An Exhibition at Art Basel Miami Beach Allows Visitors to Mint Their Own NFT 

Artist Mario Klingemann’s AI-controlled, generative art installation stars in the digital art show presented by the energy-efficient  blockchain Tezos, which explores the future of the NFT market, cryptoart, and the relationship between humans and machines. 

Artist Mario Klingemann's installation creates generative self portraits and mints them as NFTs for visitors to take home.

One of the forebears of artificial intelligence art, German artist Mario Klingemann never knows how his generative self portraits may turn out. “The one thing I always appreciate about working with AI is the chance to get results you didn’t expect, or that are somewhat out of your control,” he says. “There’s a machine that’s your counterpart and you interact with it, and it does some things by itself, but at the same time you get the feeling that it’s not random and you have some control. I like the intermediate space.”

At this year’s Art Basel Miami Beach (Dec. 2-4), Klingemann, whose artist name is Quasimondo, will debut an immersive installation that interacts with visitors to render abstract digital portraits using an algorithm embedded into the 2,500-square-foot space. As part of the exhibition, titled “Humans + Machines: NFTs and the Ever-Evolving World of Art,” attendees will walk away with their very own non-fungible token minted collaboratively with Klingemann on the Tezos blockchain. 

Featuring generative and NFT artists such as Helena Sarin, Kevin Abosch, Matt Deslauriers, and Kelly Richardson, among others, the show will put one of the art world’s hottest phenomenons front and center for the first time at the fair. The exhibition is being hosted on the open-source blockchain Tezos, a popular platform among creatives who are embracing NFTs but are concerned about the high minting fees and environmental impact of chains like Ethereum.

For instance, it’s been reported that the musician Grimes’ recent Earth NFT auction used as much energy as a single resident of the European Union uses in 33 years and that Ethereum is responsible for 96,200,000 tons of CO2 since its inception—the equivalent of the 84 least carbon-intensive countries combined. As a blockchain, Tezos uses a Proof of Stake (PoS) algorithm to mint NFTs which is much more energy-efficient than Proof of Work (PoW), which requires vast amounts of energy. 

Over the course of the exhibition, speakers and panel discussions will cover of-the-moment topics such as the metaverse, art trends, and, of course, NFTs. Highlights from the roster of environmentally conscious talent include Bulgarian artist Iskra Velitchkova’s nature-inspired generative images, Australian artist Sutu’s sci-fi- and cyberculture-themed animations, and Turkish computer scientist Memo Akten’s AI-driven octopuses, Distributed Consciousness.

The biggest draw, however, is Klingemann’s installation, which consists of six different screens equipped with cameras to film participants. The footage will be added to the “river,” and the machine will use other imagery in its memory bank to fashion a portrait that’s both playful and totally unique. Anyone familiar with Klingemann’s work knows his generative faces take on an almost caricature-ish quality. “I like the grotesque, and that’s what you always get with a network,” he says. “I enjoy playing in that space. Faces are one of the most popular topics in art because they’re so versatile. You can really start from two dots and a line, or you can go hyper-realistic or even surrealistic.”   

Mark Soares, founder of the agency Blokhaus that oversees marketing and communications for the Tezos ecosystem, compares the experience to the thrill photographers get when developing film. “We know the parameters, but you don’t know the final outcome. I equate it to being in the darkroom and seeing the image come up from the developer bath. There’s this moment of, ‘I feel like I should know what it would look like, but I don’t know exactly until I see it show up.’ It’s really lovely. That’s part of the magic of AI in generative art.”

Creating with computers always fascinated Klingemann growing up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, when he became interested in code art, an emergent medium that didn’t have a name back then. “I was probably an artist but didn’t call myself one because there was no role model where I could see, ‘Oh, this is what people do,’” he says. As AI and deep learning technology evolved, Klingemann realized he was on the vanguard of a new medium. “Oh, you can do that? Use a computer and make art and call yourself an artist? Once I figured that out, it became a possibility and people got more interested in it.” 

Now, the field of AI art is booming. As the technology advances and new audiences discover it, the contours of the artform begin to appear even though the exact details of where things go next will only fill in with time—just like one of Klingemann’s faces. “The movie Her is not a total fantasy anymore,” he says. “It’s only a matter of time until you can create an entire movie just by giving instructions or get music based on current mood. The machines are really good at producing things that catch our attention. And that’s what interesting: it’s something you focus your conscious attention on. It’s not necessarily good or bad, beautiful or ugly. It’s just something that is not the usual stuff. That’s where the machines are really good because they can learn what we find normal and then measure what is different.”

So what role will the artist play in the future? 

“You still have to be imaginative in what you ask it,” he says. 

Humans + Machines: NFTs and the Ever-Evolving World of Art,” is on show at Art Basel Miami Beach through Dec. 4. A conversation series on the NFT movement, blockchain’s utility as a creative canvas, designing generative art algorithms, and more will coincide with the exhibition and stream live on the Tezos website

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