Digital materiality; an Interview with leading NFT korean artist, mr.misang.

There is little doubt that the growth of the NFT art market has solidified itself as the most controversial topic within the art world during the first half of 2021. NFT, which stands for Non Fungible Token, is a function that uses digital blockchain technology to give a unique recognition value to digital content, such as images, pictures, and music. Recently, NFT art has been recognized as an investment, due to the conceptual aspect of creating only one original work. This is especially valuable in a digital world, where infinite reproductions are possible. The structure, in which only one NFT work is given a specific value, provides transparency in the proof of facts about the original work.

However, it still remains that this model does not fit into the rigid structure of the realm of art, causing widespread controversy. In March, for example, Banksy’s Morons (2006), which sold for $100,000, was burned by collectors; they broadcast the art work’s burning scenes all over the world, through a live streaming service. Then, the work was digitized with NFT and sold to Opensea, an NFT sales platform. This NFT work was sold for about $380,000, which is four times the price of the original work. How should we look at this? What does it suggest in terms of the value of art, beyond its monetary value?

Authentic Banksy Art Burning Ceremony(NFT) by Burnt Banksy, 14 Mar 2021.

However, the marketability of NFT art is now as strong as ever. Digital artist Beeple‘s NFT artwork, Everydays: The First 5,000 Days (2021), sold at Sotheby’s auction on March 11th for about $69 million. This made Beeple the third most expensive artist in existence after Jeff Koons and David Hockney. With this in mind, and with a fear of not being cut into this money making machine, London’s other major auction house, Christie’s, entered the NFT art market with an NFT artist named Pak. So, as of now, two of the biggest art auction houses in the world are firmly within the market of NFTs.

Beeple, EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS, non-fungible token (jpg)
21,069 x 21,069 pixels (319,168,313 bytes), Minted on 16 February 2021.

With this month’s theme of the materiality of art in mind, it is interesting to consider how NFT art can extend the materiality of contemporary art into a digital world. It is not yet possible to decide how to look at the materiality of NFT art and what “aura” as a work of art it possesses. It is even unclear at the moment whether NFT art will pass as a phenomenon of simple speculation, or whether NFT art will also naturally become a medium of contemporary art over time, much like how photography and new media have been absorbed in the contemporary art scene. However, SuperGlue wants to discuss that possibility. To this end, SuperGlue interviewed Mr. Misang, a Korean artist who is currently at the forefront of the NFT art field. Through dialogue with him, we will talk about the various possibilities arising from new NFT art and the materiality of artworks that can be formed in a digitally transformed space.

Mr. Misang is currently the highest ranked artist in the top artist category on the international NFT platform SuperRare. By 29th April, the cumulative transactional amount of his works has reached about 1.5 million dollars. It is a feature of the NFT market that anyone can upload works, but there are very few cases that actually lead to the sale of works. Moreover, SuperRare, a platform on which he trades works, does not allow anyone to upload works; only artists who have been approved through internal procedures can put their works on the market. Considering these characteristics, Mr. Misang’s achievements internationally in the NFT market are at the forefront of Korean artists. Among them, the recent Modern Life is Rubbish (2021) series, which tells the story of the crowd in modern society, based on a psychedelic style, shows his unique vision of the world. An interview with him follows…

Mr Misang, #04. Birth of Mr Misang, 2021, Animated version of Mr Misang's series Modern Life Is Rubbish, Courtesy of the artist.

SuperGlue: Hello Mr.Misang. First of all, I would like to introduce you as a Korean artist. Are you hesitant about this, or are there any other words that could better reveal your identity as an artist?

Mr. Misang: No, there is no reluctance to introduce me as a Korean artist. It’s all good.

SG: With the tremendous growth of the NFT art market in 2021, you are showing a remarkable step as a Korean artist. You are consistently ranked as a top artist on SuperRare. The amount of sales of your work is also substantial. However, rather than paying attention to the amount itself, I would like to express it as the public or collector’s recognition of the artist’s work. Does this recognition fill you with joy, or do you feel a considerable burden as a consequence?

MM: I have a kind of dull personality, so I don’t have a lot of agitation about it. And the series is still in progress, so I am too busy to enjoy the feelings right now. However, I am curious about what my emotions will be like in the second half of this year.

SG: As an illustrator, you’ve been working steadily on album artwork for singers and product design collaborations with companies. Compared to these activities in the past, I am curious about your changes in attitude now that you are focusing your attention more towards the NFT market.

