Home Arts Haroon Mirza and Mat Collishaw Launch NFT Projects in Wake of Ethereum Eco-Upgrade

Haroon Mirza and Mat Collishaw Launch NFT Projects in Wake of Ethereum Eco-Upgrade

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In both artistic and ecological circles, the mere mention of NFTs (non-fungible tokens) often makes people frown. These digital units, which use blockchain technology to record ownership of a work of art (or any other asset), are widely decried as vehicles for financial speculation with little intrinsic artistic value. Then there is the environmental impact. NFTs are criticized for their heavy carbon footprint, residing as they do on the notoriously power-hungry blockchain and requiring huge amounts of energy to mint. A 2021 analysis of around 18,000 NFTs by digital artist Memo Akten found that the average footprint of a single NFT was equivalent to a month’s electricity consumption by an average EU resident.

But now the tide seems to be turning. Many of the largest NFT markets run on the Ethereum blockchain, which reduces carbon emissions by over 99% in a update known as “the merger” in September 2022. The network moved to another “proof-of-stake” system that requires only a fraction of energy per transaction compared to the previous “proof-of-work” system. Other blockchains such as Tezos, Cardano, and Kusama also use the “proof-of-stake” mechanism that seems to be becoming the norm for minting and trading more energy-efficient NFTs.

Photo by Haroon Mirza Solstice Star NFT

Courtesy of the artist and Lisson Gallery

Additionally, the crypto crash last year has reduced the hype surrounding NFTs and artists are starting to feel less self-conscious about exploring blockchain’s potential as a creative space. For example, Haroon Mirza, an artist who works with sound, light and electricity to create kinetic sculptures, performances and immersive installations, who launched his first NFT project during his recent exhibition at Lisson Gallery in London. Solstice Star released the first 200 of 1,000 NFTs hit — featuring a GIF of a red and white fly agaric mushroom framed by a star of eight rotating solar panels — for free to anyone logging in to solsticestar.xyz And vers.works.

“I was immediately drawn to cryptocurrencies and always thought blockchain was an amazing technology that would revolutionize the way we do things,” Mirza says. But although intrigued by the initial emergence of NFTs, he was quickly put off by the feeding frenzy around the $69 million Beeple sale at Christie’s in March 2021. “It became like a Ponzi scheme in a Ponzi scheme and I didn’t want to do anything with that part of it,” he says. “It just became a way to invest in often dirty crypto and the kind of art that came with it just made you want to vomit.”

The waning speculative interest in NFTs along with the shift to a more sustainable system has encouraged Mirza – whose work often revolves around the technological pursuit of energy – to revisit blockchain. “The merger has made Ethereum a completely different platform than it was before,” he says, adding that for him, the appeal of NFTs is conceptual rather than aesthetic.

“Nothing about the NFT interests me other than the fact that the work is also the certificate and completely transparent, with all that is inherent in the work itself,” he says. “NFTs are completely decentralized – I like the idea of ​​a work of art being a non-hierarchical community that can productively engage with itself. It’s like having a work of art that is inherently collaborative: that’s what I do in my job anyway, and that’s what really excites me.

For Mirza, Solstice Star is simply “a first step, an entry point” into a larger interactive project that will unfold over time. The next iteration will incorporate sound, a key element of his practice. All owners of Solstice Star NFTs will be asked to select a frequency within the human hearing range of 20Hz to 20,000Hz, which will then be used by the artist to create a new sound work.

“The potential is that you can scale a project that has a feedback loop with the people collecting it,” the artist explains. “It’s a living thing, a living project that can grow and develop into a non-hierarchical network.” Ultimately, the project also promises to reap environmental benefits, with Mirza aiming to set up a smart contract that will direct part of the profits towards renewable energy research.

The community and participatory aspect of NFTs is also a major attraction for Mat Collishaw who, like Mirza, is making his first foray into the field. “I’m always on the lookout for new media and if there’s a new form of creating art, with a new vocabulary attached to it, then I want to be part of it,” Collishaw says. In the past, the artist has used virtual reality, animatronics and CGI as well as oil painting, mosaic and blown glass to create stunning and sometimes shocking works of art that explore ideas around of death, decay and the darker side of human nature.

