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NFTS, new media art, and artists: Clara Che Wei Peh unpacks Art Dubai Digital

STIR speaks with the curator of Art Dubai Digital, Clara Che Wei Peh about her vision, the trends in digital art and the future of NFTS and blockchain.

by Rahul KumarPublished on : Mar 24, 2023

As recently as two years ago, most of us had not heard of terms like NFT and blockchain but in just a short span of time, this format of selling digital art has caught on. It has positively impacted the art scene in a way that works from lesser-known artists have been auctioned at record-breaking prices. In fact, Gen-Z, who for the larger part does not invest in owning cars or homes, music or books, owing to various economic factors, was seen acquiring digital art. Further, this led to forms of art like sound becoming discoverable.

In a similar vein, Art Dubai Digital is a first-of-a-kind initiative focussed on presenting digital art, at an independent pavilion in an art fair construct. The second edition of the recently concluded art festival was curated by Clara Peh. STIR speaks with the art curator about her vision, trends, and the future of this genre.

Lines And Bone Study Of Direction 1, 2022, Digital, Iskra Velitch Kova | Art Dubai Digital | STIRworld
Lines And Bone Study Of Direction 1, 2022, Digital, Iskra Velitch Kova Image: Courtesy of Art Dubai

Rahul Kumar: In the context of Art Dubai Digital, please elaborate your approach of "ecosystem-mapping to consider not only how new media art is evolving, but also cultural infrastructure is being challenged, and renewed in this global moment.”

Clara Peh: In building this edition of Art Dubai Digital, we focused as much on content as we did on what galleries and entities are welcomed as part of the section. Beyond brick-and-mortar galleries, we also included new collaborations, artist collectives, private collections, digital-native platforms and new formations and models that are expanding the ways in which artists can produce and put work out there. This is so that the section can serve as a current reflection of how our arts ecosystem and the market is expanding, especially with newer markets and infrastructure being developed around digital art.

Cherry Bomb, 2022, Mixed Media, Ainun Rhaditya| Art Dubai Digital | STIRworld
Cherry Bomb, 2022, Mixed Media, Ainun Rhaditya Image: Courtesy of Ainun Rhaditya

Rahul: While there has been an increase in the number of NFT and blockchain platforms, commercially speaking at a macro level, the trend seems to be on a decline. What have been your observations in this regard?

Clara: Personally, I am interested in art on the blockchain for how it has offered different artists new opportunities and platforms to share their work and sustain their livelihood, as well as how artists are creating artworks that query and challenge this area of technology. In that vein, I don't follow the market’s ups and downs as closely and am more interested in how artists are developing their practices in the long term. Additionally, I think once you have introduced a way to monetise something, it becomes very difficult to take it back, so I don’t see NFTs fading away but I do believe it will become less of a buzzword and more of a norm.

Persian Dream - Dynasties, 2023, Video file- NFT, Brendan Dawes (United Kingdom, 1966) | Art Dubai Digital | STIRworld
Persian Dream - Dynasties, 2023, Video file - NFT, Brendan Dawes (United Kingdom, 1966) Image: Courtesy of Art Dubai

Rahul: Please discuss some of the prominent works that went beyond the screen into the realm of AR and VR. What has been the viewer’s response to these presentations?

Clara:Unit London presented Krista Kim’s Regenesis as a VR experience at their booth, as did Artemis Gallery with Armin Keplinger’s The ND-Serial Sculpture III. On top of AR/VR, we also had an immersive room created by Dubai-based Art in Space, interactive works such as Thermal Drift by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer with Galloire and Fragments by Random International with AKTHR x Aorist. The feedback was very positive to see more digital works that expand beyond the screen, and for a more immersive section overall.

Repetition-GAN LatentPatterns, 2022, Digital, Orkhan Mammadov | Art Dubai Digital | STIRworld
Repetition-GAN Latent Patterns, 2022, Digital, Orkhan Mammadov Image: Courtesy of Art Dubai

Rahul: Talking about speculative futures, how has the introduction of text-to-image models and chatbots like ChatGPT prompted questions on authorship and authenticity in digital art? What is your opinion about the future of art, when the tools available to us are being reinvented, constantly?

Clara:I am of the opinion that artists have always been some of the first people to adopt and adapt to new technologies around us and that what we are witnessing at this moment is no different. There have already been artists and collectives who work with generative AI and other branches of machine learning, for some years now, and looking at their works can shed some insights for us on how to collaborate with the machine and continue to expand our collective imagination with new tools. With the popularisation of these new models such as GPT-4, we may just begin to deprioritise certain skills and value others.

Art Dubai Digital curator, Clara Che Wei Peh | Art Dubai Digital | STIRworld
Art Dubai Digital curator, Clara Che Wei Peh Image: Courtesy of Art Dubai

Rahul: Lastly, in your research to make a selection, what were some of the key trends that emerged for the contemporary arts of the broader region?

Clara: In the section, we focused on artists in and from the Global South in keeping with the art event's overall DNA. Bringing their works together, we witnessed that digital and new media artists working around these areas seem to focus on two key threads. The first is this relationship between digital and physical, whether that’s producing 3D printed sculptures or using motion capture as part of the process and more. The second is how we can reinvent or relook at our history and culture through new digital lenses, in efforts to revitalise our relationship with the past as well as to reframe outdated narratives.  

What do you think?

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