In preparation for the Disrupt Symposium, as the conference launch planned for the 1st of May approaches I sat down with Krista Kim a contemporary artist and founder of the Techism movement, whose work explores the concept of digital consciousness. Her interest in digital technology and it’s revolutionary effects on human perception, media, social structures, and communication have led her to work in both digital and physical realms.
Krista is one of the keynote speakers of the Disrupt Symposium. She will join the event with a 20-min in depth presentation on the topic of: “The economy of the metaverse: property ownership and rentals.” I also invited her last week to a roundtable discussion on the topic of “Metaverse and NFT opportunities for Architects” which we held with Zaha Hadid’s Architects Executive Partner Partik Schumacher and an award-winning Hollywood and Silicon Valley media executive Joanna Popper.
Sara: Let’s better understand the context within which you launched and sold the Mars House. How has that impacted your career?
Krista: Thank you. So I began creating digital art since 2012, when I was enrolled in the Masters of Fine Art Program at LaSalle College of the Arts in Singapore. During my studies, I entered the program as a painter. But then, I departed from painting and I began to work with light, because I saw light as the new ink. I wanted to explore the digital as a medium for expressing what it means to be human, be sublime. I really wanted to have a connection that's visceral, to digital, because I saw that our relentless distraction in our screens would be causing a lot of disruption in our society, and in fact, our own psychological makeup as individuals. I felt that we needed art and the expression of humanity to be involved at the forefront of technology to make it more humane, to make it more healthy, to pivot toward the well being of our individual mental health, and therefore our society at large. So I wrote the Tecism as a manifesto in 2014, as response to that, a “call to action” for creators to recognize that digital technology at the leading edge should be considered as a medium for creating art, in collaboration with engineers and technologists. I was creating digital art on screens, creating healing, meditative installations around the world. But my challenge was that the medium itself was so easily copied. So easy to access, the value in rarity was not there. It was a struggle as an artist to convince mainstream or traditional collectors to invest in digital art. I would continue to print my art, and create rarity for the prints. But the digital itself, the file itself, really had no value in people's minds. Mainly because it's easily copied, and provenance cannot be proven. Fast forward to COVID. March of 2020. I was, in my condo in Toronto, under lockdown with my kids. I began to daydream about my my dream home. I intended on visiting this dream home in virtual reality. This is how I designed the Mars House and a few other meditative design concepts between March and June. I was very inspired by the process because it was my first time creating on Unreal Engine. I found it extremely exciting. Not only can you create photorealistic renderings in 3D, but to visit it in VR was very exciting. I completed the project in June of 2020. My intention was to actually create digital physical installations and produce the the furniture and to ultimately recreate the Mars house in real life. And then December of 2020 rolls around, when I finally decided to research Bitcoin and Etherium for my own investment portfolio. Through that I started to learn about blockchain, Web3, decentralization. Immediately, I was thrilled to discover that NFT is a new technology that allows us to attach rarity to any digital file and create it into an asset. That was the turning point for me as an artist. I knew that this was the answer for many problems around the world, including our global economic, and financial crisis. I thought: “Okay, I will sign up for SuperRare and I was accepted in February of 2021. I minted my Genesis piece in February. I researched and observed the landscape of the NFT platforms at the time, but it was so early. All of the art was JPEGs and mp4 files, attached, minted as NFT’s on Etherium. I found that very rudimentary. I knew that it was just the beginning of NFT’s, because I was told that and I also saw a lot of museums that were created by the collectors in crypto voxels, or Decentraland, where their artwork was displayed. The owners would commission these terribly designed galleries, which were hideous most of the time. But, the art was amazing. These funny looking galeries were full of incredible art collections, leading edge OG NFT art. I thought, “wow, NFT's are the building blocks for the metaverse”. These are assets that will populate and actually build out the metaverse, because you can only create a space or create a new space with these assets. You need assets long term investment value and growth in order for people to invest in building things, whether it's in real life we're in or in the virtual. This is when I had a “eureka” moment. I said: “wow, I actually have a house. And I'm ready to ask the question to the world, whether we are ready for a Metaverse lifestyle.”
