Non-fungible tokens (NFT) are everywhere. In the last few weeks, everyone I’ve spoken to in China blockchain is either already working on, starting a new project, or just won’t shut up about the blockchain-powered digital collectibles.
China isn’t making a lot of NFTs or much of the underlying technology, for now. But on March 26, it will spearhead NFT exhibiting in the physical world: The world’s first “major” exhibition of blockchain-based art is due to open in Beijing this Friday.
The exhibition is sponsored and curated by Beijing-based BlockCreateArt (BCA), supported by auction heavyweight Christie’s, and partially funded by crypto mining rig maker Bitmain and blockchain investment firm Digital Finance Group. It will take place at UCCA Lab, a project and art space created by Belgian-founded Beijing art museum UCCA to explore interdisciplinary approaches to art.
Titled “Virtual Niche — Have you ever seen memes in the mirror?”, it will feature works from over 30 artists, including deadmau5, Robert Alice, and reigning NFT king Beeple.
NFTs have been shown in exhibitions before, but this will be the first time the walls of a physical gallery will be completely taken over by crypto art.
Ahead of the exhibition, I reached out via e-mail to Wang Qinwen, who co-produced the exhibition with BCA founder Sun Bohan. Wang is the Web 3.0 Foundation’s China community manager and a member of the council at Polkadot network, one of the leading cross-chain interoperability protocols in the world, developed by Web 3.0 Foundation.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
TechNode: Tell us the story of the crypto art exhibition at UCCA Lab in Beijing, how did it come to be and what was your role in it?
Wang Qinwen: We are proud it’s a community-driven initiative and how the Chinese community has played a vital role in making this exhibition.
The exhibition aims to showcase artists using blockchain technology as a medium for creating dialogue and connection between the institutional art world and the crypto community. In addition to works by well-known names on the digital art scene such as Robert Alice and Beeple.
My role is to bring together the crypto art community, particularly the Polkadot community and the art world. I have been a continuous supporter and contributor to Christie’s Art & Tech Summit Initiative since Christie’s first obtained a license to auction in China in 2013.
TN: Will all the works exhibited be NFTs? What’s the difference between exhibiting a digital photo and an NFT?
WQ: All the works exhibited will have an NFT version.
Exhibiting a digital photo and exhibiting a NFT artwork looks no different in a physical museum, both deploy a screen as medium. All you need to do is to download a picture that is clear enough and find a proper screen.
NFTs, or non-fungible tokens are more about ownership and less about ways of exhibiting. NFT are essentially a cryptographic contract. It is like a certificate of authenticity for an object, and the object can be either physical or virtual.
TN: Can you explain to us how all the different parties are involved (Polkadot, UCCA Lab, BlockCreateArt, etc.)? What is UCCA Lab’s role?
WQ: UCCA Lab is the ideal venue for our exhibition. It has been supporting emerging Chinese artists and top-level exhibitions since its founding. We are proud to be able to host our exhibition here. UCCA Lab has contributed to the public attention on our exhibition as well.
BCA (BlockCreatArt) is the main organizer of this exhibition. Since its founding in 2017, it has been actively researching and promoting crypto art and artists in China and around the world. It has put incredible efforts to place this grand exhibition to the public.
TN: Why is the exhibition taking place in China and what do you think it means for China’s NFT ecosystem?
WQ: We are proud that this exhibition happens in China, thanks to Polkadot’s Chinese community, BCA and all our partners in China and around the world. Polkadot has a huge community in China, but we never view ourselves as merely a Chinese community, we work in a more globalized way. I think it’s the same for all the contributing parties, including Christie’s. They are all well-connected to the global resources that together makes this exhibition happen.
We are open to carry on our endeavors and bring the exhibition to other places in the world. Now we see vaccines promoted around the world and look forward to the world recovering from the Covid-19 situation. I think that’s when we will see more exciting possibilities unveiled.
TN: How popular are NFTs in China? Are people buying, creating them, or building NFT technology?
WQ: NFT are as popular in China as in the world. BCA, for example, has been supporting crypto artists who are actively creating art with NFT projects. As far as I know, some young artists in the Central Academy of Fine Arts [in Beijing] are also active in NFT art. In the blockchain industry, I know a great number of projects that are at the forefront of NFT technology.
READ MORE: China Voices | What China thinks of NFTs
TN: How has the Polkadot China community taken the news of the exhibition? Have you noticed any changes to how they view crypto collectibles?
WQ: We are extremely proud of the exhibition. If you are in the blockchain industry in China, you will see friends sharing the news everywhere. It was like exciting news that proves their faith, knowledge and technology have unlimited potential, and people are happy that it will be seen by the public this time.
People have been more enthusiastic about crypto collectibles recently, amidst all the NFT hype that is happening now. I think Christie’s Beeple sale is a vital propeller, which caught headlines in all traditional, crypto, and art media.
TN: Do Chinese culture consumers think about intellectual property differently to other major markets? Will this affect the popularity of NFTs?
WQ: When discussing IP generally, everyone thinks of [licensed toy store chain] Pop Mart or celebrity pop stars. These companies have been very successful in hunting for, incubating, and commercializing IP. They have proved that there is a large fan base of IP consumption in China.
I think Chinese cultural consumers are open to new and great IPs, as long as they find creativity, great culture, and emotional connection to those IPs. So I think it will impact NFTs consumption in a positive way. NFTs are an important asset to the metaverse [a complete virtual world powered by technologies like AR, VR, and blockchain], where you can find boundless creations propelled by human imagination and technology advancement.
TN: What do you think will be the main uses of NFTs in China in the medium-term?
WQ: NFT is a way of storing and transmitting data, and gives ownership of the data to its creator. In the long term, the use cases can go beyond our current imagination. In the medium term, NFTs can be applied to more industries, such as gaming, entertainment ticketing, intellectual property, etc. It is definitely not restricted to art and collectibles.
Update: The story has been updated to include Digital Finance Group as one of the exhibition’s funders.