MM: When I was doing commercial works, I couldn’t control everything myself. It was fun to make a work by sharing opinions with other people, but there were some points where I felt the limit. For now, I create artwork by controlling everything with my own will. It’s a big change, and I’m satisfied.

SG: I want to talk about this change to your artistic world. You are running the Modern Life is Rubbish series, which is a very interesting series in terms of narrative. Is there a reason for creating a world of art with the theme of life of modern people in particular? And I wonder why you expressed it as rubbish.

MM: “Modern Life is Rubbish” is a title taken from the album of my favorite British band, Blur. I borrowed it because it fits the subject and has a good sense of speech. Many people ask about the meaning of the work, but I should ask, “is that so important”? I don’t think I display a complex story that requires further commentary.

For me, narrativion is a tool to bring the audience into my world. In fact, in Season 2 (Life is a ThemePark, which is a working title), the narrative is going to be considerably more blurred than it is now. The image from the single sheet will become much more important, and I will try to give the feeling that the space is connected, rather than the narrative. I am trying to make the world in my works. In fact, the trend is also seen in Season 1. *AJE awakened as an unavoidable cliché, but immediately returned to the supporting role of the world, as soon as he awakened. If you don’t deliberately try to find this scene, it will be difficult to find where this scene is depicted in the picture. Isn’t it weird? Do you really think AJE is the main character of this story? Mr Misang looks like the lead in this narrative, but how will it be expressed in Season 2? Why is my profile image not Mr Misang, but the face of an ordinary citizen? (*AJE is a character in Mr.Misang’s series, Modern Life is Rubbish and AJE means a middle aged man in Korean word.)

Mr Misang, #05. Birth of Franken AJE, Animated version of Mr Misang's series Modern Life Is Rubbish, Courtesy of the artist.

SG: I think that art that places a psychedelic atmosphere in a place where the age of science fiction is prevalent inherently deals with the post-apocalyptic images of humans. I am curious to know if there is any actual background for these works. You mainly use English and Korean in the background of the works. So, is there a place in particular that serves as the setting of the work? Do you mainly reflect specific spaces in Korea, or a universal place irrespective of borders, or do you create by your imagination?

MM: It doesn’t reflect a specific place. I think there is an image that vaguely comes to mind when it comes to the science fiction of the near future, so it’s my own interpretation of that vague thing. The thing that comes to mind when I write is Terry Gilliam’s film Brazil (1985), but I was inspired by many other things. The reason Korean and English are spoken is just that they are the languages I am familiar with. If I had knowledge of Japanese, Chinese, etc., I would have put in a lot of their words as well. It’s just kind of like a joke from moment to moment, so I don’t want to go through dictionaries to put in unknown languages.

SG: Your work is very balanced and harmonious. The atmosphere of the works, the theme, and even the ways of promoting the artwork align nicely. The psychedelic atmosphere, the theme of modern life that matches it, and the promotion method that NFT art has adopted, which might seem to be taken for granted in the world of the artworks. I wonder if this is also intended?

MM: Modern Life is Rubbish is an animated remake of the 2016 illustration series. Of course, the original was not created with NFT in mind. The reason that the animation remake was possible, was that a new retailer called the NFT market was created. I was confident that there would be some compensation, so I was able to invest my time and labour into it. If there is any part of this series that fits the taste of the NFT ecosystem, it’s a coincidence. I’m not sure exactly what you mean by the way you promote and inform the public. But, promoting my work through social media and receiving orders for commercial works is what I’ve been doing for the past few years, and I’ve just tried the same method at NFT.

SG: How do you think about the materiality of your artworks, especially in connection with the materiality of art, which is the theme of this month? Although these are works based on digital media, there are pictorial elements based on sketches and coloring, video characteristics, and also sound elements in them. And furthermore, it is created in an NFT method, so this method is also regarded as a material characteristic that constitutes your work? And I’m curious to see if there is any part that you put your weight on in particular.

MM: I thought simply. “What can I do with digital”? “Which of them can I do right now”? I have accumulated a lot of illustration works over the years and have animation skills as well. I couldn’t say that I am good, but I know how to make music as well. The answer was simple. “Let’s combine it all”!

SG: As NFT art emerges, I would like to ask you for your interpretation of it. With the advent of photography, the materiality of art expanded, and as works based on video media were accepted as a medium of contemporary art, the materiality expanded once more. Do you expect that a day will come, when various arts based on NFT technology are naturally recognized as a branch of art like these things? And if that is possible, what do you expect to be represented by the materiality of NFT art?

