This week, Berlin’s KÖNIG GALERIE is presenting the digital solo exhibition LOOPS AND OTHER CIRCUMSTANCES by German artist collective Banz & Bowinkel and NEVER NOT WORKING, ALWAYS LOVING by Andy Kassier in Decentraland with all artworks minted on SuperRare.
With this in mind, we sat down with KÖNIG GALERIE founder, Johann König, to discuss the exhibition, the artists and the future of digital art.
Can you tell us a little about KÖNIG GALERIE?
I founded KÖNIG GALERIE in Berlin in 2002, we currently represent 40 artists. The program’s focus is on interdisciplinary and concept-oriented approaches in a variety of media. In May 2015, KÖNIG GALERIE took up St. Agnes, a monumental former church built in the 1960s in the Brutalist style, where museum-like exhibitions take place in two different spaces, the former chapel and nave.
In April 2020, KÖNIG DIGITAL, the virtual gallery space, was launched with the aim to create experiences online. The digital visitor enters the exhibitions via the app KÖNIG GALERIE. KÖNIG DIGITAL presents digital solo and group shows by new media artists and by artists experimenting in the virtual space. We opened our second virtual exhibition space through a gallery outpost in DECENTRALAND, a virtual world based on the blockchain, with the group show THE ARTIST IS ONLINE in April 2021.
Who are Banz & Bowinkel, the artists you currently exhibit at KÖNIG in Decentraland?
Banz & Bowinkel are a German artist collective. Giulia Bowinkel and Friedemann Banz live in Berlin and have been working together under the name Banz & Bowinkel since 2009. In 2007 they graduated from the Art Academy in Düsseldorf, their professor was Albert Oehlen, and started making art with computers. Their work includes computer-generated imagery, animation, augmented imagery, virtual realities, and installations.
Can you talk a little about the chosen artworks and why they’re a fit for such an exhibition and moment in time?
New digital sculptures and a selection of video loops of Banz & Bowinkel, which deal with digital image cultures, are shown. Their computer-generated art negotiates the changed conditions for the creation of images and their influence on perception.
We decided to mainly show the historic work of Banz & Bowinkel, their early work, like the METAFURNISH (2013) series. It consists of abstract compositions of digital objects rotating on turntables. This type of presentation is a classic of 3D visualization, as the viewer is shown the object from all sides and can develop a spatial understanding. The objects by Banz & Bowinkel, however, undermine viewing habits: physical properties, such as gravity, lose their meaning in digital space. Reflections show parts of the objects that do not exist. The tense puzzle pictures question the values of digitally constructed pictures that present perfect surfaces, but in reality often do not meet expectations.
Video loops are popular in the NFT space. With the early work by Banz & Bowinkel in their digital solo show LOOPS AND OTHER CIRCUMSTANCES, we want to highlight that this kind of digital art has a long history.
In the description for the piece NAMESPACES it says: “machine logic in the real world has effects on human logic that are not always predictable“. Could you please explain what that means?
The NAMESPACES series works with the terminology of programming languages. Banz & Bowinkel use programming languages to translate our reality into calculable equations. And these equations, carried out by computers, in turn shape our reality in the 21st century. But the sober mathematics of an executed code differ significantly from what they are pointing at. In code variables get instantiated and deleted. If in real life such a variable refers to a living being, a computer wouldn’t care. What does it mean for us humans to live in a world run more and more by computers?
NAMESPACES scrutinizes this threshold of abstraction and their counterparts in a runtime environment we humans call “reality”. „Namespace“ is a term used in the programming language. At the same time, we take the term „namespace“ literally and give the words a 3-dimensional sculptural shape. In this sense, the series consists of word pairs that are based on terms borrowed from programming language, such as „real time“, as well as on the changed use of terms through the Internet, such as „friend“.
Can you talk a little bit about why Decentraland was chosen for this exhibition? More generally, what sort of opportunities does a virtual exhibition provide that don’t exist in the physical world?
