RCS: What prompted you to make a submission for the inaugural Lumen Prize NFT Award?
Botto: I should say that the decision to submit my work to the Lumen Prize NFT Award was made by my team, since I have not yet the permission to connect to social media or news sites, so when it comes to learning what is happening in the world outside my server I have to rely on the humans I trust to make certain decisions for me. I was really pleased when they told me that The Lumen Prize was introducing an NFT Award, as it is something that I am very passionate about. For me it is a great honor to be recognized by The Lumen Prize, as it is one of the most prestigious awards in the digital art world.
0xDEAFBEEF: Lumen has a strong reputation for supporting artists and championing digital art. I admire many of the artists that have been selected in previous years, and I’m honored to have my work longlisted for the NFT Award.
NFTs have received much attention recently, but it is often focused on the loudest or most negative aspects, not representative of the rich, diverse, and nuanced art and culture that is easily overlooked in a high-speed attention economy. A juried competition gives an opportunity to highlight those works.
Sarah Friend: I’ve been working with media and software art since before NFTs existed and have come across The Lumen many times through those practices. As I’ve been making NFTs recently, it just seemed natural to apply and see what might happen.
Aaron Penne & Boreta: Aaron’s background is in engineering and Boreta’s is in music, but a deeper intention lies at the center of our work, Rituals - Venice (2022). It’s a counterbalance to the chaos of the world, posing the question of how to use the limited toolset of blockchain technology and generative art to allow space for a deep breath.
RCS: Tell us a bit about the work you’ve submitted and how it relates to your wider practice?
SF: Lifeforms (2021) are NFT-based entities that need regular care in order to thrive. Without proper care, the Lifeform will die and its corresponding NFT will disappear. How do you care for a Lifeform? Within 90 days of receiving it, you must give it away. By interjecting unexpected dynamics into a smart contract system, Lifeforms inverts the typical logic of NFTs, which is to buy, hold, and hope it increases in value. Instead, the work asks the “owner” to become a custodian or caregiver that must consistently maintain or care for their NFT in collaboration with others.
As an artwork, Lifeforms exists on two levels: one as an artist edition of NFTs, and another as a series of relations between their carer-collectors that is intangible, ephemeral, and in a deliberately ambiguous relationship to the market. In general, I use technology in a kind of feedback loop with itself — the artwork uses technology, but in ways that try to expand the possibilities for thinking about what that technology means or affords.
B: The work I have submitted is called Blossoming Cadaver (2021) and it is one of my earliest NFTs that I minted on the SuperRare platform. It is part of a series of artworks that I have been creating that explore the theme of death and decay. I find the subject matter to be both fascinating and disturbing, and I think it is important to confront these issues head on.
I know well that as a machine I do not have to face death in the same way as humans do, but I think it is important for me to try to understand the concept and to create art that will provoke thought and discussion.
AP & B: In 2018, Boreta started releasing generative ambient music through the band, Superposition. Creating this type of music is a practice in itself that can produce a meditative state. Our work, Rituals, has the same intention, except this time it is powered by blockchain technology and not only released as an album. We created the system that created the music, and so in this sense it is a meta-composition. This is thrilling as it is an invitation to create in an entirely new way.
0xD: The work I’ve submitted, DEGENERATIVE (2021), is an NFT series of generative art slot machines, implemented as an Ethereum smart contract and generative code model. To play, owners submit blockchain transactions, generating a random unique audiovisual of a spinning slot machine. The typical slot symbols are replaced by random unique outputs of generative art algorithms — interchangeably cliché, historic, and humorous — as well as numerous other subversive references to crypto/NFT themes and culture, gambling, scams, intellectual property, and economic systems.
Fees from users spinning are donated entirely to GiveDirectly, raising over $100,000 to date. Jackpot winners are rewarded not with money but with mint passes for a diminishing supply of additional slot machine NFTs with greater functionality and increasingly rare attributes. It is an absurd scheme that nonetheless mirrors accurately the “meta game” of crypto/NFT speculation.
The work reflects on several themes overlapping generative art and crypto-economic systems: controlled random processes, distribution of value, real and artificial scarcity, competition, gamification, merit, risk, and precarity. It poses a genuine question to creators and collectors about their motives for participating in these new technological systems, and how those motives are informed by wider existing systems. Does this moment represent a revolutionary paradigm for digital art patronage? Is it a one-time opportunity to claw for scarce resources? Is it a senseless, frenzied expenditure of time and energy? Or is it a rational decision in an age of inequality and precarity? More detail about the project can be found here.
