A COLLABORATION on a minted non-fungible token (NFT) by Filipino artist Luis Buenaventura III and Argentinian comic book artist Jose Delbo began through conversations on Twitter.
“He shared an idea that he had about this particular superhero character. And then he asked me if I wanted to collaborate on it — create the animation, the video, and the sound design,” Mr. Buenaventura recalled of the beginning of their collaboration.
“He is 87 years old. He started drawing comics, Wonder Woman, Transformers, [and] a lot of DC stuff. He started drawing that in the ‘50s and ‘60s,” Mr. Buenaventura said of Mr. Delbo.
“I’ve never met him in real life. He lives in Buenos Aires in Argentina, and I live in La Union in the Philippines… But he is old enough to be my grandfather. In fact, his son is older than me,” he added. “That’s one of the things that makes him very unique is he is probably the oldest NFT artist.”
In April 2021, Messrs. Buenaventura III and Delbo sold 222 editions of Satoshi The Creator – Genesis for $1,999 each on the Nifty Gateway platform.
Art Fair Philippines, which went online on May 6 to 15 this year, highlighted digital arts in a section called the “Metaverse,” with a NFT 101 Showcase. During the virtual fair, visitors were introduced to the local and international digital art scene through various talks, which are available on the Art Fair Philippines’ YouTube page.
Bought through cryptocurrency in a digital ledger called a blockchain, NFTs are one-of-a-kind digital properties such as jpeg files, GIFs, music, and short videos. The sale of limited NFTs or through auctions recently gained traction in the mainstream. Notable NFT platforms include SuperRare, Nifty Gateway, Rarible, and Foundation.
During a panel discussion with ArtReview magazine titled, “NFT: A New Revolution or the Emperor’s New Clothes?,” Dubai-based arts writer and editor Rahel Aima said that NFTs open up access not only to who can sell work but also to who is allowed to buy it.
“As an art critic, I tend to think a lot about where the work begins and ends and how much the context informs and functionality completes the work,” Ms. Aima said. “No matter what their material is, artworks aren’t stable. They’re contingent, messy, constantly building and unraveling. And I think this applies to digital works too. What an NFT does is to point to a single iteration of a work and freeze it forever in time.”
Art historian, critic, and curator at Albright-Knox Art Gallery (New York) Tina Rivers Ryan stressed that the beginning of digital arts should be part of the conversation in understanding developments in the growing technological system.
“As we know now, no technology is neutral. One of my fundamental responses to the rise of the NFTs to try to understand the way in which crypto art is embedded within this larger technological system that does have an ideology and economic history,” Ms. Ryan said.
“It’s very important that people understand that working with new technologies, even with digital technologies, has a history that’s half a century old at this point,” she said, noting that digital arts have a history dating back to the 1960s.
With the advent of digital arts come the questions, “What exactly is an aesthetic object? Who gets to make it? And how does it circulate?”
Ms. Ryan cited the first exhibition of computer-generated images which was mounted in New York in 1965. It was called “Computer Generated Pictures” at the Howard Wise Gallery. It featured works by two scientists, Bela Julesz and Michael Noll, who worked at Bell Laboratories.
Noll recounted in a memoir, Ms. Ryan explained, that he and Julesz argued over whether they should title their show: “Computer-Generated Art” or “Computer-Generated Pictures.”
“In other words, this sort of anxiety about the aesthetic status or validity of the digitally made art object as has been going,” Ms. Ryan said. “There’s so much to learn from that history. And it’s very frustrating to see none of that being part of this conversation.”
Ms. Ryan also clarified that purchasing an NFT does not mean it transfers the ownership of the asset to the buyer.
“In many cases, the legal transaction of buying an NFT according to the terms and conditions of the platforms is that you’re not actually acquiring possession or ownership of the associated asset,” she said. “You’re literally just buying the NFT that points to that asset, which means that the responsibility for acting as a steward and conserving that asset is not being passed from the artist to anybody else.”
