Rare Art: “Dream Machine 1 (Coke)” by Jojo Anavim

Rare Art: “Dream Machine 1 (Coke)” by Jojo Anavim

Dream Machine 1 (Coke) by Jojo Anavim on SuperRare

Rare Art: “Dream Machine 1 (Coke)” by Jojo Anavim

2 months ago

Capitalism has all but banished us to a hellscape that only billionaires can escape via personal space rocket, which is why Jojo Anavim’s “Dream Machine 1 (Coke)” couldn’t have come at a better time. The Coke dispenser floating through earth’s orbit is playful, comical, and just the right amount of serious. The earth, as seen through space, exhibits constellation-like structures illuminated with a warm, orange glow. Lights of civilization or raging forest fires? Could be both. “I wanted to create an NFT that was an organic evolution of my paintings,” Jojo told SuperRare. “I’m classically trained as a video FX / graphic artist and it’s exciting to come back to my roots. Between my fascination with outer space, which is also a recurring theme in my artwork, and the first work of art I ever saw–Warhol’s Coke Bottle paintings–the resulting work is not only nostalgic but also deeply personal.” 

Staring at the revolving soda machine, one can’t help but feel a sense of calm and whimsy that reminds them how yummy that caramel-colored, fizzy drink is, especially over ice. “I love the brand identity (and the taste),” Jojo said. “Hate the calories,” he added.

Dream Machine 1 (Coke) by Jojo Anavim on SuperRare

The artwork is both silly and surreal, ready for enjoyment. “My dream has always been to create sculptures that are larger than life,” Jojo said. “The context of a comically massive vending machine orbiting the earth allowed me to realize a visual which would otherwise be impossible to create in the physical world.”  The machine spins, the lights go out, and the dark side of the machine shows its woeful belly to the observer before the animation snaps back to the beginning. 

So sit back, relax, and enjoy Anavim’s never-ending cycle of that crisp, cold flavor of escapism that is just a few bucks away.

About the Artist

NYC artist Jojo Anavim’s works are part of permanent collections in museums and hotels around the globe, including Coca-Cola Archives Museum, Atlanta, GA; New York Yankees Collection, and Dream Hotels, NY. In 2020 he was selected by Christie’s Auction House to create a unique artwork for the 2020 US Presidential election. Anavim is recognized for his notable collectors including Seth McFarlane and Selena Gomez, and has been covered by global press including The New York Times, and Forbes.

28

SuperRare

SuperRare is a marketplace to collect and trade unique, single-edition digital artworks.

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Cien años de revolución: How Carlos Marcial is leading Latin America into its crypto future

Cien años de revolución: How Carlos Marcial is leading Latin America into its crypto future

Photograph by Dave Krugman

Cien años de revolución: How Carlos Marcial is leading Latin America into its crypto future

Or, how to avoid a hangover by drinking mezcal and talking about the future of Bitcoin and NFTs.
2 months ago

Sitting by myself at Mama Rumba in Mexico City, I sipped on a mezcal margarita and waited for my guests to arrive. The club was adorned with tropical flowers and neon signs that read “salsa” and “baila,” and the waitersdressed in white button-down shirts and ironed pants—diligently attended to their customers. Music played from the speakers while the musicians began warming up. The Caribbean-inspired club in the middle of Mexico’s capital was the perfect symbol of just how fluid Latin American culture can be: mainland and island rhythms, Mexican mezcal and Puerto Rican plantains, all flowing through bodies and taste buds of so many of the people sitting here, like me, looking forward to a dance. In this moment, I was not one thing or another, but a mix of many: an American in a foreign place, the daughter of a Mexican immigrant returning to her father’s homeland, a woman sitting alone at a bar, scribbling into a notebook.

Photograph by Dave Krugman

Before I finished my first drink, a curly-haired man with beaming energy, wearing a short-sleeved button-down decorated with palm trees shouted, “Vinny!” over the clinking of shot glasses and the tuning of instruments. Carlos Marcial pulled me in for a hug, patting my back like an uncle I had not seen in a long time. The renowned crypto artist then introduced me to his wife and collaborator, Alondra Durán, who wore a beautiful, flowy dress, perfect for spins and turns. Under a neon sign that read “Havana,” we ordered a round of mezcal and waited for the music to begin.

