While blockchain is best known as a distributed ledger technology (DLT), its impact on the billion-dollar art market was evident during the recent Art Basel Miami Beach event, which showcased nearly a dozen different panels on art and blockchain.
Various artists also had their works on display during Art Basel Miami Beach, demonstrating that blockchain technology has sparked an entire crypto-themed art movement.
I had the pleasure of interviewing artist, performer and speaker, VESA, who founded ArtForCrypto.com in 2017, which is now rapidly establishing new creative standards in the blockchain art space.
When did you start creating artwork inspired by the crypto and blockchain space? What triggered this?
Perhaps it’s best to start with why I create art in the first place, as it all ties together. Almost all of my projects, even before the mixed media art in film, music, and photography, have attempted to identify cultural pressure points and things bubbling to the surface. Ten years ago, I was involved in making a documentary film about how the fiat monetary system works and innovated a new pricing system on how to sell art at the same time. The jump to blockchain was natural once I got the big picture and saw how many missing solutions it offered to the digital age.
The launch triggered a couple of years back, though, during a coffee session with a friend who updated me how he had become a blockchain investor. He told me about his progress and how he had spent four days trying to find a suitable piece about his new world to share with his office. I quickly realized what an opportunity this was and how this aligned with my values of crypto. The next four months was total immersion time, almost no sleep and feverish research, while creating the first pieces and the Art For Crypto.Com platform. This typically happens to those who wake up to just how impactful this technology is and where we are headed.
The process inspired one of the pieces titled ‘Red Eye’. It truly is a vortex that sucks you in once the satoshi drops.
What typically inspires your crypto artwork?
In the scheme of things, for at least 6,000 years kings and governments have controlled the money supply of their people. The launch of Bitcoin started the separation of money and state. It will soon be natural that we have various digital coins. We now take for granted the private owned Virgin Airlines as opposed to only having British Airways, like it used to be. In hindsight, knowing how significant the separation of church and state was earlier for the west, I can hardly imagine what this means for the evolution of our species and beyond.
Bitcoin does not require for you to be a human to participate, so crypto will be the natural choice of AI when it starts autonomously trading online. What all this means for the trading markets is impossible to say at this point, but seeing the development of Alpha Go and other self-programming military AI innovations, it is likely to be foundational for the whole system. We’ve already seen AI art being sold at Christie’s for significant sums. What happens when it starts collecting art?
The piece “HELLO” refers to our current and emerging reality. AI is already among us and is saying hello.
The Italian renaissance artists commented upon the zeitgeist of their time and dared to imagine what tomorrow could look like. For some reason, this tradition has been mostly lost to nihilistic pop nonsense, but I’m one of the artists attempting to resurrect it. Most of my projects before, like the paradigm-shifting Veena Malik project or LUX, have attempted to assist cultural shifts. My biggest fix is to simplify paradigm shifts layered concepts and craft them into weapons of mass communication in a creative way. Crypto art for me fits this theme very naturally and helps fund some of the efforts too. Through my way of doing this, I can assist wider adoption.
Explain what some of your artwork means
The Lakshmi Resurrection, for example, takes a Hindu Goddess of wealth and health integrating many associated significant symbols and value pointers with her raining down gold and Bitcoin to those who sacrifice and pray for her assistance. I found it fascinating how thousands of years of tradition could so easily digest Bitcoin in a significant way to a whole religion. Crypto is not as relevant to countries doing well, but the true potential relies upon countries with heavily inflating currencies with many people unable to enter the traditional banking system for one reason or another. This is altogether 39% of the human population. Many of the people who pray to Lakshmi could do with a self-empowering message. Her symbolically accepting crypto has the potential to change and bring awareness to the reality of millions.
“Emancipation of Value” is my most recent commission piece for Latium Coin. After a few talks with David Johnson, the CEO, it became evident that he not only had a solution to help the gig economy become more sustainable, but also that he believes the family unit to be the continuing base for tangible altruism, as opposed to the ever-inflating state programs. Their logo also reminded me of the X-Men stories, which are conceptually my favorite Marvel conflicts. The ongoing battle between evolution and power interests that want things to remain stagnant. After pondering some of this, the main symbol became an updated version of Davinci’s Vitruvian man to the base family unit emerging and stepping out of the confinement of the circle boldly — we all need the courage to follow evolution as opposed to idealize the past. The project also includes being written about on News BTC and a video dedicated to the piece to help the message go wider.
On the lighter side, “Soldier of Fortune” was born from listening to a podcast where the host said:” Bitcoin is kind of like South Park’s Kenny. Keeps dying and coming back to life.” For those of us who have been in the space for a while and have done our research, it is obvious that this keeps reoccurring as click-bait articles. Once the price comes down from the new peak, it is ritualistically pronounced dead. The piece makes fun of this and hijacks a pop culture icon, but also reveals the true tenacity of the system. Even the Pentagon and individual exchanges of crypto have been hacked but for ten years, despite having been under attack 24/7, nothing or no one has managed to successfully bring down the system of Bitcoin. This is, in part, why saying ‘Bitcoin is backed by nothing’ is silly.
Has the bear market affected your work?
It has made raising funds for projects more difficult for sure and has even slowed down sales, but the larger vision of this allows me to be not as reactionary as the ‘basic trader bros’ tend to be. In this case, having some depth and not caring much for lambos is a not just virtue signaling. It is survival and mental peace tactic that now might come across authentic to even those just after a quick buck.
The ‘Fork And Flip” piece, among other things, helps to see the natural part of the winter to the summer.
Do you think crypto artwork will be an ongoing genre?
I’m sure it will be. There are many dedicated artists in the space already. It allows some people who more or less understand it, to be authentically inspired by money and educates those traditionally reliant on complicated handouts and modern Medici’s to create their own wealth. It facilitates a transcendental shift for artists out of the poverty game and becoming a natural part of a larger whole. Seeing how narcissistic the art world is as a whole, it is certainly needed. If you look at most art today, since spirituality is still taboo, what is considered top art is what criticizes or entertains. Art together with other movements becomes more purposeful and powerful. The tangible help it provides those in this space, who are all working towards mass adoption makes easy alliances.
What challenges do you see ahead for this type of artwork?
With some patience, as the art is as much in its infancy as the currencies, we will soon see it surpass the average logo polishing, tech gimmickry, and plain propaganda. As blockchains become more stable, and the rules become more clear on the regulatory side, we will see many more inspired by what is possible here. For me personally, the current challenge is fundraising for great opportunities that have been earmarked for 2019 and 2020. It is about letting people know just how much they can benefit from associating with substantial art that has reach and clarity.
I also recently attended the North American Bitcoin conference in Miami with the support of Data Bunker. The plan was to network and make further plans on how we are going to execute the two Evolv Events collaborations both in the U.S. and Europe. The first one is the Hodl Rally and Barcelona Blockchain Summit combo, which has a very ambitious goal. As a new addition just confirmed a couple of days back, also a commission piece for the Litecoin Foundation with ties to the 2019 Litecoin Summit. This week I’m doing a keynote at NSU museum for Art Fort Lauderdale about the cross over of crypto and art and a related performance at the Conrad hotel. I love what the founders Andrew and Evan have done with the festival and they specifically wanted me to come in to talk crypto and art for the second time. It’s great to be able to be with those already familiar with crypto and then help the art world get more accustomed to it. My home country Finland has been surprisingly slow to adopt this as a tech-loving place, but our collaboration with the coming Helsinki Foto Festival will be the first to showcase this work on my home turf.
You can read more about the crypto-themed artwork movement in my Forbes article.