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December 16, 2022

NFTs and the New Power of Performance Art

Dajana Krüger speaks with Alex Estorick about how NFTs can rehumanize the digital condition
Credit: Dajana Krüger, Spinning Communion, 2021/22. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Monica Ruppert
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NFTs and the New Power of Performance Art

As a professional photographer, Dajana Krüger built a career on co-creation. Having re-established herself as a digital and video artist following the pandemic, this year she launched her genesis NFT project, Spinning Communion (2021/22), that turns human performers into “real holograms” to be collected. In doing so, she is rehumanizing the NFT, as well as the PFP, by giving collectors a stake in an ephemeral experience. Here the artist speaks with Alex Estorick about how NFTs can shape a new form of inclusive performance art.

Dajana Krüger, Spinning Communion — Power’s Keeper, 2021/2022. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Monica Ruppert

Alex Estorick: How did your particular brand of video art emerge from your work as a photographer?

Dajana Krüger: I started as a conceptual photographer making portraits of people and selling them to international magazines. I then altered my focus, trying to find a new way of portraying people that injected a level of emotion beyond that of a still image. This led me to develop my 360-degree portraits. My installation, Spinning Communion, captures the performance artists from every angle in the style of a hologram, revealing their emotions and emotional connections in detail. 

Dajana Krüger, Spinning Communion, 2021/22. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Monica Ruppert

AE: We talk a lot these days about code as an art form. But we don’t always consider the body as a language. You’ve said you want to turn intimate poses into “digital hieroglyphs.” What do you mean by that?

DK: I’m not simply portraying people from multiple angles, I’m also trying to develop a language that communicates ideas, emotions, and feelings in a single sculptural pose. This was always my task — to create symbols out of the people I work with. For this, I need to know that the performers are able to project a particular emotion. Music helps in this process as does teamwork. But I always try to find the perfect pose for the individual. We have a conversation, and then they become a performance artist for 30 seconds. It’s a highly meditative process for all concerned. I don’t limit myself to using professional performers — it’s important for me to be inclusive because the project is ultimately about community.

A lot of people ask me to participate via social media, others I meet on the street.  

For my recent exhibition at the Galerie Monica Ruppert, most of the audience knew my portraits from Instagram, but when they experienced the physical installation for the first time it carried greater emotional weight. Some spent hours viewing the details and, because the installation follows a loop, they would find new details every time. 

Dajana Krüger, Spinning Communion — Soulmate, 2021/2022. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Monica Ruppert

AE: Does the intimacy of your figures provoke empathy in your audience? 

DK: They certainly connect with each character. But I think my viewers also have favorites. One of my 360-degree portraits, Soulmate, depicts a pair of twins clasping each other’s hands, while The Creation of Me shows two characters in physical contact for the very first time. In the physical installation, they became a new image.

AE: Marina Abramović has spoken about the power of the NFT to commodify “immaterial” art forms. How do you view the relationship between NFTs and ephemeral media today? What does the NFT add to your work beyond a mere sales mechanism?

DK: I started the installation before I knew it was going to be an NFT. But over time I realized that this technology is the perfect means of bringing people together. Ultimately, the work became a societal project in which NFT collectors have a stake in the overall artwork.  
Dajana Krüger, Spinning Communion — Approach, 2021/2022. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Monica Ruppert

AE: The act of tokenizing a pose or an intimate embrace feels like a dynamic PFP and a way of imbuing life into a static medium. What does it mean to collect these identities?

DK: The Internet is not very personal. You can collect avatars, but they’re often highly impersonal. It was important for me to humanize this technology, not via digital sculptures but by joining something analog to the NFT. You can treat the works as avatars, or as collectibles, but for me the interesting thing is to collect a character who also exists in real life. 

It’s important that we don’t cede our humanity to technology. My work seeks to humanize the NFT.
Dajana Krüger, Spinning Communion, 2021/2022. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Monica Ruppert

AE: Your work also captures moments of haptic experience — touches, embraces and the feelings that they evoke. But it does so using a digital medium that deprives us of tactile engagement. How can we sustain infrathin experience in a world divorced from touch? 

DK: This is the paradox of something untouchable that nonetheless elicits the intimacy of a moment in time. I have an image called The Moment Before the Kiss, which extends the interaction of a moment invested deeply with emotion. As an artist, it’s hard to move your audience, and sometimes one feels inclined to exaggerate a pose or a gesture. But one must find the right medium with which to concentrate on that which is minimal in a way that registers with the audience. 

Dajana Krüger, Spinning Communion — Inwards, 2021/2022. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Monica Ruppert

AE: It seems that for you the endless loop is a way of concentrating emotion, but is it not also a way of numbing that emotion to the point where it is meaningless, which is something that digital experience is eminently capable of.

DK: Spinning Communion is based on circles and an endless loop of characters rotating around the viewer. Together, they are like a solar system but one born of human imperfection. One figure might be trying too hard, for instance, which creates empathy with the viewer. Many of my models tell me that it’s the first time they’ve used their body in this way.

In the end, they’re living sculptures.

During the pandemic, it was not normal to touch another individual. The act of bringing people together was therefore unusually charged. Of course, we had to be careful, wearing masks and doing COVID tests. But ultimately the project was a way to re-feel the closeness of other humans.

Dajana Krüger, Spinning Communion — The Invisible Lie, 2021/2022. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Monica Ruppert

AE: It seems that you’re trying to humanize digital media at a moment when humans are increasingly cyborg. 

DK: I’ve always worked to create art with people. The NFT was a way to find value in a different context. My moving images are like real holograms, but the challenge now is to find new technologies with which to document people and collaborate with them. We are losing something by engaging with AR, VR, and social media. I want to find a way of keeping it real at a time when we can no longer tell what is real or not. As technology evolves, people are changing. But for me, the physical and digital worlds exist in dialog. We need to preserve a diversity of cultures, emotions, and feelings within the digital condition. But the artwork is also about collaboration. My models are joined in physical space and, because of this, they will never forget the experience. 

If everything happened on the computer, we would lose our humanity.

We are so used to being “connected” with everyone that we no longer value real connections. In Web3, we have to return to our senses.

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Dajana Krüger is a digital and video artist based in New York. Her genesis NFT project, Spinning Communion (2021/22), uses a 360-degree process to explore human nature and emotion through what she calls “real holograms.” Before studying time-based media at the University of Applied Sciences in Mainz, Germany, she worked as a professional photographer, receiving worldwide attention for her photo series, “Our Generation” (2013) and “Real Prettiness” (2014).  

Alex Estorick is Editor-in-Chief at Right Click Save.