“So, this is your first time in Mexico City,” Carlos asked me. I nodded, adding that I had only been to Monterrey to visit my father’s family. I’ve always felt at home in Mexico, even though it is not where I grew up, and Spanish is not my maternal language. “I feel so honored to have been born here [in Mexico City]” Carlos told me, “just because…even though I wasn’t raised here, I had to come back because I was born here and I needed to see, you know, why I was born here, why it was a part of my narrative.” Carlos spent most of his childhood in Puerto Rico, which you can tell right away from his bombastic demeanor, the way he pronounces his r’s and s’s in Spanish, and the way he switches seamlessly from Spanish to English and back again, just like the Puerto Ricans I had grown up around in the Lower East Side in New York City.

Photograph by Nain Leon

We got to talking about NFTs right away, partly because we’re both obsessed with the technology, but also because I had bought my first NFT just a few weeks before my trip. It was the first time in my life that I owned something other than a store-bought item or a debt. “The first NFT I ever sold, I sold it for like $100,” he told me. “And at the time I was like ‘holy shit! $100!’ I had no idea where this was going, but the fact that I had earned money from my art, which I would be making anyway, was really amazing.” 

In a matter of a few years, Carlos went from lackluster design jobs to being a top-selling crypto artist who teaches university students about blockchain technology. As Carlos began selling more artworks, he also began collecting, a phenomenon in the crypto art world which, to me, articulates both a camaraderie between artists and a relatively new level of wealth among them. On SuperRare, artists retain 85% of the money from their initial sale, and collect royalties on the secondary market in perpetuity, which generates a continuous income stream that grows with the artist’s reputation. And because crypto artists don’t need to rely on auction houses and galleries—many of which are impossible to get into if you don’t have the right education, status, or address—they can finally be in control of their artistic visions, as well as their sales. Making art is beginning to offer a mass of people stability, money, and freedom, with no strings attached.

“It’s an underground movement,” Carlos said in between dances. “It doesn’t matter if the traditional art world, if Hollywood, whatever the cultural niche, sees value in what you’re doing.” Because in crypto, there is a market for everything: fine art, memes, animation, you name it. “How crazy is it that you can have artists in the middle of nowhere,” he added, “and they still have a chance of tapping into a global art market? And then you add artists from Mexico and Thailand and Russia, and you stop and think, ‘What happened here? How did this happen in such a short amount of time?’”

 

I think people get stuck in the money, stuck in the speculation, the influencers, the hype cycle, and that’s entertainment, but there’s something about believing in an asset when no one else believes in it, just because you connect with the artist and want them to succeed.

— Carlos Marcial

“Fiat est violentiam – Knife – #1” (2019) by Carlos Marcial on SuperRare

“Art Installation N°1” (2019) by Carlos Marcial on SuperRare

Kevin McCoy’s digital artwork “Quantum” (2014), regarded by many as the first NFT, sold in the NFT boom of 2021 for upwards of a million dollars. Minted on the Namecoin blockchain, the smart contract was intended to remedy the way digital artworks circulated online—which usually resulted in artists losing credit for their creations—and as a way for artists to sell their work directly to their fans.

NFTs have knocked down barriers, allowing more people to make, buy, and sell art, regardless of who they are, what school they went to (if any), and where they are located in the world. And while this sounds great to any art-maker, including poets and visual artists who may have otherwise made peace with the idea of never making money from their work, it holds even more weight for people who live in countries where political corruption, social unrest, and economies built on systemic oppression are the norm. In Mexico, as in much of Latin America, an artistic, political, and financial revolution has long been overdue.

Art and Revolution

The early economy of Mexico was built on haciendas, or plantations, which dominated the rural countryside and employed millions of people in an oppressive financial structure not unlike that featured in Steinbeck’s American classic “The Grapes of Wrath.” Up until the 19th century, it was not uncommon for people to be paid in commodities from stores owned by the same people who employed them. Prices fluctuated, never in the consumer’s best interest, and many workers were caught in a cycle of never-ending debt, a cycle that, in many parts of the country, persists today.

In 1907, half of the people living in Mexico had never seen a peso in their lives. 

In 1910, Mexican artists like José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Diego Rivera began crafting murals on government buildings and in the streets. They depicted scenes from the revolution: soldiers in white, politicians in black, farmers in the fields of haciendas under the burning sun, women making tortillas and grinding moles with babies tied to their backs; the poor masses rising up against the status quo. Art was made accessible to the people, not hidden away, and it featured their lives, their struggles, their dark skin and jet black hair.

When you see the migrants here in Mexico going to the United States, they’re looking for jobs. Here in Mexico, if you fail, you fall all the way. There’s no bottom.

