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Tomorrow, May 22, Daniel Arsham will launch his first series of NFTs, in collaboration with digital art sale platform Nifty Gateway, debuting with a solo drop of a single work. With the remaining NFTs to be released over the following months, the series of 10 digital sculptures have been designed to evolve with the passing of time, created to exist as long as the technology itself does.
The first NFT to be released, Eroding and Reforming Bust of Rome, is a three-dimensional sculpture that Arsham fashioned after a bust from the Louvre’s collection. Positioned in the center of a virtual courtyard surrounded by a lush garden, the sculpture and its surrounding space evolve in real time—which sees the bust slowly deteriorate and rebuild itself over the span of a year, as the trees around it blossom and wilt. The series is unique as it cannot exist without the use of technology as a medium, drawing on Arsham’s interactions with the choreographer Merce Cunningham and the artist and composer John Cage, whose practices both followed concepts surrounding the passing of time.
In the making since 2019 with the help of studio Six N. Five,the first work will go live as an open edition up for purchase on the blockchain. All existing within different timelines, each subsequent work will be available in decreasing editions, with the final work limited to 50. Collectors to acquire all 10 NFTs will be given access to a private digital gallery designed by the artist, featuring all works on display.
To learn more about the series and Arsham’s first venture into the world of digital art, Whitewall spoke to the artist.
WHITEWALL: Tell us about your NFT series with Nifty Gateway. Why did you decide to take this first venture into the digital realm? What was that process like?
DANIEL ARSHAM: Since 2019, I’ve been interested in leveraging this technology to create an evolving artwork that could not exist in any other space. This work, which will launch on Nifty Gateway on May 22, is the first in a series of digital sculptures which will be released as editions of decreasing size. For this first launch, I’ve created a sculpture inspired by an ancient work in the Louvre’s collection, working with the Barcelona-based studio Six N. Five to develop the 3D files and bring them to life. The sculpture will slowly erode and then reform, changing in tandem with the seasons.
After that initial meeting that I had with [Gemini cryptocurrency founders] the Winklevoss brothers, I started to think about how I could use the smart contract within the Ethereum blockchain, really thinking about it as a medium. I thought, if we think about the material of sculpture or painting or other art forms as being part of the character of our experience of these works, could the materiality of the NFT itself be important?
WW: The concept of time as a medium used in tandem with technology is really captivating—neither can be touched and yet they’re seemingly infinite. How did you first begin exploring the possibilities of these two elements used together?
DA: I was initially drawn to the NFT space because of the potential to create a time-based artwork that could not otherwise exist. Much of my practice is concerned with our experiences of time and I wanted to use this technology to make a work that could alter itself and respond to the effects of time in a way that could not be possible with a physical sculpture. The concept of this work is highly influenced by my experience of working with Merce Cunningham and John Cage, who famously created work that continues over multiple lifetimes. Similarly, this series of sculptures will continue to evolve beyond our lifetimes, eroding and reforming for as long as the internet exists.
WW: This series is made to be experienced over a lifetime, as its evolution is virtually never-ending. How do you see the work aging with the evolution of technology? How about NFTs in general—do you think there will be a time when this technology is too dated to enjoy?
DA: All artwork is an impression of the time in which it's made. I think artists often try to create works that are timeless, that feel like they might step outside of their own moment, but that's often almost impossible to do. You can't really escape the Zeitgeist that you're a part of. So I think that for a lot of the NFTs that are being produced now, especially the ones that are very digital in nature, the images or content is made with programs that tend to produce similar quality. Those NFTs will feel very much part of this era, but other works that are more married to the physical world may have the possibility to escape this time. The technology aspect of my NFT is really about the possibility to allow it to erode over time. However, the visual quality of it is much more similar to work that I've made in the past.
WW: You pointed out that this level of complexity could not be achieved without the involvement of technology. Were there any challenges or negative aspects you found working with technology?
DA: Like anything else, it just took time to really learn and understand the complexity of working in this medium.
WW: Where do you see your practice headed in relation to NFTs and the digital space?
DA: I am creating a series of 10 editions that all operate on different timescales. I think that there's a lot of potential in the future for NFTs. When any technology has been invented, like photography or even cinema, the early explorations were quite simplistic. And it is through trial and experimentation of artists that those mediums are developed and explored to their full potential.
I think we're in the infancy of learning what artworks that sit on the blockchain are able to do. You could have an NFT that is tied to the results of an election or you could have an NFT that is timed to change itself based on a lunar calendar or that operates on the scale of a day on Mars. There are so many possibilities that are hard to even consider or fathom. In this current moment that's where I think this is all going.