by Shraddha NairDec 16, 2020
Artist Liu Jiaying, known as CryptoZR, had the first ever solo blockchain and crypto art themed exhibition. Presented at the Guardian Art Center in Beijing, Cookie Cookie is curated by independent curator, Li Zhenhua. The exhibition demonstrates how the artist deftly applies, modifies and re-evaluates technology, while using smart contract methods to build an interactive financial system and digital currency.
Presented both offline and online, the exhibit brings together several new works. One significant immersive installation, Out of Nothing, comprises images that represent her earliest experimentation with Ethereum blockchain technology. CryptoZR offered more than half a million blockchain users a digital currency simultaneously by modifying ERC20 tokens, which was then transacted for the first time on a decentralised trading platform, EtherDelta. Through Ethereum, the artist wants all users to witness the formation of the consensus – a cognitive consistency between individuals and groups – to examine the much-debated concept of social structures. “Crypto art is based on the movement of cryptology, the study of online social behaviour and economic reforms. The form of art and exchange or transaction method are widely accepted by the internet generation, therefore crypto art itself is the movement,” says Zhenhua.
I speak to the curator on this landmark show that seeks to push the conventions, aesthetics and intrinsic concepts of art, as well as exploring the intersection of technology and human behaviour.
Rahul Kumar (RK): Please elaborate on the curatorial framework of this exhibit. What does the title Cookie Cookie refer to?
Li Zhenhua (LZ): CryptoZR (Liu Jiaying) and myself chose this title because of the additional layers embedded in our culture and our highly tech-driven society. The exhibition title strives to heighten our awareness of the basic structure of online or offline knowledge, which is at the heart of our all concern. Cookie Cookie can take on multiple meanings: it may refer to an HTTP cookie in internet browsers, a literal cookie or a cultural phenomenon, for example, the idiom “tough cookie”.
Apart from this, CryptoZR’s work also has different narratives for both online and offline societies. The overarching meaning of Cookie Cookie can also be understood as the exhibition continuously unfolds and evolves with the development of the blockchain technology, by anchoring it, analysing it and experimenting it with a plethora of art practices.
RK: How does CryptoZR “apply, modify and re-evaluate technology” through its practice?
LZ: CryptoZR’s practice is deeply engaged with the process of the blockchain technology. Through the exhibition’s official website www.cookiecookie.com, we would have an overview of the main concern in her practice, and understand Ethereum (blockchain 2.0), smart contract, blockchain-based online VR system, OpenSea and other platform or method in her works.
For instance, in her work Small Goal (SG), the artist has modified the transfer function of the ERC20 contract by adding a switch. Once the transfer restriction is turned on, any transfer by the holder will result in the destruction of all of their SG tokens. At the same time the artist has restricted the transfer function of her proxy contract so that when the switch is on, the contract transfer function will be disabled, thus locking the transaction price. The work reflects the relationship between price and market value in financial markets.
In one of her recent works, TopBidder, CryptoZR modified the protocol on an Ethereum smart contract and established a new NFT rule. As long as someone bids 10 per cent or more, the premium will go to the wallet of the previous bidder. However, we could also understand how she engages an economist’s mind with regards to the change of US dollar settlement system, the influence of meme culture and many other aspects, particularly through her Sound Money series.
The technology might not be instantly evident in her work, but she certainly has a very solid understanding on how fundamental contract or online changes might impact our future lives, and on this occasion, she gives a very interesting input about what art can stimulate and twist.
RK: What are your views on the crypto art as a movement? How do you anticipate this to impact the arts, its fundamental concepts and conversations it evokes, its consumption and the very aesthetics of it?
LZ: My focus is on new media art, which also include bio-art and robotic art, etc., and a wide range of new technology involved art and culture phenomenon. Chronologically, if you consider crypto art in relation with early computer art, internet art and post-internet art, you can have a better clue of what is going on. Crypto art has a very clear connection toward computer art and internet, post-internet art history.
Since the invention of blockchain in 2008, it has become a movement toward cryptography and consensus, which also led our society to the possibilities of decentralised utopia. Crypto art is based on the movement of cryptology, the study of online social behaviour and economic reforms. If the form of art and exchange or transaction method are widely accepted by the internet generation, therefore crypto art itself is the movement.
RK: Often, works of CryptoZR have underlying technological framework like ever evolving data sources for visual representations. What is the desired aspiration of interpretation of such works?
LZ:Transformation, becoming – these words might help us to understand the concept and mission behind CryptoZR’s work.
From fungible tokens or non-fungible tokens, to other smart contract-based technology – these might help us understand the change and development of the bases of her artistic approach.
What I want to elaborate from this exhibition is a different perspective to understand a media-based artist, the method of work also has many different accessibilities.
Art is art, but what is art, why art? How to understand art today is a question, I wish CryptoZR and her art can redefine crypto art’s limit, and keep pushing the boundaries of art as well.
RK: Artistic control and decision making ceases to exist in works like Sound Money, the series is related to an auction transaction, and with no bids, the work remains incomplete. This may work well as an experience or entertainment, but how would you classify such participative creation process?
LZ: Sound Money series has dynamic and evolving forms – as an NFT, as an action, as meme culture – a multifaceted interactive work that is always changing. The series is circulated via social media and in a blockchain-based society, the interaction take place in the forms of money transaction, image exchange, auction, and performance, among others.
My concern is about separating the approach as suggested by the title of the work; it is also related to complexity of contemporary creation, which merged online and offline. Some of the works in the series are specifically related to certain things, for example 1000 Dollar, One WEI Dollar, Zero Dollar all related to the artist’s approach on social movement, technology bases or the void of meaning or capital... the exhibition also presents Zero Dollar as an installation with digital print and acrylic applied surface.
I am interested in the circulation of value and materials of human communities; it might be helpful to understand what CryptoZR’s approach is about. Her creation also is based on game and contract of human nature and social structure.
RK: Please talk about Chijin Art Museum, the first crypto art museum launched by Liu Jiaying. What are its aspiration through the initiative?
LZ: Akin to Chijin Art Museum is online virtual world 2nd LIFE, both of which are online based interactive system related to different online technology and culture, but there are connected through the approach of freedom in the physical world and possibilities in the VR world. Such development on online gaming industry or after social media phenomenon have also become a foundation of CryptoZR’s approach.
As exemplified in Chijin Art Museum, token, Ethereum – the expended forms of VR – have led us to build a better future world through the meaning of interaction and gathering of people.
Art is an ambiguity method of CryptoZR’s approach, which have enough complexity by bringing her technology, mind and other temptation together.
To try out the possibilities of the blockchain-based technology might be also part of her artistic or technology driven vision.