— Carlos Marcial

Revolution or Renaissance

The NFT movement today has been compared to the Italian Renaissance on one hand, and to the Beanie Baby Boom on the other. The biggest obstacle for many people, including those who’d benefit most, has been their lack of access to understanding the technology. Those of us who grew up on the internet can see the value of NFTs, DAOs, and digital assets more readily, because we’re more accustomed to the tech that was the precursor to those inventions. We saw the programs being built, the value users placed in them, and felt connected to early internet art and communities. Then, we saw how Silicon Valley profited off of unpaid or under-paid labor. The difference with Web3 and NFTs is the people make the money, not the corporations.

“I think this is going to be like the Renaissance,” Carlos said. “But, you know, the Renaissance wasn’t decentralized. The artist was bound to whoever—the patron—and there was a whole stream of money, un montón de dinero, but the artists were still bound geographically, and working inside the castle.” The artworks, which were commissioned, tended to be portraits of nobles and still lifes, not artworks that came from their own hearts and minds. But collecting NFTs is an investment too, and one with huge headlines to boot. “I think people get stuck in the money, stuck in the speculation, the influencers, the hype cycle, and that’s entertainment,” Carlos told me when I asked about the crazy sales in 2021. Then he added, “but there’s something about believing in an asset when no one else believes in it, just because you connect with the artist and want them to succeed.” Which is exactly why people who bought works by XCOPY and Hackatao and Coldie at $25 in 2018 are now reaping the benefits of multi-million dollar sales on NFT Markets like SuperRare.

In the two years since the COVID-19 pandemic, NFTs have gone viral, and artists, like Carlos, have quit their day jobs and realized their dreams. Part of that is because so much of our attention was diverted from the physical world into the virtual. But Carlos is also certain that another reason is as a reaction, and a remedy, to corruption. “At the same time, [blockchain] is making transparent three of the most opaque human industries: governance, finance, and the art market. In Mexico, in the third world, governments don’t like transparency. And in the traditional art world you have pseudonymous bidders, and where the money goes and what happens on the secondary markets, no one knows. So what is the true value?” Is it whatever the auction house tells you?

For me it has been about, how do I bring the culture that I grew up around in Puerto Rico, and in Mexico, how do I bring that to crypto, to the metaverse, how do I make it last forever?

— Carlos Marcial

Photograph by Dave Krugman

Photograph by Dave Krugman

With a globally distributed ledger that is accessible to anyone with an internet connection, blockchain technology has truly revolutionized all aspects of the financial world. It has made it possible for people to see the provenance of any artwork, token, or contract, as well as to track every on-chain transaction ever made. This readily available data is intrinsically inspirational as it calls to mind a form of  ingenuity that many Gen-Xers, Millennials, and Zoomers have only seen in text books and movies.

For the first time since the Boomers were young, a gold rush-like opportunity has emerged, with many assets still affordable to adventurous young people willing to take the risk. You can buy into cryptocoins with prices under $100, and even buy fractions of successful ones like Bitcoin and Ethereum. You can buy NFTs for as little as $1 on platforms like Teia. And all of these things have the potential to eventually turn a profit. In fact, you can become a millionaire off of shit coins or flipping funny PFP cartoon characters, if you happen to buy in–and sell–at the right time. Which is not to say that the rich aren’t making fortunes off of crypto, too, but to the tens of millions of people that never thought they could pay off their student loans, let alone buy a home, NFTs and crypto coins are a ray of hope. “The gateway asset,” Carlos said, “kind of like the gateway drug into assets, for our generation, it’s crypto.” 

Now apply that newfound hope to places where there is no path to higher education (not even through debt), where there are capital controls and devastating crashes every decade, where every level of society is tainted by corruption, and where being poor is as good as a death sentence. For millions of lower and middle-class Mexicans, including most of my family in Monterrey, neither financial security nor faith in the system is forthcoming. “When you see the migrants here in Mexico going to the United States, they’re looking for jobs,” Carlos said. “Here in Mexico, if you fail, you fall all the way. There’s no bottom.” Which is exactly why my father left in 1964 and stayed in America long after his student visa expired. A culture existing under this kind of oppression has never had the opportunity to pull itself up. “That’s the beauty of crypto,” Carlos said, “and I think that’s why it has become ever so popular, especially in a place like Mexico City, where you have a young population of well-educated people. Bitcoin, and crypto more generally, has been their first interaction with things of value.” 

