Token tattoos at Tokyo’s premier crypto art fair

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Tokyo tattoo artist Ichi Hatano’s usual business declined during the pandemic, but now he wants to extract a new stream of income from the first crypto art exhibition in Japan.

Hatano’s ink featuring Japanese folk creatures was especially popular with foreign visitors until Japan closed its borders to tourists due to COVID-19. Hatano has now gone digital, selling his designs as non-fungible tokens (NFTs), virtual items that have taken the art world by storm.

“It’s great for artists to have a new market, it opens up a lot of possibilities,” said the 44-year-old, who has five digital works of art for sale at the show, which opened on the weekend. last end in Tokyo.

Using the same blockchain technology behind cryptocurrencies, NFTs turn everything from artwork to memes into virtual collectibles that cannot be duplicated.

They have exploded this year and are now traded at major auction houses, generating several hundred million dollars in transactions each month.

Although he traded in his familiar canvas of human skin for pixels, Hatano said the creative process was the same.

“This is the emergence of a new economy, a new way of valuing art,” he said, adding that he hoped that the technology would allow creators like him to reach more audiences. large.

His work is one of 150 NFTs by dozens of artists exhibited at the “CrypTokyo” exhibition in the trendy Harajuku district of the Japanese capital.

Screens on the walls show a rotating selection of the works, including NFTs that can be purchased online with Dai and Ethereum cryptocurrencies for amounts ranging from a few hundred dollars to around $ 50,000. Hatano hopes to pocket around $ 1,400 to $ 2,400 for each of his offers.

Some of the most expensive works are by Maxim, a member of British electropunk group The Prodigy and recently converted to NFT art.

People visit “CrypTokyo,” a blockchain-based physical art exhibit in the capital, on June 25. | AFP-JIJI

Any digital creation can be marketed virtually as an NFT, allowing artists to monetize digital art by giving boasting buyers unique property rights, even though the work can be reproduced endlessly online.

Classic elements of internet culture, from GIFs to home videos, have been auctioned off for huge sums. In March, American digital artist Beeple became one of the world’s three most valuable living artists when an NFT of one of his works sold for $ 69.3 million.

But in Japan, there is still a way to go before crypto art becomes a mainstay, said Yasumasa Yonehara, 62, artist exhibiting at the show.

“NFTs are notorious in Japan for selling tweets by famous people for astronomical sums of money, and few know what it really is,” he said.

An authenticated version of Twitter founder Jack Dorsey’s first tweet – the very first on the social network – was sold in March for $ 2.9 million.

Japanese buyers always approach the format with caution, agreed exhibition curator Sascha Bailey, 27.

“The problem that a lot of people have with NFT art is’ how can I live with it, how do I interact with it in my day to day life,” said Bailey, who runs the international blockchain sales platform. Art Exchange.

“What we’re trying to do here, at least in the proto-stages, is show how it can be part of your daily existence.”

Yasumasa Yonehara, 62, is one of dozens of artists exhibiting works at the
Yasumasa Yonehara, 62, is one of dozens of artists exhibiting work at the “CrypTokyo” event. | AFP-JIJI

Some of the static works have augmented reality features – coming to life when viewed through a smartphone screen – and discussions with artists are also scheduled during the three-week exhibition.

French artist Botchy-Botchy, 48, sold his first NFT at the Tokyo show.

“The real plus is that the artist receives royalties for each resale of his token,” he said. And in the art industry, “it’s really new.”

Bailey said he sees Beeple’s massive sale as “an exception” and believes that greater value lies in the potential of NFTs to spark wider creativity.

“Maybe (the Beeple sale) was important in showing the traditional art world that it’s a competitive thing. … I consider crypto art to be the most powerful and meaningful when it helps small artists, ”he said.

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