conversations – Interview by Anika Meier – 10.04.2023
CRASHBLOSSOM: "BLOCKCHAINS CAN TRANSFORM OUR WORLD"
DYNAMIC ART AND GENERATIVE ABSTRACTION
His artist name says it all: Crashblossom defines the ambiguity of information. His name and art stand for the examination of the jagged human relationship to the technologies that define our lives. James Bloom, aka Crashblossom, creates art based on the moments when technology fails and generates dynamic digital art influenced by its viewers and collectors. In conversation with Anika Meier, Crashblossom discusses his practice and influences, the fetishization of technology, and the power of the blockchain.
London-based James Bloom has been creating art since his teens. He has always viewed art as his passion, never a possible career—until he discovered crypto art. Bloom saw it as a possibility to bring together art and digital innovation while exploring society's contemporary experience. Influenced by the dopamine-triggering colours and movements of computer games and inspired by failures of technology, Bloom creates abstract works, which, through the combination of glitched forms and live data feeds, act as living artworks. Under his alias Crashblossom, the artist questions the technological systems on which his artworks are based.
Anika Meier: As a non-native English speaker, I had to look up the translation of your artist name. The dictionary says: an ambiguously worded headline whose meaning can be interpreted in the wrong way. What is the meaning of your artist name?
Crashblossom: From Google’s Machine Learning Glossary:
"crash blossom: a sentence or phrase with an ambiguous meaning. Crash blossoms present a significant problem in natural language understanding. For example, the headline Red Tape Holds Up Skyscraper is a crash blossom because an NLU model could interpret the headline literally or figuratively."
A crash blossom is a word or phrase that causes problems in interpretation. My experience is that people (and machine learning algorithms) can sometimes experience a crisis in their ability to effectively process the vast amount of information in the world. I have experienced this kind of crisis myself.
AM: When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
CB: I started making art and putting on shows of others’ art in a gallery context at the age of fifteen. I am friends with a few contemporary gallerists and have also collected. Art has been part of my life and a means of understanding the world since I can remember. I’ve created throughout my life, but I never considered being an artist full-time until I discovered crypto art.
AM: Your NFTs are both painterly and technical. What is your background?
CB: I was kicked out of three schools in a row. I was lucky to get into an art school and make work there, but after a couple of years I got kicked out. My main career path has been as a creative director, making digital innovation pieces and films for big brands. I used neural networks extensively as part of my work. I continued to make art sporadically. Crypto art seemed like an opportunity to bring together art and digital innovation while exploring our contemporary experience.
AM: How do you start working on an NFT project? What comes first, the visual idea or the concept?
CB: It usually starts with curiosity about a data source, which might be a blockchain network or NFT market data. I start looking into what the data means. What its social and cultural effects are. Personally, I feel there’s a low level of psychic trauma involved in our relationship with these vast and ever-moving network systems, so that plays a part. Also the data’s shape, speed, density, and what it’s made up of.
The same goes for image sources. A lot of my work uses imagery found on the Internet. For example, video game imagery is designed to present heroic characters in a fantastical scenario, elicit extreme emotions, and keep the player hooked. These features give me an internal starting point for how I want to process the imagery in accordance with my own relationship to it.
AM: How would you describe your art yourself? Concept art? Crypto art? Blockchain art?
CB: I usually refer to my work as crypto art, or dynamic crypto art, but I guess my work integrates a few different contemporary approaches, within a digital framework.
AM: You critically reflect the conditions of creating, selling, and trading NFTs, such as gas prices and volatility. Your NFTs are on-chain, dynamic, and therefore ever-changing. How does it feel for you to create artwork you can’t fully control?
CB: Dynamic art has a unique ability to vividly reflect the experience of living in an ever-changing digital data landscape, which is a context most of us inhabit in our day-to-day lives. The fact is that we are not in control of the media and financial networks we are connected to and reliant upon. These huge, moving databases that our own lives are also ingested into are both beautiful and frightening.
AM: "It’s common to fetishise technology and we can easily become hooked on the network systems we use. The Ethereum blockchain is influential on our lives and this artwork tries to reveal some of its underlying behaviour through abstraction", states your description about your NFT project titled BURNER. In which ways is the Ethereum blockchain influential on our lives?
CB: Blockchains have the potential to transform the world, for good and for bad. Many look to blockchains to fulfil their personal financial dreams, so it’s no surprise if we unconsciously deify Ethereum. There is a claim sometimes that ‘code is law’ – the idea that if the blockchain allows it, then we must abide by that. But in fact code isn’t law, it’s just code. The way in which a blockchain is coded affects the culture of the people using that chain in many ways. We’re just starting to see those effects I think.
AM: What do you mean by "we can easily become hooked on the network systems we use"?
CB: Tetris is one of the most famous video games of all time. One of the reasons it’s so popular is that it relies on a mechanism called ‘unfinished action'. As soon as you switch on Tetris, an object is already in motion, so we are compelled to act, to play the game. This is a good analogy for a lot of the network systems we engage with, from crypto and NFT markets to social media. Dynamic art is similar in some ways—there is always something new to see.
AM: When it comes to the use of a technology and understanding a technology, e.g., blockchain and NFTs, it’s easy to dismiss something new as not relevant and not art. History repeats itself. Is one of your goals to create artworks that encourage the user or collector to look closer at the technology itself?
CB: I suppose so, in a way. My work is highly technical and complex—that’s deliberate. The complexity is a reflection of the environment in which it’s built. Yes, it’s deeply connected to the blockchain, but I also hope it reflects the broader experience of living in a digital landscape.
AM: Who are some of your influences? As mentioned previously, your work is painterly and abstract, while at the same time broadening the meaning of abstract art.
CB: I’m influenced by Christopher Wool’s procedures of layering and deletion and his reworking of found patterns into abstraction. Julie Mehretu’s complex urban network structures, Hurvin Anderson’s abstraction of figurative memories, and Seth Price’s post-industrial image processes all impact my work. And also recently, Stanley Whitney’s reflections on seeing. The processes I use and the presentation effect of the imagery are very important to me, possibly more so than the complex code running underneath.
AM: Do you have a background as a painter?
CB: I learned to draw and paint figures, and I have continued to paint, mostly abstractions of various kinds, some of which have been exhibited. I spend a lot of time looking at paintings and draw inspiration from that in my digital work.
AM: Do you think it’s important for your collectors to be considered by you as co-creators, or maybe even co-curators, of your artwork?
CB: Not really. But I do think about the relationship between my artwork and the collectors. This is mostly due to the structures of ownership and the marketplace being such prominent features of releasing art as NFTs.
AM: What are your predictions for art on the blockchain? What are your hopes? Less gamification and more critical reflection of value systems?
CB: I think there will continue to be gamification, and in ways we probably can’t even imagine now. How things are gamified is another matter. As an artist, I am integrating gamification more into my practice, but as a way of commenting on the structure of the NFT market and art economies in general. I think the NFT landscape we see at the moment is tiny compared to what we’ll see over the longer term, and that opens up numerous new possibilities for art too.
James Bloom (Crashblossom) is a London-based crypto artist whose work combines post-conceptual digital abstraction with original innovations in dynamic code. His work is in many major crypto art collections including The Museum of Crypto Art and has been shown internationally with Sotheby’s New York and Paris, NFT Factory Paris, Art Basel and Next World Dubai.