By Abby Schultz
July 22, 2021 11:23 am ET
When the musician Masego saw a 2018 suspended sculpture made from molded “paint skin” and metal titled Purity by the artist Kennedy Yanko, he created music from sounds he heard in response to the swirling black-white-and-gray palate of the piece.
Masego’s interpretation of the sculpture through synesthesia—the stimulation of one sense of the body through another, in this case, sound through sight—was the beginning of a collaborative animated digital artwork, also called Purity, that will be offered as a nonfungible token, or NFT, in an auction on the peer-to-peer art trading platform LiveArt Market beginning Wednesday.
Yanko, who often works with found scrap metal and paint that she pours and then sculpts after it dries, met Masego, a self-taught musician originally from Jamaica and based in Virginia, years ago at Art Basel Miami. Masego is a stage name that means “blessings and prosperity” in Tswana, a South African language. He has created his own abstract genre he calls “TrapHouseJazz.”
Before they met, Yanko says she was always listening to Masego’s music in her Brooklyn studio.
“It speaks to me. He’s working in a way that’s really inventive and exploratory—it’s sensuous,” Yanko says. “With him, I understood quickly that our intentions and our works are aligned, and the way we work as artists are aligned. It’s very much about positivity.”
The paint skin in the original sculpture “looks like the paint is marbleized in space,” Yanko says. “I’m sculpting with paint, and then incorporating it with metal.”
For the NFT, the artists began with a photographed image of this sculpture, which resembles a draped figure gesturing upwards, then rendered it digitally with the assistance of Jesus Calderon, a digital artist Yanko has worked with in the past, to “go inside the piece.”
Through the Purity NFT, a viewer is taken into a world scored by Masego’s playful, evocative sounds, where a monk-like figure appears to walk on top of a sea with large crystals emerging from its depths. Then a world of crystals and light appears, containing within it a swaying array of fanciful plants that appear to be praying to a ray of light from above.
“I’m interested in how I can better position a viewer to receive information, understand information,” says Yanko, who is the 2021 artist-in-residence at the Rubell Museum of Art in Miami. “I’m looking at abstraction and color and an opportunity for people to start to understand the signals that happen within them, and the information that comes through the body, without intellectualizing it.”
While the NFT draws viewers into a new space, Yanko says she always creates worlds with her work. “Even when you walk around and experience my sculpture from every angle, you’re immediately pulled into these universes in some way,” she says.
Purity isn’t Yanko’s first experience with NFTs. In 2015, she created an augmented reality/virtual reality project called Indelible Fluidity, also in collaboration with Calderon, who did the animation and digital processing. The work didn’t make it off the ground at the time, Yanko says, because “technology hadn’t advanced to a place where I could make something interesting.”
The resulting brightly colored mythical world she created, however, is beautiful and mesmerizing. In June, she offered an NFT from it on the Foundation NFT platform in June as “proof of concept.”
To Yanko, NFTs are fascinating, not as objects themselves, but “as a tool,” similar to a paintbrush.
The technology also gives artists the freedom to talk about money and business, subjects they often stay clear of to avoid not being taken seriously as an artist or intellectual, she says.
“It’s an oppressive practice that’s been happening in the art world for a long time,” Yanko says. “When you keep artists uneducated about these things, it allows you to have more power over how much money you take from them, or what they really pay attention to.”
But Yanko has always found the business aspects of her work to be “creative and fun and natural,” she says. “Because the NFT is an asset, and it is about money, and it is a cryptocurrency, it’s been a fun place where I can talk about business openly and share with other fine artists and explore that a little bit more.”
The Purity NFT being minted on the LiveArt platform includes a “smart contract,” the company says, that specifies the rights of the artists and the collectors at all stages of the artwork’s lifecycle. It included royalty rights to the artists, which remain with the piece, and language that spells out the rights of each potentially subsequent owner, such as whether it can be exhibited, and if so, how, says Boris Pevzner, LiveArt’s CEO.
LiveArt also ensures that the NFTs it mints are carbon negative through an agreement it has with Aerial, a U.S. company that provides verified carbon offsets for the emissions used to create cryptocurrencies or NFTs.
For Pevzner, the collaboration between Yanko and Masego—LiveArt’s first to include art, movement, and sound—brings two types of audiences to one work of art. “This composite artwork could be exposed, presented to [an] audience that is not even used to consuming visual art,” he says.
The auction for Purity will be open from July 28-30 at an opening bid of US$1,000. Alongside it, LiveArt will offer a limited edition of related NFTs at opening bids of US$100. These pieces will include screenshots of the animated NFT, analogous to posters made from photographs of an installation, Yanko says. “So everyone can have a part.”