NFTs with Artwrld
2023Mar23 @ 9:00 a.m. PST: Artwrld works collaboratively with artists to commission and produce projects that engage broad audiences and explore the emerging possibilities of blockchain technology for creative practice. They support artists throughout the entire process of making new work—from the initial concept to the final presentation—while fostering critical conversations about the issues driving digital art and culture. Join Artwrld's Managing Director, Kerin Sulock, in this webinar to learn more about the intersection of fine art, NFTs and blockchain technology."
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Webinar Transcript . . .
Okay let's get started. First of all - thank you all for joining today. I'm Mark Ross, one of the co-founders of GridMarkets and we're excited today to host Kerin Sulock of Artwrld. She's going to be covering her impressive artistic background, Artwrld's Mission and importantly, she's going to be addressing head on some of the skepticism that the creative Community has with NFTs. We're going to go deep into that topic and it's going to be very interesting because Kerin has a lot of experience and things to share with the community. So with that let's get started. Kerin, thanks for joining us today. Why don't you start off by introducing yourself. My name is Kerin Sulock. I have been working in the art world for close to 17 years now. I got my start studying art history. I got my masters in art history and of all things early medieval manuscript painting from Williams and I went on at that point to work for a contemporary artist, a conceptual artist named Jenny Holzer. I started out working for Jenny as a project manager traveling the world realizing her installations, everything from marble footstools inscribed with text to complicated LED installations hanging from various ceilings around the world. After that I briefly went back for my MFA in creative writing at Washington University in St. Louis and then after taking some time to start my own family, went back and ran the studio of contemporary photographer Taryn Simon for a time and then moved on to a venture that Pace Gallery started called SuperBlue which specializes in immersive art installations and worked on a really interesting installation there at an arts organization in New York called The Shed with the (multidisciplinary Amsterdam- based) artist called Drift. I then found my way to Artwrld. Tell us about Artwrld Kerin. Artwrld was was founded a few years ago right after the pandemic by Josh Goldblum, Nato Thompson and Walid Raad as a result of noticing during the pandemic the power of digital technology of course and the ways in which it had certainly influenced artistic practice during that time but also brought so many people into the digital sphere and opened up the possibilities for how digital culture could be not only be produced but transacted and disseminated online. Of course the NFT boom came shortly thereafter - to fizzle out shortly thereafter. But all during this time there was this belief at Artwrld that there is an inherent possibility in blockchain technology to really, nothing short of revolutionized artistic practice the ways in which artists build sustainable financial futures for themselves, for their studios and really for the art world in general. What Artwrld does in a nutshell is really commission, produce and then sell contemporary art that's NFT backed. We're seeking out amazing visionary artists. We are developing ideas with them. We are sourcing the technological resources needed to realize these art collections, and then we're selling them on our website and also discussing them on our website. We like to think that we are building worlds in which we're describing and fostering a conversation about who these artists are, where they came from, why they did this NFT collection, what this NFT collection means, how it relates to their former practice and how it advances ideas in this space. So, we work with amazing artists, some of the world's most well-known artists in the traditional art world but also digitally native artists as well and really bring those collections from concept to completion. Why did Artwrld decide to get into NFTs? In terms of why Artwrld decided to pursue an NFT market, I touched on it previously, but really it really is this story about blockchain technology and what it affords. What it's about is the fact that digital art prior to this time, prior to the advent of this technology, there was no mechanism by which it could become scarce. I mean you could have a proliferation of digital art objects ad infinitum, but when you introduce blockchain technology, what you're doing is allowing for digital scarcity. You're allowing for the fact that you can now prove through a distributed immutable ledger which is blockchain technology that someone bought a certain digital art object, what they bought it for, when they bought it, who made it and then who owns it. It's proof ownership. A lot of people like to describe an NFT as a certificate of ownership. That is something it does quite well that is an issue that it solves. But also there's a part of the technological innovation is this thing called a smart contract which essentially is a technological protocol which allows for the transaction to unfold in a particular way. The smart contract is written specifically with a transaction protocol in mind and distributes the funds, if there are funds included. This is really the seed of inspiration, the seed of possibility, that Artwrld identified and that we find so inspiring and full of possibility which is the fact that you have a smart contract that tries to automatically distribute funds to the creator and also for Artwrld projects, we use smart contracts that funnel money to non-profit organizations as well. So because of blockchain technology you have the possibility of every time an artwork is transacted, every time an artwork is bought and sold, you can funnel funds intentionally. You can funnel them to like I said the creator, the person who originated the artwork, thought of the artwork, to the gallery, the