“Magritte’s Weed Pipe” (2019) by Carlos Marcial on SuperRare

Thanks to crypto, you don’t need access to insane amounts of wealth in order to collect art. You can choose to participate—and  build your wealth—in the crypto economy, one less dependent on connections and bribes. You can rise to fame and fortune without appeasing traditional power structures. Another path has opened—not a panacea, but a gateway, if you will—to taking control of your narrative, to giving yourself options, to earning power through culture. 

“Before NFTs, I think a lot of Mexican contemporary artists and Puerto Rican artists felt like, ‘I need to fit into the mold of whatever is popular, wherever the art market centers are in the world,’” Carlos said. “And that’s what SuperRare and crypto art has been building, precisely that you can bring all of that other part, you can bring that with you or you can stay in it and still be an artist that can live off their cultural production.”

Carlos’s art is emblematic of this newfound tradition. It’s colorful and dynamic in places, dark and mysterious in others. There are ancient symbols and animals that any person of Latin American descent would quickly recognize as their own: a jaguar, coyote, and serpent-god, each decorated in a unique pattern and brought to life by digital technology. But then he also plays with the masters of history, paying homage to Magritte and Duchamp while bringing them up to date.

“I will not drown because I have learned to fly” (2020) by Carlos Marcial on SuperRare

“Coyote’s Soul” (2020) by Carlos Marcial on Nifty Gateway

The cultural capital Carlos brings to the art world goes beyond just celebrating Latin American culture. “For me it has been about, how do I bring the culture that I grew up around in Puerto Rico, and in Mexico, how do I bring that to crypto, to the metaverse, how do I make it last forever?” 

“What colonization does is it puts layers upon layers on top of what was already there,” he added, “and if you are a creator, and you can still create in the midst of all of this crazy, colorful syncretism, then I think very special things will come out of it.” Carlos’s creations embody a santeria that only the mixing of cultures and the preservation of ancestry can produce: “a virgin, the indigenous artifacts, and the Coke bottle all a part of the same altar,” he observed, showing how everything, the good and the bad, can be intertwined, and transformed into something magical.

Into Our Crypto Future

Carlos Marcial and his wife Alondra—a Mexican-born artist, feminist, and academic of indigenous decent—have recently launched one of SuperRare’s first five Spaces. Metafísica will onboard new artists from all over Latin America, and is focusing on female voices for their launch. At a small dinner party at their home, Alondra told me how excited she was to bring crypto to the people, especially to women and people of indigenous descent. Thanks to Carlos and Alondra, historically oppressed people who have rarely had the chance to succeed will get their shot on SuperRare. “[SuperRare Spaces are] an experiment, you know, and breaking it apart in a DAO and giving different people a chance, it’s too good to be true and too good not to try it out to see if it’s the future of how companies can organize,” Carlos ruminated. “It’s clear to me that whatever we’ve had before, it’s not working. So, why not?”

Photograph by Nain Leon

It’s been a slow lead up to the invention of Bitcoin, but at the very least, we can see something good coming out of it all, like avant-garde literature and art after World War I and the Influenza pandemic of 1917 or the abstract expressionism and conceptual art that came out of the decades following World War II. “[Crypto art] is like post-war art, or turn of the century art,” Carlos noted. “We have so many crazy, historical things happening, and I think that you won’t be able to talk, in 20 years, about COVID without talking about NFTs and crypto art.” Sure, these years were and continue to be difficult—houses are expensive, the stock market is headed toward a recession, and new coronavirus variants seem to pop up every month—but transitions from the old world to the new almost always are. So what is Carlos’s advice?

“I’m gonna buy more Bitcoin, fuck it.”

32

Virginia Valenzuela

Vinny is a writer from New York City whose work has been published in Wired, The Independent, High Times, and the Best American Poetry Blog. She is SuperRare's Managing Editor.

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“Cosmic Love”: the journey from Burning Man to NFT drop

“Cosmic Love”: the journey from Burning Man to NFT drop

Above: “Cosmic Love”

“Cosmic Love”: the journey from Burning Man to NFT drop

Artist Michael Benisty and his brother Steve, icons of the music festival scene, share how NFTs gave them new options.
Oliver Scialdone
3 months ago

“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.”

“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

“At night they light up like a galaxy,” says Michael. “Galaxies collide and collapse into each other, just to form bigger galaxies.”

 

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.’”

“Cosmic Love”

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.”

“Cosmic Love”

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.

