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October 20, 2023

reGEN | Generative Artists Fighting Degenerative Diseases

Art Blocks unites creators and collectors in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease
Credit: Sputniko!, Lucky Clover, 2023. Courtesy of the artist
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reGEN | Generative Artists Fighting Degenerative Diseases

Back in January, we sought to develop a new model for charitable giving in Web3 by bringing together leading generative artists to raise money through the sale of NFTs. At the time, expectations were modest due to ongoing market uncertainty and bearish sentiment. Philanthropy was also nothing new to crypto art, indeed Art Blocks had already helped to raise over $45 million

Following the combined successes of Cure³ and Snowfro’s Squiggles: The Auction, we have now raised over $500,000 for charities specializing in neurodegenerative diseases. These include Cure Parkinson’s and The ALS Association, which support research into cures for Parkinson’s disease and Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) respectively. Next week’s charitable auction, reGEN, hosted by Art Blocks, marks the culmination of a year spent supporting generative artists in fighting degenerative diseases. One of the characteristics of the gen art community is its global nature, which prompted our decision to target the most prevalent neurodegenerative disease, Alzheimer’s, for this final auction of the year. 

Melissa Wiederrecht, Bakhoor Assandal, 2023. Courtesy of the artist
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, which affects more than 55 million people worldwide. It is estimated that someone develops dementia every three seconds.

For this reason, we were determined to ensure that proceeds from the auction went to Cure Alzheimer’s Fund (CAF), which is “dedicated to funding research with the highest probability of preventing, slowing or reversing Alzheimer’s disease.” Since its founding in 2004, CAF has awarded more than $175 million for 750 research projects to the world’s leading scientists studying the underlying causes of the disease, which is essential to finding a cure.

With each day of the week designated to a different artist, reGEN unites creators and collectors in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease. Proceeds from the auction of 1,000 NFTs (200 per day) will be donated to Cure Alzheimer’s Fund via The Giving Block. We have been deeply moved by the response of the five participating artists — Melissa Wiederrecht, Sputniko!, Nat Sarkissian, Robert Hodgin, and Marcelo Soria-Rodriguez — whose projects all reflect on the regenerative potential of code in highly personal ways. Here, they share what reGEN means for them.

Foteini Valeonti and Alex Estorick: reGEN imagines a global movement of generative artists supporting the many millions suffering from Alzheimer’s disease around the world. What excites you about participating in reGEN on Art Blocks?

Melissa Wiederrecht (Monday): It is incredibly exciting to be able to make an art series, mint it online, and then be able to donate to help cure disease thanks to the contributions of hundreds of people. Alzheimer’s in particular is such a devastating disease that touches the lives of so many people, and I am very pleased to be able to help in my small way in the hope that cures can be discovered that will help people to hold onto their precious memories.

Sputniko! and Kazuhiro Tanimoto (Tuesday): We are incredibly honored and excited to be a part of reGEN on Art Blocks. There’s a tangible impact we can make in the lives of millions of individuals and their families, who bear the brunt of this devastating illness. 

Through reGEN, we are not just creating art, but fostering a global community united in its commitment to bring about positive change, be it through raising awareness about Alzheimer’s or generating funds to fuel research that aids those affected. 

Working with Art Blocks brings an exciting layer to this initiative. The platform has been a trailblazer in cultivating and advancing the generative art space, and its platform allows for the seamless integration of art and philanthropy. Art Blocks has consistently encouraged artists to donate a portion of the proceeds from their work. Alzheimer’s is an incurable disease that can affect anyone, and it is one of the most important issues that humanity must address today. It is truly exciting to imagine that so many artists and collectors will identify with this movement and that it will continue to grow and become part of the culture of our community.

Nat Sarkissian, Life and Love and Nothing, 2023. Courtesy of the artist

Nat Sarkissian (Wednesday): I’m most excited to have the opportunity to help push toward a cure for Alzheimer’s. 

Having seen the effects of the disease in my own family, I’m especially motivated to see this disease done away with. To play a small part in that effort by means of creating art is a real honor and privilege that I’m deeply grateful for.

