HANS ULRICH OBRIST IN CONVERSATION WITH IX SHELLS
HUO It’s great to finally meet in person. Where are you now?
IS I’m in Panama.
HUO I was curious about how it all began. How did you come to art?
IS I just came out of this other shot with artist and understand a bit of my process, I connected with everything. It was true photography: I just like walking around and simulating spaces around me, and turning everything, even photography, video, music, in some abstraction. At the time I was living in Toronto, I was there for about five years, and it was very difficult being house away from my family and getting to knew this strange new place. I understood more about it through my camera. I was studying architecture, I remember I wanted to be an architect but it was really expensive, so I decided to try another course and I found this computer science degree online with the University of London. One of the first classes was about cryptography, teaching us how to put informations inside pixels, which were in different colors, shapes and forms, and the information inside them could be extracted and translated into datas, turning everything in a crypted piece of art while conserving real information. That was like one of the thing I quit the most, outside of the fact that I’m an observer, I like imagining things, I like expressing myself through what I do. That’s pretty much how it started. It was also a healing process, all this new experiences, some good some really bad, but I fall in love with it. Until now my work it’s still my closest relation to anything.
HUO A lot of your work is generative, who where the kind of artist form the past who inspired you? Some pioneers of generative art, if there is any kind of inspiration from there.
IS Honestly, I started this whole thing without studying the past, without using references. I started learning well and more about it in the past two years ago, I was in a trance since I started. These past years with NFTs and art related to digital, gave me a lot of opportunities, talking to people I could have never talked to, I started studying more about the past. I read a lot but I never used a reference. I like randomness, I get bored really easily, so I want to keep searching to another new things, another new patterns. I focus so much on just single work and not large editions of the same algorithm. Frank Herbert, I learned a lot about him; some people say some of my black and white works look like it. I say mathematics is a big work of coincidence, eventually we will find each other mirroring or either in a relationship with other or with objects. One of the pioneer I admire the most could be Vera Molnar, I was part of an exhibition with her and this is insane to say such a thing. What I like about her is that she can incorporate a lot of thoughts within her art, there’s a lot of her in the way she expresses. That’s the way the artists to train themselves when they’re trying to make sense of abstraction. It becomes a language, and I see her as a way of language.
HUO How did you then come to the NFT space? I read that it is somehow connected to Lady Pheonix and your show at Lightbox in NYC, it was a whole chain reaction in a way, then you go to Foundation and Dmitri Cherniak played a role. Can you talk more about this journey?
IS It was a chain of events that I didn’t plan at all. It was all into my own world. Obviously you are in the fantasy you’ve built. My family was taking care of me for a whole year after I came back from Toronto, I used to send all the money I was making to my mum and my brother to their rent. When the pandemic sorted I was really stressed out because my mum works in a hospital, she’s been working there for ten years. I started to wake up in a way where my brain was divided between my own therapy and art, and finding a way out where I was living, with very little, and my mum was doing everything for us. My brain got obsessed with the idea of finding something that was interesting, can be print, or a website reinvesting my works in, you know, covers of the phones… all the sort of things artists do when they’re desperate. I never saw anything before, but when I started that with technology, my friends were using it to create artworks that could use data from time, from the collectors, anything you put in the program to shift the way it looks. I had never seen that before, and there’s so many usings of NFTs. You can create artworks with the faces of the moon, with the movement of the ocean, with all kinds of data. My friend Dmitri Cherniak is an amazing artist who’s been working for a long time on blockchain with generative arts. He helps other artists sharing advice, and sharing is own work. When he releases his project with Artblocks I thought it was amazing. It just blew my mind out, all coming out from one algorithm, and I immediately thought “Ok, I need to do something like this one day!”. It’s a very difficult process, it takes time to create a project like that. And I’m still working on it. I decided to share the single works I have, that I have made, and I started making new work. I opened my twitter, never had it before because it was too distracting from creative work. Today it is more logical, I am aware of self-promotion. It’s not something I really like but that I have to do. I take my breaks from that, but not many people realize the echo chamber that can be created. Observing and learning by seeing what other people are doing or what they’re not, reading a lot.
HUO What are you working at, right now? Can you tell me the kind of current moment in the practice?
IS I’ve been getting some interesting meetings with LACMA Museum of LA, with a Museum in Buffalo too. They want to create works with me and I also want to apply some. These past year have been all of a creativeness body of work that represents my art as a whole, incorporating old art too that shows my history. I think I like to preserve memories. If I see my Instagram, I’ve shared a lot of personal.
HUO Also family memory…
IS It’s something I’ve been doing for years, even before all this craziness. I was just creating this connection with people, a true thing I love. I wanted people to get to know me better, and if I am no longer around they could search this things I left behind and understand me more. It’s very emotional in that way. I meet a lot of friends just with my art, or they replied to whatever I shared. Saying nice things is a form of communication for me. I think the metaverse starts when you create a spot where people can visit you daily. And I think my own metaverse version id the long instagram feed I have, It’s like a collage. It becomes everything it’s interconnected somehow, even when I din’t plan it – like 90% of the time – I feel at some point I became a cyborg where I was connected with my computer so much. The art I was sharing was part of my imagination even when I din’t plan it, that was part of my consciousness. Then when I interpreted, when I see silhouettes and shapes in nature, music, and when some people can understand it it’s the same of when I go to Museums or Galleries seeing pieces of art where I can recognize face, people, cities. I just wanted to share what I see with the world.
