USJC 2022: Web 3.0 and NFT Generative Fine Art

Mr. James Higa (Managing Partner, Offline Ventures) opened the breakout session and introduced the panelist Sputniko!, Ms. Hiro Ozaki (Artist | Cradle CEO | Associate Professor, Department of Design, Faculty of Fine Arts, Tokyo University of the Arts). She then explained her background, including how she got her artist name “Sputniko!” Her educational background is in mathematics and computer science, and, during her studies, she was interested in the implications of new technologies. After completing her own technology projects, she exhibited her work in museums. Additionally, she ran her own laboratory at the MIT Media Lab research institute. Now, she is an associate professor of design at the Tokyo University of the Arts. Last year, she started working with NFTs and emphasized that Web 3.0 and NFTs will drastically change the lives of artists.

Mr. Higa then explained the importance of Web 3.0. Web 3.0 includes a new file system called IPFS (Interplanetary File System), Ethereum as a new programming language, and a new way to deliver functionality to the end user through tokens, which will affect enterprise, commerce, CRM, art, and beyond.

Sputniko! continued to explain that the implications of Web 3.0 will change the economy, contracts, value, and many more aspects of our lives. She then highlighted the changes that Web 3.0 and NFTs brought to the art realm and how they impacted her. The NFT proof of ownership shows that only one of that particular digital piece exists, which allows the artists to set a value for their work and collectors to collect work as valuable culture. The authenticity of an NFT can be proven through tracing the blockchain, something that cannot be done with contemporary art like paintings. Additionally, NFTs can be bought and sold online for low platform fees, eliminating the need for the artists to pay expensive gallery fees. Also, artists do not get profit from secondary sales if their traditional art is resold for a higher price in an auction. However, artists can set royalties for NFT art, and they get paid each time it is resold. Since traditional art sells in physical spaces, such as galleries, if the artists do not reside near high-profile galleries and cannot physically be present at a gallery, such as in New York or London, then they do not have a chance to sell their art. With NFTs, everything happens in the digital world. It is open and around the clock, as opposed to real-life galleries that are very high-profile, elite, and closed to those who are not in the inner circle. Artists and collectors can connect from any location in the world. However, the restriction is the time zone because currently most events occur in the U.S. time zone.

Mr. Higa added that this democratization of creation and bringing control back to the creators is important and valuable. Giving creators more power to create and control their future is changing the traditional art landscape. He then requested Sputniko! to explain how the NFT world changed some of her artwork. She explained her most well-known piece called the Menstruation Machine which mimics the sensation of menstruation for men who wear it. She explained that she created it to bring awareness to menstruation in Japan, in which menstruation is largely viewed as taboo. She was able to sell the Menstruation Machine NFT for much more than her previous sales in the traditional art market. She also talked about another one of her pieces called the Red Silk of Fate, which is an experimental piece exploring the mythology of the East Asian belief. The red string of fate, which is believed to only exist in mythology, is an invisible red string which connects two people who are destined to have a romantic relationship. Ms. Ozaki worked with bioengineers to recreate the red string of fate, particularly to bioengineer silkworms which produce silk that glows red. The silk glows red due to incorporating DNA from the red glowing coral into the silkworm. It also contains oxytocin, the love hormone. This type of art is considered too extreme for the contemporary art market, but it is suitable for NFT.

Mr. Higa then asked Sputniko! to discuss generative art. She explained that generative art is art that is created from code and algorithm. The code is on the blockchain, and by executing the code, a browser can render it. Sputniko!’s ‘Cradle’ collection starts as a small bud, and over the period of a year, evolves into a different shapes. She created this collection as a counterpoint to NFT art which people only buy and flip, towards a type of art that collectors take care of and nurture.

She then emphasized that Web 3.0 and NFTs also empower artists engaged in activism. For example, activists donate profits from NFTs to humanitarian organizations. She highlighted the UnicornDAO which is a collector’s decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) dedicated to supporting NFTs created by female and LGBTQ artists. After Roe v. Wade was overturned, the UnicornDAO quickly created a wallet called LegalAbortion.eth that allows people to donate to about seven different NPO organizations supporting reproductive rights in the United States. Mr. Higa added that implications are large in terms of NPOs. For example, a piece of work can be created and, automatically, every time that artwork is sold at a greater value, a percent of the sale goes back to the NPO in perpetuity.

In conclusion, Sputniko! said that NFT art is a new ecosystem for many artists, and it will change culture and artists’ lives.