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The Crowd: Report from the frontlines [238]

Hi Crowd!

I'm back in Vancouver after being back in Tokyo after being back from there after being back there just a few weeks previously. I've been back and forth. It was good to be back.

The 8tari ep "Lofi Punk" is out now. Please go listen to it. In fact you should make it your soundtrack for reading this newsletter.

A realization I had while walking around Shibuya in the middle of the night was that it’s probably the place I feel most comfortable in the entire world. Which is a confusing thing to feel, to be so deeply connected to a place that you know, no matter what, you will never be accepted by. You’ll never truly fit in. The thing you have to realize is that there are Japanese and then there are everyone else, and while Japanese can “loose” their Japanese-ness by spending too much time outside of Japan, it’s not something you can ever become. Even living there for decades, as many of my friends have - some more of their lives than anywhere else - they are still seen as outsiders. As foreigners. Which sounds bad but isn’t really that bad in the big picture. It’s just a thing that is. 

But it’s a hard to explain feeling of fitting into a place you don’t fit into. Loving something in a way you know it can never love you back, and being OK with that. 

I described Tokyo recently to a friend while walking around during their first visit, as a kind of beautiful loneliness. I don’t know if that makes sense to anyone else, but as an introvert who thrives on bring surrounded by chaotic humanity (so long as I don’t have to interact with it) it’s kind of perfect.

Don’t get me wrong, I feel very welcome in Japan. It’s sort of the opposite of visiting an estranged family members house for the holidays - you know you are supposed to be there but nothing about it feels like anyone wants you there. Consider this, last week I stopped by About Life coffee which is my fav little shop near my office in Shibuya. I used to go everyday when I lived there and before moving to Japan I would often bring them gifts of coffee beans from US roasters. With rare exception I haven’t really been there much in the last 3 years thanks to pandemic travel restrictions. Anyway I’m there ordering a coffee and the barista looks at me and pauses, then asked “is this your first time to this coffee shop?” And I say no, I’ve been here many times and smile. She then says “for a long time right, like many years?” And I nod and say yes. She takes another beat and then says “Sean-san?” I nod. “Sean-San!!! Welcome back!!” I hadn’t seen her in years and she remembered my name and made me feel welcome, and valued and maybe even missed. I could be projecting, but it was a little thing that just meant so much to me. When I say Tokyo feels like home, it’s because of the little things like this.

I’ve been living in Vancouver now for three years, I visit the same 2-3 coffee shops near my house all the time. Same people are always working. I never get a hint of recognition from any of them. They are pleasant and friendly, not hating, but I don’t get the feeling they have any idea I’ve ever stepped through their doors before. So while this is where I live, it doesn’t feel like home at all. And I’m sure there are a million reasons for this on both sides, and I’m not some egomaniac that needs to be recognized or anything like that, quite the contrary as most of you know, but it’s nice sometimes to feel like people are happy you are there.

The impetus for this trip was Bright Moments, a multi-day art festival filled with talks and dinners and artists showing off their work. I could qualify that further by saying it was a digital art festival exhibiting artists making NFTs but I think that would convey the wrong thing and detract from what it really was - a celebration of art. If you visited the event on any day and didn't explicitly ask about web3, it's unlikely it would have been mentioned. It wasn't a tech conference, there weren't crypto-bros. It was a museum gala, a gallery opening and art fair all rolled into one. The technical talk was entirely centered on the work, as many artists were using code to produce their art rather than paintbrushes. The community feeling and location specific experiences that Bright Moments put together for this were brilliant, and will be lifetime memories. Each piece I bought, and I bought several pieces, included a whole experience and interaction with the artist and is something that just can't be replicated online, or even in a traditional gallery environment. To say I was impressed would be an understatement. A full 1/3rd of the artists included were producing generative work, which I'm finding more exciting on a daily basis. They highlighted a new wave of generative artists from Japan that are very much worth your attention. Of course the old wave of generative art is worth brushing up on too, because it's always good to know the history. I really want to find older prints of 60's and 70's era generative works, but don't even know where to begin. If you have a tip let me know.

There were a bunch of Cryptopunk holders in town for Bright Moments so I decided to make this group photo.

A super interesting (to me) topic that came up a few times over the trip with different people in different places was the potential fashion implementations for NFTs with generative art based on holdings. Imagine an abstract image generated by your art collection, that to most people would just look like a fashion-y pattern but would also be a not to a small group of people who would know what it was. Just like a pair of limited edition AF1s that only other sneakerheads recognize or an impossible to get ACRONYM jacket. The potential for truly custom, individualized, print on demand fashion is just around the corner.

Speaking of Tokyo, a collector friend of mine in Japan put together this fantastic thread of day trips from Tokyo that is expertly guided and the perfect plan for anyone with an extra day looking for something out of the city.

