Semi Permanent and Highsnobiety are launching a two-day experiential hotel takeover bringing together global artists to present a vision for the future. Discover the exhibitions here.
When NFTs took the art and music world by storm earlier this year, musician Flume and visual artist Jonathan Zawada were more equipped than most to adapt to the newly popular model of multimedia distribution. In their minds, the longtime collaborators had already been making an approximation of NFTs for years, just without the cryptocurrency infrastructure. “Jonathan sent some images over, then I’d write some music to each of the images and make a little mini soundtrack, and then he would animate them,” Flume recalls. “It was just a really fun, simple, easy, creative tool — an exercise.” Those exercises established the creative format that gave way to Tiddalik, Flume and Zawada’s collection of collaborative NFTs, which is currently on display in Sydney as part of A Semi Permanent Hotel, presented by Highsnobiety.
The Tiddalik collection exists digitally as a series of animated tableaux, informed by the artists’ mutual affection for nature and obsession with technology; Zawada’s ethereal 3D animations, drawing from native Australian flora, are accompanied by arresting soundscapes designed by Flume.
The result is an otherworldly audiovisual experience that arouses the senses; even more so when translated into physical manifestations as they are in this installation. The images are projected onto surfaces within the space, “enmeshing the substance of the room with the imagery of the flowers,” as Zawada says, alongside arrangements of real native Australian flowers. Even the air is infused with a custom fragrance developed by Flume, resulting in an installation that invokes smell, sight, touch, and sound at once. “The opportunity is to take what are discrete, individual works and give them the opportunity to communicate with each other and with their environment,” explains Zawada. “The idea is to create an experience that has a variety of tiers of involvement from the viewer.”
The innately immaterial nature of NFTs (short for non-fungible token, which is not a piece of artwork itself but a string of metadata associated with a digital file) is an aspect that detractors typically grapple with, but this installation exemplifies just one way that NFT art might successfully function across realms. Exhibiting the art augments the cultural and economic value of the NFT while satisfying the desire to experience it offscreen.
One of Zawada’s favorite pieces in the collection is a 40-second animation called “Frilly Knickers,” inspired by the native Australian Fringe Lily. “The way the petals split and become hundreds of tiny fringed, hair-like fingers is absolutely incredible,” he says. Zawada renders the delicate, ornate blooms atop stems of gleaming barbed wire; the petals transform colors as the image’s light source changes; they gently undulate and pulse along with Flume’s spectral sound design as it whistles, rattles, and swells. The piece, like so much of the collection, is at once earthly and alien; simultaneously rooted in the natural and the fantastical.
Collaborating on the Tiddalik collection was a creatively enlightening experience for both artists. “[Flume] and I have had a long collaborative process, but it was still always framed around traditional deliverables like cover art or videos, and often the process of working together would follow that structure,” Zawada says. “Working on the NFTs completely bypassed all of those boundaries and predefined structures… I felt much more involved in a truly collaborative creative process.” For Flume, crafting these pieces strengthened the creative muscles that he calls upon for longform projects. “This is the most fun we’ve had in years!” the songwriter and producer says. “Not only that, but it’s also spurring so many ideas [between Jonathan and I] for album stuff. I’m trying to finish all these songs, and I’m doing much better while I’m doing these NFT reps.”
The recent rise of NFTs has marked an expansive shift for artists and musicians in regards to distribution as well as production. Other high-profile artists such as Grimes and The Weeknd have generated millions in revenue from NFT sales, while even more independent musicians are enjoying the agency NFTs afford them to profit from their work without having to rely on the traditional infrastructure of record labels. For visual artists like Zawada, meanwhile, the ecosystem also fosters community amongst fellow creators. “I’ve worked as a digital artist for over 20 years but I’ve never actually considered myself one,” he says. “Overnight, the NFT world manifested a community that I never knew I was a part of, and created relationships with like-minded artists and creators that never would have been possible otherwise.”
Despite the creative advantages NFTs offer, they have become an increasingly divisive enterprise as more data has become available about the environmental impact of Ethereum, the cryptocurrency network through which most NFTs are traded. Though statistics vary, it’s estimated that a single Ethereum transaction uses the same amount of energy as an average American household over a 2.98-day span, or if we look at it annually, the same amount of energy as the entire country of Portugal.
ETH proponents accurately point out that other commercial avenues available to artists and musicians to generate income — such as music festivals, tours, and merchandise production — also produce a large carbon footprint, but if anything, that points to a more glaring issue of environmental accountability within these industries at large. It’s expected that Ethereum’s imminent implementation of a Proof-of-Stake scaling model will reduce its energy consumption by more than 99 percent, but until that happens, there are also alternative blockchains that use less power than Ethereum, such as xDai, Cardano, and others.
For artists across disciplines, the most exciting prospect of NFTs seems to be the erosion of structural boundaries and the movement towards an increasingly autonomous ecosystem, dictated less by top-down institutions than by creators themselves. As Zawada says, “Having the freedom to explore formats of expression that are unbounded by traditional format structures that are coupled with distribution methods means that I can make anything I want in whatever format I want.”