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Bridging Worlds. Yves Zeh on Graffiti, Digital Art, and the NFT Revolution

As an art journalist deeply invested in the creative world, I've always been captivated by the evolution of art. From traditional mediums like oil on canvas, to the ever-expanding digital realm and the rise of the metaverse, art has always found a way to adapt and thrive in new environments. I've witnessed the way art forms have transcended boundaries, becoming more accessible and inclusive.


It was with great excitement that I recently had the opportunity to interview Yves Zeh, the visionary founder of United Arts Arena (UAA), a creative hub that embraces this very evolution. In our conversation, we delved into the compelling world of graffiti, digital art, and the impact of NFTs on the art industry.


Yves shared his thoughts on the transformative power of artistic expression and the importance of building a global community of artists. He shed light on the pivotal role of technology and collaboration in ushering in a new era of artistry, where the lines between the physical and the digital become increasingly blurred.


As we discussed the challenges and opportunities faced by artists in the 21st century, Yves imparted his wisdom on the necessity of embracing change and fostering inclusivity. Through United Arts Arena, Yves has been instrumental in cultivating a space that empowers artists to showcase their work, connect with fellow creators, and ultimately, redefine the boundaries of what art can be.


I invite you, dear reader, to join us on this enthralling journey into the heart of art and innovation, as we explore the ways in which United Arts Arena is transforming the creative landscape. Come and share in Yves' passion for art, his unique perspective on the industry, and the impact of the metaverse on the artistic community.

Yuliana Arles: You seem to have a great passion for the arts and, as far as I know, are an enthusiastic supporter of various contemporary artists. Could you enlighten us on how you cultivated this admiration for art and how it impacts your everyday activity?


Yves Zeh: It has always given me great pleasure to think creatively, yet I was rarely artistically active - so I'm not good at the classic craft, but understand it very well to draw visions and implement them with the right people. This creative power in my head also has to come out every day. These free thoughts and the process into the implementation are very valuable to me and make me happy.


Yuliana Arles: How has your marketing communications background influenced your involvement in the art world, and how do you balance your creative vision with the practical aspects of project management?


Yves Zeh: In fact, after school, I was rather lost and didn't know what to do. Through my older brother, I became aware of the marketing and communications academy. I was fascinated by the direct link between the studies and the creative world of advertising at the time.


Alongside my studies, I worked at the Saatchi & Saatchi agency as a client advisor, but I really only hung out with the creative people. I wasn't so much interested in smoking pot and drinking beer in the office, but rather in the great ideas they came up with. The process of coming up with the final idea really impressed me, and I really wanted to do that.


After my studies, I ended up at BBDO/Interone in Hamburg and learned the project management craft from scratch. Here, too, I was more drawn to the creative side and really wanted to learn Flash and Photoshop. As a project manager, I also wanted to work creatively, and came up with ideas for what I could do with my client at the time, BMW MINI, but my boss didn't want to hear about it - and the ideas really weren't crap, at least I don't think so.


That definitely drove me into self-employment. I didn't want to be dictated to anymore and wanted to be free in my creation. I just realized so much how hooked I was with the art world. I wanted to get in there, be involved somehow, have something to do with it. The result is my agency, which has been bringing art and brands together for 12 years. I think I'm the egg-laying willow here, the creative visionary with the marketing and project management skills.


Yuliana Arles: Can you please share with us some background information about Secret Wars, the art battle events? What inspired you to initiate this project? What is the main goal of this event, and are there any plans to organize similar art competitions in the near future?


Yves Zeh: Secret Wars started in London. At the time, I was approached by the edding brand that I was involved in the art scene and whether I would like to set up this event series for Germany. That was actually the right, deeper step into the urban art scene. I met such great artists, organized events, learned their language, and finally arrived where I always wanted to be.


At the time, Germany was competing at the Secret Wars Europa League with two teams from Hamburg and Berlin. A battle means 2 teams with 3 artists each have 90 minutes to paint their 4x2 meter walls with only black markers. After time runs up, 3 points are given to judge the winner. First by a judge, second by the crowd via decibel reader, and the third by auctioning off the artworks. The artwork with the highest proceeds will get the 3rd point. 50% of the proceeds will go to the artists, the other 50% to our NGO friends VivaConAgua who take care of water and sanitation projects in Africa.

We battled against other teams from other countries in group stages, similar to a soccer world championship. There was always a first leg and a second leg. We flew with RyanAir and stayed in shabby hotels to meet our opponent teams and to get drunk with them at the end. It was such an awesome time.