So it turns out MLK and Malcolm X didn't really have beef and that entire narrative was fiction created to try and drive a wedge between other. But Prince (or more specifically Lynn Goldsmith) and Warhol do, and the Supreme Court just ruled against Andy. On Twitter IP Lawyer Michael Kasdan goes through the ruling and talks a little about the implications and reasoning behind it. TL;DR - this is no small deal. Jerry Saltz writes about this and is taking Warhol's side and I tend to agree with him.

Warhol(l) and Goldsmith(r) - How tf is this not transformative?

This isn't the first time we've seen artists use photos as sources and it's not even the most high profile (I'm reminded of the Shepard Fairey / Obama HOPE image of course), but this case is going to have terrible impacts on fair use which is one of the primary colors of culture. Artists need to be able to be safely inspired by, and have the ability to build upon each others work. So much of this argument feels like the RIAA vs Napster stuff where lawyers were arguing that downloads were lost sales, when in fact there's no evidence that anyone who downloaded an album would have bought it if that wasn't an option. Same here, the idea that a collector who bought one of Warhol's paintings would have otherwise bought a photo print from Goldsmith is nonsense. And this gets to part of my whole disappointment in the "AI is trying to put artists out of business!!!" rallying cry.

I'm a photographer who has had the honor of having my work speak to other artists so much that they've used it as inspiration or build work on top of it. I love that but I'm also telling every artist I know who uses photographs as sources to switch to AI instead, because they can craft the exact scene and setting they want and they won't have to worry about any of this crap. I think it's incredibly unfortunate that people are being so shortsighted and rather than explore ways that new tech can enrich their lives and help with their work, they are pushing against it. I'm old enough to remember claims that Photoshop would destroy the photography industry and tools like Illustrator and Procreate would be murdering illustrators. As if people who use those tools aren't themselves artists. This elitist/classist/snobbish designation of who is allowed to be an artist and who isn't is disgusting, and reeks of insecurity. Trying to crush others to secure your own.

I keep talking to people who have struggled their entire lives wanting to express some creative idea only be frustrated and disappointed by their inability to transfer what was in their head to the paper or screen in front of them, who have found ai tools like Midjourney to be nothing short of revolutionary. A whole new world has opened to them and they can't stop creating things. They are full of excitement and possibility. They can finally realize an idea and show it to others. They can spend hours or days perfecting an image they are proud of, to tell those people they aren't allowed to express themselves because they can't draw as good as you can? Fuck off.

Artists are using these tools, so saying they are anti-artist just means you think you get to decide who gets to be an artist. But you don't.

Back to Bright moments, another 1/3 of the art in the exhibition was somehow utilizing AI. This gallery shows the full Paracosm collection by Claire Silver, these pieces are just gorgeous. I wasn't fast enough to get one, sadly. Another anonymous artist called BASIIC is using ChatGPT (text, not image output) to produce a series of beautiful works, and has written about the process. But AI isn't just the image, sometimes it's the idea and the plan and the performance as well. This AI driven memecoin called $TURBO is hilarious, and when you see Rhett's story about making it, the performance application is very clear.

In my last note I talked about my own new AI collection called "Connections" which I'm building using my own photos as the source, to manifest an idea I've been chewing on for a decade or more. There are currently 29 people I've been able to give this open edition to in person, as that's the only way I'm transferring it. The full body of work is coming along well and I'm really happy with it, though I haven't decided what I'm going to do with it yet. Maybe I'll show it in a gallery or launch it through a curated platform, though the little bit of outreach I've done in that respect has only gotten crickets so I may end up just releasing it myself. I can foresee a book in the future with a lot of text talking about the individual editions and how they were distributed as well as which collectors ended up with the 1/1s. I think playing with the provenance as part of the art is important in this one. I'll write more about it on Twitter in the coming days.

Speaking of religious wars, an orca that was trapped in a fishing net is probably teaching other orcas how to sink boats. Not gonna lie, I'm kinda into this. Orcas have gotten a rough deal from people forever, its about time they turned the tables.

Here in Vancouver Nordstroms is closing down, and having an increasingly discounted everything must go sale. The poors are rushing in to buy previously unattainable fashion billboard wear at 70% off. We got some good deals ourselves in a recent visit. But while browsing the deep discounts and clearance offerings (all tables and fixtures are up for grabs too) I was struck with the bleak feeling of depressed ending. It felt like the last days in the retail wars, a last hurrah before admitting defeat to the online superstore. Malls are obsolete, and dealing with other people in person is mostly a horrible experience. So maybe this is for the best. I took the opportunity to make something from the rubble and shot a lot of photos of faceless mannequins lined up on the offering block. Might release this as a small series as well. We'll see.

That's all friends. Love you. Miss you. Hope you are well.


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