Tapping a team of leading artists Simon Denny, Rachel Rossin, and Willem de Rooij, along with curator Marco Brambilla, Spheres of Power is a collection of nine NFTs that embrace the collaborative spirit of exquisite corpse, a game in which contributors build upon each other’s work based upon a set of rules or by seeing only small elements of the previous work. The collection will be released on November 29th by Voice, an NFT studio that launched in September.
Among the plethora of new NFT companies collaborating with artists, Voice sets itself apart as a user-friendly platform that allows artists to mint without gas fees and accepts credit card payments. On selecting the three artists, curator Brambilla said, “I have known Simon Denny’s work dealing with blockchain for years, as well as Rachel Rossin’s work in VR, and we are also friends. I thought the collaborative spirit was essential to making this ‘exquisite corpse’ collection happen. Once we started, Willem De Rooij was asked to participate to have someone from a completely different background and practice who would ‘disrupt’ our thought process as more digital ‘native’ artists. I think the result speaks for itself and resembles nothing else in the NFT space.”
A century after Parisian Surrealists popularized exquisite corpse with figures like André Breton and Yves Tanguy enjoying the playful nature of the game and the element of chance, Denny, Rossin, and de Rooij are now bringing the collaborative art-making method into the 21st century. In line with the artists’ diverse practices, the NFTs in Spheres of Power mix a variety of concepts, mediums, and techniques.
Berlin-based Simon Denny approached the collaboration as a way to explore his ongoing interest in contemporary technologies, in particular cryptocurrency as a supranational, non-state currency: “We thought, what’s a cryptocurrency? It’s a private currency. And how does that interact with what money has been for most of our lifetimes as an exclusively state-issued tool or hierarchy tool?”
His contributions to Spheres of Power are based off of screenshots taken from the White House memorabilia store, which were then woven into tapestries and minted as NFTs. In one, he featured the webpage advertising a “Hippocratic Oath Throw Blanket” with the famous quote “first do no harm.” Explaining his interest in the store, Denny said: “I had an idea kicking around for my first NFT that was to respond to a kind of para-state presentation: a web store that supposedly represents the White House and sells political memorabilia. I thought of having an analogous relationship to the issuance of cryptocurrencies, where it does a lot of the work that the state is supposed to do, but then it does it in a parasitic way. I wanted to process something that was promised on the web store, and that weaved into our conversations.”
This exploration of cryptocurrency is reimagined in Rachel Rossin’s NFT. Rossin, a multimedia artist and self-taught programmer based in Brooklyn, is well known for her work in virtual reality, as well as her unique ability to blend elements of physical and digital art into hybrid paintings. For Spheres of Power, Rossin tapped into her knowledge of the crypto space and explored the history of blockchain and how we’ve come to the point in its history today. She explained, “I opened up the hard drive that I originally did mining on from 2009, just to look at the original source code and for my own curiosity to ask the question: how are we here? I did a screen recording and then on top of that added a sock puppet to reference empty accounts [a tactic used in military interventions where a fake virtual persona exercises influence]. The sock puppet is performing in front of that screen recording to riff off of what Simon [Denny] introduced.”
Working with the underlying themes of power dynamics and hierarchical bodies, Berlin-based Willem de Rooij approached Spheres of Power from a historical standpoint by appropriating and warping representations of the Dutch empire from the Rijksmuseum. In Warping II, de Rooij has altered the perspective of Jan Weenix’s Hunting and Fruit Still Life next to a Garden Vase with a Monkey, Dog and two Doves, in the distance Rijksdorp near Wassenaar, Seat of Jacob Emmery, Baron of Wassenaar from 1714. Explaining his interest in these paintings, de Rooij said, “I was looking at historical precedents for transnational power structures and global financial systems and investigated how nations and cultures were depicted in the framework of the Dutch empire. To this end, I appropriated reproductions of paintings taken from the website of Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, which I warped into irregular shapes, in order to question the views that Dutch people have of their colonial past and their neo-colonial present.”
Each NFT in Spheres of Power will be available for individual purchase, but it is intended to be viewed as a cohesive collection. Pointing to the gamification aspects of many NFT sales, if a collector purchases the full series of nine NFTs, they will also receive a physical exquisite corpse drawing created collaboratively by the artists. If a collector buys any three NFTs, they will receive a bonus one. Perhaps most critical in light of the increased awareness of the carbon footprint and ecological impact of blockchain technology, Voice operates on the environmentally-friendly blockchain EOSIO that uses a Delegated Proof of Stake system in which nodes are voted upon to validate transactions, which is considered a more democratic consensus method and requires far less energy than blockchains that use Proof of Work.
Celebrating the expressive and collaborative potential of NFTs, Spheres of Power represents an exciting moment within the history of art and blockchain technology and proves how artists can successfully work together to push the boundaries of the technology. The individual works come together to process systems and structures – cross cultural collaboration, decentralization, structures of power, and ownership – that shape the real and digital world today.
The nine NFTs will drop on November 29th, 2021. Visit Spheres of Power for more information.
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Annabel Keenan is a New York-based writer focusing on contemporary art, market reporting, and sustainability. Her writing has been published in The Art Newspaper, Hyperallergic, and Artillery Magazine among others. She holds a B.A. in Art History and Italian from Emory University and an M.A. in Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture from the Bard Graduate Center.