“Digital art has not gotten yet the respect and understanding it deserves. We are laying the groundwork for other NFTs.”

Michael Joo, an internationally recognized contemporary artist, and the OG:Crystal project cocreator — about the future of NFT art, building a physical reef out of 10,301 digital pieces, and taking it to major museums and under the sea.

The OG:CR project was a big experiment for you when you started it. Back then you were unfamiliar with and excited about this new blockchain technology. How do you feel about it now? Are you a more confident crypto enthusiast and member of the crypto community?

— I think of that time as if it was both yesterday and a lifetime ago, honestly. Time as a concept is different in the crypto and blockchain space as there are no parameters to it. Things are new and unwritten here, and it feels appropriate to give time this weird flexibility or impossibility.

Though I can say that, since being in the crypto space I have much less of a regular sleeping schedule nowadays, and inspiration can come out of this delirium in some ways.

I’ve been immersed into the IRL side of the project lately, and it gave me a new and interesting perspective. I am beginning to form a new relationship with it. One that I never had before, which has an IRL “handle” — bumps and scrapes, cuts and bruises on my hands from exploring coral reefs and building models, combined with a digital perspective and a set of tools. I realized that working on the physical aspect of the project makes me feel more confident with it in its entirety.

One more exciting thing I’ve noticed — many new generative art projects have emerged since last October when we launched. They are different in scale, ambition, and sophistication, but many of them are unique in their approach and broadening the scope of what the possibilities of art and NFTs could be. It’s been very encouraging and exciting. I feel a part of something larger than myself.

Could you please expand on the process of creating something tangible out of 10,301 generated pieces? How do you and Danil make it possible?

— We’ve begun implementing many of the initial models that we’ve generated as 3D prints and exploring the variety of materials.

At first, we experimented with how much detail and resolution we could get with STL files for 3D prints. One piece is a 3D print roughly the size of a football, quite large for an STL print. It takes from a few days to a week to print one depending on its complexity.

We’re currently working with three US-based printing places, one in Europe and one in Asia. By getting back both individual and collective models from them, we’re determining which one would be most appropriate for us. We need to print 10,301 of these crystals. Each of them represents every single transaction that has been made within the project, a portrait of all the users as crypto wallet identities and their contribution to help build it, and it is a phenomenal process. Building this final one we have to do something that is grand enough to represent the scale of our ambition and our community.

Do you build this sculpture in the digital space or do you create it manually?

It’s a mixture of real-life and digital model experimentation. We’re working with individual crystal models in real life to get a sense of how they work together. What would their flow be? Would three corals look good together? Would a spiky one look good next to a smooth one? What would happen if we turned a model around to make the stone positioned upwards? That kind of thing. There are literally so many possible connections and combinations to explore.

We’ve set up one studio in Bushwick with two more studios forthcoming in Red Hook and Long Island City. Hopefully, I’ll be able to officially announce that to the community at some point soon and host events at these locations. I’ll definitely make a broadcast from one of those studios once they’re set up.

Danil has come up with a wonderful way to begin visualizing all this. In a nutshell, Danil has created envelopes that generalize the form, so we’re able to very quickly put crystals together into a matrix. These envelopes generalize the overall form, you put them together and then remove them, replacing them with the actual crystals, this gives us the general sense of direction. Once we find out the best types of characteristics and qualities, we will probably use some kind of algorithmic process to put everything together. We’ve also been experimenting with things called lattices. Crystals can stick together and intersect with each other like Legos or bricks in order to have structural solidity. Lattices are biomechanical-looking coral frameworks in which the crystals will sit to give us a better structure.

Now we’re planning to build a grouping of, say, 25 or 50 crystals. And if you think about those numbers, we’re looking at hundreds of groupings that will be put together to make a final reef form.

We need to come up with a form that allows for every individual crystal to be clearly viewable. We need to show that we are all connected in this one large community, while still being able to pinpoint our own place in it.

So how big do you think the OG:REEF is going to be?

I can safely say it’s going to be much longer than 3 or 4 meters. I think it’s going to retain its neutral coloring. But we have some plans and technological strategies in place to figure out how to bring more color to it. We’re experimenting and playing with different ways to potentially use augmented reality, projection and shape, form, and/or facial recognition technologies to pinpoint moments. We’re trying to stay close to the edge of what’s possible, deploying said technologies in a way that gives us the best experience.

You’re currently negotiating with a few museums and galleries in regard to potentially displaying the REEF and the smaller tiles you’re planning to print first. Can you share any details with us?

