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August 25, 2022

The Lumen Prize Artists | Part 2

RCS speaks to the creators longlisted for the Lumen Prize NFT Award
Credit: “Lumen Matrix” at Today Art Museum, 2017. Courtesy of The Lumen Prize
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The Lumen Prize Artists | Part 2

RCS: What prompted you to make a submission for the inaugural Lumen Prize NFT Award?

Simon de la Rouviere: I saw it being promoted by Right Click Save and wanted to participate. Given that much of my artistic practice attempts to use the medium in novel ways, I appreciate that there is a prize that specifically focuses on the intersection of art and technology.

Damjanski: Each year, I enjoy looking at the longlist, shortlist, and winners of The Lumen Prize. The selection always feels fresh and it’s a great representation of what different artists from all over the world care about. The judges are doing incredible work to give art that lives online its right and deserved spotlight. Christiane Paul’s comment about “supporting and acknowledging artists who creatively use the blockchain as a medium rather than as a sales mechanism” inspired the final push to submit my work, Unhuman Compositions (2022), this year.

Harm van den Dorpel: As a long-standing prize in the field of art and technology, I appreciate that Lumen has opened this new category for NFTs. 

Given that Lumen is coming from the art world and not the crypto world, it shows a maturing of crypto art as a recognized art form.
Harm van den Dorpel, Mutant Garden Seeder, 2021. Courtesy of the artist

Cai Guo-Qiang: Early on in the 45-day journey, Your Daytime Fireworks (2022), a collector was so enjoying our twice-daily firework reveals that he produced his own fan art for the project, shared with TRLab’s Discord community. More than 30 other participants joined in over the next weeks, creating everything from videos to wall murals to delicate ink drawings. Touched by the enthusiasm of the collectors who were also creators, I created a special NFT artwork titled, Imagine This (2022), for the fans of this project. The spontaneous creativity and joy in their artworks — which were all inspired in some way by the shapes, colors, sounds, and cultural symbols revealed through my virtual fireworks — confirmed to me that the community and I had created something very special with Your Daytime Fireworks. For everyone in the community, I think it is worth a shot to make a submission for the inaugural Lumen Prize NFT Award.

Audrey Ou, CEO, TRLab: As our third and most ambitious NFT project with Cai, Your Daytime Fireworks far exceeded our aspirations. By being recognized for the inaugural Lumen Prize NFT award, we hope to elevate this as a successful model for how artists and platforms can integrate arts education, interactivity, and community into an NFT art collecting experience.

Cai Guo-Qiang & TRLab, Your Daytime Fireworks, 2022. Courtesy of the artist and TRLab

RCS: Tell us a bit about the work you’ve submitted and how it relates to your wider practice?

HVDD: Mutant Garden Seeder (2021) was the culmination of my enduring obsession with generative aesthetics, genetics, and blockchain. These topics have been boiling in my practice for many years, but only last year did it seem that the time was right, and contexts started to emerge in which that work would be recognized.

D: Unhuman Compositions builds on top of previous works such as Bye Bye Camera — a mobile photography application that automatically removes any person from the picture, or the LongARcat app that creates long cats in augmented reality. In all of these works I am exploring the concept of apps as artworks. I use these apps as tools to create new pieces like the “Nude Studies” series, where I portray friends and colleagues in their studios with the Bye Bye Camera. At the same time, everyone has access to these apps and can create whatever they have in mind.

In Unhuman Compositions, my first decentralized app (dapp), I am merging these two streams and inviting people into the creation process. It’s a participatory generative photography artwork. People are invited to explore the abstraction of our physical world through a generative algorithm. Each captured photo will be translated into a geometric arrangement of vivid colors on black. These compositions are based on an algorithm that detects objects within the photograph. The reduction of information creates an abstraction that reveals a synthetic structure underlying our natural surroundings.

Every participant creates their own subjective version and interpretation of an Unhuman Composition that will be added to the collection and is fully stored and rendered on the Ethereum blockchain. The blockchain gives each composition permanency and each creator ownership of their creation. It ties everyone together in a wider performance that is recorded on the blockchain.

Damjanski, Unhuman Compositions, 2022. Courtesy of the artist

CGQ: I am constantly in the pursuit of creative breakthroughs. The experience of working with TRLab and experimenting with NFTs has made me appreciate at first hand the special importance of community engagement in the NFT world, which resonates with diverse aspects of my art methodology. [This has involved] working with different cultural and regional communities around the world over the years, inviting audiences to participate in the making of my artworks, and transforming this process into an integral part of the works [by] creating firework events that attract hundreds of millions of viewers on-site and online. Perhaps there are still untapped possibilities yet to be discovered? This is how Your Daytime Fireworks came into being.

