“Cosmic Love”: the journey from Burning Man to NFT drop
“Like a beacon of hope and love, merging metal sculptures, lights, digital art and video, this work is a peek into my obsession with Magical Realism,” says Michael Benisty. Originally from Belgium, Benisty’s work has made a splash at galleries in Europe and Shanghai–as well as Art Basel, Burning Man, and numerous boutique hotels. He’s perhaps best known for large scale sculptures he’s been building and exhibiting over the last 15 years.
Now, this man of artistic metal has entered the NFT space, with his first SuperRare drop: “Cosmic Love.”
The project explores the different forms relationships take through the embodiment of a large stainless steel physical sculpture installed in the Nevada desert, and then documented over a 24-hour period.
“Cosmic Love” is the ideal storm; the art flows between the physical and digital realm as it morphs the two worlds together. “It could represent everybody, and every relationship–in the stages that we all go through, whether it’s in love or friendship,” says Michael.
“Cosmic Love” is also a family affair, a collaborative effort with his brother Steve.
Michael is the designer while Steve does the videography and visual documentation.
“The perfect combination for me to use my passion for film and digital–and use it to tell Mikey’s stories through his creation, his cultures,” Steve states.
INTO THE DIGITAL
Jumping into the NFT world wasn’t a big stretch for Michael.
“Everything starts with a digital file anyway,” he explains. “That’s how we scale and balance the model and make sure that the sculpture that we’re going to enlarge and build is ready to go,” he adds, regarding creating his massive physical artwork.
Still, Michael found a creative Pandora’s box opened by his induction into the NFT space.
“It’s another outlet for us to tell the same story we’ve been telling with those monumental sculptures, which represents connectivity, togetherness, and love.”
— MICHAEL BENISTY
ORIGIN STORY: “COSMIC LOVE” WAS SPAWNED IN THE DESERT
Over the past few years, Michael’s main creative muse has been Burning Man. The art festival held in the Black Rock desert in Nevada brings together the best of humankind– from naked people and ravers to families and art enthusiasts (as well as supermodels, billionaire tech bros, and Paris Hilton), they all congregate on a landscape that looks like the surface of Mars.
Michael first shared his monolithic artwork on the playa in 2017 and found it a game changer. An interactivity was sparked between people and his work: joy, sadness, even couples getting married in front of his sculptures.
Before Burning Man: Michael felt that “all pieces were unique and beautiful looking, but they weren’t really telling a message and [didn’t] have the storyline attached to it.”
After Burning Man: Michael realized the direction he wanted to take; he started using the form of couples in his large-scale artwork.
AND THEN COVID STRUCK
The pandemic was a curse but also a blessing for the inception of “Cosmic Love.”
How the creative sausage was made: When Covid hit, all normal places to exhibit art were shut down. The Benisty brothers, then, turned to digital platforms – which opened up new opportunities to present their work.
The topper? Michael had a massive sculpture ready to roll. Except now, there was no Burning Man festival to be had.
The 25-foot metal sculpture features a couple with faces coming together: “Awoken from the illusion of separateness, our souls have merged. Transcending all boundaries we share the same destiny. A deep sense of peace pervades our consciousness. No space or time, just an unbounded eternity. We are one.”
10,000 holes were drilled into the sculpture and lights were added.
“Cosmic Love” up close
And thus spoke Zarathustra; since Burning Man was canceled, they brought the sculpture to the empty desert anyway and documented it.
“In our head it was Burning Man… the inspiration comes from Burning Man,” says Michael.
So, the Benisty brothers and their crew embarked, in 2021, on their artistic journey, not realizing that the process would become a Spielberg-esque nightmare.
“We went in the late fall to the Nevada desert. There was nobody there. It was freezing.”
Once the crew got the sculpture up, the desert logistics of the two-day shoot turned into a climate-induced debacle. The first night, they couldn’t shoot because it started raining and there was potential for flash floods.
“It was panic,” They recall. “People were like ‘You gotta get out of the desert. You’re crazy to be there.’”
But, the crew ended up staying an extra day, and documented the sculpture for 24 hours via video, drones, and time-lapse. And then they packed up and got the hell out of there due to another storm afoot.
Because in a desert: “If there’s five inches of water – you’re stuck there for months. Our trucker came in that morning. He was panicked. He said, ‘Guys, I don’t think we can get the piece out of here.’”
Leaving behind their 25-foot metal sculpture was not an option; thus, they worked a frantic 12 hours to get the piece out of the desert, just mere hours before rain flooded the playa to biblical proportions.
With disaster skirted, the result: “We edited it into a one-minute piece of all the footage that we got with this piece. We then added digital works to it.”
For “Cosmic Love” in its final version, the brothers added layers of otherworldly planets and shooting stars behind the artwork, mixing original footage with digital to create a poetic piece about the sculpture and connectivity within the desert landscape.
SOOTHSAYING THE NFT FUTURE
Despite the disastrous weather conditions, Michael is very grateful about the entire process of creating “Cosmic Love.”
“It was a surreal experience,” he says regarding filming in the festival-less Black Rock desert. “It gave us an opportunity to shoot this piece without all of the craziness and madness of Burning Man.”
Still, Michael is happy Burning Man is coming back this year: “There’s a difference between bringing something to an empty desert with no one to experience it.”
But through this process, Michael sees the potential of the NFT space, where now at future Burning Man festivals, the Benisty brothers could project digital artwork inside their massive metal sculptures.
“That’s the future… and it’s only going to be accelerated by more and more of the fusion and immersion of these worlds that are ultimately all one at the end of the day,” says Michael, adding: “Much more amazing magic to come in the future, especially with NFTs.”
“We have a following of our physical pieces and we’re building a community now with our digital work,” says Michael. “This is an opportunity right now because we’re still in the early stages of this.”
In 2021, to ensure the festival had the funds for its 2022 events, Burning Man auctioned artworks in partnership with Sotheby’s, and the pieces up for sale included NFTs. As the time when hundreds of devotees flock to the playa steadily approaches, and as NFTs have seen a growing presence at music and art festivals, it’s fitting that the Benisty brothers, staples of the scene, are leading the way.
Harmon Leon is the the author of eight books—the latest is: 'Tribespotting: Undercover (Cult)ure Stories.' Harmon's stories have appeared in VICE, Esquire, The Nation, National Geographic, Salon, Ozy, Huffington Post, NPR’s 'This American Life' and Wired. He's produced video content for Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, Timeline, Out, FX, Daily Mail, Yahoo Sports, National Lampoon and VH1. Harmon has appeared on This American Life, The Howard Stern Show, Last Call With Carson Daly, Penn & Teller’s Bullshit, MSNBC, Spike TV, VH1, FX, as well as the BBC—and he's performed comedy around the world, including the Edinburgh, Melbourne, Dublin, Vancouver and Montreal Comedy Festivals. Follow Harmon on Twitter @harmonleon.
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