Dubai, United Arab Emirates – Back with the first large-scale fair since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 15th edition of Art Dubai explores new frontiers with the launch of its new section highlighting digital art and NFT (token not fungible).
Alongside regular contemporary and modern showcases, Art Dubai Digital brought together 18 galleries from March 10-13 at Madinat Jumeirah, some of which were only founded in recent years. The new section has been created in response to a serious shift in the global art scene, which has seen a growing interest in digital media and the rise of NFT art.
“We watched how the digital universe grew and had a stronger voice during the lockdown,” said Art Dubai artistic director Pablo del Val.
“What we wanted to do is set up something that could be a 360-degree project, that could become a bridge between the digital and the physical, where the two worlds can come together.
“Considering that Dubai has become a crypto capital, it is a place where some of the most exciting minds and projects are coming,” he added.
“NFTs are like an entire universe right now – a universe that people are afraid to enter because people aren’t aware of that universe. I think it’s a growing edition. , which brings something new.
“Beyond the Canvas”
Artist Marina Fedorova’s solo exhibition “Cosmodreams” has bridged traditional art and digital technology, incorporating virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) into her paintings and sculptural installations.
The exhibition shows how technology can be used to make art more interactive and immersive. His works capture the beauty of outer space and the impact of modern technology on our planet.
Viewers can use their smartphone to see the animated AR features on the paintings and sculptures, or take photos with the works.
“If the smartphone entirely absorbs the attention of our contemporaries, why not look at paintings through the phone screen and learn a story beyond the canvas?” Fedorova said.
“We are adapting to new conditions; in many areas, our lives are becoming digital. The pandemic has served as a catalyst, it has made us think about ways to allow people to visit museums while staying at home, the kinds of experiences we can enable through screens.
“Ironically, as a painter, I was initially against any technological advancement. I believed there was nothing better than paper or canvas with paint on it,” she added. “However, these times have changed my opinion considerably, made me realize that new technologies are just a new tool in the artist’s palette.”
Touch screens, QR codes and VR headsets invited users to participate in the works and films, transforming them from spectator to participant.
The digital section not only introduced these NFT artists and galleries to established institutions, but also demystified the technology and terminology – such as cryptocurrency, minting, and blockchain – to potential collectors and artists interested in expanding their horizons.
A series of Bybit lectures were also part of the program. Campus Art Dubai – a long-standing non-profit arm of the fair that runs educational programs for art students – has partnered with art market NFT Materia this year for an eight-week workshop for artists based in the United Arab Emirates.
The resulting NFT artworks were exhibited at the fair. Blockchain is a system for recording information, such as digital assets, in a way that makes it difficult to alter or hack them.
Minting is the act of turning a digital asset into an NFT, by recording it on the blockchain. “Digital art isn’t easy to trade without the need for a device or USB drive, but when saved on the blockchain, you don’t need to be dependent on physical devices. Materia co-founder Patricia Ezpeleta told Al Jazeera.
“The blockchain also makes it possible to have traceability of works, which is very useful for artists, because they can benefit from royalties on the resales of their works.
“NFTs allow artists and owners to prove that it is the original version,” she added. “For collectors they can prove they own the original file and sometimes you get people stealing other people’s work on the internet and claiming it’s theirs but with NFT it can be proven wrong because that the register is public.”
‘Beautiful metaverse galleries’
Morrow Collective, a UAE-based NFT curatorial platform founded last year, aims to make the NFT experience more engaging, through the curation of shows. Tablets lined the walls of their booth, showing colorful and lightly animated works, ranging from hyper-realistic portraits to pop art digital drawings.
“I’ve been an NFT artist since 2020 and noticed during my time in NFTs that there really wasn’t a lot of curation,” said Morrow co-founder Jen Stelco.
“It all felt like a bit of a mess and it was hard to find what we consider good art or art that has substance.
“Since then we’ve come together to organize NFTs, find ways to help them tell stories and engage with each other and present them in a different way, rather than just on an NFT platform where you do scroll, much like Instagram or Google Images,” she added.
“We have these beautiful metaverse galleries…and we curate them into art exhibits in our galleries, to create a more true-to-life art experience, but digitally.”
Much of NFT art is largely experimental, seeing what can be achieved with technology, rather than creating art with meaning or purpose. Trends or popular themes have yet to emerge.
For many artists used to working with paint or producing photography, NFT digital art is new territory that needs to be learned, before the thinking behind the content itself can be applied.
Digital artist Lawrence Lek has had the benefit of working in film, music, and open-world game design for 10 years. Presented by Horizons Virtual Gallery, in partnership with NFT Marketplace So-Far and Aora Virtual Gallery, Lek’s ‘Nepenthe Valley’ offers a mystical alternate world to explore that promotes restorative meditation. Lek unveiled four of the upcoming nine fictional ruins located in serene landscapes.
The exhibit, curated by Jenn Ellis, is half 3D printed architectural models of the ruins and half digital NFT renderings of the locations, complete with neon accents, relaxing soundscapes and dynamic weather and lighting.
“I was drawing a lot from the ideas of sublime landscapes and places that are more associated with healing and expanding consciousness,” Lek told Al Jazeera.
“A big influence for me is science fiction quite often and Napenthe Valley is tied to those places that are between the future and a ruin from the past. So like thinking about places that might evoke some kind of classical architecture, but at the same time they are neon lit.
“[Healing] is something that is treated differently in video games, because you can regenerate, you can choose potions and elixirs that heal you,” he added.
“In the valley, I created static viewpoints where people can sit and meditate, like the way you would climb a mountain to see the view at the top, like a place outside of your everyday reality.”
Although NFTs were created in 2015, it wasn’t until the last year that they became part of the mainstream conversation. NFT art may not yet be widely accepted or understood, but with institutions such as Art Dubai spotlighting them, it won’t be long before they are established in the art scene.