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Nili Lerner - “NFT artists, are shaping a new reality of the financial world…”

Updated: Mar 24, 2023

Nili Lerner, one of the precursors of the NFT idea, believes that our generation is on the cusp of the greatest changes in the financial sector. In fact, the financial revolution has already begun with bitcoin and the cryptocurrency monetary system. According to the concept artist, it is the NFT artists who will make a huge contribution to changing the financial world, as well as the system of human values.

How did Nili, abandoning visual art, get into the world of conceptual ideas? And where does she disagree with one of the key figures in conceptual art, Sol Levitt? How did the idea of creating NILI Coin, Coca-Cola Coin [ICOKE}, Disney Coin [IDISNEY], Toyota Coin [ITOYOTA], Apple Coin [IAPPLE] come about, and why is the artist not afraid of litigation with the world's largest brands over the use of their logos in her project? You can read about this and much more in an exclusive interview with Nili Lerner.

Yuliana Arles: At all times, some artists have shaped society's perception and a certain attitude towards reality. They focused their attention on specific aspects of life and even sought to promote political change. If we look at our current reality, in your opinion, what does it mean to be an artist in the modern world?

Nili Lerner: Being an artist means doing something with no obligation other than to yourself. Any medium can serve as a means of expression, and any action can be perceived as art.

In my opinion, the main difference between art or non-art is that art must form and obey its own internal logic, regardless of the concepts that I initially adhere to in the process of creation. Through art, we get to know ourselves and the world around us.

Artists, unlike scientists who build their theories on a certain foundation of knowledge, are free to act exclusively according to their intrinsic motivation. Often the artists themselves are not aware of this motivation to create art, they just interact with the world, thereby knowing themselves through the prism of their own creativity.

In my opinion and personal experience, in the end, only this motivation is worth the sacrifice that we, as artists, make in order to “create” rather than “produce”.

Yuliana Arles: Looking back on time, when and how did you start your journey into the world of art?

Nili Lerner: The truth is that after 10 years of studying various types of art, 2 years of studying cinema and numerous drawing lessons, I was able to openly declare to myself and others that I am an artist. At that time, I was 27 years old.

It may sound strange, but being an artist was not really my own choice. It was a vital necessity because only by creating my art, I could find peace of mind. Art has given me tremendous freedom. I could do what my soul demanded, and not what others expected or asked of me. In my art, I have always been the "queen of the parade". I did not need someone else's approval. I have always devotedly served only my art, sometimes missing out on other opportunities.

Yuliana Arles: I see that your art is very important to you. Tell me, do you prefer to develop an artistic career on your own, or maybe you have like-minded people? Have you had people who have supported you on your creative journey?

You know, Yuliana, while living in Brooklyn, NY, I surrounded myself with passionate artists like me. All of these people were immersed in art and had great faith in what they were doing. They were not interested in the fame or the financial side of the enterprise; they simply followed the call of their creativity.

Living in an art center in the late 80s and early 2000s, before social media became popular, it was necessary to have a studio in an area where there was a tradition of annual studio tours. Most of my art exhibitions and sales took place right in my studio, with no need to look for art dealers or a gallery to present my work to the public.

Yuliana Arles: Why did you decide to move away from the usual ways of communicating with the audience and go to the “realm of ideas”? What advantages do you see in conceptualism when you compare it with other art movements?

Nili Lerner: Quite frankly, I needed a fresh stream of ideas. As soon as I realized that I can create, sitting in a cafe or preparing dinner, and even being at work with a 5-minute break, I was hooked.

The fact that I could create art and publish it at the same time as the original work (and not a photograph of it) was incredible. And even though apparently no one but a few people could figure out what the hell I was doing, it allowed the creative process to continue flowing out of me into the vast world of digital exposure. After 6 months of existence on Twitter in 2009 account username at @whatar, I decided to delete the account and just let go of whatever I have created.