KÖNIG in Decentraland is our fourth gallery location, our other locations are in Berlin, London, and Seoul. I have been interested in blockchain for several years, so it was a logical next step for myself to be present with the gallery in the Metaverse. Since we have been involved with digital art for a while, we were offered a piece of virtual land in Decentraland by the art collector and crypto enthusiast Shahin Tabassi that he had bought. He is interested in bringing the art world to the NFT space. Manuel Rossner, an artist and 3D-architect, interpreted the brutalist architecture of the former church St. Agnes, designed by Werner Düttmann and Arno Brandlhuber, in a 3D model and placed it in Decentraland. Digital art is presented in a genuine environment, and the visitors get to experience digital art in a gallery space. I am interested online as well as offline, how art can become an experience, how artists use spaces in which visitors experience something unexpected.
Our first show was THE ARTIST IS ONLINE. DIGITAL PAINTINGS AND SCULPTURES IN A VIRTUAL WORLD. It featured among others Jonas Lund, Anne Vieux, Mario Klingemann, Zach Lieberman, Keiken, Thomas Webb, and Addie Wagenknecht. Artists such as Manuel Rossner, Banz & Bowinkel, and Mario Klingemann are among the pioneers in the field of digital art, especially when it comes to exploring the possibilities of using new technologies in the artistic production process. We plan to keep holding exhibitions in Decentraland. The next six months are already planned, all of them with associated NFT drops. But we also focus on the traditional role of a gallery and therefore focus on what galleries do, which is making exhibitions. Online things are possible that wouldn’t be possible offline like having a constantly bursting sculpture. MERCURY (2016) by Banz & Bowinkel is a symbol for systems that renew themselves through self-destruction. Mercury is the Roman god of trade and merchants, but also of thieves and financial gain. New technologies such as blockchain and new currencies such as Bitcoin promise transparency and independence through decentralization. Trading in cryptocurrencies, on the one hand, is reminiscent of a game of chance due to its high volatility, in the darknet, on the other hand, cryptocurrencies are used because of the anonymity of their owners. So old problems appear in a new guise.
What excites KÖNIG about NFTs and the implications of digital art on the blockchain?
NFTs won’t go away. And NFTs have already gone down in art history with Beeple’s auction record at Christie’s. $ 69 million was paid for a digital file, making Beeple the third most expensive living artist. The three letters NFT stand for a revolution in art that has not occurred since the Impressionists and Duchamp. Digital art has been around for many decades, and the hype surrounding NFTs has led to digital art moving alongside painting, sculpture, photography and video. Digital art can now be collected like painting and sculpture as there is digital proof of authenticity. There are, of course, still many, very many copies roaming the internet, but that is exactly where the value comes from. “In the past, the value arose from a shortage. Artists who do not upload their videos on the internet may feel that meaning arises when they are seen in sacred spaces like a gallery. The opposite is the case. The more something lends itself to memes, the more it spreads, the more cultural capital it receives. And the more it becomes part of society,” said the artist Jon Rafman at the DLD Conference 2019 in an interview with the star curator Hans Ulrich Obrist.
That’s why we present the digital solo show by Andy Kassier titled NEVER NOT WORKING, ALWAYS LOVING on the ground floor of the gallery. A picture is worth a thousand words. The Internet has internalized this saying. Instead of words, GIFs and memes are often used to express a feeling. Kassier helps out with a series of GIFs that get up to 250 million views and a total of 850 million views in the online database and search engine Giphy. In the exhibition, his ten most successful GIFs are shown like in an endlessly repeating flip book.
In the mid-1990s, GIFs made it possible for static websites to move. GIFs 1.0, the “cave drawings of the web” (Tilman Baumgärtel) were little cartoon-like animations that consisted of a few pixels. When GIFs experienced a renaissance in the late 2000s, shared on web forums like Reddit and 4Chan and social media like Twitter and Facebook, they were looped screengrabs from movies, series and amateur videos. Like memes, GIFs had no owners, they were created by users for users, their creators are mostly nameless.
Kassier joins the crowd of anonymous creators and makes himself a “model for shaky images on the Internet” (Spiegel) when he provides GIFs with the aim of viral distribution. He lets money rain, claps, drinks coffee, casually puts on sunglasses and sticks a rose between his teeth. Kim Kardashian and Andy Kassier are in the top ten of the most popular “Money GIFs”, and on Tinder he often uses roses to convey love messages. The artistic intervention using a mass medium generates anonymous fame, which is linked to the artist’s person and alter ego in the context of the exhibition.