Spring 2022, CMAC/ISS/VMS 290-S

Author: Pierre Nanquette

Final Project: NFT not for touch by Pierre Nanquette

As we have discussed throughout the semester, the digital world is undergoing major changes. Technological advancements have continuously increased the relevance of the digital world to the real world. One notable manifestation of this revolution is expressed through the rush of NFTs. For many years, digital artists encountered issues in gaining the deserved financial return for their hard works. This is naturally because whenever something is published on the internet, there is most likely an endless number of methods one can use to “pirate” the work or have access to it freely. Therefore, when the concept of applying a blockchain to a digital asset that would make it have something it never did before: Uniqueness; It propelled a movement of artists and others to attempt to make use of this new system for various purposes. NFTs have thus in some become a new “Medium” much like McLuhan’s idea. However, as much as it provides opportunities to digital artists, the movement behind NFTs has ascended into the level of mania. The NFT art market is exploding with assets that do not necessarily express any specific form of critical art by the standards of Matt Retto where a work must exhibit a form of social reflection. Instead, the market is engulfed with many fancy terms and words such as “procedurally generated”, “AI-generated art” and so on.

These works often portray themselves with a specific goal of representing something, ranging from online communities to specific elements in the real world. When only very few maintain the responsibility of what they market till the end.

It is with this perception that I have deiced to make a critical media project upon this subject. However, my intention Is not to discredit the entirety of NFTs. Instead, it is more of a “questioning” on the amount of faith or speculation that people put into them.

I took inspiration for my project’s design upon the ideas of Retto and Mclauran’s. Through their work, I have understood the importance of the medium used to express the ideas behind a critical art piece. While the final product makes the most of a work, the reason why it was done in a certain way sometime can express more. Hence, I wanted to create a work that would resemble as much as possible to NFTs that people would purchase. The idea is to express my critic through a medium that looks as close as possible to a 3D NFTs. To achieve this, I directed my attention to the 3D modules of Max MSP

The core ideas behind the project can be divided into three phases, the discovery phase, the interaction phase and finally the boredom phase. The discovery phase consists of striking the audience with an impactful visualization that is supposed to be generating the emotions that would let people to attribute value to this asset. The second phase aims to recreate the initial focus and enjoyment that people have whenever they purchase the NFT that they were attracted to. Finally, the final phase aims to dissolve the excitement that the audience initially had towards this product. The chosen elements and their specific placements are done in such a way that is supposed to facilitate this effect of disillusioning by presenting the NFT mania in abstraction.

Specifically, I used Max MSP’s jitter and openGL features to enable me to create 3D objects with physical bodies and user interactions. The project itself can be described as a 3d plane that is composed of cubes that have dynamically changing lengths defined by a cos function. This creates a platform that showcase the behavior of a wave. The wave’s frequency is set as in such way that it creates an outward movement. Then, a series of objects are generated above the platform. These objects are spheres that are regenerated over a specific interval of time. The jit.phys then provides these spheres with physical properties. As soon as they are generated, they fall and collide with the platform. The latter then pushes the spheres out to its extremity where they fall off the edge and disappear off the rendering distance. The spheres represent NFTs, and the wave platform represents people’s interest in them. When new NFTs are created, they are in the center of the wave platform, supposedly reflecting their popularity. But as time goes on these NFTs become less relevant and eventually they are replaced with new ones. This implementation showcases a never-ending cycle that raises the question behind the uniqueness of NFT. Finally, the endless pit in which the NFTs fall into aims to show the speculative aspect of NFTs. This distance between the user and NFT is what inspired me to name the project as “NFT: Not for touch”

Unfortunately, this implementation isn’t what I originally sought to achieve. Initially speaking, I intended to attach this patch with a module that webscrapps a NFT sales website to have a synced-up generation of NFTs (spheres) upon the platform. However, due to the lack of technical understanding and skills this was ultimately abandoned. Similarly, I also originally planned to connect the collision mechanism of the physical bodies in the patch with audio feedback but didn’t manage to collect this information is a way that would have worked correctly.

All in all, I believe my project satisfies the condition of critical media in that It does not try to directly influence its audience. Instead, it allows the audience to engage with the work and then provide them with the opportunity to question about the nature of NFT mania. By working on this project, I was able to explore more in the domain of artistic expression with technology. Throughout the course of the semester, we have discussed how technology shapes our current society but, in the end, we are the ones who decided how to use them. The usage of advanced technology especially one like Max MSP where all human perception and advanced technology are united together to create stunning critical art pieces has taught me that technology can be used differently.

Pierre Midterm

My part starts around 27 minutes into the video, sorry for the delay

“Art” created by Artificial Intelligence

The technology of artificial Intelligence (AI) has brought many changes to human society both in functionality and intellectually. The idea that a “mind” could be created by a series of Algorithms fascinated people, as this meant an even more advanced integration of the everyday life with technology. It is with no surprise that, AI has found its way into the field of Art as well. There are several applications of AI in Art. For instance, this technology can be applied in the purpose of art restoration with models that attempts to reconstruct the original damaged art piece; It can also be applied for art forgeries detection. In short, AI is very useful in the art field in in a variety of ways and another application that people found for AI was to let it create its own Art.  

[above image shows the 1st AI that draws a painting without the assistance or guidance of a human in the loop]

The first significant AI artwork that was created was done by the AARON program in the 1970s created by Harold Cohen. This program could create digital art pieces autonomously inspired from the hard-coded “styles” that is inputted by the author. Since then, similar programs have emerged throughout the years all attempting to let their algorithms produce art pieces. Each one of them uses different techniques to generate these arts. Some utilizes machine learning. Where the AI is trained with human drawing, then is asked to produce an image inspired from its vast “memory”.

The above art piece is created by Obvious: A French company composed of 3 college students, used machine learning models, and train their algorithm with 15,000 portraits originally painted between the 14th and the 20th century. The resulting ai-generated portrait is a slightly disfigured portrait of a man. This painting was sold in auction for about 400k USD compared to its initial estimated price of 10k USD in 2018. While this artwork is very much like current trends in modern art, mainly abstract art. Its value is vastly attributed to the fact that it was not made by a human.

AI-generated art falls short on the aspect of critical making. Whatever the AI produces has limited amount of context. As it is limited at the data it was used to train with. There is no true motive, nor message that the AI is trying to express. At least, not one that the artist did not “hard-coded” into it. There is no expression through the media. Hence, it does not satisfy the conditions for it to be an art of critical making. If there is any value, it would be its lack of intent. By having no intent behind the artwork, the work becomes whatever the audience sees in it. Instead of conveying a message, it raises more the questioning of what makes art an art. In contrast, if we were to look at human made abstract art pieces such as the one above, the interpretation would have been difference simply because the artist has a motive, a reason for designing his/her work in the way the way it is.

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