— Yes, we are trying to involve really large-scale reputable art institutions on both the East and the West coast. These discussions are serious enough and are at a sensitive stage that we need to exercise some caution while we wait for all of this to come through. We are inviting them to something they’ve never done — the adoption of NFTs into their collection will be a significant moment for us and a huge step for the whole NFT and art community. It’s like trying to turn a ship like a kayak, and I hope we can manage.

What about exhibiting the smaller pieces of the OG:REEF?

— We’re planning to get some traction with the same institutions to chart exhibitions within the year, hopefully. What I also see in the next one to five months is a series of exhibitions in smaller institutions and galleries in the States, Central America, Asia, and Europe, which I am in talks with. There we can show proper large-scale iterations of, say, hundreds of crystals, alongside individual models and presentations to share with the world where the project is at and that we’re moving forward.

Since we’re doing something so groundbreaking, we have within our community a certain kind of dynamic and spirit of innovation. But teaching and conveying that dynamic feeling to some of these larger institutions and bureaucracies takes a bit longer, and sometimes it takes longer than the IRL building. But what we are also doing is laying the groundwork for other NFTs. I don’t think digital art has gotten yet the respect and understanding it deserves. We aren’t doing it only for ourselves, and we want to set a precedent for other artists and projects, to change and broaden what’s possible for everyone within the NFT and digital communities.

And one more teaser! I have just begun experimenting in collaboration with an incredible collective called Megalab from the University of Hawaii Hilo. I’m working with some of the incredible athlete scientists from their collective to study the viability of marine life growth and recruitment onto the materials which we are printing with. We will perhaps see very soon some evidence of real organic growth starting to take over some of the selected crystals that we’ll pick to grow in the ocean, so they will continue to change and evolve organically.

Our horizon is long, and OG:CR is a living proposition. It hasn’t stopped and will not stop for quite a while.

The original OG:CR project is about to change and evolve into a new platform for dynamic NFTs OG.Art. How do you feel about it? Can OG:CR start writing a new page in the history of art?

— I do love that positive attitude, and I want that for our community. This project itself is a reference to the organic nature of a reef. The idea of this project is to be a basis for an ecosystem. A coral reef is a crystalline exoskeleton of coral polyps, so it’s like we’re building a community on its ancestral past, on its bones, so to speak.

The idea of bringing other artists from both the crypto and traditional spaces together to work on joint projects with this strong community, building an ecosystem of other projects is really exciting. I think this ecosystem of interconnected projects will be exploring the ideas of not just creation, not just collection, but co-creation and participation, because we all know that to really understand and get into NFTs one has to participate. And once one is in, they are learning by doing. Why can’t that experience of co-existence, co-creation, and participation be a part of the grand picture? It’s much more organic and much more synonymous with growth. Our platform is going to reflect that, and OG:CR may become the genesis of this future.

Many artists, both digital and traditional, already feel enticed to try blockchain technologies out and to learn about them. Major institutions, galleries, and collectors, on the other hand, are quite hesitant to commit, the traditional art world treats NFT art with caution despite the success of many projects. What conditions have to be met for digital art to get the recognition it deserves?

— If there is a sincere approach from the artists’ point of view the rest of the art world will follow. It takes a number of projects, and examples of artworks that utilize the NFT as a platform, that approach it from the experiential point of view. Artists’ involvement in it, their understanding of what possibilities lie there, as well as their understanding of what it means for their own work — are all essential. Artists need to take it seriously, to look at it as something viable. They need to be brave and explore it as a new medium.

And it doesn’t have to be as complex as the OG:CR project, for example. It can be as simple as a singular static image if it’s approached with thought. I think those projects in which the NFT itself has a really clear connection to the artist’s work will be seen as a solid and valid form of art. So let’s do what we are doing right now.

One thing we talk about a lot in this community is value, and I think we all have to expand our idea of it beyond just the immediacy of the transaction of finances or currency. If we can expand our vision of what value is over time, we’ll be able to watch the NFT projects become more relevant. It’s a great time for artists to be making innovative NFTs but also for collectors, as this is the earliest stage of something that will grow exponentially.

What kind of values could this art bring?

— Photography could be a great example here, as it was once seen as an illegitimate fine art form. Its acceptance in today’s fine art medium isn’t questioned now, but it had to go through its own rough period. Video art, and performance art, as two of many examples, all had the same trajectories. NFTs and blockchain-based work are going through the same moment in a much more expansive way, I think, and they are nearing that moment of recognition and of being taken seriously. Because of all this, there is value in all these early projects, as they are going to be pioneering a new place in the history of art.

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