After the European League came to an end, the brand was rebranded, and we couldn’t agree on the future development of this event series. So, I kept the old name to organize more events in the Hamburg area with heart and soul and our roots. I still organize up to 6 live art battles per year. The event is super special for me because these battles have a very honest origin and the creation process results in a very great magic. In the end, all the artists also love each other and connect. I celebrate that a lot. For me, the event is also still a hook to the scene. I get to know new artists, get insights into the current trends, etc. It keeps me young, hahaha!


Yuliana Arles: If I understand correctly, Secret Wars has now evolved into the United Arts Arena. Can you elaborate more on this project's concept? Which event format do you prefer: live or online? Do you think that the future of such artistic events lies in the digital format?


Yves Zeh: The UAA is more or less a further development of Secret Wars. The origin actually lies in the pandemic. At the time, we rented a really rad location, an old bank building that was supposed to be torn down. We converted it into a venue to have parties and just when we were done, Covid came around the corner. So, we couldn't do analog battles anymore, and I just thought, like so many promoters, FUUUUCK!


By chance, I discovered the browser-based app Magma, and I immediately thought this was the solution to set up the battles digitally – a digital live art battle show! In such moments, I don't hesitate and implement the projects directly. I talked to Magma, put streaming software on it, developed a design with an artist, and we started the first battles. In total, there were 25 shows with artists from all over the world. It was so cool because everyone was sitting in lockdown at home, and we were a window into the world for many. The artist from Brazil was sitting in front of an air conditioner while I was wearing a winter jacket because it was snowing in Hamburg. The world suddenly felt so small. That was a mega flash.

After the 25 battles, we took a break because we were drawing a bigger vision. We wanted to become the first active Art Sports League in the world. A platform for artists from all over the world to show their creative power.


In the UAA, battles are played in tournaments and organized in our world league. Each point awarded to the artist teams in a battle is credited in our world ranking list. At the end of a season, we then play a world championship with the best teams from around the world. I have to say that both formats, analog and digital, are close to my heart. Analog because the closeness to the people is just so important. Also, the locations, the loud music, the beer, the smoke - that's already honest and great. But the digital version is just as cool because here we can bring different cultures together at the push of a button and also digitally have so many more options in creation.


We're also planning to expand the ecosystem around UAA to include education and a foundation to help shape the future in a positive way. Our ethos is #togetherwegrow and this should not just be a hashtag, but something we live, as we deeply believe in the power of community to make the crucial difference or contribution. As for analog or digital, I really could never decide. I'm rather grateful that I get to experience both.



Yuliana Arles: In the aftermath of each one-of-a-kind show that can never be repeated, the audience has the exclusive opportunity to purchase the artworks created as NFTs. Could you provide more information about the process of purchasing NFTs? Further, what happens to the earnings generated by NFT transactions?


Yves Zeh: We originally come from the analog world, and that's how we started the digital battles back then. We adapted the rules of the digital version a bit: 30 minutes time, 3 points from a judge we bring into the show, the audience via online voting, and the third via the auction of the artwork. Thereby, we produced and sent fine art prints. And then NFTs suddenly went mainstream and overtook everything. Since we were creating digital artworks, it was obvious that we had to go to NFTs as well. They just make so much sense and are also the future in my eyes.


We got deeply involved with NFTs very quickly, listened to our artists who were also rightly critical, especially in terms of sustainability. We looked into various blockchains and went into the sparring with our vision again and again. Despite the Ether hype, we quickly ended up with the layer 2 solution Polygon. I have been following Polygon and the CEO Ryan Wyatt for a long time and feel his approach, so we committed to this blockchain in the first step and joint forces.


What was important not only to the artists but also to us was the issue of sustainability, and here we wanted to do everything we could from the start to keep our carbon footprint small. For this purpose, we entered into a partnership with the KlimaDAO, which also offsets CO2 certificates via Polygon. In the end, this means that all NFTs minted by UAA automatically offset the CO2 footprint as well.


We offer different NFTs at the UAA. Supporter NFTs that can be used as PFPs and support the UAA. Collectibles from the artists that can be purchased, and the artwork that was created during a battle. These will be minted as NFTs during the show so that viewers can bid for the artwork with MATIC currency.


The proceeds will be distributed to the artists, to the KlimaDAO, as well as to the UAA.

