Q&A: Artist Refik Anadol on AI-based NFTs for Instagram

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Insta­gram has begun test­ing out its NFT mar­ket­place by offer­ing a select group of US cre­ators on Insta­gram the oppor­tu­ni­ty to sell the dig­i­tal col­lectibles direct­ly via Meta’s social media platform.

Block­works spoke to one of those cre­ators, Refik Anadol, whose series of so-called arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence (AI) data paint­ings, or soft­ware-based art­works, sold out on Mon­day after only a few minutes. 

His col­lec­tion called Sense of Heal­ing: AI Data Paint­ings — 20 edi­tions of four col­lectibles — is one of the first non-fun­gi­ble tokens to sell on Insta­gram. In total, the col­lec­tion raised near­ly $80,000 for the Alzheimer’s Foundation.

A Turk­ish-Amer­i­can Ethereum min­er turned NFT artist, Anadol said that list­ing an NFT on Insta­gram is “as easy as adding a post.” 


Block­works: Tell us about how the part­ner­ship with Meta start­ed and about your new collection. 

Refik: I coined the term data paint­ing in 2008, and I’ve been work­ing as an AI artist since 2016 try­ing to cre­ate a social impact as much as pos­si­ble. When the Meta team and Insta­gram said, ‘hey, we are doing this new cre­ator econ­o­my move,’ of course I said yes to the experiment.

Refik Anadol “data painting”

We trained more than one hun­dred AI mod­els for this project. We worked in col­lab­o­ra­tion with an amaz­ing neu­ro­science com­pa­ny called Mind­Maze to cre­ate a dataset rep­re­sent­ing how the human mind heals. So these are very pos­i­tive rep­re­sen­ta­tions of how the human mind becomes better.

This sum­mer, I took this data and cre­at­ed one piece, which was auc­tioned at UNICEF for 1.7 mil­lion euros. For Insta­gram, I took four still AI data paint­ings from this unique series using the same tech­nol­o­gy — FMRI, DTI and EEG data sets trans­formed into an AI data painting.

Block­works: If your col­lec­tion is resold on a sec­ondary mar­ket­place, 10% of the resale val­ue will go to you. Are you choos­ing to col­lect roy­al­ties? And what is your take on mar­ket­places that have gone royalty-optional?

Refik: This drop is com­plete­ly donat­ed to the Alzheimer’s Foun­da­tion. So I’m not get­ting any per­son­al ben­e­fit from this. It’s more about trans­form­ing this amaz­ing moment to some­thing more pow­er­ful than just per­son­al income.

[Meta] allows a cre­ator to select ​their roy­al­ties start­ing from the min­i­mum five per­cent, which is amaz­ing because the sec­ondary mar­ket is anoth­er pow­er­ful econ­o­my. It’s very impor­tant for the cre­ators because it’s where the wider econ­o­my shares more directly. 

Why do we need this? Because in the last cen­turies, the entire art mar­ket was not based on roy­al­ties. The whole move­ment start­ed because of this pow­er­ful chance of get­ting this income. So it’ll be very sad to go back to the last century.

Block­works: Giv­en the cur­rent mar­ket con­di­tions, what kind of util­i­ty are peo­ple now expect­ing from NFT projects?

Refik: When the artist has a jour­ney, his or her life is a util­i­ty. For exam­ple, when my works are col­lect­ed by my col­lec­tors, I invite them to spe­cial open­ings and spe­cial pre­views — the util­i­ty is being spe­cial, being a part of the artist’s jour­ney. I think that’s enough as a means of util­i­ty. Our idea is to bring more tech­nol­o­gy and inno­va­tion into the meta­verse as an expe­ri­en­tial world and let our col­lec­tors become a part of a new uni­verse that they have invest­ed in.

Block­works: Do you think that Meta and Insta­gram are the right plat­forms to work with in order to accom­plish that?

Refik: Meta has this clear vision that they ful­ly believe in the meta­verse and that they are cre­at­ing the meta­verse. So I think it’s a per­fect part­ner for unfold­ing this nar­ra­tive to a larg­er audi­ence. Insta­gram is a pub­lic space. Insta­gram is tru­ly acces­si­ble to the world. I think it’s a very great time to cre­ate these main­stream con­nec­tions and make peo­ple aware of this new movement. 

Block­works: What is your opin­ion on the future of NFT tech­nol­o­gy and any ben­e­fits it adds to an artist?

Refik: It’s an incred­i­ble tech­nol­o­gy that will bring a lot of inclu­sive — hope­ful­ly — dis­cus­sions. First of all, I think NFTs are just a tech­nol­o­gy, a tool. But I think what we do with that, what we cre­ate, instills the val­ue of the art itself. But the tech­nol­o­gy is incred­i­bly open and very wel­com­ing for any­one, tech­ni­cal­ly, in the world. And that open­ness, egal­i­tar­i­an side of things is incred­i­bly excit­ing. There’s no door or a gate to push open — it’s just there. 

Now it’s time to dive deep into the art con­text. It’s an intel­lec­tu­al time. The ques­tion now is — 

What else can we do with [the tech­nol­o­gy]? I’ve very much been focus­ing on giv­ing back to char­i­ties. We donat­ed more than $5 mil­lion in the last two years to char­i­ties. But we also do pub­lic art free that is open to everyone.


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