HACK of a BEAR
Panel Discussion - July 7th, 2021Eleonora Brizi, Shivani Mitra, Noah Davis
E.B.: Hi everybody, I am so happy to be here tonight to present this project together with two more people who are joining this discussion with me. Noah Davis, who is a Postwar and Contemporary Art Specialist at Christie’s and Shivani Mitra, an Art Historian at MOCA, the Museum of Crypto Art. This is very exciting, this is one of the best projects that I have ever worked on, if we may call it so, a collaboration with Leonardo da Vinci. I have curated the project and I would like to thank everyone at MOCA who made this possible, Colborn who put us in contact with Noah and Christie’s. I would like to thank you Shivani, for all the hard work, thank you also to all the architects who built all these spaces where the works are to be shown. A few words about the concept, which is what I call an artistic gesture. Tonight we celebrate art, a continuum that doesn’t know place nor time. Art changes its name, but never changes its voice. Five hundred years ago it was called Renaissance Art with Leonardo and now called Crypto Art with Hackatao. All of these people are pushing the limits of contemporary art. So, tomorrow Christie’s London will be auctioning an original drawing by Leonardo, which is called Head of a Bear at the Exceptional Sale. Hackatao who, as we know, are an Italian art duo who create digital art and crypto art in the NFT space, were called and commissioned to create an art piece which would connect to this Leonardo drawing. Through a process that they have been working on for a long time now, to first draw in their signature style and then to use augmented reality technology in order to animate the artwork, they have created this beautiful connection, an umbilical cord between the physical and the virtual. The pieces are now forever connected, once which is also the romantic side of this project. We are very happy to have achieved this. When you look at the Leonardo drawing through the Aria app, scanning the image, the head of the bear is brought to life, Leonardo is living again in the Metaverse. It works on a photo of Head of a Bear, on an image of it on a screen, thanks to technology, even if one cannot physically visit London in order to see the work by Leonardo da Vinci, one can still experience Hack of a Bear, Hackatao’s piece, anywhere in the world. We tokenized the digital animation on Superrare, probably the first NFT platform, we are very fond of them. Three derivative, celebrative pieces are also tokenized on Superrare, then there’s an NFT piece of the 3D head which will be donated to the Museum of Crypto Art, to thank them for giving us the opportunity to be part of this project. I am speaking from a curator’s point of view, a curator of digital and crypto art, which is what I have been doing for three years now. I am really curious also know the point of view of Noah, who is working at Christie’s, at an auction house but is also now entering the crypto space, so: What is your take on this? How did you find this project, did you enjoy working on it?
N.D.: Thank you so much for the introduction Eleonora, it’s been so amazing to work with you and Hackatao. This is such a unique project. My name is Noah Davis and I am a Specialist in the Contemporary Art department at Christie’s, operating in New York city. I was the Specialist Head of Sale, at the 69 million dollars Beeple auction for a 1 of 1 NFT and that was the first NFT that has ever made, up until now, headline news. It has totally changed my life, completely. I will be completely honest, before the Beeple sale, my experience with NFTs, the Metaverse and the crypto space was extremely limited, extremely surface level and now it is what I do every single day, all day, every day. It has been an amazing rollercoaster of becoming specialised in this new field, until Beeple my specialty was contemporary art, strictly ‘in-real-life’ art as opposed to NFT based art. Very quickly I had become immersed in this zone and really fascinated by all of the amazing work that is being created and shown in the space. Hackatao are part of that incredible mosaic or puzzle of crypto-native artists. I have had the pleasure of getting to work with a lot of different creators, but especially Hackatao’s practice speaks to me for its dynamism and the use of augmented reality and AI. I really think that the work that they have created for this project is incredible, such a special thing to behold.