It was March when I decided to mint the Mars House, which I built earlier during the COVID crisis. It was a risk. I wasn't sure if I would find any collectors who understood truly what this house meant and what it would represent and the function of it. Luckily AOI, the the collector of Mars House, reached out to me and upon bidding for the piece we had in depth conversations and he ended up acquiring it for 288 Ethereum. This was a record at the time at SuperRare. That made headlines. That was a shocking development especially during COVID and the lock down. Where a digital house was sold for the same amount as the real house. Yeah. it was shocking for many. People didn't understand Metaverse at the time, it was pre Facebook conversion into meta. People were just shocked. They didn't understand what NFT's and Metaverse were. It was a very interesting time because Facebook approached me. They asked me about the metaverse and the future of XR, augmented reality. VR and metaverse. And lo and behold after Facebook decided to pivot into the metaverse that's when the world suddenly understood what the Mars House is, snd its’ value.
Sara: Incredible success really, especially that this early on it must have felt like walking in the dark.
Krista: The thing is, that I knew where it was going. I knew that NFT's would become 3D digital assets that are programmed with AI. I knew that was coming, but I didn't know if the world was ready for a Metaverse house. It was really fun.
Sara: That's excellent. And do you see more of these projects around now?
Krista: I see a lot of people now selling digital houses. I do see that on open sea. And it's wonderful that people are organically experimenting and pushing, forming new economies. But I think that right now we're still very early in the stage of developing the metaverse itself. So at the time when I launched the Mars House, the only Metaverse platforms available were sandbox, crypto voxels, decentraland. The first movers of the space came from the gaming world. Yeah. I believe that the future of the metaverse is not children's gaming platforms that are fossilized, or how else can you say it, cartoonish? I believe that the future of Metaverse is high fidelity, and culturally significant with a real world impact. I think the metaverse is going to be an experience economy first. It is going to be built of spaces where people interact and conduct services and exchange goods as NFT’s. It will be services and experiences. These spaces are going to be very valuable because they will inspire people to come back. So the metaverse has to be inspirational, has to add value to people's lives has to support community coming together and it has to be focused on community.
Sara: Absolutely, and thankfully, in some ways, it has those elements there already, because a big part of it is collaborative.
Krista: Correct. Every every brand, every every organization, every artist is now a community. And you ask yourself: “how can I activate my community in an authentic way, using beautiful and inspirational immersive experiences? That's a whole new approach of understanding architecture even because it's truly more about an exponential focus, and community focus, rather than just the building and structure itself. Architecture is all about bringing community together and understanding the curate, the curation of that experience, etc. But even more so in the metaverse. It's more of a theatrical, experience. You have to think about creating scenes with your community and community activation is key to have a long term viability in the space.
Sara: Absolutely. In fact, I wanted to ask you what are the new ways of community collaboration that one has to explore in order to become part of the metaverse collective? I'm guessing there's a lot of different discord channels, but where else does the community gather?
Krista: Oh, yes, of course. Discord is built for communities. Discord is a one way of actually having communities communicate and contribute co create. Whether it's an NFT community or any kind of membership, club, interest group, or education institutions, there's so much opportunity to really activate these communities in a meaningful way. You really just have to consider different ways of engaging the community as ticketed experiences in the metaverse. You don't necessarily have to build a new space every time you bring them into the metaverse, you can rent now. I think the opportunity for architecture in the metaverse is to really create special iconic spaces that really blow people's minds. So that they want to come back and be a part of a fluid community, micro community, coming in renting the spaces, buying the spaces selling the spaces. It’s all about community activation.
Sara: Absolutely, and what, according to you socio-economic potential is being held within the notion of decentralised reality, and how can this directly affect architects and artist business?
Krista: Well, I think that we are entering into a transcendent cultural paradigm shift, where our children and our children's children will be Metaverse native. They already are. They're playing on on Roblox and Minecraft, these multiplayer game platforms which are already preparing them for a Metaverse lifestyle or understanding it especially on a socio-dynamic and a socio-political dynamic also. It's these generations with the power of NFT’s that will actually own digital assets and a piece of web 3. They will gain equity in the social platforms where they invest their time and energy in and their communities. This is a valuable resource. Now, data is power. NFT's allow you to collect your own data, own your own data, have custody over your digital assets, interoperability, and decentralization especially through DAO’s. Organizing DAO’s to create worlds. Worlds in the metaverse are going to directly affect the real world because these are real people who are gathering in the metaverse for common interests. For the most part, when you're entering into the metaverse, it's very transcendent. There's no race, there's no religion, there's no gender, there are no divisions, people are just radically authentic. You can choose who you want to be and present an idealized version of yourself. When you have that opportunity to present the best of yourself, an idealized version of yourself, it changes the way you act, changes your outlook. The authentic connections that you make also are on a different level. The education, the access to health care, the access to mental health care, which I will be facilitating through my verse, the access to communities that are truly authentic. Communities based on authentic interests and passions. Not so much on cultural divisions, cultural divides or traditional legacy divide divisions. I think that it's a whole new social dynamic. Once we begin to introduce NFT's into governance, as DAO’s, NFT voting, this is all going to happen, right? Yeah, it's a matter of time. The first generation of people using NFT's, at any capacity and its art, that's the first iteration but more and more you'll see that every human transaction and whatever exchange it is for goods or services will be facilitated through NFTs. All of our records, health records, education, you name it, everything will be stored as NFT’s. So we are really just right at the tip of the iceberg of the depth and the the architecture of our society that is to come.
