Water x Digital Art
A city surrounded by water. Art that’s on the cutting edge. The natural and digital worlds collide in the latest exhibition on show at the Seaport’s 0x.17 Gallery—titled, appropriately, On Water.
The collection of works by 26 digital artists who live in and around New York City was curated by artist and designer Emily Edelman, who is also passionate about bringing the NFT art community together.
Here, Edelman shares more about how downtown NYC inspired this exhibition, and about the allure of the growing arena of digital art.
What was the genesis of On Water?
I was first inspired by the location. 0x.17 Gallery is situated within Pier 17, a hub within New York City. At the same time, it’s touching the waters of the East River. The rivers define the shape of our city — they are the sometimes-unnoticed negative space around the action — and they’re important to our history.
We also hold water within us and rely on water to survive, yet are threatened and even destroyed by the force of it, in an increasingly complicated relationship.
All the artists in this show live and work in our city: surrounded by water, made of water, illustrating water in their own unique ways. That was the story I wanted to tell at Pier 17.
How did you find the pieces that you chose to showcase in this exhibition?
I started by looking closely at the work of every generative artist I know in New York. I was surprised to find how many of them had work that discussed water or was inspired by water, either conceptually or formally.
For example, I love looking at these two pieces together: 100 Sunsets #22 by Zach Lieberman, and Democracity #5 by Generative Artworks. The former was inspired by the artist’s time on a boat with his family, an intimate and happy experience that made him want to capture the exact quality of light hitting tiny waves. An expert in rendering light in code, Zach challenged himself to capture the look of water in that moment. His 100 Sunsets collection is clearly water-inspired in all its tender texture and color.
Meanwhile, the Democracity collection was inspired by a diorama of the same name at the 1939 NY World’s Fair which depicted a utopian city of the future. The duo behind Generative Artworks satirizes this concept by showing that the optimism of the 1930s did not account for the problems of the future brought about by climate change, such as flooding.
The 100 Sunsets collection and the Democracity collection are worlds apart in inspiration, but both capture aspects of the human experience with water, and both make me feel something.
What questions do you hope to pose for people who come to see On Water?
I want people to feel inspired to create some water-based art! I want to challenge them to think of their own relationship to water — what is the first thing they think of? Does any of the art show water in a way they hadn’t considered?
I also hope people recognize the relationship of the show to its location within the city, and are inspired to walk out and stand at the edge of the city and see the city-defining water of the river in a new light.
What appealed to you about curating a show at the Seaport?
I grew up in New Jersey and have vivid memories of visiting the Seaport when I was a kid. It might have been the first place in New York that showed me the city’s relationship to water. The Seaport is so water-full, even more so than other neighborhoods on water; the ships and the bridges draw the eye out to the river, and I think that had some kind of impact on me then.
Now, I see the neighborhood as a special blending of old and new New York. The cobblestone streets, old architecture, and historic ships are still so definitive of the area. But the gorgeous renovation of the Tin Building and the initiative to make room for new technologies makes room for new kinds of experiences. I’m really excited to see all that’s to come to the Seaport in the coming months and years.
Speaking of new experiences, how do you explain the appeal of NFTs, especially to those curious about them, but new to the digital art world?
NFT is a really broad term that captures this: digital assets can be bought, owned, and sold, and NFT technology allows for an indisputable ledger of these actions.
Within NFTs, there are many categories, my favorite of which is generative art. Generative art — art that is output from a set of rules — has been around longer than computers. Vera Molnar, Herbert Franke, Manuel Felguérez, Donald Judd, and Sol Lewitt are all early generative artists both on and off the computer.
Generative art has seen a huge boom due to NFTs because NFT technology has allowed for a new exciting way to create and collect art. Artists can now put their algorithm right on the blockchain, and sell the opportunity to output a new piece. Collectors can see examples from an algorithm, and decide to hit “generate”, and see a new unique piece of art that even the artist hasn’t previously seen. It’s a thrilling challenge for artists, and code is the language of our times.
There are many amazing things happening through NFT technology, including photography, illustration, and AI work, as well as all kinds of experiments around what it means to own something, share something, or discover something.
How does Token Art NYC, which you started, build community around NFTs?
Token Art is a yearly unconference I started with two of the artists in On Water, Steve Pikelny and Alex Supkay (of Generative Artworks). An unconference is an event consisting of many small conversations whose topics are proposed and voted on by the attendees. Guests can float around, participating in different conversations throughout the day. Token Art brings together people in tech and art who are willing to both listen and share.
What inspires you most as a curator?
I like to look at a narrow subject through as many lenses as possible. This shows both the surprising depth of a simple subject, and also the incredible variety of approaches and styles between artists.
Generative art so well captures this act of finding not just the best way, but the most ways. There is no perfect illustration of water. It’s more interesting to collect all the different ways water can be interpreted. On Water celebrates a wide range of those interpretations, while each piece lends a new perspective or surprise upon diving in.
On Water is on show at 0x.17 NFT Gallery at Pier 17, 89 South Street, through April 6, 2023. The gallery is open daily from 10am-8pm.