by Vatsala SethiDec 31, 2022
The artist Kerim Safa describes his intriguing creative practice as “manually-crafted conceptual pixel art animations.” He tells STIR, “My pieces usually consist of seamlessly looping mechanisms and repetitive patterns with subtle differences. The cyclic nature of looping systems doesn’t determine a start or an end, therefore, it allows the viewer to experience it starting anytime, and as long as they want. I believe there is a meditative quality, both in the creating and viewing of it.” He explains that pixel art is coded within our collective consciousness as a key element of retro computer games, especially those from the late 80s and early 90s, which he enjoyed immensely as a child. The games and graphics of that era clearly have a huge influence on his practice. Safa continues elaborating on his work, and explains that, to him, one of the biggest draws of his craft is the simplistic nature of pixels. Working from a very low resolution, every pixel comes to matter a great deal. The tight economy of colours he often works with add to this, and stimulate him to make and break rhythm within a lot of his pieces. Safa will also sometimes set his work to music, accentuating his focus of rhythm by taking it from the purely visual, and delivering unto it, an auditory aspect as well.
Safa is originally from Turkey but has been living in the Netherlands since 2017. He studied visual arts at Dokuz Eylul Fine Arts Faculty at his hometown of Izmir from 2003 onwards, but decided to drop out in 2007 in order to pursue music at Istanbul Bilgi University, wherefrom he graduated in 2011. It seems Safa is one of the many phenomenal digital artists who, despite not being backed by a formalised art or design degree, has achieved success through the NFT boom. Discussing his involvement with the crypto world, he tells STIR, “I heard about NFTs in 2020, but my involvement wasn’t until I attended an online music event organised by my friends in Cryptovoxels, where I came across some NFT art galleries. With the global pandemic locking us into our homes, my curiosity about this new technologically-driven art movement increased. At that time, I was already working on a series of pixel-based loops and noticed that they were a great fit to put out as NFTs. And that’s where the story began!”
Safa continues, “The shift happened in earnest for me in March 2021 when I came across this new and relatively experimental platform called Hic et Nunc on the eco-friendly blockchain Tezos. From the simple user interface to the unconventional approach that doesn’t privilege numbers and popularity, it felt right for me instantly. My first thought was 'this can be a great platform to experiment every now and then' but after I started to connect with the amazingly supportive community, it quickly became as good as home for me. The low gas fees and affordable prices of the artworks compared to the Ethereum blockchain allowed me to start collecting as well! The initial Hic et Nunc platform is not active anymore but many Tezos platforms grew from there.” Over a year after joining Tezos, Safa has released just one ETH-based piece on Ethereum, but plans to put out more work in this category if they switch to the Proof of Stake mechanism. However, for now, he is quite content to continue using Tezos.
Safa looks back at his early life and tells STIR, “I was playing bass guitar and singing in alternative rock bands until my music education at the university, where I started to get interested in post-modern, contemporary and experimental music of the 20th century and different ways to perceive, produce and perform music. When the lines between ‘what is music and what is not’ started getting blurry for me, that’s when my visual work started to come into the picture more. Even though I was creating visual work, such as animations, video art, music videos and audio-visual art installations on an occasional basis, music was my main focus for the most part during the maturation of my creative path, while visuals had a supporting role that accompanied to, enhanced and interacted with the sounds. Back then, I was experimenting with pixels but not in a dedicated way.”
Between 2012 and 2020, Safa experienced working in the gaming industry, mostly within the content and creative teams, wherein as he mentions with a touch of irony, he had his least creative years. He sustained the skeleton of an artistic practice, but his frequency of production was nowhere near where it stands now. However, he mentions that he learned a lot from that experience, and remains grateful for it. In 2020, he decided to close the door to the corporate world so that he could focus on his art. Safa says, “…so, the search to find my artistic vision and voice took quite a bit of time while I was swinging like a pendulum between different disciplines and environments. I don’t believe the search will or should end; that swinging still continues. I gained some control over it by learning to limit myself. I try to see all of the aforementioned experiences as elements that have shaped my current view of art.”
Safa remains fascinated by systems that have been designed or evolved to work flawlessly under ideal conditions: whether mechanical, organic or social. His is a practice that examines the relationships between different individual elements and celebrates the unified systems they form together by eternalising them in an infinite loop. While the pieces often feature a self-sustaining design, they also complement the cyclical concepts one may encounter in many knowledge systems and philosophies. They can be hypnotic and puzzling at the same time, and tend to subvert the importance of time itself. Safa ends his interview with STIR with this: “For me, the most satisfying way of creating a piece is to open a blank page in my pixel editor and start drawing without any plans. Most of the time this leads nowhere, but I find it important not to dictate, and instead to listen to the work because it can lead me somewhere surprising. Being amazed by what you create is one of the most exciting and joyful things about creating.”