NFTS IN SEA, THE PHILIPPINES
In the Philippines, the crypto art scene is slowly gaining traction in the mainstream art market.
“There are definitely Southeast Asian (SEA) artists that are rising to commercial success, generally. [What] we are doing in Narra Art Gallery is trying to help that funnel of getting artists started in Southeast Asia,” Narra Art Gallery co-founder Colin Goltra during the virtual tour of the gallery. Narra Art Gallery is a digital art gallery on Decentraland — a virtual world made possible by the blockchain.
Mr. Goltra said that their gallery has a “First Mint Fund” which helps the artist mint their first NFTs. “We’re willing to subsidize and pay the minting costs of your first NFT and get you started on the platform,” he said.
In his talk called “How to Become a crypto artist,” NFT artist Luis Buenaventura mentioned the basic mechanics of notable NFT marketplaces or platforms.
Mr. Buenaventura explained that platforms such as MakersPlace and Nifty Gateway have an approval process prior to minting NFTs. “What that means is an artist can’t just show up and start selling there… Now, there’s so many artists that are trying to get into this stuff right now, there are very pessimistic estimates of how long it will take you to apply and then get approved,” he said. The approval may take between four to six weeks (for MakersPlace), or five to six months (for Nifty Gateway).
The advantage of entering platforms that require approval is that “they (marketplaces) spend marketing money on promoting the artists,” he said.
Meanwhile, marketplaces such as OpenSea and Rarible require no approval prior to minting.
The cost of minting an NFT also varies and can range from $50 to $300.
“NFTs have to compete for space… the price is different on any given day because sometimes, there is congestion on the network, sometimes there is no congestion,” Mr. Buenaventura said.
“If you’re trying to hit the low end and you don’t want to spend too much money on just the act of minting your piece, the best recommendation I can make is Saturday evenings (Manila Time),” he added.
That payment for a sold NFT is in the digital currency Ethereum, he said. “It is not dollars; it is not pesos. But it has its own exchange rate in the same way as dollars have against pesos.”
For those who want to get started in crypto art, he recommended building a network with artists on social media. Mr. Buenaventura said that he began most of his network on Twitter where he currently has about 9,000 followers.
“You can’t just have thousands of Twitter followers and expect your art will do well. It needs to be the correct type of Twitter (#cryptoartPh) followers,” he said — those who know about NFT art and crypto currencies.
“The type of followers that you have matters more than the number of followers you have.”
In May 2021, CBS News wrote that Ethereum is currently estimated to annually consume “roughly 44.94 terawatt-hours of electrical energy, which is comparable to the yearly power consumption of countries like Qatar and Hungary.” It added that, “It is responsible for about 21.35 metric tons of carbon dioxide released each year, comparable to the carbon footprint of Sudan.”
On separate Art Fair talks, the artists said that there are misconceptions about the energy usage of blockchains.
Mr. Buenaventura said that it is a limited perspective to consider minting in blockchains as the cause of global warming. “This technology is work in progress, and the people that are working on it are trying to make it as sustainable as possible because we’re building this stuff for the long-term,” he said.
“You have to think of the relative energy consumption whether you are minting an NFT, using Google and Facebook servers,” co-founder of Narra Art Gallery Gabby Dizon said. He added that NFTs are a low single digit percentage of the use case of the network. “Doing NFTs is a very small part of that and is negligible compared to the cost of the entire network.”
NFT marketplace SuperRare is looking into more efficient alternatives with the development of ETH2 which aims to increase Ethereum sustainability. Other sustainable blockchain options in development are Polygon (FKA Matic) and Polkadot.
As for questions on whether NFTs will be in the art scene in 10 years, Mr. Buenaventura’s quick and honest answer is, “I don’t know.”
“The thing that you have to remember about crypto in general — it’s a sunrise industry. You can’t see beyond the horizon just yet.”
Like watching a sunrise, he said, “You’re looking, [but] can barely see what’s actually going on, on the horizon. You have to wait until the sun is actually risen.” — Michelle Anne P. Soliman