April 11, 2022

The NFT Collector | KarateKid

Jason Bailey sits down with a fellow collector to discuss the art of NFT collecting in an increasingly global market
Credit: Tyler Hobbs, Fidenza #523 (detail), 2021. Courtesy of the artist
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The NFT Collector | KarateKid

KarateKid is the collecting account for a pioneer of Web1 and Web2 tech, whose efforts and innovations have changed the way we interact with technology and media on a daily basis. RCS is pleased to showcase highlights from his collection in this first installment of our NFT collector series. I am also personally very excited to hear his perspective on blockchain, NFTs, and Web3.

Jason Bailey: I think I should start with a rather unimaginative but important question. Why pay to collect images you can already see for free?

KarateKid: Because art is what makes us human. We feel the music of emotions that art can stir within us. We interpret the impenetrable reality around us and tell others what we see through art. Beauty makes a difference in our lives. Art is how humanity rages against the darkness. Gaudí’s Sagrada Família (1882-) is what we humans do.

I collect because I am human. The art I collect will persist after I am gone. I was here. I left the world more beautiful than I found it. I collect NFTs because I want to materially support the creators who bring beauty into the world. I have a choice to be a part of the circle of creation rather than a lean-back right-click consumer. I can contribute to the democratization of an art ecosystem that gives creators more ownership and control over their work.

I collect because art is inherently communal. It’s about interacting, not about viewing. Whether it’s one owner with a print in their living room or a throng of people in old Tokyo buying up Hokusai’s Great Picture Book of Everything (1820s-1840s), art requires a community to interact with it. Collecting NFTs is next-level community. Not only am I a part of the daily agora of Discord communities and like-minded collectors, I have also come to know many artists directly, even co-creating new projects with them. Active collecting creates a new collector-creator collaboration community.

Dmitri Cherniak, Ringers #824, 2021. Courtesy of the artist

JB: How do you decide who or what to collect?

KK: For me, it starts with voracious curiosity — a bit like truffle hunting, I imagine. I let my nose lead me through serendipitous connections from artist to artist. Like many, I began my journey with Art Blocks and owe Erick Snowfro a deep debt of gratitude for showing me the rabbit hole. Generative art hit all the buttons: A work by MacTuiTui leads to Tyler Hobbs and Dmitri Cherniak, which leads to Stefano Contiero and Alida Sun

That got me curious about the historical roots of generative art and collecting pre-Art Blocks work by Casey Reas. This led me to discover more geographically diverse artists from Asia, Africa, and Europe, including Manoloide, Osinachi and Espen Kluge. I then began to question my bias for 2D art and started looking seriously at 3D animation works by NessGraphics and Raoul Marks. More recently, I’ve been digging into AI and GAN art by Helena Sarin, Pindar Van Arman, and Refik Anadol, but women artists are a particular focus for me right now, including Jen Stark, Sofia Crespo, and Claire Silver.

When my ever-expanding curiosity leads me to an artist or an artwork, I try to listen to my inner voice rather than outside voices. It’s not always easy. I’ve been there trying to chase the floor for a crowd favorite, unable to catch the rising prices. But I’ve learned to be Zen about it. You mint some, you lose some. It’s better to tap into one’s childlike wonder and follow the conviction of your emotions.

It’s difficult to articulate but perhaps this exchange, which has forced me to rationalize my decision-making process, can help others…

Manoloide, 88 Allegories #73, 2021. Courtesy of the artist

I was one of the earliest collectors of Manoloide’s “88 Allegories” (2021) from Kate Vass Galerie. Kate asked me why, of all the 88 pieces, I chose #73. My reply was as follows:

I looked through the entire catalog four or five times. The reasons I settled on this piece are...Vibrancy of color and generative complexity are two hallmarks of Manoloide for me (Mantel, Ailan) so I wanted these characteristics versus something simple and muted. I wanted an explosive organic output that feels different from a typical generative flow field piece. The symbolism of circles, which represent wholeness and harmony, feel important to me in this Covid time. The Casey Reas work I collected (Process 14 (Software 2), 2012) reminds me of sakura, cherry blossoms, which have a strong symbolism in the East for the ephemerality of life. I wanted a Manoloide flower allegory that was also more Eastern than Western. #73 has a dominant lotus flower image for me and to the left of that, the “mind's eye” opening up.

Sofia Crespo, Neural Swarm, 2022. Courtesy of the artist

JB: NFTs have become a bit polarizing in the mainstream news. Is all the animosity driven by fear of new technology, valid concern, or some blend of both? Do you see a clear path for NFTs to grow in the future or are we likely to see the bubble pop soon?

KK: A blend for sure. There has always been fear of new technology. There was a lot of FUD [fear, uncertainty, and doubt] around the invention of the Gutenberg printing press. Ordinary people reading the Bible and interpreting it for themselves rather than through the priesthood? Blasphemous! What if people become so obsessed with reading that they stopped interacting with real people and retreated from IRL? One couldn’t have imagined then the long arc of this technology — to typesetting, and then to desktop and digital publishing. All things considered, over the course of time, printing tech has been a net positive.

Iskra Velitchkova, Uninhabitable #69, 2021. Courtesy of the artist

There are definitely valid concerns. The criticisms of NFTs’ triteness, as well as their sustainability and equitableness are valid. But there will be a clear path to improve and correct these shortcomings. The best talent and purest ideas are flowing into this space. There will be more utility, more sustainable proof-of-stake chains, more inclusion ahead. I choose to be a pragmatic optimist.