Sara: This is fascinating, and I love the grand vision of it and the hopes for a better society. I have however, read some articles about mischeif already taking place in the metaverse. Of course, despite its potencial to create a better world, a better society, after all it still invites people and through that all their human intentions, some of which dark and gruesome. Do you worry that there is a potencial unregulated danger to this new system?
Krista: There will always be, there will always be light and dark. These are the eternal forces of the universe. I think, as a world builder, what I can do is create safe worlds, with high levels of philosophy, ethos, community building, and meaning. I think that when you create spaces like this, people change, people actually elevate their behavior and their thought, according to what they're exposed to, according to what they see, according to their environment, and the communities that they engage in. So when you create spaces that are about culturally significant, meaningful, humane experiences, I'm not worried. The worlds that I will be involved in, I'm not even thinking about that nonsense. We will have AI algorithms that will kick off when people use abusive language or try to abuse one another for example. AI is a very, very useful tool. You don't even have to have police. And then, of course, there are many ways that you can protect children by creating, almost like forcefield cocoons that control what they hear, what they see, their interactions. With that nobody can come close to them. Everyone can have a forcefield. You can create your own rules very easily with algorithms. So, there are different ways that we can protect. I think it's even a more important standpoint to bring in higher states of consciousness and experiences, which by itself will elevate the entire space. Right now, what we see is pretty basic stuff coming from gaming. It's not really cultural, it's more experiencial and fun. Once we introduce meaningful, elevating, enlightening experiences into the metaverse as we have seen throughout history, and human civilization. Whether you're sitting in a Zen Garden in Kyoto, or, you're visiting the the Museum of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, which we also want to build. We are looking to recreate specific spaces that elevate humanity, that preserve the wisdom of all of us. That lead with lessons, immortalize the people who have made a real difference in our human culture, contributed tohisroty in a meaningful way. We want to do that. We want to bring all that into the metaverse the future of education, is immersive experiences. I think that's going to create more empathy, more connection to wisdom of the past. And that's what we need going forward. Because the technology that we're engaging in is so powerful, that if we don't use it for good, then it will be used to manipulate us and use us as as tools as product. And that is a dystopia.
Sara: And dystopia we have enough of, living in a society that controls our every decision, our money, our health, our bodies. We are at the point in real life where it’s hard to tell what is true and what is a propaganda. We long for authentic, sovereign existence.
Krista: Yes. decentralization is healthy, we need to become more sovereign, strong individuals. And, if we can build that system with decentralization through blockchain, we need to exercise this. I mean, the technology is here for our children and our grandchildren to be sovereign. Whatever platform, whatever technology, whatever product, whatever community they engage in, they are a valued co-creating member. Equity through tokenization. And that's a game changer, because the old corporate model is about the few having power over the many. But with decentralization, it's people who have all the power. With that comes great responsibility. And that's why education is key, it’s essential.
Sara: Education is everything. To wrap up I want to ask one last question which is very important I believe. How about an impact of this technology on the health of our planet? I am imagining more technology, more data, more power, more electricity, more cloudbase storage, more information, more computers. Can this lead us towards a more sustainable existance?
Krista: Of course! I think that it will definitely allow the individual who probably feels pretty hopeless, when they read the news: “The ice caps are melting”, “The weather patterns are changing”. Most of us on an individual level feel pretty powerless in helping or contributing to an effort to mitigate these problems. But with NFT's you can be part of a DAO. You can actually be a part of organizations that finance efforts toward the science and the on the ground activity that creates solutions for problems. I think the future will be about, people, individuals coming together to solve the world's problems. That's how they're going to find vocation, a purpose, a sense of purpose, and a career. That's the blockchain. I mean, this is web3, right? You no longer have to just work for a company and basically, your aims become the corporate identities aims. That's pretty soul killing, I find. The people want to be involved in more authentic activism. But it also gives them an opportunity to contribute their skills or talents toward finding solutions for the world's problems. There are so many problems in the world to focus on. We need,more of that activity. It's coming more and more.