The “Greenhouse”, part of Mat Collishaw Heterosis NFT Project

Courtesy of the artist

Drawing parallels between the NFT craze and the ‘tulip mania’ of the 17th century, when entire fortunes were made and lost speculating on tulip bulbs in the Netherlands, Collishaw created Heterosis, an NFT project that allows users to grow custom-made animated digital flowers. Each of these unique NFT flowers combines computer algorithms with floral genetic coding, allowing collectors to collaborate with each other on new hybrid species. The result is an endless range of ever more exotic and elaborate creations. Collectors may handle their specimens just for fun or for the financial benefit of reselling them, or both.

“It’s absolutely collectors what they’re doing,” Collishaw says. “The first iteration of the flower is quite simple and the colors are quite straightforward. They can get a lot more elaborate…we wanted to give people the incentive to reproduce. To spice things up, the artist introduced a number of recessive genes that will produce new traits that are impossible to control or predict.”There are several secret species that will be unlocked when certain breeding patterns are completed,” he says. It remains to be seen how these startling traits will affect the value of resale of a flower.

Since they were released on OpenSea NFT platform last month, all 2,500 of these infinitely mutable flowers were captured at an initial cost of around £120 each in cryptocurrency. Collishaw is pleased that collectors have already started interacting with each other to hybridize their flowers. Apparently, some even earn extra revenue by setting competitive prices for anyone who wants to spawn from theirs. The more sought after the individual flower, the higher the price.

The “Greenhouse”, part of Mat Collishaw Heterosis NFT Project

Courtesy of the artist

These hybridization transactions take place in a centralized digital space called “the Greenhouse” where collectors can adopt an avatar, contact other participants and view all the Heterosis flowers growing in their newest state. Here, all properties of a specimen can be assessed, including its market value. In keeping with Collishaw’s track record of discovering beauty in entropy, this interactive environment simulates the shape of the National Gallery in London if left to decay. Flowers tower against the backdrop of moldy old master paintings, while vegetation springs from the floor and ceilings hosts a mass of dangling vines.

Seeing this ghostly setting where the great works of art history are reclaimed by nature, and where nature also coexists with manipulated digital flowers, raises all sorts of questions around value, beauty, desirability, natural and artificial selection. “It’s quite shocking to me that you have the cream of 400 years of European art but no one is watching because the only organic life is plant life,” observes the artist.

Collishaw also draws analogies between the National Gallery’s traditional role as a networking center “where citizens could gather and share information” and the circulation of knowledge around the natural sciences, art and commerce exchanged between tulip merchants and speculators of 17th century Holland. These ideas around information networks come full circle with how Heterosis encourages its collectors to form an online community to exchange data relating to their holdings while leading the project to its full potential.

Given the botanical theme of the project and its multi-faceted exploration of how mankind has shaped the natural world for financial gain, it was particularly important for Collishaw to wait for the blockchain system to “proof of stake” is in place before any NFT drops. “I was monitoring the situation closely,” he confirms, adding that he is also happy that the intrinsic immateriality of NFTs avoids shipping, storage and other energy-intensive needs of analog art.

The fact that NFT minting is no longer an environmental hazard allowed Collishaw and Mirza, in their very distinct but also overlapping ways, to demonstrate the rich and inclusive potential of the non-fungible token as a interactive artistic endeavor. Never mind that neither artist has made a lot of money yet from their NFT releases – profits were never the goal.

As Collishaw says, “By doing an NFT, I’ve created a work of art that exists in a way that’s not possible in any other context. Its value has been like an experiment, and very interesting. I I learned a lot doing it, but I could have earned more cleaning the windows.

Regardless of how things play out in the crypto market, it looks like NFT art is truly here to stay in its new, greener form.

Haroon Mirza: Solstice Star

Mat Collishaw: Heterosis
• Mat Collishaw will have a solo exhibition, Everything fallsat the Bomb Factory Art Foundation, London, April 20-May 21

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