In recent years, a new and innovative art form has emerged that blends the physical and digital worlds – phygital art. The term “phygital” is a portmanteau of physical and digital, describing artworks that combine the best aspects of both to create something entirely new. While interest in digital art has grown with the rise of non-fungible tokens (NFTs), enthusiasm for NFTs has cooled down. This has led some to see phygital as a way to ground digital works in more trusted, traditional forms, while others view it as a way of familiarizing the public with the idea of digital art.
Phygital art has started making its way into forward-looking galleries around the world, with Dubai being at the forefront of this innovative format. The Art Dubai international fair has a digital component exploring new media and technology trends, including phygital works. In 2021, Firetti Contemporary held an exhibition called “NFT/ IRL” (in real life), showcasing physical artworks next to their digital counterparts. The Mondoir Gallery, which recently opened in downtown Dubai, specializes in NFTs and embraces phygital art, while the Theatre of Digital Art features phygital in its high-tech multisensory exhibitions.
CNN spoke to some of Dubai’s most progressive art institutions to explore why the city is among the vanguard of this innovative format and whether phygital is a significant new movement in art or just an unwelcome addition to our vocabulary.
Defining Phygital Art
According to Mara Firetti, founder and managing partner of Firetti Contemporary, phygital art aims to bridge the gap between the digital and physical world by blurring the boundaries between them. It can take various forms, including interactive sculptures, mixed-media installations, digital paintings, and performances that combine live elements with digital projections or effects.
In addition, Pablo del Val, artistic director of Art Dubai, explained that it has elements that are considered traditional, such as an architectural space, a three-dimensional structure (like a sculpture), or a physical structure that you can touch, combined with digital elements such as 3D-printing technology, blockchain technology, augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and/or artificial intelligence (AI) elements.
Examples of Phygital Art
One famous example of phygital art is Beeple’s “Human One,” which is sort of a kinetic video sculpture consisting of four video screens, polished aluminum metal, mahogany wood frame, dual media servers, endless videos, and a corresponding dynamic NFT. Another example is Jeff Koons’ and Frank Stella’s phygital works, where collectors can 3D-print their sculptures.
Phygital art can also be NFTs, according to Amir “Mondoir” Soleymani, founder of Mondoir Art Gallery. All assets held on the blockchain are NFTs, and digital art stored on the blockchain as an NFT can be experienced physically through digital displays that allow viewers to observe or interact with the digital creations in the case of installations. Phygital is a method of connecting the digital and physical dimensions that can be used for off-chain NFTs or assets.
The Role of AI
AI is an essential element that allows a work of art to be described as phygital, according to Pablo del Val. Artists working with artificial intelligence programs, neural networks, code, and algorithms are creating bodies of work that take the viewer to a level of reality that mixes what is true and what is not. Images, situations, actions, and characters can be manipulated, creating situations and actions that never existed. Refik Anadol is one artist who has pioneered this approach, launching a new project at Art Dubai in March.
Why is it Important?
Phygitals alleviate the burden of comprehension for those who are not yet immersed in the digital world by providing them with a tangible object that corresponds to a digital asset, according to Amir “Mondoir” Soleymani. They will be crucial in promoting the adoption of digital art. Mara Firetti added that phygital art offers new opportunities for audience engagement and participation. Viewers can often interact with the artwork through touch, movement, or even through their smartphones or other devices. This interactive and immersive nature of phygital art creates unique and dynamic experiences, blurring the boundaries between the observer and the artwork itself.
Barriers to Mainstream Adoption
One of the main barriers to mainstream adoption of phygital art is the speed at which technology is advancing, which means the devices needed to visualize it become obsolete very quickly, explained Pablo del Val. Updating the device and the costs associated with it have been major hindrances to more widespread adoption. Additionally, physical art holds
Phygital art offers a unique and exciting approach that combines the traditional with the modern, creating something entirely new and immersive for viewers. Dubai has been at the forefront of this innovative format, with several galleries and institutions embracing phygital art and showcasing its potential. While there are still barriers to mainstream adoption, including the speed at which technology is advancing, this kind of art is undoubtedly expanding the horizons of artistic expression and creating new possibilities for artists and audiences alike. As technology continues to advance, it will be interesting to see how this new trend evolves and what new forms it will take in the future.
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