Why digital art and NFT stood out at the India Art Fair-Art-and-culture News , Firstpost

The combination of technology and art shone strongly at the recently held India Art Fair (IAF) 2022.

Even the least refined layman is familiar with the signature brush strokes of Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh. His best-known work ‘Starry Night’ with its distinctive swirls of blue, white, and yellow, is as easy to spot as it is difficult to replicate. Yet, a computer programmed by digital artists Hasan S, Sean Blagsvedt and Archana Prasad, does it in milliseconds. It even surpasses the master’s work by painting viewers into the scene – brush strokes included – alongside the artist’s self-portrait.

Explaining the magic behind this digital art titled ‘Between.Today’, professional computer hacker turned creative technologist Hasan says, “Once the viewer stands at the designated spot, the camera captures images, which are transmitted to the computer placed behind the cabinet. The green screen is removed, and the human image is put into an AI model that has been trained to paint in the style of Van Gogh’s Starry Night. It then transmits the person’s image in the middle of the painting, right next to Van Gogh himself to increase the level of interaction with the artist. You can click photographs of this artwork with yourself in it, upload them to social media with the hashtag #betweenstars and our team will reach out and teach you how to create your own work of art, with you in it, into an NFT.”

Allowing tangible interaction between the artwork and the spectator is perhaps what digital art does best. During the recent India Art Fair (IAF) 2022, held in the NSIC Grounds in Okhla, Delhi, the combination of technology and art shone strongly, and on a much grander scale than seen before on this hallowed platform. The NFT booths, spread out across the Studio & Workshop Space, witnessed a steady stream of people eager to learn more on the subject.

Believing that the IAF was the best place to raise awareness and promote an understanding of NFTs, Kamya Ramachandran, Founder and Director of BeFantastic, a Bengaluru-based platform that works to promote TechArt in India, tied hands with blockchain behemoth Tezos India for their display. In addition to Between. Today, this included a project called ‘Whale Tales’ made by artists Arnab Chakravarty, Nikita Teresa Sarkar, Padmanabhan J, Sayak Shome and Uma Khardekar, which promotes the conservation of whales for ecological sustenance through AI-generated imagery; ‘Radbots’, a collaborative NFT collection which consisted of conversational videobots created by leading playwrights, artists and screenwriters from India, Sri Lanka, the UK and Germany; and other interesting TechArt. To encourage awareness, the organisers handed out free NFTs of the artworks on display to all and sundry and patiently taught everyone to create their own crypto wallets to mint these NFTs.

Why digital art and NFT stood out at the India Art Fair

“Traditional art consists of a disciplined body of work that makes it difficult for us to interact with the object, but it’s a different mindset for TechArt. This is why we hope to get more artists to embrace technology. It’s very hard for artists in India to play with technology because they don’t have access to labs and software. We want to make TechArt and its ownership and sale through NFTs easy, accessible, and non-threatening,” explains Ramachandran. Her organisation facilitated further conversation on the subject through a unique private event held on Day three of IAF, called ‘Neural Networking’. Here, an informative 40-minute panel discussion with Adrian Notz (Curator, ETH AI Centre), Pooja Sood (Founding Member and Director, Khoj International Artists Association), Jonathan Kennedy (Director Arts India, The British Council) and Ramachandran herself; was the precursor for an intimate pre-seated lunch and wine serving, where the invitees were encouraged to discuss the role of AI in art with people on their table.

Interesting conversation and freebies weren’t the only measures used to lure a hesitant audience. Terrain.art, a blockchain-powered online platform that focuses on contemporary art from South Asia, turned the concept of minting NFTs on its head by accepting fiat currency including INR and USD alongside crypto for the purchase of NFTs at the IAF. Though a crypto wallet was needed to store the NFT, the payment for it wasn’t restricted to cryptocurrency alone. Sarah Malik, Curator – Special Projects at Terrain.art says, “This helps overcome buyer hesitancy as they do not need to purchase crypto, which till quite recently was shunned due to the lack of clarity regarding taxation and legality. This was perhaps why our reception at IAF was exceptional. There was a lot of curiosity around the concept of NFTs, and the artworks being displayed. Our artists Amrit Pal Singh, Nabi, Khyati Trehan, and Sayak Shome were kind enough to spend time at the booth, answering the questions of visitors. We had a good amount of sales too at the fair, with some additional enquiries coming in for more works from these artists.”

On a similar vein, independent Art Advisor Geet Nagi and Krittivas Dalmia, Founder of artisanal coffee brand Kaffa Cerrado, curated Tiff’n Pop x Culture at Kaffa – a pop-up focused on NFTs, quirky artwork and streetwear – at the latter’s Okhla roastery address, to coincide with the IAF. NFTs by four artists were on display. These were Deepakshi Aggarwal, Dev Majmudar aka Frescoarts, Aman Bhatia aka Triplicity and Soumik Lahiri aka Lahiri Moshai. The artists were within the age range of 20-25 and each one had been practicing the art form for just a few months. Their digital artworks ranged from varieties of the already-popular Pixel Apes to a selection of Bossy Bears, to more individualised artwork in collections called ‘Nom Noms’, and ‘Monuments of Humanity’. A virtual reality experience helmed by Frescoarts, consisted of roller-coaster rides and boxing matches through a headset. When asked the intent behind the pop-up, the curators admitted it was in part to better understand NFTs themselves. They felt they would be comfortable investing in this medium only after familiarisation.

Unsurprisingly, this sentiment is shared by many people. A lack of understanding of the implications of NFT ownership coupled with a deeply-ingrained risk-averseness, renders many Indians incapable of taking the plunge into these experimental waters. Financial stalwarts like Warren Buffet deriding this medium in its entirety by refusing to buy all the bitcoin in the world even for just $25, makes things worse. However, as with anything experimental and new, widespread acceptance takes time, and perhaps that will be the fate of NFTs too.

Buoyed by an enthusiastic younger lot, digital mediums are taking over our lives at an alarmingly fast pace. Therefore, it is up to the Millennial generation, which has exposure to both traditional and tech-dependent forms of art, to facilitate acceptance and responsible usage of digital art and NFTs. Fortunately, going by the exciting exhibits on display at IAF, the journey is sure to be an interesting one.

Noor Anand Chawla pens lifestyle articles for various publications and her blog www.nooranandchawla.com.

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