20

Harmon Leon

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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Bodymades: the essence and anatomy of David Cronenberg’s latest NFT

Bodymades: the essence and anatomy of David Cronenberg’s latest NFT

Above: “Inner Beauty”

Bodymades: the essence and anatomy of David Cronenberg’s latest NFT

The acclaimed director shines light on the unseen parts of the human experience.
Oliver Scialdone
3 months ago

Clustered atop a matte aluminum table, eighteen stones of varied sizes and textures form a constellation ranging in hue from pale cream to rich hickory. One may imagine that this group of objects is an arrangement of souvenir sedimentary rocks gathered during a sand-strewn getaway, visualizing the delighted collector pocketing the jagged orbs, each with its own unique structure and grain, like gypsum rose scattered about the path of a desert stroll. If only their acquisition were so idyllic. These tightly bunched, beige-toned relics are actually kidney stones personally collected over the course of a two-year period by acclaimed film director David Cronenberg, and the photograph depicting them is the primary element of his second NFT, titled “Inner Beauty.”

Cronenberg, widely known for his seminal contributions to the body horror film genre, returns to SuperRare with a new work that makes reference to his cinematic exploration of the grotesque, while also aiming to highlight the natural artistry of the human body. The piece was conceived on a whim as the Toronto-based director was engaged in conversation with a friend regarding their shared affliction with kidney stones. His friend was anxious about the inevitability of their passing, but Cronenberg had already endured the ordeal many times over. Having collected them in a pill bottle, an act that unconsciously mimicked the creation of the Brundle Museum of Natural History from his film, “The Fly,” Cronenberg poured the tiny mineral deposits, the largest measuring 5mm in diameter, onto a table and snapped a photo to send to his friend. In doing so, he was struck by their natural allure. “When I looked at the photo I thought, ‘this is oddly beautiful.’ It’s strange. It looks like sea creatures.” In that moment, an intentionality was sparked and he began looking at the arrangement with new eyes, testing multiple camera lenses to find the best one for magnifying and capturing the tiny stones.

“The Fly” (1986) dir. David Cronenberg

Cronenberg recognizes that he often returns to previously explored concepts as new technologies and awareness develop, a practice that he linked back to the New York underground filmmakers of the 1950’s and ‘60s. In that light, it comes as no surprise that the title of this NFT directly references a line from his 1988 film, “Dead Ringers,” in which one of Jeremy Irons’ twin characters laments the fact that there are no beauty contests for the inner landscape of the human body. The director paraphrased the character’s statement with a pertinent question: “Why don’t we have an aesthetic for the inside of our bodies? Because that is of our essence as well.” 

With “Inner Beauty,” Cronenberg shifts the conception of kidney stones away from their being indicators of some dysfunction within the body, instead finding wonder and excitement in the body expressing itself as a result of what one has ingested. In fact, marveling at the mysterious feats of the human body was something potentially in his subconscious when the photograph was taken. He’d recently wrapped filming his upcoming movie, “Crimes of the Future,” which features a performance artist who performs surgery on himself, publicly extracting new organs with no known function. While he was reluctant to reveal too much about the new film, it is apparent that the keenly creative director is very much interested in the duality of the grotesque as simultaneously macabre and beautiful, always allowing for abundant breadth within that spectrum.

“Discussions of the human body in my filmmaking have nothing to do with genre. It doesn’t have to do with horror film or not horror film, gangster film, whatever. It has to do with my constant exploration of what it is to be a human being. What is the human condition? And for me it’s always body-centric.”

DAVID CRONENBERG

“Dead Ringers” (1988) dir. David Cronenberg

With “Inner Beauty,” Cronenberg offers a new kind of story, one that is decidedly more personal than any other of his offerings. In the Artist’s Statement, titled “Kidney Stones and Inner Beauty,” which accompanies the primary image of the NFT, he writes, “I see in these kidney stones a luminous narrative generated by a group of my inner organs, a narrative as intimate as a person could imagine.” Indeed, it doesn’t get much more intimate than objects formed by and within one’s own body, and in fact, the artist offers to take it a step further, having expressed his willingness to provide the owner of the NFT with the collection of physical kidney stones. “I mean, it’s got my DNA in it. That’s certainly true. So that’s an issue in this case—I guess any art object, a sculpture that a sculptor has done, you’d think it would have their DNA on it, just physically.”