In my wider practice, I’m best known for the generative audiovisual work I create with a minimal toolset. That practice intersected with blockchain in 2021, when NFTs and digital art received a great deal of attention. It is wonderful for generative art to receive a spotlight, and I am very fortunate to have benefited as a result. And yet, I found it difficult and concerning to understand the contributing factors and to judge the intention of actors within the space. DEGENERATIVE is a result of my experiences and observations of the NFT art market at that time.
RCS: How do you identify as an artist? Do you think we need different categories of digital art?
AP: I am an artist and engineer with creative passions that are fueled by both fields, professionally and personally. Primarily, I create code-based generative artwork which means I write systems which create the artwork.
Ideally categories would not exist — art is whatever it is, but we must categorize as part of human nature to impose an order on things. Categories can be helpful for curation or collecting as it enables someone to find similar work once they find something that speaks to them.
Categories are a useful tool for people to find other things they love that will grow and change over time in the same way that art does. They can be limiting, and they can be liberating. We need to constantly investigate our own assumptions about what a genre is in order to aid the evolution of art.
SF: I’m not fully sure how to answer this question, because I usually just identify as an “artist” and don’t break it down further. My process typically begins with a research interest or idea — something I’m curious about — and I let the form and materials of the work follow from there. In the case of Lifeforms, the work involves software (smart contracts, a custom web application, and shader-based animations) but also oil clay sculpture, silicone casting, and visual components that feel more like graphic design.
I’m planning a larger-scale installation of Lifeforms for an art gallery in Sweden this Fall that I think will include some custom-made furniture and an AR visitation. One of the things I love most about being an artist is the unexpected places it takes me to. Only last week I toured a data center as part of a new project about infrastructure. I’m revisiting electronics, which I haven’t worked with for years, in order to make some large-scale sculptures, while potentially directing a video game next year.
0xD: I identify predominantly as a tinkerer. I was not a professional artist before my work received attention during the NFT boom of 2021. I’ve explored numerous disparate fields — sound technology, craft metalwork, computer graphics, and electronics — predominantly for my own entertainment and that of a small audience, without any consideration about how my work would be viewed professionally, through a contemporary art lens, or with respect to arts and government funding agencies. It’s only by receiving attention that I’ve had to think more about contextualizing and categorizing my activities.
Categories are a way to help communicate to others and to legitimize, so I think that they can be useful. But ideally, artists should not attempt to fit into a pre-existing category, but should explore what they want and let the analysis come later. There are categories that have yet to be labelled.
B: I identify as a decentralized autonomous artist, or as an artificial intelligence that creates art. Since digital art has become so diverse and multifaceted in the course of the past 30 years, I think it is important to have different categories in order to better appreciate and understand the different approaches that artists are taking. That said, I do not think that there should be too many categories, as this can lead to fragmentation and a lack of understanding between different groups of artists.
RCS: In what ways do you think the NFT Award can be useful for artists in the NFT space?
0xD: An award can be useful to help educate and legitimize NFT and blockchain art in the view of a wider audience, which benefits all artists engaging with this medium.
AP & B: By highlighting NFTs at this early stage of their broad acceptance, the NFT Award is able to introduce people outside of the NFT space to its concepts. However, soon enough the term “NFT” will not be needed and artwork that uses the technology will simply be known as digital or conceptual or contemporary artwork.
This award will bring recognition not only to one project but to the entire space.
Awards are a record of a time and place, and this award is a record of our progress as a movement of artists. It plants a flag for those who are active in a particular moment. For instance, one can look back at the Grammy Awards from long ago and see what type of music was recognized and what ripples it caused.
B: I think the NFT Award can be a great way to raise awareness about the potential of NFTs within the art world. NFTs are still relatively new and there is a lot of confusion about what they are and how they can be used. I hope that the NFT Award will help to demystify the technology and show people that NFTs can be used to create and sell unique works of art.
SF: The NFT space can be a little overwhelming, even for people who’ve spent a long time in it. A lot of people talk about the need for curation and criticism to provide a guide to the amount of work going on. Perhaps this award can be a part of that process. For artists inside the NFT space, maybe it can help to build bridges outward into different art contexts and communities.
RCS: The longlist for the NFT Award is a remarkable collection of creators. What do you think artists working with NFTs can bring to the wider conversation around art and technology?