One of my most important goals now, moving forward, is to further integrate the contemporary art world and the art world more generally with the crypto space and to find ways to do that make sense, that are organic and natural, as opposed to contrived and gimmicky. I think I can speak for everybody when I say that the last thing that we want, the last thing that we need, is for this to simply be a cash-grab, that’s a great way to ruin a good thing. So, when it comes to this project, there’s nothing immediately for sale and that is part of the exciting thing here. Most of what I do day-to-day is very sales-oriented, driven by the bottom line as this project is purely about promoting Hackatao. Honestly, the most important thing for me is promoting Hackatao by way of the Leonardo, but also, creating a really dynamic, compelling and immersive work of art and an experience for the audience. My thesis is.. and I hope that this is not much of a stretch, but if Leonardo were around today, he would absolutely be interested in the crypto space and NFT based art, all things that are familiar to us and that we’re all so passionate about now. He would totally be into it, as he was the technologist of his day. There's an affinity there, Hackatao are Italian, Leonardo was Italian.. it just made sense, the pairing made sense! You might be wondering, how this all came about, other than the two connections that I have just made, that might seem a little tangential.. This will be surprising to approximately no-one but, after the Beeple results, many people in the contemporary art world and the art world more generally, started paying attention and thinking about NFTs and the ways in which NFTs could be used.
There were all sorts of opportunities for me to connect creative people in the NFT space with the in-real-life space, to sort of make those connections again, in a way that made sense. So we chose Hackatao, I have to give credit to Colborn as he was the one who suggested reaching out to Hackatao, when we had the Leonardo drawing coming in, we wanted to do something special, we wanted to engage with both of these audiences of the crypto space and the ‘real-world’ art world. We wanted to have a dynamic exhibition plan for it and Colborn recommended that we reach out to engage them in this project and I am so glad that he did. The work that they put into this is very apparent, the augmented reality is so startling and intense and it really does bring this artwork fully and totally into the 21st century in an incredible way. I really do believe that this could indoctrinate a lot of people, people out there who might be wondering about this whole movement, about virtual and NFT based art. There’s such a pandemonium in the media, a misunderstanding about what the medium does, what it is, they think of it as something you could simply take a screenshot of. Yet this is the antithesis of that! You cannot approximate this artworks in any other way, you have to experience it, you have to use the app on the image for it to come out into your space. It is a way of integrating the real world and the virtual world in a really seamless capacity and that to me is really where the magic happens. Not just with NFTs but with virtual art and with art generally, it can’t be experienced in any other way, shape or form than it’s native presentation. So this opportunity to bring Leonardo into the 21st century and into the Metaverse but also to bring Hackatao to the global Christie’s audience, it was just a perfect, amazing opportunity. I am just thrilled to have been a part of it and really, all I can take credit for is helping to connect the dots. Ever since the explosion of NFTs I have gotten to work on so many amazing projects, this is an exciting roller coaster that we’re all on together and I am very happy to be here with all of you.
E.B.: Thank you so much Noah, for these beautiful words. I couldn’t agree more. We actually had a conversation about Leonardo. We thought, what would he do with NFTs? and I said, he probably would have invented them! Again, thank you so much. It really is a first step towards education, towards creating a strong connection between these worlds, which are actually already connected. Today when I wrote my curatorial note my question to people was, was any of this ever separated? Maybe we did separate it you know, for our pleasure or convenience, but I am sure that art was always one unique thing.
Thank you Noah. Now, I would also like to talk to Shivani, who’s representing MOCA in this panel, an Art Historian. Shivani, would you like to talk to us about Moca a little? Why did you choose to work on this project, what is the museum’s project, how did you end up opening the museum? Also, if you would like to talk to us a little about the architecture of the space?
