Conceptual NFTs: Alexander Reben

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Editorial is open for submissions: [email protected]

by The Museum of Crypto Art

Observing Alexander Reben’s “Never-ending NFT #1” immediately anchors one to the present perfect. Consider the state of being when everything seemingly aligns – a brilliant thought, a favorite birthday, the smile of a loved one – that is immediately lost to time. While the perception of that moment naturally changes with growing distance, the feeling itself remains ever present and metamorphic in the mind. “Never-ending NFT #1” reflects back to us as individuals and communities at large, an ever-changing existence. The composition provides a visual harmonic and structured passage of time that fluctuates between moments where elements are either aligned or uncertain. By including ‘Never-ending NFT #1’ in the MoCA collection in the Metaverse, it may forever sit in noumenal reality as a reminder of the pull we each experience between the imagined perfect and the realization of a present perfect.

We asked Alexander a couple questions on his NFT art practice:

1.When did you first notice NFTs, and how did you think about approaching them?

I first started working with NFTs in 2017 when I was developing my TokenArt series for the 2018 Gray Area crypto art festival. In that work, random hashes were stored on the Ethereum blockchain with a custom smart contract, which were given out to visitors encoded as QR codes:

In each badge was a card with the address and secret to a wallet that holds the token, so the visitor could own that token. To get your artwork or output, you had to go to different stations (or later a website) to scan your code which would then be rendered as an animation, a poem, a piece of music, a robotic light dance or other output. Essentially one number was the “seed” for each artwork. Conceptually, I found it interesting that the thing that was “owned” was a number and not an artwork itself, so each token can render practically unlimited types of outputs, I felt it really connected with the ethos of the blockchain.

Later, I joined SuperRare in 2019 and minted my first work there in Jan 2020. Given the platform’s flexibility, I’ve been using it both as a place for my more traditional digital works, and as a platform to play with more conceptual ideas which leverage the digital and decentralized nature of NFTs.

2. How do your NFTs use the computer as a medium?

While NFTs are great as a way to collect images and video, some of their true potential can be explored because unlike many other mediums, NFTs are rendered on a computer. Because of this, their generative and computational nature allow for expression beyond static images and never-changing video. In my recent series of conceptual NFT artworks, I hope to push some of those boundaries and explore the medium in new ways.

For example, there’s the never-ending artwork series, in which the generative works don’t end (or at least won’t loop until well after the sun dies and engulfs the earth). This is something that would obviously not work as a static image, or even a video

Never-ending NFT #1 (daily_test)
Edition 1 of 1
Never-ending NFT #2 (taxable_sweatband)
Edition 1 of 1
Never-ending NFT #3 (beneficial_tandem)
Edition 1 of 1
Never-ending NFT #4 (polytonal_blockhouse)
Edition 1 of 1

Works which play with time or enumeration on digital platforms such as a counter that will count up to a billion seconds (31.7 years)

One Billion Seconds
Edition 1 of 1
Counts up to one billion seconds. >> “One Billion Seconds” / 2021 / SVG / 1 of 1 / ENAF7 / $2b$21$mtQpxghctI1c.Tc2AJHQcuEuqlCHpVW/HEL7.vzqV5BbvGAMzOsQa–>

Or which contain every possible four letter word:

Every Four Letter Word
Edition 1 of 1

And works that eschew aesthetics and use NFTs as an informational platform, in this work generative code is stored as a QR code and requires the viewer to scan it with their phone to render the final generative artwork (https://www.qr2a.xyz/scan/)

QRNFT #1 (secret_sawtimber)
Edition 1 of 1

Here’s how that interaction works:

Or are a bit tongue-in-cheek with their literal nature

THIS ARTWORK ORIGINALLY SOLD FOR 1Ξ
Edition 1 of 1
3. Does the blockchain offer a “permanence” to your digital artwork?

The blockchain is one of many methods to attempt the archival of digital art. One of its greatest strengths is the fact that it is decentralized and disseminated among many computers. This increases the likelihood that the data will be protected into the future. My work specifically uses vanilla web code and standards, making it likely that support for displaying them will remain variable in the future.

4. Tell us more about “Never-ending NFT #1”

The “Never-ending NFT” series are generative artworks which are always changing and never the same for as long as they are displayed. The SVG file type allows me to imbed a simple animation that is for all intents and purposes never-ending. For #1, each animation length is a prime number that starts at 3 seconds and then increases in length each time to the next prime number that is more than twice the current one. Counting from top down,

43853
21911
10949
5471
2729
1361
673
331
163
79
37
17
7
to 3 seconds.

These animation time lengths layer, and the least common multiple  taken of the prime numbers yields a total 8,100,130,823,116,196,870,106,507,130,835,017,047 seconds before it will loop again, or 2.569×10^29 years. (or about 19,000,000,000,000,000,000 times the current age of the universe)

5. What are the philosophies that guide your artwork?

I’m interested in the symbiotic nature of humanity’s relationship with technology. I feel a good artwork engages with an audience on two levels, aesthetically and conceptually. Process is also important in my work, sometimes becoming the work itself. 

6. Very few conceptual examinations within crypto art have been created. How do you plan to explore this more?

I think there’s a lot of conceptual potential within NFTs, especially since they run on computers. I’m currently exploring new ways to push the capabilities of the system and also thinking about how this new platform for experiencing art may shape the future of digital art in general. 

7. What tool would you like to use in your artistic practice that currently does not exist?

I would love it if there was a machine which could instantly materialize a physical object, much as screens materialize an image. Currently this is sci-fi, but who knows what the future will bring. Maybe one day you can buy an NFT car? But you wouldn’t download a car, would you?

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The Museum of Crypto Art has always believed that artistic applications on/of NFTs are cultural signifiers of our broader transhuman evolution that pushes past the constraints of the physical and into the infinite and collective permanent digital. Blockchain technology triggered a cultural movement towards ownership without physical signifers, and crypto art has brought the fringes of the internet and artists together in order to digitally record these once fleeting phenomena. The possibility of “Never-ending NFT #1” being experienced in 3021 by a human occupying an aesthetic, intellectual, and philosophical world alien to ours today excites us. 

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