TRL: For decades, Cai has been internationally acclaimed for his innovative use of gunpowder in the creation of everything from intimate-scale self-portraits to grand “explosion events” including the Beijing Olympics ceremonies in 2008 and 2022, and his magnum opus, Sky Ladder (2015), which became the subject of a popular documentary on Netflix. For Your Daytime Fireworks the artist created ninety different variations of virtual fireworks displays, incorporating real shapes and sounds from his IRL practice. To create their own virtual fireworks displays, participants first learned the nuances of Cai’s practice, mastering real-world variables like weather conditions, wind speed, and local regulations, before “igniting” their own virtual firework packet NFTs to reveal their collectible daytime firework. In this way, the project allows participants to experience the same anxieties, unforeseen surprises, and joy that the artist does in his unusual and unpredictable choice of medium.  

Simon de la Rouviere, This Artwork is Always On Sale, 2019/2021. Courtesy of the artist

SDLR: I’ve always been interested in using blockchain technology to reimagine how it could support creators. This led to a long rabbit hole exploring the new economics of the platform from 2015 onwards. This Artwork Is Always On Sale (2019/2021) is an example of this, inspired by Glen Weyl and Eric Posner’s book, Radical Markets (2018). The work uses a scheme whereby the owner has to value what they own. Being taxed on the sale price results in an NFT that is consistently on sale, always priced, and that supports a creator or creators through the tax revenue. 

I’ve done other projects that use novel economics schemes, such as Neolastics — the first generative art project that uses a bonding curve. They all try to reimagine art and to use the unique particularities of the medium — programmable accounts and programmable money — in the service of creating new conceptual art and to reimagine how creators can get paid through it. 

I’m quite proud of This Artwork Is Always On Sale because it’s one of the few artworks that actually enforces on-chain royalties, doesn’t exclude others from owning the NFT, and manages to help support my future work in the space through the tax I collect from it.

Harm van den Dorpel, Mutant Garden Seeder, 2021. Courtesy of the artist

RCS: How do you identify as an artist? Do you think we need different categories of digital art?

D: I remember when I coded my first artist site and had to write something about myself, there was not really a label or category that felt like a good fit. Most of it felt very limiting. So I simply wrote “an artist living in a browser” on my site. 15 years later, it still feels like the best fit. I don’t think we need more categories — the term “artist” is broad enough to encapsulate anything that is out there. Plus the meaning is constantly expanded by the people who create new art.

TRL: While most people know of Cai as a gunpowder artist, his work actually covers multiple disciplines and he often supplements his own practice by collaborating with philosophers, feng shui masters, Chinese medicine practitioners, fashion designers, architects, and scientists. 

Just as physical art can be interdisciplinary, digital art is now evolving beyond easy categorization, and collectively we have the opportunity to recognize and celebrate its many different forms.

SDLR: I’m primarily a storyteller. I’ve also written a novel and am currently editing and producing science fiction, while music has been a constant passion since I was a teenager. My art practice is therefore one of the many disciplines I enjoy as a medium for telling stories. Within digital art, there are myriad media that do require unique categorization in order to distinguish and appreciate what they can do. Even with NFTs, you have 10K PFP (Profile Picture) collections living alongside works like 0xDEAFBEEF’s Entropy (2021). They are totally different things and say different things. They tell different stories. Different categories help push the exploration space.

HVDD: Net artist, internet artist, post-internet artist, crypto artist, NFT artist — none of these I identify strongly with, but I’m also not against them. If I needed to pick a name it would simply be “contemporary artist” or “software artist.”

Cai Guo-Qiang and TRLab, Your Daytime Fireworks, 2022. Courtesy of the artist and TRLab

RCS: In what ways do you think the NFT Award can be useful for artists in the NFT space?

TRL: For such a young space it is a very crowded one, and juried prizes like the Lumen Prize are a wonderful way to give visibility to artists doing best-in-class work. Just as in the physical art world, it is important to have mechanisms for recognizing and celebrating talent that are not linked solely to commercial metrics, which tend to dominate current conversations about NFT art. We need to diversify how we evaluate NFT art, which is why the Lumen Prize has proven to be so important to digital art and artists.

D: At a time when every narrative about NFTs in the media is about controversy and sales, this award can help to shift the conversation. When I look at the longlist, every project on it has added something new to the space and expanded the meaning of what an NFT is.

HVDD: The NFT Award gives recognition, attention, and critical discourse — ideally across genres and beyond crypto silos.

SDLR: I think it’s meaningful to highlight works that use the medium in novel ways, especially when it might not garner as much attention as, say, 10K PFP collections. It’s important for NFT artists to keep exploring the medium’s potential beyond its immediate value as entertainment.