individual who's helping to sell that artwork, if you choose, and to, in Artwrld’s case, an arts non-profit organization. So that was really the genesis behind creating an organization a company that could do this that could harness this technology. the objective was not only to create meaningful thoughtful challenging artwork, digital artwork, in the contemporary sphere, but also to take advantage of this economic possibility to distribute funds intentionally to its creator and then to try and build an infrastructure in the art world through channeling money to these arts non-profits who are the very reason that artists really can exist and in the first place. Kerin, there's a lot of skepticism in the artistic community about NFTs. I'm not sure what the origin of that skepticism is but have you heard of this and what do you say to those artists? I think it's understandable. I think it's even, at this point, given the many controversies that have surrounded this space in general, it would be irresponsible not to be skeptical. You have to do your due diligence and understand what you're involving yourself with. I can't speak to the NFT world in all its complexity as it is a vast landscape of many different endeavors. But I can speak to what Artwrld is trying to do and the niche that we inhabit. I think it's important to remember that it can be used as an element of a practice both as an artistic expression but also as a means of hopefully selling their work and sustaining their creative practices. That's what we're really interested in at Artwrld - the idea that you're creating a work of art digitally that can be disseminated digitally, that can be collected digitally, viewed in one's own home and that the artist is getting compensated for that not just the first time but every subsequent sale after that. That to us is incredibly exciting as one tool in a vast toolkit that artists have for creating sustainable artistic practices, if that makes sense. It does because it seems like there's a compelling proposition there for the artist. Maybe part of the skepticism has to do with the fact that if you look at the art that is being sold and making millions of dollars, in some cases, it's super basic, almost embarrassingly basic. What are your thoughts there? I think I'd like to say that personally I think there's space really for all of it. I don't love to come into this space, the NFT space, and start throwing around my personal opinions, my subjective opinions about the art world. I think there is a space for all of it and there are so many NFTs that I find it's super fun and super interesting and playful and joyful. I love that there is a kind of joy in the space that is really interesting. But I certainly understand and fully appreciate the criticism that a lot of it can seem very elementary and, you know, certainly anything but compelling. I think that's valid. What we're trying to do at Artwrld is really allow artists to use it as a meaningful expression. I hope and I believe that we're creating really interesting beautiful artwork. Personally I think it's a vast world and there's a space for all of us to exist at one time. What we're after is really trying to create artwork at a very high standard and we're interested in working with artists who share those values and those objectives. I guess there are examples in the physical art world of what appear to be very basic artworks but which attract a very high price. So why not in the digital world as well, right? So Kerin, let’s say I'm an artist. I can create an NFT myself, I can put my art on a NFT marketplace. I don't necessarily need Artwrld to do that for me. So why would an artist consider Artwrld versus just a DIY solution, so to speak? There's so many reasons - but I think one of them is that we're interested in building these worlds around our collection. We really want to provide access to as many people as we can reach - to educate folks about and to provide access and content for interested people to learn about who the artists are, where they've come from, how their practice has developed over time, why this collection exists, what it means, how it relates to their past work. We often do a series of Twitter spaces on a weekly basis that explore and encourage conversations between our artistic director Nato Thompson and the artist about these very topics about these questions and pursuits. I like to think that they generate a kind of ambiance or context in which the work is being presented. Our website functions in this way as well, as do our social platforms. So when you're engaging with Artwrld you're engaging with a platform that is meant to be as intentional and thoughtful as possible and in building and engendering these conversations in these critical dialogues about what the art is so it's not just, I suppose, dropping it into the void, so to speak. We're building something around these collections, a structure around them that helps support their meaning and their significance and their enjoyment. Do you have criteria for selecting an artist that you work with? We are hand selecting artists out of relationships that we have and we're soliciting artists - and artists are sometimes coming to us. Our artistic director and our team are very thoughtfully and intentionally considering that roster, considering the work that is being proposed. So it is a very labored decision and it's something that we're doing on an ongoing basis. Why did you choose GridMarkets - what was behind that decision? It was really reaching out to you all and understanding that there was a support system behind GridMarkets - and that support system was really something that certainly Kazi and I took advantage of. Kazi was new to this particular type of digital building and construction and production. She had never used a rendering service before. Neither had I had experience doing this. So we wanted to be sure not only that we could render The Works beautifully and accurately and on time - but also that any kind of question we had would be supported by a live team - which it was with GridMarkets. So I think it was an easy decision once we realized