HUO You did this amazing piece Dreaming at Dusk, which became very famous. in the description it talks about the idea of commemorating the Tor onion project of 15 years, where an ecosystem of onions has been blooming. It also go to do with memory, in that sense. Can you talk a bit more about this Tor project and what prompt you to do this unique digital project? It’s interesting because of using the private key of the first onion service in it.
IS One of the Project Manager approached me last year, her name is Antonella and she lives in Argentina, as many people of the project are form latin countries. They’re just volunteers, they want to create a door to the first world and give a chance to the people who don’t have a chance. I know this for years, it’s a way to protect your information, in case you are for example a reporter, working on conflicts like Ukraine or Iran, and you need to protect your identity because you get killed. Tor does protect that information when you’re searching online or you’re texting, generating connections with other countries. Many people are working in places like that, fighting against powerful. I’m still a part of the group with Tor, we talk every now and then. And I’m going to see them in New York soon. We are making a video to commemorate the anniversary, and we made a large amount that was donated fully to Tor, and now they create an own network.
HUO I’m looking at your Instagram (@ix_shells). Your most recent post talks about your love for the craft and again of the importance of Dmitri Cherniak who told you to focus on the art.
IS I pinned that post so if you see the date those are from last year. I want people to understand more of the past. This is one of the works that help me contact with him, in 2020, when none of this was happening. He thought that was one of the most unique pieces I’ve done. And that’s how we started our friendship, and a lot of my friendships sorted out in this way. People see more in my work than a generative output, you see a lot of generative arts that is just geometry. Even when it is more about music, I tried to share a story that connects me with the piece. Dmitri Cherniak has been a cornerstone of my life, he helps be by just being myself, I observe a lot of what he does with his own art, how he shares, how he tries to educate others.
HUO Quite a lot of artist are mixing reality, blockchain released pieces but also physical editions, slow prints, light boxes. Pieces comes to a special dimension, into 3D. Is that something you are also interested in? Do you sort of mix reality and physical components in your installation?
IS Actually yes, I recently got a space in Panama to create a studio, right now my studio is my room where I have books and a few prints I’ve done. I have a uploader machine that I want to start using, I want to do more physical version of the pieces I make, like statues, or something new. I was playing with 3D before, I use Blender, which is a creative software, mixed with the programs I use. I used to have an app for VR shots, where you can put screens all around. I have a VR set up there, you can sit and just get immerse in the room. Many rooms in Web3 are very old-fashioned in terms of design, I don’t really enjoy the design, it takes a lot of art to create that and to connect to blockchain. There are some other not connected to blockchain that are really amazing, with realistic designs, characters. I’ve really enjoyed the fact of character being very realistic. I used to play a lot, my favorite games are the one you can create your own character and go within the game, and really feel like you are that person or animal, or whatever you decide to be. Some of the metaverse versions of this art are very raw, with grey figures, with no design or details. I still use my old programs, one is Sensor… I share the screen, the si one of the room I made, with a bowling, screens, sits, and I want share you video form the art itself. you can see me, looking at the artworks around. this is an exhibition I curated. This is an artist from Iran, as an example of artists who have no possibilities to share their art very much.
HUO So that’s an existing physical space, amazing. Where did this exhibition take place?
IS It was all online, and then I did another one that year with Lightbox in New York City. They give me the space, we sold some tickets and with that we helped the artists. I’m no longer working with that account, just on my own right now, working on IX Shells. Things change and people change too, it is no longer easy to work with some friends. For this project there was a camera pointed to the room, so people are watching live in twitch, in VR and in person at the same time. You were feeling to be in the room with the VR lens, and feel the light and the vibration of the music.
HUO It’s like a mixed reality experience, in a way.
IS It is, and this is like the view from the room, mixed reality. You can see the chairs here, then the room where people were interacting into everything, and the video pieces. Also one of my favorite works. We’ve been won a price, a Telly Award.
HUO You have a beautiful online postcard where you say you’ve been learning. I want to ask this question about rhythm, music and healing also.
IS I started with psychedelics 6 six years ago. Before that, I was really depressed. Many artists want to escape this reality, but instead of escaping I think I wanted to explore it, I wanted to understand more of why I was feeling that way. I lost my father when I was 14, and I became a muted for my last years of high school. I used to go to school and sit there, and be quiet. I splitted between different realities, in real life I was really connect to people but when I get to my computer, I could talk and play games, and just be another person. I developed that other different reality and personality that lives online, free and talkative. Then I think those worlds unified, like now I can go out, I’m still in the healing process but I feel like a lot of the way that I was caring from that pain, from losing the most important person, I started to accepting it and analyzing it in a different way. He was with me in other ways, like curiosity, technology, learning more and changing. I got that from my father, he was very into poetry, music so I think he was inviting me into different worlds. I think I’m a lot like him, it’a way for me to no longer feel sad.
Read the full interview on Muse February Issue 61.