Art and technology initiative VIVE Arts has partnered with Icelandic artist Kristjana S. Williams for the artist’s first NFT project, Head in the Clouds, dropping on December 7. The project will go on display at a pop-up store in London’s Carnaby Street and available to purchase globally through the VIVE Arts platform. 

Williams’s work draws inspiration from Victorian engravings and the natural world; her aesthetic can be described as both mythical and modern. She uses a variety of methods such as laser cut collage, illustration, animation, and digital design, as well as physically and digitally layering exotic botanicals and vibrant animals to build her fantastical, dream-like worlds. 

This is the second collaboration between VIVE Arts and Kristjana S. Williams, following “A Curious Game of Croquet,” a VR experience that was included in the Victoria & Albert Museum’s blockbuster 2021 exhibition Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser.

We spoke with Williams and VIVE Art’s Head of Program, Samantha King, to learn more about VIVE’s mission, how they chose to collaborate with artists, and how Williams’s work is advancing her practice into the digital realm. 

How does VIVE Arts choose to work with artists? How does VIVE support the artistic process? 

King: We work closely with the artist to develop the concept, advise on the research and development phases, and engage external developers and producers to build the experience fully. We then showcase the artwork and support future presentations through distribution and touring initiatives. We also like to develop ongoing collaborations, as we have done with Kristjana S. Williams and also with artists such as Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster and Wu Tsang, so that they can continue to evolve their creative ideas through different formats and iterations over time. 

Williams: Before I went into art, I really, really wanted to work with electronics. I made some pirate radios but I realized that the mathematical skill one needed to advance to be really good with these digital designs was quite different from my creative brain. When the VR opportunity (Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser) came up, that was an absolute dream come true, because my roots really lie within thinking about digital interactivity.

This is when I really started to realize the vision that I had, and so I began searching for the right partner to collaborate and came across VIVE. 

How do you see the potential for digitally native exhibitions and programming impacting the cultural field moving forwards? 

King: Over the past decade, artists and cultural organizations have increasingly experimented with advanced technologies to make innovative new kinds of work. The proliferation and adoption of digital tools have widened possibilities for new forms of practice, distribution and engagement. The pandemic served as a further catalyst, accelerating the necessity to develop new methodologies and models for global audiences.

Advanced technologies – such as game engines, virtual reality, mixed reality, AI and blockchain – are increasingly underpinning new forms of cultural infrastructure and the creative and business models for art and culture in both online and offline contexts.

Williams: At its core, I feel that what NFTs can really do for art and the digital side of things is create experiences that are accessible to all, as well as expand what has been artistically possible. 

In five years’ time, I would just love to gradually create completely in three-dimensional virtual reality. I’d love to live in that world and interact with it. Physicality has always been really important to me. I like to touch things, grab onto things. I like fabrics, I like to hold things — I like to be involved, and VR is a means of creating that experience.

Courtesy of Kristjana S. Williams Studio

How do you see “Head in the Clouds” representing the mission of VIVE Arts and the future of public attention to crypto art?

King: Kristjana is an extraordinary collaborator for VIVE Arts as she is already an experimental, multi-disciplinary artist and exploring digital mediums is a natural extension of her practice. She has always been interested in the creative possibilities of digital art, as a way to bring her imagination into reality and to continue to expand her surreal and magical worlds.

We hope that “Head in the Clouds” will introduce generative art and NFT editions to new and wider audiences and showcase the craft and creativity that goes into these projects, as an authentic form of artistic expression.

Williams: A lot of my current clients, including me, are completely new to the NFT world, so it’s a really lovely, welcoming space to be in, because we’re all in this together.

One of the ideas I had with making this experience more accessible was to do it through stop motion, which you scan with your phone and see that experience — the NFT — created on the spot. This creates a form of interaction and audience participation, and this world starts to really feel like yours. Sometimes you just need to give somebody the chance and show them how simple it is or create a space where they can react without feeling overwhelmed.

Everybody’s already much more fully immersed in this digital world after the pandemic, but still — small steps.

“Head in the Clouds” drops on December 7, 2022. For more, visit the VIVE Arts website.


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