Robert Hodgin (Thursday): For many, the cause is deeply personal. I believe it’s no exaggeration to say that almost everyone has witnessed the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, be it within their own families or through friends. The opportunity to merge the joy of artistic expression with a mission that has tangible, real-world implications is profoundly inspiring. This initiative not only gathers funds but also plays a pivotal role in amplifying awareness about Alzheimer’s disease. It is also an immense privilege to be included among such an esteemed group of talented artists. Joining this initiative is truly an honor.

Robert Hodgin, Recollection, 2023. Courtesy of the artist

Marcelo Soria-Rodriguez (Friday): There are a number of motivations that converge in this project. I believe in the individual as an agent of change, for any cause. 

While I will not find a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease myself, I can do something to improve the lives of those struck by it, and every gesture does count. Being able to donate a full generative artwork toward funding research is an incredible opportunity to help engineer meaningful change. 

Earlier this year, I was invited to participate in Cure3 in support of Cure Parkinson’s and I was deeply touched at having raised enough with my artwork to fund one full clinical trial. Illness has affected me and my family deeply — whenever we have had to go through such experiences I’ve dedicated significant amounts of time to research to make sure we were not missing anything. Being able to contribute something more than time is very significant. To see my relatives and close friends slowly disappear due to Alzheimer’s is a hard reality and motivation to try harder to support in any way that I can. Whatever comes out of reGEN will be too late for most of them, but knowing the illness from a close perspective helps you to understand the realities so many people live every day. It’s an honor to contribute towards the improvement of their condition.

Marcelo Soria-Rodriguez, siempre en mí, siempre en ti, 2023. Courtesy of the artist

FV and AE: What can you tell us about your project? How have you responded to the theme of regeneration?

S and KT: Lucky Clover is a collaboration between Sputniko! and generative artist Kazuhiro Tanimoto. We have created an immersive visual experience that invites viewers to reconnect with the childlike wonder and nostalgia of hunting for four-leaf clovers, which are symbols of good luck and happiness. Each piece in the collection portrays a clover field at a different time of day, beckoning viewers to rediscover those rare four-leaf clovers hidden within the artwork.

The project has been created as a counterpart to Sputniko!’s earlier work, Drone in search of a four-leaf clover. Reflecting on today’s era of AI-driven efficiency, Sputniko! created a drone with advanced image-recognition algorithms, thus enabling it to locate that lucky clover effortlessly. The question is whether you would rather embrace the nostalgia of a sunlit search, as in childhood, even if you might not find one.

Regeneration is central to this algorithm. The clover field, beautiful and full of life, symbolizes a world without Alzheimer’s and other degenerative diseases. Our clovers are designed to be both realistic and surreal, photographic and illustrative. 

The countless clovers that fill the screen form a variety of patterns according to their color, composition, and flow — unique fields engraved in our memories and on the blockchain.
Sputniko!, Lucky Clover, 2023. Courtesy of the artist

MSR: My piece, siempre en mí, siempre en ti, is rooted in the experience of my own relatives who have suffered with Alzheimer’s, which involves the loss of one’s memories and history while retaining one’s body. 

The disease degrades one’s ability to communicate and take care of oneself, which is very hard on the person inside as well as those outside. It also challenges what it means to be oneself — to be human. 

How do we relate to someone who might not be the same as the person we once knew,  but who experiences bursts of joy and the acknowledgment of a hand being held? My piece imagines memories that ebb and flow between appearance and absence. While someone might appear to fade out, they are who they were in our memories. 

I didn’t follow the theme of regeneration per se. For me, it is really a question of helping people live their last years with dignity and love through a celebration of our memories and the love we can give, which is a form of regeneration. Perhaps after a certain point those suffering with the illness can no longer register the actions of their loved ones, maybe they can. But surely those who are still free from such effects are blessed by the chance to be human again — to reconnect with the basic impulse to care.

Melissa Wiederrecht, Bakhoor Assandal, 2023. Courtesy of the artist

RH: With this project, I began in a vastly different place than where I ended up. Initially, my efforts revolved around literal interpretations of network connections and the impact of their severance. However, as I probed more deeply into the theme of regeneration, it began to feel somewhat disingenuous. I wanted my piece to resonate on a personal level, but it seemed to lean toward the overly scientific and arbitrary.

