Earlier this week, cryptocurrency entrepreneur Justin Sun bought EtherRock, a picture of a rock with laser eyes for half-a-million dollars. ‘It wasn’t even a good picture of a rock. So, when people are buying crudely-drawn rocks for $500,000, what stage of the collecting cycle are we in?’ This was one of the many questions raised at ‘From Chennai to Christie’s’, a recent session with NFT majors Twobadour and teen artist Laya Mathikshara. “We’re still at the beginning stage of the art cycle — the real explosion hasn’t happened yet. It will occur when people go beyond just owning art to understanding what to do with the NFTs and how to experience them,” said Twobadour aka Anand Venkateswaran (who shot to fame for his purchase of Beeple’s $69 million NFT artwork with Vignesh Sundaresan aka Metakovan earlier this year).
As Part of Madras Week celebrations, the session saw techie, musician and author of Masala Lab, Krish Ashok, exploring what two different players in this space — creator and investor — had to say, and making the concept relatable to the audience.
Chennai and Crypto art
“We are amidst a renaissance — the crypto space is a convergence of technology, financial instruments that is driven by culture for the first time,” said Venkateswaran. “The Bitcoin, Altcoin, ICO boom and bust, etc, were driven by financial instruments, whereas NFTs are fed by culture. Now, there is a place for artists and musicians like us, which is why the work created here becomes valuable. You don’t see a lot of traditional art buyers - people who buy crypto art get the concept and are bankrolling the renaissance,” he added at the event organised by Madras Musings .
Mathikshara, who sold her first NFT in May for 0.39 ETH (approximately ₹90,500) on the platform Foundation, sees art as something you collect without any financial benefit. “It’s like collecting shells at the beach. It is just something beautiful; art that speaks to you in any form. NFTs are exactly like that.”
The conversation that explored everything from bitcoins and crypto art to digital tools and the ever expanding metaverse, also addressed the future of art galleries. “An NFT is a digital certificate of ownership of an asset — art, virtual land, wearable, etc. Unlike any other certificate, it cannot be destroyed and it completely does away with the middleman. We don't need to depend on art galleries or curators now,” explained Twobadour, adding how NFTs are the most useful way to get into crypto space. “People from Chennai and the global south attach themselves to new technology because it is a launchpad for them. It helps them leapfrog a very difficult journey. Although Chennai has vibrant artists there’s no art market as such and now, because of crypto, someone like Laya is a global artist. She can now directly expose her to someone in New York or elsewhere.”
Sharing tools and plans
Mathikshara, who hosted a gallery in the metaverse (during last year’s lockdown) that brought together 20 artists from across the world, said the experience helped her know more about the NFT community. “It helped me in my journey — NFT is all about the community and building contacts.” As for variations in the art world, “While 2D art hasn’t evolved much, AR art can be felt and can be looked at from every dimension. It lets you travel to where the art is. You can live in the object’s world or vice versa. Dynamic art changes with time, temperature, sound value of Bitcoin, etc. and is a new dimension,” said the artist who is now experimenting with generative art. “This is about creating art with pixels.” In the future, she hopes to explore the intersection of art and tech - the metaverse, AR artwork, etc. “I use software such as Python, p5.js, and Photoshop as well. Tech is moving at a fast pace and as we cannot judge it I don't want to stick to something specific,” said Mathikshara.
Aside from questions on ‘how to approach purchasing NFTs’, ‘where can artists start off’, and ‘beginners to NFT art’, the session concluded with an interesting insight on what the future of the metaverse holds for Chennai-themed art. For Mathikshara, it was all about minting Tamil culture on the blockchain. “It is the best place to start especially in a post-pandemic scenario considering we’ve not stepped out much and are closer to technology. Be it a Thirukural, a song, or a poem, anything can be preserved.” Adding to how NFTs are capsules that conserve culture, and with languages on the wane, Venkateswaran revealed that he’s now working on the concept. “We’re trying to revive and preserve cultural texts, movies as NFTs. We’re also working with Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3 (GPT-3) to preserve a lot of Tamil cultural elements as NFTs,” he said.
Watch the conversation on Madras Musings’ YouTube channel. For upcoming Madras Day events, log on to themadrasday.in