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These Queer Artists Are Subverting Roles With Reverse NFT Utility

BY Eric James Beyer

June 08, 2022

The NFT space, like many societal domains, isn’t necessarily known for its diversity and inclusion. This is especially true when it comes to the representation of LGBTQ+ artists and individuals. As we enter Pride Month though, LGBTQ+ artists are taking center stage. While diversity should be celebrated year-round, these exhibitions and projects by queer creators remind the community of the importance of representation.

Two artists who have made a name for themselves in both the NFT and LBGTQ+ communities are Ania Catherine and Dejha Ti, an award-winning art duo and a married couple who run the art house Operator. This week, the pair will release “Let me check with the wife,” an NFT artwork paired with a physical exhibition that forms a playful commentary on the institution of marriage, queer relationships, and the debate surrounding utility in the NFT community. 

The piece is part of an exhibition called ICONS X SuperTrans (curated by Nicole Ruggiero, Sam Clover, and Laurel Charleston), a series of physical exhibitions happening under the banner of SuperRare’s SUPERQUEER, a guest-curated art initiative taking place over the next six weeks. 

Catherine and Ti’s work will be on view at SuperRare’s pop-up gallery in Soho in New York from June 9-15, with their NFT auction running from June 15-20. The NFT’s reserve price will be set at 11.38 ETH, conceptually reflecting the 1,138 rights granted to married couples in the U.S. 

Queering the structure of marriage

In a video interview with nft now, Catherine and Ti described the excitement that comes from being a part of an initiative that involves queer artists who are engaging in the blockchain. 

“It’s such a historic and unique moment,” says Catherine. “Using our marriage as an empty container for us to both design our creative practices and our romantic relationship within this thing that we were never supposed to inhabit together historically.”

Ania-Catherine-and-Dejha-Ti-Marriage-Certificate
Credit: Ania Catherine and Dejha Ti

“It’s queering the structure of marriage,” continues Ti, “because it was never designed to be a social and romantic contract between two women, it was a tool of oppression. The collector [of this NFT] isn’t going to be ‘buying our marriage,’ they’ll be buying the marriage as an art object in an ironic way.”

Much of that irony stems from the way the couple has flipped the script concerning the debate surrounding utility in NFT projects. While the project centers around the couple’s physical marriage license and its digital copy, that NFT is attached to another smart contract the duo custom-designed themselves. To access this contract, the user scans a QR code stamped on the marriage license. 

“That QR code is an Etherscan link that goes to a secondary smart contract that we custom-built. We inserted the Etherscan link in the metadata of the SuperRare contract and tied our custom contract, containing the dynamic NFT to SuperRare’s, so these two contracts are forever linked,” explains Ti.

The prospective collector who wishes to buy the NFT won’t immediately see a representation of the second dynamic NFT, but as soon as they purchase it, it will appear alongside the marriage license in their collection.

Reverse utility in NFTs

The second contract is called “Marital Obligations,” which contains an on-chain transcription of the certificate in plain text and a dynamic NFT that the couple can update on demand. The key feature of that dynamic NFT is that the collector will be taking an active role in the project as the owner of the artwork. 

“We’ve set it up so that every year on our anniversary, which is July 19, the collector may be given some direction or request for anniversary gifts or something else. We might ask them not to go out on a Wednesday night, [reflecting] the non-romantic stereotypical aspects of being married as well,” Ti says. 

Credit: Dejha Ti and Ania Catherine

In this way, the collector inherits certain obligations that play on those involved in a marital relationship and are a rebuttal to the idea of utility given to NFT buyers. 

“We’re speaking to our dislike of the idea that artists have to provide utility with NFT artwork. It’s a hyperbolic flip of the expectation of utility with NFTs,” says Ti. 

“You can do something for us because you have our work,” continues Catherine. 

This is a refreshing and, much like the duo’s project itself, defiant take on the utility conversation that could inspire other artists to feel less bound by the concept and encourage them to explore on their own terms how they would like to interact with the people collecting and buying their work.

Queer representation in the NFT art world

The project also serves as a commentary on the discussion surrounding the representations and perceptions of queerness in society. These perceptions, the duo note, often fall into the imagined, exploded, or fantasized, perhaps at the cost of glossing over the boring day-to-day realities of queer couples like themselves. At the same time, they acknowledge how and why imagination has been an important part of queer existence and art over the years. 

“Fantasy has played a significant role in queer artists’ lives and their art,” explains Catherine. “Aesthetically, you see a lot of distant lands, a feeling of going to more open, more otherworldly places to exist as a queer person. Especially if where you live isn’t safe of accepting, it can be a powerful tool to aesthetically escape to somewhere else. Where we’re at in our lives, it feels inspiring to just exist daily together, supporting each other and building something. Dejha’s wedding poem she wrote for me actually opened with the line, “I love you on boring streets.” The piece represents finding some queer magic in the mundane.”

“Let me check with the wife” is ultimately a sly wink at tradition and societal expectations of gender roles and romance. The phrase itself, the couple emphasizes, is something often said to men by other men. 

“[The title] takes a phrase coded with masculinity and makes it hilarious,“ Ti says with a laugh. 

Beyond the NFT, the couple feels strongly that their very relationship is a kind of rebellious artistic act against history that helps establish a new take on tradition and values.   

“The idea of being playful and subversive inside of this container that everyone associates with traditional values is really exciting, and feels like a creative act itself,” explains Catherine. 

Utility or not, that’s something to be admired.  

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