that there were incredibly experienced knowledgeable folks who were ready and willing to help us navigate this rendering process that neither of us had used in the past. Can you talk a little bit about Artwrld's tools used in your pipeline? We have a network of technologists with whom we work. We don't actually produce the artwork ourselves; we don't have someone on our team who is a technologist in that way. We identify the production needs and then go and source out the technologists we need in order to fulfill, in order to build these collections. So that really does vary and we work with all sorts of individuals and we're building new relationships all the time. Sometimes the collections are very 3D heavy. We have to go with someone who has a lot of experience building really sophisticated 3D sculptures. Other times it's lighter. But smart contracts are more complicated. They have more bells and whistles to them that require a more robust web3 development team. So every project is different. But thankfully we have a really amazing roster of technologists we can call on in order to build these collections. Kerin, we see some really interesting projects on the Artwrld website. Can you talk a little bit about what is coming, what sort of projects you're working on or aiming to produce? Absolutely! We have a really amazing exciting project coming up that's dropping in the beginning of April called “Land Sea and Sky” by Jennifer and Kevin McCoy. Kevin minted the very first NFT ever in 2014. So we've been exploring through our website, through our Twitter spaces, and various outlets how the genesis of this NFT, how it came to be, why it came to be, and where we are now. This collection is really stunning. It's a series of landscape collages that Jennifer and Kevin have built digitally that call on some compositional templates that were inspired by the American photographer Ansel Adams. They then use the artificial intelligence engine Stable Diffusion in order to generate dynamic images of the American West which are then filtered through these landscape cutouts. They're stunning landscapes. They're thought-provoking and interesting. It's wonderful for us to have the opportunity to collaborate with Jen and Kevin and particularly try and talk about the history of NFTs and how Kevin was integral to that story. Kerin, for the artists who are watching this webinar and want to get in touch with you, how do they do that? Please email me at Kerin@artworld.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. We are, I hope, accessible folks. I mean we like to communicate with people in any way shape or form. But certainly you can reach out to us through social media as well. We have a really lively and amazing Discord channel that we are on all the time. We have an amazing community manager, Cody, who's built our Discord from the ground up and we're really proud of that. You’re always welcome to have those conversations and our doors open. Awesome! All right, I think we should begin the Q and A. The first question: “Could you tell us a bit about some of Artwrld's past projects?” I love talking about our past projects because I'm really proud of them and I think they're really beautiful instances of how NFTs can be utilized to create some really amazing work. We launched our Genesis Collection with an artist named Walid Raad. It was his first NFT collection called Festival of Gratitude where we produced this series of really beautiful cakes and cake slices that were dedicated rather tongue-in-cheek to various notorious dictators throughout history. There was an interesting mechanism in this project whereby the cake slices were laced with metaphorical poison and some were anodyne. It's an interesting satirical and prodding sort of critical analysis of the effect of ease and the influence of these dictators and various leaders on their countries and world history. That was the first collection that we launched last year. We then did a really beautiful dynamic piece with Shirin Neshat with these hands opening and Iranian poetry falling kinetically down onto the wrist. It's a really quiet, moving piece. We also did a collection of augmented reality enabled artworks last year with artist Ahmet Öğüt that was really a testament to and a celebration of historical whistleblowers which is really interesting. The augmented reality component allowed NFT holders and the general public, through our website, to place these augmented reality monuments in real space and to document those and share those on social media, to explore how these various whistleblowers have really affected some interesting change and progress in different Industries. This past Valentine's Day we launched a collection with Jill Magid called Out-Game Flowers where she went around to different iconic video games and plucked these flowers out of them and created these combinations of flowers in small and large bouquets. That was a project we worked with GridMarkets on in order to render. It's a complex problem and a complex project the details of which I wouldn't have time to do justice here but we were really honored and thrilled that one of these NFTs was acquired by the Pompidou Center in Paris. It was featured on the cover of Art in America in March. It was the first time Art in America had ever featured an NFT on their cover. So this was incredibly exciting for us and just a really beautiful penetrating collection that you can please explore more on our website. Question number two, are you ready Kerin, brace yourself? What advice would you give to folks entering the NFT space for the first time? There are a lot of resources out there to help you navigate through how you do it technically and also why you might do it in different places and in different marketplaces. But I think in general it's important to think: Why am I entering this space? What am I trying to get out of it? What exactly am I doing this for? Something I just really love about the NFT space and the web3 community in general is this desire to try and build something valuable, something honorable. I think it's good to enter the space with a kind of deference and