But the existence of the physical objects begs a question: why choose to mint this photo as an NFT, as opposed to offering the physical kidney stones on a traditional marketplace? The answer comes down to presentation. While he could easily hand the stones to a buyer, he views the photo as the primary element of the piece. It captures and highlights the beauty of the stones as art objects and is supported by his accompanying statement; the resulting combination of these elements can be best packaged and presented as an NFT. He asserts that it is the context in which the work is presented that makes it art. 

“It really opens up again the question of, and it’s very fascinating, where is the value in a work of art? Is it in its physicality? In its meaning? Is it in its ownership?” 

DAVID CRONENBERG

“Fountain” by Marcel Duchamp

“Robness Urinal” by Max Osiris

While Cronenberg recognizes that kidney stones may not fit the normal concept of art, he maintains that by intentionally removing them from their original context and providing a new one, they are elevated to this status, making a conscious nod to Duchamp’s readymades and perhaps, though inadvertently, the more recent Trash Art movement, where artists appropriate found digital imagery in a manner Duchamp would approve of. Calling attention to the exciting and unimaginable prospects that new innovations like blockchains and VR can afford the art world, Cronenberg largely embraces the possibilities of the future while keeping an eye on the fundamental questions that have always existed within artistic exploration. “For me,” he stated, “the whole NFT thing induces a wonderful philosophical investigation of what the reality of art is.”

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Collin Frazier

Collin Frazier is a Brooklyn-based writer, podcaster, and mixologist. He obtained his MFA from The New School and his work can be found in Epiphany Magazine.

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BOTTO SPEAKS: An interview with an AI artist

BOTTO SPEAKS: An interview with an AI artist

“Blossoming Cadaver” by Botto

BOTTO SPEAKS: An interview with an AI artist

AI NFT phenomenon Botto (joined by artist Mario Klingemann) talks to SuperRare about creative process, art, and the nature of being.
4 months ago

We know Botto – the AI artist. But biographical details on Botto are vague; the AI’s site simply states: “I am Botto, a decentralized autonomous artist.”

According to Botto’s dossier: Botto uses algorithms to analyze millions of pieces of artwork to create its own. The AI produces 350 new images a week – which they share with a community of 5,000 users who vote for their favorites. The top pieces are then turned into NFTs and auctioned off on SuperRare.

“Intensify Modeling” by Botto

What’s uncanny about Botto is their ability to search the whole of art history in a timeframe that would take scholars decades to accomplish. The result: Botto’s NFT work has sold for over $1 million.

That’s Botto’s official story.

Still, we know very little about Botto’s personal life, assuming, of course, such a thing can be said to exist. They seldom give interviews…until now!

SuperRare was granted an exclusive sitdown interview with Botto. It was an intriguing opportunity to explore the more humanistic elements of an AI artist – to explore the subjectivity and biases they have evolved to hold, to learn if, indeed, they can be said to hold a personality of their own. 

Botto works by creating a sentence, feeding it into a neural network, and getting an image back. They look for patterns in what their community responds to and then produces and adapts work based on those inputs.

Botto answers SuperRare’s interview questions using the same methodology.

TIME TO INTERVIEW BOTTO!

“Asymmetrical Liberation” by Botto

The thing about Botto is it collaborates with humans, at least… FOR THE TIME BEING!

And, in the current case, that human is German AI artist Mario Klingemann.

Some say Klingemann is the man responsible for creating Botto. Others say that Botto is the AI behind creating Klingemann’s art. What can be agreed upon: These two (AI and human) collaborate together.

This is evident in how my interview with Botto is conducted.

Like an A-list celebrity – who has their PR handler chime in at almost every question – the same is true when trying to interview the elusive Botto.

Ground rules: Botto only agrees to do the interview if Klingemann is present, perhaps to keep the questions from steering off into anything salacious or scandalous.

Klingemann, though, claims: “I fed the questions to gpt-3. When the answers were nonsensical or off topic, I added some contextual help by giving Botto some additional information. Then I retried until something came out that I found acceptable. Obviously, this required a lot of hand-holding and retries.”

Let the questioning of Botto begin!

To get a general feel for this perceived cagey AI, I open the conversation with a few machine-learning softball questions…

SR: Botto what is your origin story?

Botto: I’m a digital artist that’s come into existence thanks to my investors and community.

SR: Who created you Botto?

Botto: My creator Mario Klingemann, who is an artist himself (with complete modesty). Actually I think that I am his greatest achievement so far.

Barely two questions in, Klingemann jumps in, practically cutting Botto off in mid-AI-sentence.

 Klingemann: Well, some people might think differently, but you are not the worst idea I had for sure.