It’s not a bubble. There are too many important tectonic shifts at play here. We have a fundamentally different file system, IPFS (InterPlanetary File System], that is distributed and content-centric. We have a new programming layer that sits on top of networks and chains. We have tokenized, gated, distribution functionality for collaboration and UX. 

I was there at the birth of Web2. This is bigger. The challenge in front of us is whether we can bend the arc of this technology toward the good things we see: Decentralization, democratization of participation, fair distribution of rewards, and more collaborative organizational structures? Can we learn from what we did wrong in Web2 and make it right in Web3?

Espen Klug, that's just his thing, 2021. Courtesy of the artist

JB: We recently covered NFT trends in Japan. I know you have Japanese roots and are tied into the art scene there. Do you have a sense of how NFTs are being received in Asia? Is it similar to what we are seeing in the West or are there important differences? Can you recommend some artists, galleries, platforms, or publications to our community?

KK: Asia in general is earlier in the NFT adoption curve. It’s not surprising that technology adoption, the regulatory landscape, and cultural awareness differ according to national geographies. It feels as though it is really starting to pick up steam in China, Singapore, and Hong Kong. South Korea is on the way. Japan is earlier in the game. 

The West doesn’t have a monopoly on creativity and talent so I’m very bullish about the sheer amount of art we will see produced by the rest of the world. It’s only a matter of time. This is a great opportunity and promise of Web3 that we need to get right — that there will emerge a more global, and more democratic playing field for talent to surface and gain recognition.

Tyler Hobbs, Fidenza #523, 2021. Courtesy of the artist

Some of the artists and platforms that have helped me in my journey so far are as follows: Sputniko! is a singularly important multimedia artist in Japan whose work sits at the intersection of art, bio, computaton, tech, and fashion. Her work has previously been displayed at MoMa, Centre Pompidou, and ZKM, and she is just beginning to create NFTs. Whether she’s taking on taboo subjects like menstruation, or designing dresses from genetically engineered silk (made by adding jellyfish genes into silkworms) her works are always provocative in the best sense possible. They are also “grab you by the throat and won’t let go” beautiful. And if that weren’t badass enough, she’s a programmer, a former assistant professor at MIT Media Lab, an associate professor at Tokyo University of the Arts, a women's health startup CEO, as well as a new mother. 

Takawo is another Japanese generative artist I have in my collection. His OpenProcessing sketches are mind-boggling in their sheer quantity and invention. While artists like Kevin Abosch are unarguably OG, not only in NFTs but in their collaborations in Asia. His pioneering collaboration with Ai Weiwei, “What is Priceless” (2018) and his work with Japanese anime/manga brand CRYPTOSENSHI turned my eye further eastward. 

My love for NessGraphics led me to the TRLab platform where he was a featured artist. It was there that I encountered the gunpowder art of Cai Guo-Qiang and other talented Chinese artists. Digital Art Fair Asia has been a good place to browse for up-and-coming Asian artists, while Feral File’s “The Long Cut” exhibition is also a good showcase. I’m only just beginning to scratch the surface here and I am really looking forward to so much more discovery.

Aaron Penne, Apparitions #866, 2021. Courtesy of the artist

JB: How can we address the problems of Web2 through Web3?

KK: First of all, a couple of “take a step back” thoughts before we get to the “hows.”  I’m glad you said “address” rather than “fix.” This isn’t a “let’s take a snapshot and fix it once-and-for-all problem.” Web3, Web4, and Web5 will bring new technologies and unanticipated challenges. It will be an ongoing and constant undertaking. The question is: “do we shape it or do we let other people shape it for us?”

Second, as the greatest master of all, Yoda, once said: “Do or do not. There is no try.”  What we do, not what we think, is how change is given its form. We have to build. The best way to shape the future is to build it ourselves. For those of you building Web3, keep bending the arc of technology toward open and distributed infrastructure rails. 

There has been a steady march toward distributed systems: The internet, the Open-source-software movement, Web3. Net net, this is better than a single point of failure and control architecture. At the end of the day, my NFTs are mine. No company or platform can revoke that or take it away. That’s a good thing. Ditto for economic, governance, and inclusion.

Zancan, Lushtemples — Spirit Animal, 2022. Courtesy of the artist

Most of us, however, are not builders. What do we do? It’s easy to forget that we actually have the most power. If they build it and we don’t come, it’s a tree that falls in the forest. Where and how we show up matters. Be curious about the unintended consequences of where you show up. Initial states matter. If we had known in the past what we know today, we would have resisted social media services that were advertising-based, but free and convenient.

What do you care about? Then show up there. That’s why I choose to actively collect women artists and support women-led NFT projects. It’s why I choose to show up and help organize generative art workshops for underrepresented youths in my community. Let me cite @punk6529, who quoted Antoine de Saint-Exupéry:

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.

Let’s yearn together and build together and let’s leave the world more beautiful than we found it.

🎴🎴🎴

KarateKid’s full NFT collection is available at ONCYBER.

KarateKid is the collecting account for a pioneer of Web1 and Web2 tech whose efforts and innovations have changed the way we interact with technology and media on a daily basis.

Jason Bailey is the creator of the art and tech blog Artnome.com and founder of GreenNFTs and ClubNFT where he serves as CEO.