NFTs in Hong Kong: An Artist’s Retrospective

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In Hong Kong, NFTs and cryptos are slowly becoming more accepted, gaining popularity particularly amongst the younger generation. But what exactly is an NFT and what does it do for artists? Are they simply right-click savable objects that do nothing for those who made them? Sharmaine Kwan, a previous LoTW and leading NFT artist explores the trend from a professional perspective

Featured image: ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’ – 千里之行,始於足下 (Sharmaine Kwan, used with permission)

NFT this, NFT that, NFT something…

These days, it seems like the term NFT is popping up everywhere from news headlines, to your social media feed; from art exhibitions to charity shows; and from luxury fashion brands to local small businesses.

As an artist who works in new media, my step into the NFT world opened new perspectives which bystanders can only imagine but not fully experience. An interesting sphere full of contrasting opinions – hesitation and rejection for some, optimism and hope for others.

NFTs in Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, it appears that NFTs and crypto are slowly becoming more accepted, gaining popularity particularly amongst the younger generation of art collectors. There has been a lot more discussions around the topic and many seem to be slightly skeptical, yet also rather curious. There has noticeably been an increase in NFT art shows and projects hosted by galleries, organizations and brands as they begin to branch out and venture into the possibilities of the metaverse. Large art fairs and auction houses have begun to embrace NFT art and even the ones with a focus on traditional art mediums now also have a section dedicated to NFTs. Scrolling through the news, articles pop up about NFT projects created or supported by local celebrities and the hype surrounding it. There are also some Hong Kong themed NFT collections influenced by elements of local culture such as dim sum and public transportation. However, many question the longevity of NFTs, their value and ways in which we can make them more sustainable.

Dim Sum NFT. Screenshot from Dim Sum NFT’s site.

For creators, artists, photographers, musicians etc. who have stepped into this space, NFTs have a provided an additional creative platform and outlet. For some, this has even been an opportunity to take their work to another level, adding another dimension to their practice. For example, the incorporation of animation and new media technologies (such as virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality), have led to ‘static’ works such as paintings, photography and graffiti art to come alive and show the public another side of the work. Although some are concerned with the ways this NFT aspect has changed or affected an artist’s work, it can be considered a worthwhile addition to the Hong Kong art scene as it is a reflection and dialogue with the technological advancements of our current times.

One of my recent works, ‘NFT Neon Sign’ for the Artistsverse ‘Meta Nostalgia’ show reflects this with the reference to NFT and the metaverse embedded into a traditional Hong Kong pawn shop sign. Having worked primarily with neon signs as an art medium over the past few years, the artwork comes as a package with both the physical neon sign and the NFT featuring the animated version of the sign. This serves as a bridge connecting my existing art practice with the digital aspect as well as allowing art collectors to acquire the two versions together. One which can be hung physically, and one which will live in the digital space for many, many years.

For the artists, by the artists

The choice is still in the hands of the creator. Regardless of the direction they choose to take but for others, especially those whose works are in a digital form, the technology of NFTs have provided an additional way for the ownership and monetization of digital assets. NFTs can also protect and support artists as they can continue earning royalties from future second-hand sales as well as removing or reducing intermediary costs.

Aside from the visual art aspect of NFTs, there are, of course, a lot more to them such as usage in music, gaming, concerts, fashion and ticketing. NFTs have sparked different crossovers and collaborations, allowing interchange across sectors. The purchase of physical products now often come together with its own NFT, and companies have brought their meetings into the metaverse with avatars sitting in a virtual meeting room.

As more and more of our working lives and social lives take place in the metaverse with additional utilites enabled, we will see an increase in the adoption of NFTs. The psychology behind certain purchases is parallel to the physical world with the need to flaunt designer label fashion items or cool fire-spitting sneakers. Some restaurants have also begun to introduce their collection of food character NFTs as a membership system to create a community with privileges such as dining discounts, menu voting, eat to earn programmes and even profit-sharing schemes. This whole metaverse is still in its infancy-a very green stage -and is at times being misused but we will see the power and significance of this technology as it grows and develops.

As we enter a new kind of technological revolution where perhaps we will live simultaneously in both the physical and virtual world, the technology that enables the ownership of digital assets will become crucial.

For those who are a bit confused, here is a simple example to give you an idea: Let’s say you go to a shop and buy a pen. You can throw away the receipt because you have the pen, it’s yours and you keep it on your desk. However, for digital items, it is not physically present, so it requires another method – data written on the blockchain – to declare and prove that you are the owner.

By leaving a record on the blockchain, it is theoretically there forever…for eternity.

Artists in the past have struggled to ensure the longevity of their artworks. We have fine art restoration specialists who are busy maintaining and repairing ancient paintings and sculptures. These works are important culturally and historically, as they are windows into those periods of the past, containing the thoughts, ideas, stories, feelings, and representations of changing times. Nowadays, with technology, art and other creations can withstand the test of time without surrendering to decay and erosion. Great ideas can be passed on as creativity continues to spark another’s creativity.

Social purposes in the metaverse

Of course, like everything else NFTs are a tool and how you wield them is what makes the difference.

There are a growing number of NFT projects these days focused on social issues, sustainability and promoting equality. The focus on these issues are brought to the attention of the younger generation who cares, providing ways for them to show support and create a community. As artists and notable artworks in history have always been at the forefront of their times as avant-garde visionaries, they continue to challenge, question, embrace and present these multitude of ideas as a creator. NFT art is considered ‘new’ and new things are often perceived with uncertainty. Rather than shying away from it, why not take part in building it the way you think it should be.

This year we will see even more NFT shows and projects both across the world and in Hong Kong, such as Digital Art Fair Asia, Meta Nostalgia, and The METACADE just to name a few. There are many events and exhibitions undergoing preparation waiting to launch over the next few months once restrictions are lifted. As the NFT space continues to expand and becomes more tied in with utilities, we will gradually see an increased awareness of it from the general public with more people speaking the language.

Let’s see where this will take us in a year’s time.