Damjanski, Unhuman Compositions, 2022. Courtesy of the artist

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?

SDLR: With NFTs embedded in a substrate that has economic and financial incentives defining its existence, we must talk more about how art and technology can not only tell new stories, but also support and fund the artists. That is what is exciting to me — to imagine a future where more artists can exist and do this as a living, whether it’s from traditional support networks or through blockchain technology. NFTs raise multiple questions: Who gets to make art? Who gets to make money from art? Where is the money coming from? How can technology ensure that people get paid across the world? How do we support equal access? Who gets to decide?

TRL: The artists TRLab works with, whether digital native or interdisciplinary, recognize that NFTs and blockchain technology have the potential to enrich the connection between artists and audiences in ways that traditional art forms can’t. As museums and institutions grapple with integrating physical and digital art experiences to better reflect screen-centric life, artists and creators who have successfully bridged the two worlds have a lot to add to the conversation.

Simon de la Rouviere, This Artwork is Always On Sale V2, 2020. Courtesy of the artist

HVDD: Artists working with NFTs have a novel connection to financial and economic incentives. This is a curse and a blessing, but truly something we haven’t seen in cultural production ever, I think.

D: We’re in a unique moment when a new door has opened up and there are so many undiscovered possibilities. It’s a fairly new medium. I am very excited about new interactions between the artists and their audience — turning everything into a performance. It will expand our understanding of what art can be.

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Damjanski is an artist living in a browser. Concerned with the themes of power, poetry, and participation, he explores the concept of apps as artworks. In 2018, he co-founded MoMAR, an Augmented Reality gallery app aimed at democratizing physical exhibition spaces, art institutions, and curatorial processes at MoMA. He has also created an online space, Humans Not Invited, that only programs can access. In March 2022, he published his first decentralized app (dapp), Unhuman Compositions — a collection of 777 participatory generative photography NFTs, each generated when a person takes a photo with the camera of their smartphone. He has exhibited internationally, including at NRW-Forum, Düsseldorf; König Galerie and Tropez, Berlin; Roehrs & Boetsch, Zürich; Pioneer Works, New York; and Museum of Contemporary Digital Art. 

Harm van den Dorpel is a Dutch artist based in Berlin who is dedicated to discovering emergent aesthetics by composing software and language, often borrowing from the disparate fields of genetics and blockchain. He has exhibited internationally at ZKM Karlsruhe; MoMa PS1 and The New Museum, New York; Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam; and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul. In 2015, he co-founded left gallery with Paloma Rodríguez Carrington.

Cai Guo-Qiang was trained in stage design at the Shanghai Theatre Academy. His work has since spanned multiple artistic media including drawing, painting, installation, video, and performance art. Cai began to experiment with gunpowder painting in his hometown Quanzhou, and continued to evolve the scale and form of these works, which ultimately led him to develop his signature outdoor explosion events. He has exhibited internationally at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow; Museo del Prado, Madrid; Uffizi Gallery, Florence; The National Archaeological Museum of Naples and Pompeii Archaeological Park; Pompeii; and The National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. 

Simon de la Rouviere is an artist, writer, and coder. He helped to develop the ERC-20 token standard, invented the token bonding curve, has written a sci-fi novel, and is now the founder of Untitled Frontier, which supports short fiction writers in Web3. Through his artistic practice, he tries to use the novel aspects of the blockchain both to question what art can be and how artists can be supported.

TRLab is a women-led creative production studio, NFT sale platform, and virtual community connecting artists with collectors. Co-founded by Christie’s non-executive Deputy Chairman, Xin Li-Cohen, and TRLab CEO Audrey Ou, TRLab partners with artists, foundations, and institutions to develop NFT collecting experiences that prioritize direct access, long-term value, and ongoing innovation. TRLab’s partners and investors include Dragonfly Capital, Pace Verso, and Rockbund Art Museum, one of Asia’s premier contemporary art museums.

GAZELL.iO and The Lumen Prize for Art and Technology are proud to announce their second collaborative partnership as part of the Lumen Prize’s inaugural NFT Award, sponsored by Right Click Save. The winner of the Award will be revealed in October. 

A group exhibition of up to five finalists from the NFT Award category will feature in a one-week exhibition at GAZELL.iO from 13 October, exhibiting submitted works in the Project Space, as a lead up to the final announcement of the winner on 19 October. From 20 October the winner of the NFT Award will be featured exclusively in the Project Space for a solo exhibition until 19 November. Alongside the solo exhibition, GAZELL.iO will also present a program of talks and panel discussions. The display will coincide with the gallery’s exhibition of works by Harold Cohen, a leading pioneer of computer and algorithmic art.