respect for what people who have been working in this space for years have been trying to do and to find your possible niche within this ecosystem. Do I want to create an artwork that has some sort of utility that has a road map and a sort of life that unfolds over time? Am I really looking to create some one-of-one fine art pieces that are really just art for art's sake that many people out there would love to enjoy and experience in various ways. There's a place for everyone. There's so many different opportunities to explore. I think it's just good to kind of acknowledge what exactly you're trying to do and then try to find the community who's already doing that and figure out how you can best contribute to forwarding that mission, that objective. Question number three coming fast furiously . . . this is a good one that I'm particularly interested in. Could you talk more about resale royalties and how that's different from the traditional Art Market? In the traditional art world, when an artist creates an artwork and they sell it, they benefit from the primary sale of that artwork. But if that artwork were ever to be sold subsequently on the auction block, through a private dealer, etc., they aren't entitled to receive a portion of those sales. So they don't benefit from the secondary sales of their artwork. You can imagine artists miss out on a really huge amount of profits that can be generated from the fruits of their labor from their artistic endeavors. This is something I've thought about for a long time having managed multiple artist studios in the past. It's an interesting value proposition that NFTs offer which is via the smart contract via blockchain technology - you're able to create these transactional protocols whereby every single transaction that happens of the art work, money, or cryptocurrency in this case, is automatically funneled to various parties. So the artist would stand to benefit from every single sale every single time their artwork changes hands. They would benefit from that transaction. Part of Artwrld's mission of course is to help advocate for this possibility for this technological innovation. But we're also interested in exploiting that possibility and that opportunity to benefit art non-profit organizations as well. So a portion of the proceeds on the primary and secondary market that Artwrld collects goes to a non-profit organization that the artists select. When you look back at the history of secondary sales for artists and you look at the amount of money that a Christie's or Sotheby's is making and the billions of dollars in secondary sales that are transacted annually, it's stunning to think about how even a small percentage of that, funneled back into the art world, to the organizations that commission artists, to the organizations that exhibit and showcase artists work . . . that can have a tremendous impact. It's why at Artwrld we're always saying that we're trying to build an Artwrld worth inhabiting because there's this possibility that NFTs offer it and like I said it's a tremendous proposition. There is the possibility that certain platforms don't honor creator royalties. That is an ongoing debate within the space. But certainly something we advocate for is that creators deserve those ongoing royalties and something we feel strongly about and hope that folks consider and support our mission not only to get a portion of those proceeds to the artist but also to the non-profit organizations as well. What are you excited about in the future of this space? I'm interested in the idea that NFTs can function for interested artists as a part of their practice. There are crypto native or web3 artists who really just do NFTs. I think that's awesome. I think there's a place for that. There's also this option for artists to have NFTs function as one piece of a toolkit that they have. I think Jill Magid’s collection is a great instance of this, and Walid Raad as well, where they're able to use the structure of the NFT ecosystem and the ideas inherent in it to explore artistic and conceptual themes that are important to them as an artist. There's a way to use it as both a medium and as a vehicle for creating some kind of sustainable economic practice. I just think it's interesting to look at it as a medium and a tool and I'm excited to see how NFTs can carve a niche in the contemporary art world that is meaningful and valuable and sustainable. That has yet to be really fully fleshed out - really fully. It's not totally clear right now what exactly that's going to look like but I feel really confident there is a place for it in artistic practices. I'm interested to see how amazing talented artists continue to use NFTs to create amazing artwork here. We're coming to the end of the webinar - any final remarks. You've covered a lot of ground today but are there any other final remarks you want to make? I just want to say thanks to Mark and to GridMarkets for inviting me. I really appreciate the opportunity to talk about NFTs and what Artwrld's trying to build. It's really, as you can tell, exciting to me. I think there's a lot of potential in the space and like I said earlier, I’m happy to continue the conversation with whoever might be interested in talking about what's going on in this world. I would encourage folks to get online and explore it more and to educate themselves and figure out how they might play a part. We really appreciate your time, Kerin. Also thank you for using GridMarkets and for the kind words that you had mentioned. Okay so I'm going to wrap up now. Before I do, I just want to let our viewers know that our next webinar is coming up on April 26th with Kate Xagorari. She has been with us four times prior. She's going to be continuing the series on how to visualize molecular simulations. She's a VFX artist but she also has a strong scientific background. She's a very interesting person. You probably already know that because many people know Kate. Again, as a reminder, (2023) April 26th at 9:00 a.m. PST. Be there! Go to our website (www.gridmarkets.com/webinars) to sign up. Okay thanks everyone for joining today. Kerin thanks again.