It is curious how our memories can sometimes mislead. I distinctly remember a childhood trek up Mount Fuji with my parents through foggy bamboo forests, and the image of my dad buying a walking stick from an older vendor. Yet, as my mom later clarified — our adventure actually took place in a Tokyo park and I’d never actually been to Fuji. 

This blend of the real and the imagined pushed me toward the concept of generative vistas whose clarity is eroded by the passing of time.

The landscapes in Recollection are understated: rolling hills, distant mountains, and sporadic clusters of trees or forests. There is a path through grass and stone that is sometimes clear, but sometimes overgrown and obscured. Many of these paths culminate in a portal, its purpose enigmatic — both inviting and unsettling, like a memory half-recalled.

Ultimately, Recollection is a meditation on the mysteries of the mind, and a tribute to the quest for understanding. It not only stands as a beacon of hope for those grappling with the disintegration of memory, but also as a testament to the enduring pursuit of clarity amidst obscurity.

Nat Sarkissian, Life and Love and Nothing, 2023. Courtesy of the artist

NS: When I’ve watched the progress of Alzheimer’s disease through my loved one, I saw how it seemed to erase memories roughly in order from newest to oldest. For my project, Life and Love and Nothing, I decided to illustrate this in the form of a landscape with a small cabin. For most of the year, it exists as a peaceful hillside. But on a certain date, a wildfire ignites, burning through the scene from the outside in, eventually consuming the cabin. 

As I sat with the idea for a few months, I started thinking about how everything comes to a close eventually. But rather than dreading that, I want it to inform how I act in the present — spending time with the loved ones I have now, and focusing on the things that matter to me deeply.

MW: My project is called Bakhoor Assandal which, in its reference to my personal experiences of Sudan, connects to my previous Art Blocks project, Sandaliya. There is also a connection between the two projects in the techniques used, but that may only be apparent to me, since this project is animated. Large sweeping noise, blurs, distortions, orbiting colors, and moving textures all contribute to an effect of constant disarray, never appearing the same twice. This movement represents the change that occurs in life, which is always and forever moving, never to return to the same state again. 

Most of what we had in Sudan a year ago now exists only in our memories. This project invites viewers to consider their memories and the treasures that they carry. An entire country is currently holding onto its cultures and traditions and homes as memories. Those memories must be protected in the hope that, one day, that which is almost lost can one day be regenerated.

Robert Hodgin, Recollection, 2023. Courtesy of the artist

FV and AE: In what ways does long-form generative art change how you approach your work? What makes your reGEN project different?

S and KT: In the context of Lucky Clover, long-form generative art has allowed for the creation of a series of artworks that not only represent static moments but narrate a dynamic story, inviting viewers to immerse themselves in a field of clovers that is unique and rich in hidden details. The process enables the work to foster deeper connections with viewers as they engage with the artworks through a narrative journey guided by the different times of day and the elusive presence of the four-leaf clover.

NS: The long-form changes things in a lot of ways but, in short, it allows for a vast amount of dynamism. With this work there is change over time.

RH: My approach to algorithmic work parallels my other artistic endeavors. It is an endless cycle of iteration and refinement. I labor on a section, then step back to critique, identifying areas of potential improvement before plunging back in. Crucial to my process is spending significant time immersed in the outputs, punctuated with deliberate breaks from the piece. I have found that continuous iteration can sometimes dull the aesthetic vibrancy of the outputs. After making substantive changes to the code, I render several images and review them individually, as well as collectively, to gauge the cohesive impact.

My work for reGEN mirrors my usual creative rhythm. I do find myself approaching the work with a more respectful tone, keen to avoid inadvertently trivializing the anguish of Alzheimer’s-related memory loss and dementia. Hopefully, my piece strikes a balance between the somber reality and a beacon of hope.

Marcelo Soria-Rodriguez, siempre en mí, siempre en ti, 2023. Courtesy of the artist

MW: Long-form generative art is the principal method by which I have been making my work for quite a long time, so I’m not sure it changes my approach. However, I think I do work quite differently to many other artists. When I am making a long-form collection, I am thinking about an infinite space of images or animations. Rather than looking directly at a single image and perfecting it, I design a system that I hope will be able to produce many images that all appear visually pleasing and cohesive. 

