Interview with conceptual artist and author Erhan Us, whose works have been exhibited in 26 countries, about his art and NFT’s.
How would you describe conceptual art in general terms for our readers who may be interested in art history and philosophy at different depths?
In conceptual art —contrary to mainstream art habits— there is no requirement for visual satisfaction, the content is ideological, the purpose is the relations that occur through the material rather than the material itself. We’re in an area where beauty, material, technique and the direction of the art economy are rejected; art also completes its task when it causes an interrogation, it serves whatever the artist’s intention is.
Even if you don’t know it’s an artwork yet, you can see one that impresses you as a graffiti, in a warehouse, in the trash if placed, or in a gallery transformed from an apartment. If the object functions as a symbol, it becomes a work of art when the viewer’s attention is directed to itself.
There is a documentary about you on Youtube, your ‘rebel’ style is often mentioned. In which disciplines and subjects do you produce your works?
I have a multidisciplinary production, including installation, painting, photography, video and illustration. I also share some of them as NFT’s. The artist and the audience must be in an exchange of consciousness via the artwork; which should be an object that will create an awareness, rather than decorative.
I mostly work on topics such as ethics, success / identity, dogma structure of belief, equal rights and freedom of speech, disidentification, autocracy, populism, status quo, polarization and corruption.
How do you approach NFT’s [Non—fungible token], which are known as the unique digital assets and the process, as a writer and an artist whose book is being lectured in universities on technology and sociological transformation?
I notice many academicians, economists, technology writers, artists and gallerists are disconnected from art production and the market dynamics, casting live for hours and write pages on this subject.
NFT is directly in interaction with many disciplines such as art history, art market / production, traditional investment, advertising, technology, the crypto assets and sectoral movements, and is affected by their fluctuations. Therefore, it is an entity that no one can describe in all its dimensions. Since its technical specifications and location in the economy are bottomless pits, let’s leave those details to the accounts dedicated to this work on Youtube.
There was never any point in opposing digital and technology. Undoubtedly, every new technology benefits in the right hands and is abused in the wrong hands. It should not be forgotten that the art market is one of the areas that is exposed to the highest level of speculation / manipulation. Always consider user experience and ergonomics. In this field where standardization is the most important criterion, synchronization between crypto wallets, coins and digital assets will play a decisive role in the medium—long term.
Reminding the percentage of digital in my art production, including photography, is ~35, I am still somewhere between positive and neutral about NFT’s.
In which conditions do conceptual art and NFT converge or diverge?
The obscurity of the object of art [cf. Duchamp—Fountain, Cattelan—the Comedian or freedom of someone printing / hanging your purchased / owned NFT to their wall], reconstructing the artwork in the viewer’s mind and its gaining indepence from the space, removal of the tag’s transforming the artwork to a pointless decorational object could be mentioned as the common features. And their rebel stance in the art history / market. Then, of course, there is the paradox of representation of representation and its representation.
Where can we display your artworks in NFT format, could you tell us the upload process?
I convert some of my digital illustrations or sketches to NFT’s. Like my physical artworks, they have protest—conceptual contents as well. In this process, I use Rarible and OpenSea \ Polygon which does not charge minting fee until the purchase and can be displayed at @ erhanus. Anyone who connects a crypto wallet to a marketplace can upload NFT’s.
Is it possible to speak of advantages or disadvantages between the circulation of artworks in the market in the usual sense and that of NFT?
Unlike physical works, it is definitely an advantage that the circulation of NFT’s can be tracked, contacting to the creator easily, the elimination of the gallery obligation and the producer’s share [earning] from any resell.
On the other hand, even if you do not approach it with an exalted language; any meaningless daily shot, a meaningless scratch, and pixelled images that cannot leave the field of craft or play —as well as successful artworks that completed their digital evolution and uploaded— are in an incredible flow to this market. And there’s no way uneducated eyes can make that distinction.
Is a categorization possible regarding NFT buyers, who are its consumers?
The fact that anyone with a crypto wallet can produce and upload NFT’s is also valid for purchase. Many artists prefer to send the physical versions of the artworks to the collector who bought the NFT’s, convert the purchasing process —and bypass the gallery and curator dynamics— to crypto.
Although collectors get curious about NFT’s from time to time and call their gallerists or art consultants for advice, we cannot say that NFT buyers / collectors are exactly the same persons. As the concepts of art—craft—meaning—work—artist become ambiguous in an ecosystem where everyone can be productive and accepted; NFT is predominantly an investment instrument or an asset that crypto investors are interested in.
What would be your observations about collectors, as a sociologist?
We may analyze the collector behavior in two main categories: aesthetic [visual satisfaction, decoration, etc.] and prestige [desire to have something valuable, power, dominance]. When we consider the physical ones, the collector exhibit the artwork in their house or museum to the audience. However, starting with videography, screens / players are vital for digital art to be visible. The ‘turn on > play’ dynamics of the artwork in this sense, when compared to the current prestige and decorative trend —where there is no need for an intermediary— blocks the excitement towards digital purchasing.
The interaction that collectors experience when they view —or show you— the artwork in the house and the interaction they experience when they show their crypto wallet / assets [on the basis of his behavior] are different from each other. In one, you do not see intermediaries such as banknotes, money, credit cards, which are the purchasing tools and in the other, you see a crypto wallet; the ‘prestige’ that the collector felt, transforms.
Furthermore, if we were able to transfer videos into a printable format, we could be discussing another level of photography as the way we understand it today, which would level up all digital assets.
What are the market uncertainties of NFT, when compared to physical artworks?
Since the market and consumption are still brand new, we do not have satisfying answers about such problems: metaverse devices and its corporational domination, healthy coordination between gallery—marketplace—artist, text—image [ss] coordination, where—is—the—art—object, limitation of the copy in different marketplaces, auto—protection systems against theft [ss reproduction], adaptation of art laws. In addition, the quality of the screens used in the exhibition area where NFT’s are displayed, do significantly change the appearance of the objects or make it incomprehensible.
The extent to which the exhibition spaces can be converted into NFT-friendly spaces does not seem promising for now, considering that many galleries cannot even use their social media accounts efficiently. Last but not least; the meaningless core of the art market, PR—of—the—sensational—one problem.
Do you have any suggestions for potential NFT producers / buyers?
For sure, technology is changing many of our habits, but to say “Our lives will never be the same after NFT” would be a very long—term or fanciful proposition. When you take it as a criterion to adapt to the user / consumer ergonomics and display the artwork without the need for an intermediary, the lives of many of us [in terms of interaction with the art consumer] will be quite the same as before.
Most markets do not like risk, they adapt very late to any innovation. You cannot offer that the industry will rear up and change the world just because you are focused on it, as if experiencing a spotlight effect. I attribute the excitement of boomer academicians to the fact that they see digital as something they are fascinated by comparing with their old lives, rather than a daily order, and are surprised at every new development.
Unfortunately, regardless of geography, the PR of the sensational forms the heart of the art market. The absurd works of celebrities and various dubious works sold in high volumes have always been the focus of attention.
When the system takes over everyone, countless young talents cannot draw attention they deserve, since their artworks are not guaranteed to be sold or simply because they produce content that is more difficult to understand [but of high quality]; they are neglected by mainstream galleries and collectors in search of fancy / popular art.
As in every sector; if you capable of adding a ‘plus value’ to what you do and make a difference, it means you have to take your place in that market. However, if you are thinking of entering the arena by believing that it will only make good money, I suggest you to stop there, every step that reduces the quality of production and content starts with that ambition.