MM: It’s still in its infancy right now, so it’s called NFT art, but I think it’s just a transaction method. After all, it is NFT art that signed digital art and made it possible to trade. By the way, I’m not sure if digital art is a word that can express various works together. Because it’s a very broad concept. Would it be appropriate to praise the works of Van Gogh and Picasso, simply by grouping them into the category of ‘oil paintings’? Nevertheless, I can guess about the trend of what is now called NFT art. Now, I think it is still a point of time to appeal to the existing value of NFT art, by creating a virtual gallery, showing off your presence in the community, or fused with a real gallery to exhibit. On a larger scale, I think these attempts are a process of convincing the world that this virtual space is also valuable, and the NFT in that virtual space is also valuable. When we say we need persuasion, it also means that there are still many people who disagree.

MM: Virtual galleries are also fun in this context. Not all spaces are like that, but a lot of virtual galleries are trying to reproduce the appearance of the reality gallery as much as possible by advocating skeuomorphism. Why do people keep placing 3D chair models in 3D spaces that do not have a sit function? Why do people put “No Access Line” in front of reproduced 3D artwork? Isn’t it because the desire for persuasion mentioned above is somewhere in people’s hearts? Apart from the clumsy representation of reality, what can be done only in a digital space? For example, I think that artworks and spaces using VR or interaction technology will be created more and garner much more attention than now.

The more I think about this, questions keep coming up with my mind more. Aren’t games the most immersive experiences you can enjoy in a digital space? Will most of the works eventually converge and evolve into the form of a game? If that happens, at least technically, all digital art wants to be a game, but isn’t it something that hasn’t been reached? No, maybe the whole metaverse is one huge open-world game? I couldn’t find the answer either. I want to hear more people’s thoughts.

SG: It’s incredible that it’s still a process of persuasion; it seems that many people are still doubting the possibility of NFT art. If so, what possibilities did you see in these NFT artworks and in your work? Especially, as Christie’s and Sotheby’s have entered the NFT market. This will bring a virtuous cycle effect in the aspect of the ecosystem between the artist, the work, and the collector. On the contrary, there are also negative predictions that form, given that the market is a means of speculation. What do you think of this part as a person who jumped into the NFT art field in the early days? Furthermore, is there a role you would like to take in relation to this problem? Or do you think this is outside the scope of the artist?

MM: Assuming that the NFT market has been attracting attention as a ‘real market’ since the days of Beeple, it is a really new market, and it is impossible to know how it will change. When I jumped into this scene in January of this year, I wasn’t thinking of long-term concerns. I just thought that I could sell my digital work and jumped in. It’s really daunting to think of what I must do for the field. What I can tell you for sure is that I will go through all the works I have planned step by step. If that trail naturally helps other artists or fields, of course, I’m glad too.

SG: You mentioned the existence of a virtual gallery earlier, but in addition to the launch of the current NFT artwork, you have opened your own gallery in the digital space. Regarding this part, do you simply think of it as the website that launched your portfolio, or do you think again about the spatiality of the exhibition hall and even think of it as a space that can threaten the conventions of a gallery space? In addition, there seems to be a desire to open your own exhibition as an artist, but I wonder if that desire is sufficiently resolved through your virtual gallery, or if you still want your exhibition in a real space.

MM: I’ve never thought deeply about the real gallery. Just a few months ago I was a full-time freelance commercial illustrator, and often I wasn’t very interested in the art field. First of all, the virtual gallery that I have now will have a clear usage. It’s difficult to mention specifically right now, but I have plans to use it. And there are currently no plans for exhibitions in real space. I’m not saying that I like it or not. So far, there are literally no plans. First of all, I am spending my whole time working on the tasks I have planned for now.

The Scene of the Virtual Gallery of Mr.Misang

SG: Finally, please let us know your plans for future activities. In addition to the Modern Life is Rubbish series, are there any next series you are planning? In addition to these series, I am curious about the goal and direction in terms of career.

MM: Honestly, many of the following series have already been published on Instagram. Just as Modern Life is Rubbish reinterpreted the 2016 series, the next series will look similar. What’s different is that the next series wasn’t completed but was an ongoing series, so I think some works can be embodied as animation from the beginning. I don’t have a very specific goal. The goal is to release all the planned works, and I want to consider how and where to make them, by looking at the contemporary situation.

Keep in touch with Mr.Misang’s movement on @mrmisang and his portfolio.