All NFTs also give the owner access to our Buyer's Club. We would like to build up this club as a DAO to realize projects out of the community.

Yuliana Arles: Could you expand on your statement, "The world has become such a small place because of online tools"? In particular, how do you think online activities benefit artists?


Yves Zeh: I think that topics like the metaverse are also there to build connections between people. UAA offers artists this place to present themselves in a playful way and to network with like-minded people. Each participant just needs a link and you're in the arena with us.


The artists meet each other in a mixed reality, which was always important to me personally, because I think a mixed reality with real people is the future. When you bring together 4 artists from 4 continents, the world feels super small because you have 4 small windows to look through in 4 realities and cultures.


I've been working with artists for over 12 years and I love doing it. I also built the UAA for the artists so that they can express their creativity out of their own power. The artists should use the UAA as a stage. The UAA is to help the artists in their visibility. I'm tired of seeing on Twitter such chummy posts like, "Drop your NFT while I prepare my lunch!" That's not ok in my eyes.


Yuliana Arles: Continuing with the topic of digital art and the use of various online tools, I'm curious to know how you feel about the incorporation of artificial intelligence into the arts. As someone who interacts with numerous artists worldwide, what is your observation on this matter? Do artists see AI tools more as a means to enhance and accelerate the creative process, or do they perceive them as a potential threat? What is your personal stance on the issue?


Yves Zeh: Oh, that's a hot topic. I think AI is a cool thing in general and can do a lot of good for the world. Especially in the areas of process optimization or the healthcare system. My neighbor is currently developing an AI with a team of doctors and developers that can evaluate image data from MRIs or x-rays for tumors.


If we look at the rapid development of GPT, for example, we can see that in the future you can become creative in a new way. This scares many of the artists I know. They wonder what value their artistic craft will have in the future. Basically, anyone can create the perfect artwork now. It just doesn't mean that everyone is an artist in my eyes.


I think there is a shift in values away from the artistic image to the artistic process. And of course, this development is pure Darwinism and yes, I also think that artists need to embrace AI as a tool, but I am very worried about the speed of development of these AI themes.


I think that some artists will fall behind. In the end, the people out there probably won't care how the image was created. At least that would be the way it has always been with innovative development. But, with the UAA we want to be a counterpart of this AI-driven movement, so to say the “proof of realness”. I just hope that we don't lose control because in the end we will be completely linked to AI in our activities. It would be quite bizarre if it were to take on a life of its own without humans wanting it to.


Yuliana Arles: OK. You have stated that in the future, there will be a shift in valuation from the artistic image to the artistic process. How is United Arts Arena addressing the challenges posed by the growing use of artificial intelligence in the arts?


Yves Zeh: I think that first and foremost, the UAA provides artists with a space for their creative energy and to connect with like-minded individuals. In addition, the UAA is also intended to be a place for growth. #togetherwegrow is not just our hashtag, but also the ethos that we live by.

I strongly believe that AI will also be a topic for the UAA in the future. We are starting with artistic battles that are independent of AI. But perhaps in the future, we can work with artists to understand and integrate AI tools. Maybe our education program can help artists acquire these AI tools, so they don't end up being outsourced.


Yuliana Arles: Concluding our interview, can you share with us your plans for the future? Could you provide information on how to access your schedule of upcoming events? Where can viewers tune in to watch these art battles, and what is the process for artists who are interested in participating?


Yves Zeh: We are planning our next tournament in the next 4-6 weeks. We invite all digital artists to register on our website www.unitedartsarena.com. We are also optimizing the application process as well as our website. Once an artist has registered and the event date is set, we will reach out to them and ask if they want to participate in the next tournament.


Furthermore, we offer them the opportunity to enter the Web3 by helping them set up a wallet and showing them how to mint an NFT. If the artist has no interest in the whole Web3 and NFT thing, they can still participate.


A show will be streamed to various destinations, but we can say that we offer the best user experience on our website. Here, you can chat, vote, and have the best sound. For those who want to follow us, you can do so with the social handle @unitedartsarena on Twitter and Instagram.

 

If you like the idea and are considering a partnership, sponsorship, or offering support to Yves Zeh's United Arts Arena (UAA) venture, don't hesitate to connect with YV Art or Yves himself!


You can reach him through the links provided below:

Connect on 📢 LinkedIn

Want to talk about UAA with Yves, grab yourself a date

Follow UAA 📢 Instagram

Visit the official page of UAA 📢 www.unitedartsarena.com


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