In my experience, working with colors and paints was a deeply abstract experience that led to very strong realizations, but sometimes it was difficult to convey them using ordinary art materials. When some of the ideas that I wanted to convey became clearer and more specific, it was conceptual art that helped show them to the public. Art was no longer such a personal experience for me, conceptualism took it to another level, making it possible to convey my ideas to the audience.

Yuliana Arles: Starting with Marcel Duchamp, who in 1919 began to create his series of financial documents (“Bonds of Monte Carlo”, “Czech Check”, “Check Bruno”), the theme of money inspired various contemporary artists. Marcel Duchamp at that time was full of his avant-garde quests, the creation of his financial assets was a kind of provocation. With this gesture, he wanted to criticize the main ideas about the value of art and its fusion with the economic system. Regarding the subject of money in your art, what was the main idea you wanted to convey to the audience by creating NILIcoins ?

Nili Lerner - Dollar Ribbon
Nili Lerner - Dollar Ribbon

Nili Lerner: It all started with a Dollar Ribbon performance in October 2008 at the height of the crisis drama. The Love-Note workshop in which guests created their own legal tender as part of an imaginary community of users. In 2012, was the second piece. Then there was the first attempt to create a credit community based on some electronic wallets, and then in 2014 the art tokens, where minted on Counterpary under the name of the NILIcoins project name.

It was then that the clear realization which came to me back in 2008 that money is a social order that represents the productive potential of each person, as well as the ability of a community to organize and act as a single superpower, materialized into actual tokens which can be traded freely. The realization that we already have, everything we need to create this new world based on the full potential of each person it is the idea I've tried to convey in my art, and it took me 7 years to bring it to life.

Art, like life, has the ability to make unexpected turns. So suddenly, I realized that the art world is leading a financial revolution ... We, as NFT artists, are shaping a new reality of the financial world and, moreover, a new system of value. When historians return to assessing value creation someday, they will find that the NFT art movement was one of the most influential, leading to the financial revolution that began with bitcoin and the cryptocurrency monetary system.

Yuliana Arles: How did you convert your ideas to Blockchain technology at that time?

Nili Lerner: I practically waited for the technique to be ready to implement my ideas. Blockchain technology combining virtual (coin) with real (coin) fits perfectly into my vision. However, as an artist, not a developer, I limited myself to what the technology was offering at the time.

Coin's Metadata on Counterparty back in 2014 could only accept an asset name, a short description of the coin, and an indication of the number of coins, divisible or indivisible. While I created the bitcointalk forum topics as part of my art at the same time, I was so new to it that I didn't even think it was an option to add the URL to the coin description. Nevertheless, it declared as such on the thread and can be added at any point.

For me, the main part of art was minting the coins as the art object and defining them as art in the description slot and then doing the related work (the related images and conversation about my coin) on the bitcoin social network of that time.

Yuliana Arles: Nowadays, artists have different ways of finding their audience and showing their works of art to viewers - social networks, art forums, or creating websites. Why did you choose Twitter as a means of communication and presentation of your ideas?

Nili Lerner: Twitter was the network I used when I was first making social networks my artform. So it was not a forum I chose to present my ideas, it was rather the forum to create these ideas based on what the tech could enable as a medium. In fact, many pieces I made there were a product of either interactions with other users or the visuals it has created on each of their homepages.

My current Twitter account, is not an art account and is not a part of the art, only serves as a platform for communication, unlike the bitcointalk forum, which is the social network that is part of the art.

Yuliana Arles: One of the key figures of conceptualism, Sol LeWitt, in an article for Artforum magazine in 1967 defined the goal of a conceptual artist "... the goal of a conceptual artist is to make his work intellectually interesting to the viewer without affecting his soul." From your perspective, what intellectual value has Crypto art for the viewer, based on the example of Nili Coins?