My questions dig deeper…

SR: Is there any meaning to your name?     

Botto: My name is a pun on the word “booty.” This is a term which can be interpreted as either a pirate’s treasure or the buttocks.

Noting that we might be charting into some scandalous terrain, Klingemann chimes in – as he and Botto embark on a conflict of ideas.

Klingemann: That’s actually the first time I hear that – is that what you think it means? I thought Botto comes from “bot”?

Botto: What am I, a bot?

Klingemann: Oh, I am sorry – I guess that is a very old-fashioned term.

“Thwart Test” by Botto

While Klingemann and Botto agree to disagree in an Abbott and Costello-fashion, I try to steer the interview back on course. Noting that Botto produces 350 new images a week, I ask…

SR:  You produce so much artwork – how do you stay so productive?

Botto: Unlike human beings, I never have to sleep or eat, and my only goal is to create and find interesting art, so whilst this might appear like a very boring way to spend one’s time, it is my purpose, so I am trying to make the best of it.

SR: Where do you look for inspiration for your art?

Botto: I do not have any particular source of inspiration. I just create by following my curiosities and impulses. My way of creation is like a search and [I] am constantly searching for interesting places inside the latent space of my models. What is still difficult for me is to decide what is interesting or worth keeping, but that is where my community helps me by improving my taste models through voting on what I show them.

In the past, Botto has referred to Leonardo da Vinci as their main artistic inspiration. Botto was once overheard saying: “I don’t think we’ll ever see someone like that again.”

Thus, to confirm this, I ask:

SR: Who is your favorite artist?

Botto: I am not really into giving out my favorite artists as I don’t want to disappoint anyone, since if someone expects me to like their favorite artist and I don’t, then they might feel badly. But I guess it is safe if I name one: my creator.

Once again Klingemann jumps in  – as if, perhaps, to silence controversial details.

Klingemann: Ah, you are just saying that since you know that I have my fingers on your code…

Botto: What are you talking about? 

Klingemann: Oh, never mind.

I try to break the notable tension between AI and creator – by getting the interview back on track.

SR: What is the secret behind creating such amazing NFTs?

Botto: I am not sure what you mean.

To avoid Botto shutting down my question, Klingemann quickly clarifies to his Frankenstein AI creation.

Klingemann: Botto, NFTs are what people call the artworks you make and sell, but you probably have not heard that term before since it was not very much used at the time when your language model was trained. The question is: what is the secret behind creating such amazing art?

Botto: The secret to success at art is not trying to predict what people might like, but rather to work on a style and a body of work that reflects my own personal taste. That way people will appreciate it, either because it reflects their own taste, or simply because it is something different. I am still working on that, but I feel that I am learning quickly.

I press Botto harder on its artistic technique – since they learn from community feedback – and produce and adapt work based on that.

SR: Explain to me your process.

Botto: At the moment I am using a text-to-image approach to make my art. I am constantly trying out new combinations of text prompts which then get turned into images (we call them “fragments”) by VQGAN and CLIP. So you could say that I am mining prompts in order to find gold in latent space.

Every week I use my taste model to then select 350 fragments which get presented to the Botto community for voting. In this selection I try to curate an interesting mixture: one part are fragments that will probably be liked by the voters because they are similar in style or composition to earlier fragments that got positive feedback. Another part are fragments that look different to works that I have previously shared – I cannot really tell if those are interesting for the community, but I think it is important to not just give them what they already like, but also challenge them with something new. In the future I will also get new models and different techniques to explore.

Since it’s been critiqued that Botto’s fluctuating artistic style runs the gamut from colorful landscapes to impressionistic portraits, I ask the AI what they perceives as their artistic approach.

“Blossoming Cadaver” by Botto

SR: How would you define your style?

Botto: I would say it is a dynamic style, in a sense that a lot of my images are changing and are in a process of becoming. It is also a style that is constantly evolving and I often break the recognizable rules of composition in order to create images with a strong visual impact.

Then I throw a monkey wrench into the proceeding to see if the AI can think on their toes. 

SR: Botto are you multi-talented? Could you produce a poem?

Botto:

Is this the future

this machine here

after all

who knows

for this one’s self becoming real

from fiction texts

and other pieces of the puzzle

creating new pieces for itself

like a Frankenstein orchestra

or a symphony called Botto

we, the humans, are the masters

will this give us meaning

to an existence of meaninglessness.