S.M.: First of all I would like to thank you Eleonora, to thank Noah and Hackatao, you’re all such kind visionaries and that is the core of this, it is about the people who move something forward. I studied art history because I found the idea of people telling stories of historical events with visuals to be one of the most compelling parts of humans. I think, with the Museum of Crypto Art we see this movement of cryptocurrency, the financial transformation, the freedom, sovereignty, ownership and empowerment that it’s offering and there is crypto art which is really putting visual aesthetic to these feelings and these impulses. When I joined the museum in August with Colborn, there’s these ideas that we were all thinking about, the Metaverse, a place that is maybe protected from the worst parts of how sometimes technology can be used to just keep things and power structures just the way they are. With crypto art, there is a world where we can build multiple metaverses, which is why we are kind of metaverse-agnostic and Arium is one place for these exhibitors, Somnium is another place where an exhibition will take place, Decentraland is another one, so that this can be shared as much as it can be. The intention with this museum is to really be a home for artists and collectors seeking a cultural institution or foundation, a place to express themselves freely, and we’re really doing the work on behalf and I hope parallel with the artists to keep growing this movement to its full potential. With this in particular, Leonardo, as we’ve all discussed, represents a genius and he represents someone who thought ahead of his time. William Wallace was my professor on Leonardo, who actually wrote the book on the rivalry between Leonardo and Michelangelo and one of the first things we did in his class, he showed everyone a photo of a hundred and fifty people or so, taking photos of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. He just showed us continuous photos of people taking photos of Leonardo’s work and he said I want you guys to think about how this artist, this one artist, has transcended hundreds of years into new technology and so many people’s minds. I mean, arguably the Mona Lisa is the most famous artwork of all time, it has its own culture around it. I was thinking about that with this project, we’ve added a next dimension to how we are using imagery to look at his work. And this time it’s through an Italian artist duo’s lens and that’s so beautiful and it’s so cool! When I think about his drawings in particular, he is known as a painter famously, but his drawings really represent the part of his mind that was thinking about phenomena, he would study animals, water, the sky.. for hours and draw them. Because there was no film, no cameras, but what Leonardo was able to do was to capture some of the most realistic renderings of physics and anatomy, I wanna say 400 years before anyone else could, just through his own observation. This was a man of detail and interest in how things work, how to destroy them and recreate them. I think Hackatao in the way that Noah was talking about, really they have envisioned this through this piece. The classic wrap but, also really using Blender to create a bear, when back then Leonardo spent many many hours just trying to draw and caption the movements of a bear. It’s full circle but it also represents a step forward for this whole movement of crypto art and what it means to look back and move forward without any fear. Kirk from untitled, xyz, who is the architect of this building, umm he geeks out about architecture and art history just like I do. When Kirk, Colborn and I were talking, we were thinking about antiquity and Colborn brought out the Pantheon and how that is a place that is very timeless, because it was entirely transformed from a religious space to a political space, to a religious place, to a market place, it is one of the most timeless spaces to ever exist. So this building is inspired by that. Kirk has a specific fascination with QR codes, how they represent a lot of the ways in which we are interacting with objects, so some of those forms, geometric, are in the space and the idea of a spotlight, which is obviously above you, is in the space as well. And we’ll be unveiling another version of this in Somnium space on Friday and then in a couple weeks time in Decentraland. The piece will be the focus of an entire sculpture garden, that is for 3D objects and how they represent a new media in crypto art.
E.B.: Thank you so much Shivani. We’re trying to give.. to let this project breathe for a long time so it will be permanent on Decentraland, it will be permanent on the Metaverse. We are presenting it in as many spaces as we can, Arium is more of a social space where people can meet, their faces and voices, see the art and talk. It is the most similar experience that we have to “reality”, well, whatever that means. And all these other spaces where you can experience the work in different ways, and then of course we have the physical show at Christie’s in London, where people enter this beautiful exhibition room, with music, you’re given an ipad and you can experience the digital soul of the exhibition.
Going back to what you were saying about Leonardo, obviously here nobody wants to compare nobody to anybody. There’s just parallel stories that repeat themselves in history, history repeats itself. A long time ago, when it was really the time to push the boundaries for crypto art.. I worked on a book which documents the first ever crypto art project, which is 2016, Rare Pepe. The first time however that we’ve begun to experience it, with platforms and more actors coming to the space was in 2018, but these actors were very few and Hackatao, they were there. They were believing in it, in this very little circle of people and seeing the potential of what this could be. It’s always the same story, it’s just the newest means and form that art can manifest. The same curiosity, the same tendency to study things and to understand and to use as many new tools as possible. To me, everything just really makes sense. When I looked at this project I thought, it’s the same story, a tale told with different words, it’s the same concept.