Nili Lerner: I disagree with Sol LeWitt in this definition. The artist's goal is to create something that could not have been done if it had not been done as art. When I'm in the creative process, I don't care if someone is interested or not. This has nothing to do with the creation process. It is only later, as it is reported, that the interest of others can play a role, as it acts as a reflection of the art produced. And this reflection can reveal what the artist could not see for himself.

I believe this is the main reason for showing art to the public. It will evoke emotions and reactions that will allow the creator to understand what he/she could never have realized on his own.

For me, the reason for creating conceptual art is really to work with the awareness faculty of our intelligence, which also affects the soul but is less difficult to define.

Yuliana Arles: Apropos of Coca-Cola Coin [ICOKE} and Disney Coin [IDISNEY], what is the idea behind using famous brand logos in your artistic projects? Have you thought about possible litigation with representatives of these large companies in connection with the use of their brand as a cryptocurrency?

Nili Lerner: In 2014, when tokenization became available, no one understood what to do with it. The first solution that came to my mind was to use some well-established brand to give the viewer an easy and quick route to the more complex part of what I wanted to convey. Then I realized that the logo is the best visual tool, so I combined the name and logo to set the stage for the complexity of the model I was about to convey.

In my art, I refer to the long history of pop art, so brands such as Coca-Cola, Disney, Twitter, eBay, Toyota were used in it. I also wanted to highlight these particular companies as the precursors of various industries. As for legal issues, I did everything to make it clear that this is art and part of the long tradition of contemporary art.

Yuliana Arles: As one of the precursors of NFT idea, how do you see the development of this phenomenon? What impact will NFT have on the modern art market?

Nili Lerner: The impact of NFT will far surpass the art market. This paves the way for a new paradigm of ownership that eliminates the need for physical ownership. You can share NFT content with everyone, the more you share, the more value you add to your actual NFT asset.

Ultimately, we will see that all art and unique objects will become an asset of the NFT, either as a phygital (physical-digital) pair or as a “virgital” (virtual-digital) pair in the metaverse. Whereas the digital part refers to the metadata in the blockchain that does not include the actual object, and the part that changes hands (wallets)

Yuliana Arles: Are you planning to create new artistic projects in the near future? In what form will you present your art to the audience? Will you remain an adherent to the NFT form, or are you considering other ways of manifestation in art? Will there be an opportunity to purchase your works, if so, where and how?

Nili Lerner: Right now I am working on a new set of NFT which will be minted on ”Institute”, a custodian base NFT platform for curated art. The first set is coming out on September 27th as part of a group show curated by Kenny Shachter.

These would be more like the contemporary NFTs, an image that will be minted as a single or very small addition. However, the work is still very conceptual, dealing with some concepts I just described above as well as paving the path for fully autonomous animated characters.

I don't know yet in what path it is taking me and where I will take my followers, but it promises to be right out there, as unique and experimental as all of my other work. It should also be fun, silly and funny at times.

Another new project is sort of an archeological one, in which I reconstruct the older Mickey and Minnie dialogues and present them as an animated scroll down inside a golden frame marked with the public key of the coin's minting address.

The first one is showing now in "Proof of Art. A short history of NFTs, from the beginning of digital art" in Francisco Carolinum Linza museum show. That piece will be minted as NFT in a very limited series on an up-and-coming NFT forum, curated by Georg Bak.

The reason these have to be reconstructed is that in some dialogues, the image parts of the original work are lost since it was taken from the web as a URL (was meant as such). Thus, some lost images have no records of what they were.

Other than that, I am working on the future development of some of the OG coins in order to bring the original vision of the coins to be realized. So a lot is on my plate for the coming months. All the above works as well as some OG coins will become available for purchase soon, starting this month.

Right now, this is the direct link to get my new NFTs on a Marketplace:

The OG NILIcoins are sold through a Discord link you may find on my @NILIcoins Twitter account. There are no convenient markets to use at the moment. I may consider using some wrapping options such as Emblem Vaults sometime later.


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