things have been provided for the entire modernization process, and art is no exception.
In the 1990s or after 2000, under the historical background of de-Westernism in Europe, some African, Indian and Chinese art was introduced to western audience. At that time, some Chinese artists entered the international vision. But it doesn't mean that something original emerged. In fact, original creativity is very weak in Chinese art field.
Under such a premise, I return to your question. When facing this new starting line, can we move forward together with Western artists? Or will we always follow behind? I think there is no accurate answer yet. In terms of digital art, there is still a certain gap between Chinese artists and international ones. NFT art can take many forms. Although in theory, a physical oil painting can be minted into NFT, the majority of NFTs are in forms of digital art. Digital art has developed in the West during 1960s and 70s, and the entire artistic creation, theoretical framework, and academic system have been completed. It’s possible for artists to create new things in this context. But relatively speaking, it’s fairly hard to see this kind of innovation in China.
For ancient Chinese art works, such as calligraphy and traditional Chinese painting, is it possible to make further developments and innovations? Since it seems hard for them to integrate into the modern art context.
It depends on how you look at it. In fact, the aesthetics of calligraphy may not only lie in the characters themselves, if we look at the work from a formalism perspective. We may involve the structural relationship between the strokes, the relationship between the work and the blank space, and even the rhythmic relationship when writing running and cursive script. For example, you may not be able to understand a single word in the work by Huaisu (怀素, an ancient Chinese calligrapher), but you can feel his rhythmical nature.
The expression of the artist's emotions in his/her works is actually the most fundamental thing of aesthetics and is traceable. Just like creating an oil painting today, can the form and the structural relationship between objects come from traditional calligraphy? I think the principle is the same. The basic structure and elements of traditional culture and traditional art could be inherited.
Please share briefly about some of the exhibitions and projects you did recently.
Sure. I personally have been doing several exhibitions related to NFT and encryption art recently. ‘Exhibition’ is quite a traditional term. Actually, the exhibitions I collaborated with artist Crypto_ZR (click here to read previous interview) and CHIJIN Art Museum exceeded the traditional concept of exhibitions. The traditionally recognized exhibition is to put works in a certain space, the entire distribution form and sales form are established routinely. However, in the crypto art projects, we see some fundamental changes like the establishment of collectors’ community and decentralized operation, etc.
Chijin Art Museum in CryptoVoxels
Exhibition 'Digital Group' at Chijin Art Museum
I also participated in the GDSC (Global Digital Sculpture Competition) sponsored by NetEase Games and cooperated with sculpture departments from 12 academies of fine arts in China. We mean to discuss the development and possibilities of sculpture in the digital age. Since great challenges are met by the art of sculpture. First of all, sculpture exists in virtual space in a completely different way compared to traditions. Secondly, traditional sculpture can be made of wood, marble, metal or other materials. But in the virtual space, the creation material and form may become 3D, or even GIF images. This competition hopes to explore the definition of sculpture in the digital age when exhibition space and creation methods cannot be separated from digitalization. There is actually no clear definition at this moment. We also consider minting some excellent works into NFTs to sell on chain.
Poster of GDSC
In addition, my collaboration with TMTpost is a cross-border exhibition called ‘Crypto Art - Folded History’. The exhibition venue is interesting which is in the office area of TMTpost, in the form of a folded park. The designers fold up the whole space with stairs and corridors, and visitors can walk around in circles. In a sense, crypto art and blockchain technology are kind of a folding force to the evolution of civilization.
Poster of ‘Crypto Art - Folded History’
Moreover, I supervised the production of a film whose final cut was just completed. I don't rule out the possibility of minting it into NFTs after.
I co-founded C&L, an institute focused on crypto art and NFT art, with two partners. One of the partners is a senior practitioner of crypto technology, and the other works in the field of international finance and has in-depth knowledge of art finance. The three of us have a common identity: art curators. We all hope to touch some new problems and find some new solutions.
Thank you for your introduction. In the previous interview, you mentioned that NFT has brought some changes to the art field in terms of ‘publicness’. The further question to end this interview is that, from the perspective of an art critic, what benefits does NFT bring to artists on a practical level? And what new practices or innovations are you optimistic about?
In the past, artists would face the problem of creation fees and material costs. If you were doing a performance installation, you would need to bear relatively high material costs. However, in the virtual space, this material costs may be reduced to a very low level. Thus, ideas which couldn’t be realized before would have the chance to grow in the digital world.
We can even consider crowdfunding. For example, we curators provide an NFT proposal, then crowdfund and let artists to make things happen. And then we could share the benefits coming from it. NFT breaks down the limitations. It allows not only the artists, the collectors and the galleries, but also potentially a larger group of people who support art, to participate. I suppose this is a cool direction to explore.
In fact, I hope to touch and partly solve the problems which arise when tradition meets reality and NFT. One exhibition or project, one problem. The C&L space tries to explore new possibilities with the help of new technologies such as encryption and blockchain technology.
I don't want to use words like disruption, that's too ambitious. We are just trying to see if we can solve the problems one by one and bring changes to the long-standing rigid ecology.