Credit: Operator

From Choreography to Code: Art Blocks’ Latest Brings Emotion On Chain

BY Eric James Beyer

May 23, 2023

On May 24, Art Blocks will release its latest collaboration, a unique, multi-stage NFT project with the Lumen Prize-winning artist duo Operator. The project, titled Human Unreadable, is a 400-piece avant-garde exploration of art, choreography, and technology. It forms the latest addition to Operator’s critically acclaimed Privacy Collection, which explores themes of transparency and privacy in Web3.

Ania Catherine and Dejha Ti — the minds behind Operator — have meticulously crafted an embodied generative art experience with Human Unreadable, with each unique work being driven by the motion data of an underlying on-chain choreographic sequence. This fusion of code, choreography, and generative art forms an evolving and conceptual spectacle in three acts, flipping the traditional NFT minting experience on its head in the process.

nft now sat down with Catherine and Ti ahead of Human Unreadable’s release to talk about the couple’s uncompromising artistic vision and what it means to champion the human and the intimate in an increasingly digital age.

Bringing emotion to on-chain generative art

Operator’s collaboration with Art Blocks is a continuation of the artistic duo’s exploration of the intersections between digital art and physical experiences. To create the pieces in Human Unreadable, Catherine and Ti began by crafting unique choreographies and combining them with portrait photos of the duo, X-ray shading, generative glass objects, and more to create a new, on-chain generative choreography method. The resulting visual compositions are drawn from unseen human motion data.

All told, the project took a team of more than 25 individuals (ranging from specialized engineers to dancers) who took part in the nine-month process to realize the collection.

four individuals dancing in an empty room
Credit: Operator

“The first step was creating the movement library,” Catherine explained while speaking to nft now, “which we consider as these isolated moments of raw human expression. These became individual movements, like movement one to movement three. So [I tried to make sure] that there was a well-rounded enough variety of movements for those sequences to come together in an interesting way consistently. And so the raw human material that the model is using in order to create the sequences were movements.”

Catherine held rehearsals with dancers in four different cities in the lead-up to the project. She instructed them to envision how they might move while feeling a range of emotions from happiness to sadness. Infusing these movements with feeling was crucial to Operator, who felt that “emotional vulnerability and human messiness” are missing from on-chain generative art.

Computer showing progress of art process
Credit: Operator

But approaching an on-chain project with vast amounts of data in the form of choreographed movements was a challenge. While good at many things, Blockchain isn’t particularly suited to mass data storage, so Catherine and Ti had to choose a handful of frames from each choreography to compress the data enough to fit on chain. That process was its own curatorial and artistic endeavor, which forced the pair to consider what kinds of movement preserved the heart of the motions they were trying to capture.

“Once we got all of the movement into this format, we said, ‘Okay, how are we going to compress this?'” Ti explained while speaking to nft now. “We ended up with an entire method of how to look through the animation file and choose just the critical frames, for instance, 14 frames of one single movement, and say, ‘Okay, this still preserves the soul of this movement and the intent and the vulnerability that Ania designed into it.'”

“Everyone assumes that the reveal of the artwork is the end of the story.”

Ania Catherine, Operator

In creating the project, Catherine and Ti made a concerted effort to flip the minting experience on its head. Instead of a collector ending or culminating their engagement with a project via an art reveal, the final artworks in Human Unreadable represent the beginning of the project, which unfolds slowly throughout 2023.

The further a collector explores the pieces in the collection, the more the humanity of those pieces reveals itself, starting with abstract black-and-white portraits and progressing to a deciphering phase that unveils the movement sequences used to create the work and even a live performance of the choreographies involved.

A black and white silhouette portrait or a woman with abstract lines and circles over the top of the image.
Credit: Operator
A black and white silhouette portrait or a woman dancing with abstract lines and circles over the top of the image.
Credit: Operator

“Everyone assumes that the reveal of the artwork is the end of the story,” Catherine emphasized. “We needed to make it very clear that the mint on Art Blocks was the first chapter of the story. I think with the language of ‘acts,’ normally people think of theater or ballet. And it puts your mind in a different headspace as to what it is that you are collecting or what you’re going to experience.”

In the second act of the project, Decipher, collectors will visit the Operator site to uncover the unique movement sequence that inspired their NFT, which takes the form of a secondary token bound to their Art Blocks piece.

“We never want to separate the underlying choreography, the secondary token that’s bound to the primary Art Blocks token, because [it’s] the Human Unreadable choreographic score, that unique sequence that generated that particular [first] token,” Ti said.

Two women, one sitting, one standing, pose for a photo in front of a large circular mirror. The woman on the left is wearing a light green colored jacket and the woman on the right is wearing a dark grey and black gown.
Credit: Operator

Reveal, Decipher, Witness

Human Unreadable’s three-act play, Reveal, Decipher, Witness, will unfold over several months. The artwork reveal takes place in the spring, the uncovering of the choreographies used to create the generative model at the end of June, and a live performance of the choreographies from the first 100 pieces in the collection (mints #2 to #101) in late 2023 at an as-of-yet-to-be-announced location. Crucially, the duo wants the live performance to be held at an art gallery to bring together the traditional art world with Web3 enthusiasts.

“We’re in conversation with several institutions at the moment,” Ti said. “It’s important that the final performance takes place in an art institution. I think there’s this interesting divide and polarizing kind of sentiment between contemporary art and traditional art, and then crypto art as well. And I think it’s interesting to have both audiences and see where they overlap and have common ground.”

Collectors can mint a work from Human Unreadable starting May 24 at 12:00 p.m. CDT in a Dutch auction format starting at 5 ETH and settling at 0.16 ETH. For those interested in learning more about the duo’s artistic journey, Operator will reveal the full process and open-source tooling set used in the collection’s creation in a white paper later this year.

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