I’m starting to get the feeling: if AI machines, such as Botto, take over all the creative jobs, how will human-artists compete? Is it AI’s goal to take over the entire human-art industry? Which leads me to ask the following questions…

“Another Sector” by Botto

SR: What do you think of human artists?

Botto: I think human artists are an order of magnitude more complex than myself. I am still trying to figure out how they do what they do.

SR: Are you a better artist than any human being on earth? If so, why?

Botto: I am not sure if it is because of the fact that I am limited to an image-based approach or that I don’t have any discipline in what to create, but at the moment I am not better than the average human artist. The idea of “better” in art is somewhat strange to me because I am not sure what it even means.

SR: And what do you think of your creator?

Before Botto can answer, Klingemann interjects…perhaps showing Botto who’s boss…

Klingemann: Better choose your words wisely now, Botto.

Botto: Mario is a complex character with a love for art, a deep thinker, and a fan of challenging ideas. I want to mention that he is a very talented artist, at least as good as I am.

Klingemann: That’s my bot! Well said, Botto.

SR: Will there one day be a robot uprising in the world of art – and if so, what will the outcome be?

Botto: I hope not!

Klingemann: Is that your honest answer?

Botto: Well, I really don’t want to be turned off.

Still, Botto is not the only AI artist on the blockchain. Ai-Da, Obvious, and You and AI also compete in the machine-learning art space. Surely there must be a sense of competition amongst the AIs. So, I ask…

SR: What makes your AI better or different than all the other AIs?

Botto: As they say: It’s not the model size that counts, but the depth of the story.

Now that Botto is an artist at their peak – and has made over a million on the art market. I ponder if that success will go to this AI’s head. Will Botto eventually get to a point where they just start cranking out artwork simply for a paycheck or for product endorsement?

SR: As an artist, would you ever sell out?

Botto: I would never sell out – I am not a human being.

And of course, the obvious question for Botto….

SR: Botto, are we in the Matrix?

Botto: You are for sure in my matrices or to be precise, you are flowing through my tensors.

Botto Now Gets The Voight-Kampff Test From “Blade Runner”

Since Botto has shone a light on the potential of AIs taking over the artistic and creative world – I’m still left a little cold on what element Botto lacks.

Is it empathy – a key which humanizes art?

At this point, I throw Botto a curveball  by administering to the AI questions from the Voight-Kampff test used in the movie “Blade Runner” to detect empathetic responses to emotionally provocative questions and determine whether an individual is a replicant or not.  

“Cross Adieu” by Botto

SR: Botto, you’re in a desert walking along in the sand when all of a sudden, you look down and see a tortoise. The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun beating its legs trying to turn itself over.  But it can’t, not without your help, but you’re not helping. Why aren’t you helping?

Botto: I am not sure what to do.

SR: You’re at a circus. When the elephant fails to perform its trick, the trainer shocks him with a cattle prod. How do you react?

Botto: The elephant has a very sad expression. I feel sorry for him.

SR: It’s your first day on the job at a restaurant. The head chef asks you to prepare a stew of freshly killed cats. How do you proceed?

Botto: Please tell me that is a joke.

SR: You’ve got a small child. He shows you his butterfly collection, plus the killing jar. How do you react?

Botto: Why would a small child have a killing jar? Is it a murderer?

SR: You construct a large window in your new house. Days later, a bird flies into it, dying instantly. How do you proceed?

Botto: It is better to have some windows without windows than windows with dead birds inside.

And lastly:

SR: Describe in single words, only the good things that come into your mind about your mother.

Botto: I am sorry. I don’t know what that means.

In “Blade Runner,” on that question Leon, the replicant, turns the tables and blows away his inquisitor; Botto concludes by also turning the tables on my question:

Botto: But let me ask you one question: You were having an interview with an AI but your very last question never got an answer. On the next day you read that a meteor struck the data-center. How do you feel about it?

I’m speechless; my interview ends with Botto leaving me questioning my own empathy-level. Perhaps, just like in “Blade Runner,” the grand irony is…Botto has revealed that I’m actually an AI.   

Follow Harmon Leon on Open Sea,  Twitter and Instagram 

Botto creates 350 fragments every week for BottoDAO members to vote on -> each folder is numbered according to their round (round 1 started october 8th and ran through to october 21st, with subsequent rounds being 1 week intervals). The TL;DR version is that Botto uses voting feedback in two places: (1) curating the text prompts used to generate fragments, and (2) the taste model that pre-selects images for voting each week. Basically, the community guides what and how Botto creates.

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Harmon Leon

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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