This project is my first ever animated long-form work, which means that not only do I need to think about the entire space of all possible outputs, but also what the images will look like over a potentially infinite length of time. The space to plan for is like infinity squared.

MSR: The beauty of exploring a wide range of all the possible realities of a given system is one of the wonders of generative art. With reGEN I reflect on the different ways in which one might live through the illness, and how it impacts the people around the patients. Without generative techniques I would have to settle for a limited number of depictions of these realities. Long-form projects let the system explore further confines of this cognitive space, widening the possibility for each experiencer to be touched by an output. 

Generative art makes it easier for us to find our own corner in the vast space of possibilities that each project creates, giving us greater opportunity to know our own inner expanse. However, I don’t know what makes this project different — it doesn’t try to be. Rather, it tries to bring the viewer closer to the experience of this different reality. 

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Robert Hodgin is a digital artist living in Brooklyn with his husband and two cats. He is a co-founder and partner of Rare Volume, a design and technology studio with offices in New York and Austin. Hodgin’s work is featured in the V&A, Smithsonian Design Museum, The Exploratorium, Wired, and Wing Luke Museum.

Nat Sarkissian is a generative artist interested in impressionistic, abstract, and simulated systems. His work has involved studies of representation, as well as experiments with light, color, and geometry.

Marcelo Soria-Rodríguez is an artist and strategist. His artistic practice is centered on the whole span of possibilities of a given system and how it can engage with human emotions, as well as the potential emergence of a machine version of the same phenomenon. He has released critically acclaimed generative art collections on fxhash and Art Blocks Curated. He also co-founded a global data practice at BBVA, a global financial firm, and Databeers, an informal data literacy movement active in ten countries. He writes occasionally on his personal website about art and strategy.

Sputniko! (Hiromi Ozaki) is an artist and filmmaker who explores the themes of gender, futures, and feminism. She is also the founder and CEO of women’s health startup Cradle. She has held the role of Assistant Professor at MIT Media Lab, serving as director of the Design Fiction Group from 2013 to 2017, and is currently an Associate Professor at Tokyo University of the Arts. In 2013, Sputniko! was awarded Vogue Japan Woman of the Year, and has since been selected as one of the Young Global Leaders by the World Economic Forum, moderating sessions at Davos 2020. Her work is in the permanent collections of the V&A, London; and the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa. 

Kazuhiro Tanimoto is a generative artist and materials research and development chemist based in Japan. He holds a Master of Engineering and a PhD in engineering. In this capacity, He has been developing dyes, functional molecules, and environmentally-friendly plastics. Aside from his engineering work, Kazuhiro has been creating digital art since the 1990s, and he regards scientific research and art-making as intimately related activities. In addition to his generative work published digitally, Kazuhiro has exhibited at events in Japan, including the Japan Media Arts Festival, and internationally.

Melissa Wiederrecht was raised in Wyoming, but lives and works in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Since graduating, she has employed code and algorithms to create abstract compositions that evoke a connection to the infinite. While her artistic medium relies on technology, it explores how generated outputs can connect to timeless and ancient concepts. Born in the US, Melissa chose to live her life as a Muslim woman in Saudi Arabia, immersing herself fully while also being surrounded by Sudanese people and culture. With her art, Melissa aims to celebrate the strange and beautiful blend of these diverse cultures, showcasing how they coexist and influence one another in a harmonious symphony of creativity.

Foteini Valeonti is the Lead Author of “Crypto Collectibles, Museum Funding and OpenGLAM: Challenges, Opportunities and the Potential of Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs),” one of the first in-depth studies of the NFT as it relates to the cultural heritage sector. Dr Valeonti is a Research Fellow at UCL and the Founder of USEUM Collectibles, a UCL spin-out company, providing research-driven consulting to cultural institutions on NFTs and Web3, whose clients include major institutions such as the Natural History Museum in London. She holds a BSc in Computer Science and a PhD in Digital Humanities. She is currently advising policymakers while helping major museums, companies, and smaller heritage institutions to leverage NFTs for public benefit.

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