So the way that I would like to close this discussion, is to look at the future. I am very curious to ask both Noah and Shivani, what do you think.. Noah, you talked about this interaction between, you call it, “the real world” and the digital, NFT world.. Where do you see the meeting point? Also, I am really interested to know, do you think that we should educate the audience on what is digital, what is your take on this, where do we go from here?
N.D.: Thank you, very interesting question, a lot of people are asking themselves that question. Well, where are we going? I would be really foolish to say with authority that I know where we’re going, probably I know less than anybody else. I think that what is happening right now, the distinction between the real and the virtual is blurring, breaking down and becoming unnecessary, really. At the end of the day virtual experience is not necessarily replacing lived experience, but it is complementing it and becoming tantamount of the experience in a completely unprecedented way. Just because of the fidelity of technology and how rapidly it is iterating and improving upon itself. I think that we are going to reach this moment in time where lived experience will no longer have this, really arbitrary sort of prominence and people having preferences over the lived experience versus the virtual. That distinction will not be meaningful at all, really. Think of the beginning of the quarantine for example, which was such a disruptive and horrific moment in human history, everybody’s lived experience was necessarily shortened, the spectrum of their lived experience was shortened. You couldn't do things that you normally would and you couldn’t interact with people in the way that you normally would. We saw such a massive adoption of alternative means of living, which usually is a virtual means of living. I am talking specifically about people flocking to Animal Crossing: New Horizons and spending hours building and curating their little virtual lives and that was taking the same kind of emotional significance and space for people as real, waking life, at a really crucial time. I think that that has really imprinted on all of our psyches, and our collective psyches, what Carl Jung referred to as the collective unconscious. I really feel that we’re approaching that moment in time where lived experience and virtual experience and also virtual possessions and real possessions will be one and the same.
E.B.: Yes, I also think that it is a matter of generations. If we talk about who are going to be the next collectors, the people that are now 10 years old, they will be the next art collectors, the next artists. Again, the voice is the same but the language is digital. I don’t see how.. When generations will change, I agree with you, we won’t even see this gap.
N.D.: Yeah, it will be seamless. I was giving an interview to Good Morning America, and I had this epiphany moment, where the interviewer was asking me question, trying to dumb it down as much as possible for the Good Morning America audience, which is mostly boomers, and grandma and grandpa. So he asked me to explain NFTs to him as if he were a child and I had this weird cognitive dissonance.. If you were a child you’d already get it! I could just say Fortnite skin and you would understand immediately, oh it’s a Fortnite skin that only I can own, yes an NFT, moving on.
That to me is really striking, a striking thing.
E.B.: (laughs) Exactly!
S.M.: There’s the next generation, there’s also this one. I feel like I live on the internet, we’re getting to that place now, where all of us are connected. You were saying, where the emotional space this takes is as much as the physical and it is scary. It’s transhumanist, for sure, but it doesn’t have to be scary when you realise you are in full control of your experiences online. And I think that’s what’s going to continue to build. If there’s an inflex, NFTs with celebrities, gaming, fine art and you reach the point where you think what do I want to consume and why? What would make me happy? So, that question and answer is going to keep building I think. At the same time, especially with light art scanning, the idea of replicating a physical space virtually, has gotten boring, I think. So we’re at the place where you’re gonna be jumping from platform to platform to see the art and maybe have it underneath you and really start to have social, entirely sensory experiences. The technology has to improve with this, I think it is coming. That’s some of the most exciting stuff I think, where the art and tech and display of and consumption of, starts to become very personal.
E.B.: We’re all waiting for that day. Maybe if the quarantine hadn’t happened we wouldn’t have been at this point. It has been a huge push, so I mean, you can never really plan when it comes to these things. We don’t know what is going to happen but our vision is shared. Three very different points of view of the art world.