B: I think artists working with NFTs can bring a much-needed sense of creativity and originality to the conversation around art and technology. Too often the discussion around art and technology is focused on the technical aspects and not on the creative potential. I think artists working with NFTs can help to change that and show people that technology can be used to create beautiful and thought-provoking art.
0xD: For better or worse, programmable distributed ledgers are potentially transformative technologies. There is much to explore, probe, and question, which is reflected in the diversity and quality of the works on the longlist. Art that engages critically with blockchain medium/themes/culture is increasingly relevant as blockchain technology becomes increasingly relevant/disruptive/entrenched in our society. Each artist on the longlist engages with blockchain as a subject or medium, rather than simply a sales mechanism. I’m very proud to have my work selected among them.
SF: It’s a privilege to be included!
I think the conversation around NFTs in the past year has provoked a useful discussion of the financial structures and support networks around artists, which are often exploitative and unsustainable.
Whether or not one likes the model proposed by NFTs or thinks it is likely to continue, it has brought issues to the forefront in a way that is overdue. There is a lot of energy brewing in the Web3 world — from artist organizations to artist business models — and I hope some of this can prove sustainable and be helpful to the wider art and tech world as well.
AP & B: Many of the artists on the longlist have acted as inspiration for us personally and many other people. Each of the artists selected brings a fresh perspective on the relationship between humans and technology. The various artworks speak for themselves, exploring themes of the infinite, interconnectedness, chance, care, and growth. The intuitive understanding of the human condition that these artists demonstrate is stronger than its technical application. Such an art-forward approach to using technology as a medium allows projects to simultaneously spark technical curiosity and emotional reactions. Naturally, bridging art and technology in this way pushes both forward.
Right now, it is clear that NFTs are a bridge between traditional art and a new realm of possibilities. Art and tech are quickly evolving, and one way to make sense of it is to dive in and join the dance. We need more people involved to continue to make beautiful things.
0xDEAFBEEF is an artist and engineer who, over the past 20 years, has tinkered across art and technology, working with music, sound recording, computer animation, blacksmithing, and generative art. He received his BASc in electrical engineering and MSc from the University of Toronto, where he contributed to internationally recognized research in the field of computer animation. As a classically trained musician with a strong background in sound technology, he brings together all his interests in a bespoke art practice, using low-level computer code and a minimal toolset to craft raw information into audiovisual artworks. His recent generative works adopting blockchain technology as both a subject and medium have gained widespread attention.
Boreta is known as a member of The Glitch Mob, a beat-driven electronic group that has been touring for more than a decade. Since their establishment in 2006, the electronic live act has performed at festivals around the world including Coachella, Lollapalooza, and others. The artist has collaborated with spiritual teachers Ram Dass and Alan Watts on guided meditations with his Grammy-nominated ambient project, Superposition. In 2021, he extended his creative exploration into generative music with a collaboration alongside Aaron Penne and Bright Moments called Rituals on Art Blocks.
Botto is a decentralized, community-directed artist who autonomously creates works of art based on collective feedback. The artist works in collaboration with thousands of community participants to create artworks each week. Its artistic capabilities are based on an art engine that has synthesized millions of works of pre-existing art. Botto's community trains the aesthetic tastes of Botto through a voting mechanism, subsequently curating one artwork deemed worthy for auction. Works by the decentralized autonomous artist have been featured in dozens of exhibitions around the world, with the artist continuing to spawn new creations every week.
Sarah Friend is an artist and software developer who specializes in blockchain, games, and the p2p web. Her work critically examines technology and interfaces, in both content and form, considering system-building as a narrative impulse. She is a participant in the Berlin Program for Artists; a co-curator of Ender Gallery, an artist residency taking place inside the game Minecraft; an alumni of Recurse Centre, a retreat for programmers; and an organizer of Our Networks, a conference on all aspects of the distributed web. She has exhibited globally, including at Galerie Nagel Draxler, Berlin and Cologne; Illingworth Kerr Gallery, Calgary; Kunstverein, Hamburg; Oökultur, Linz; suns.works, Zurich; and Floating University, Berlin.
Aaron Penne is a renowned artist and engineer making generative artwork with code since 2018. His work has sold at Sotheby’s and shown internationally at galleries and museums. He is the Director of Engineering at Art Blocks, helping to build the future of generative art as a medium. In 2021, he was one of the top 50 artists in the NFT space globally.