Andrew Benson, aka pixlpa, is a visual artist who has worked in animation and video for over 15 years.
For FWB FEST 2023, Highlight is supporting Benson on the release of Energetic Beings, a generative NFT collection that will be co-created with FEST attendees at a live workshop in Idyllwild, California, on Friday, August 4th.
Andrew’s entry into coding came through creating art for live performances, primarily in the music and traditional art worlds.
“A lot of my work in the past has been rooted in concepts of ‘what is a gesture? What is happening during a performance in real-time?’ It’s about experimentation and delving into the ways live performances are experienced,” Benson says.
Andrew’s entrance into the world of onchain art came in early 2021 with projects on Foundation — he was one of the first 50 artists to launch a project on their platform — and as part of the first show for Feral File 1.0, based on a connection with its founder Casey Reas.
“When everyone dove into NFTs, there was a reemergence or reappraisal of generative art and computer art in general. Because it’s a culture immersed in digital artifacts and history, there was a real opportunity to reassess the art forms that were part of the early days of computing but fell by the wayside in the tech boom we’ve seen over the last couple of decades,” says Benson.
Since 2021, Andrew has continued to experiment with NFTs as a medium. His interest in code and blockchain tie back to his career with real-time experience and the performing arts. In his own words:
“Working with code is understanding how most media is just data in a computer. Data is neutral territory, and code allows you to interact with that data in different ways and find ways to build containers and experiences around it. I think a lot about my work as having feedback loops and ways of interacting with it. Being able to capture gestures and ways of being and turn a project into an autonomous experience that anyone can drive.”
With NFTs, Andrew is fascinated by the appropriation by artists of what was originally a financial technology used to power digital currencies.
“Blockchain wasn’t designed for what it’s being used for. People are using it as material elements — smart contracts, transactions, file storage — that translate into another medium. And in this new medium, there’s a lot of really open space and opportunity, especially for social interaction and connectivity around art,” Benson says.
With his experience in live performances, Andrew is particularly interested in the social aspects of onchain art. He’s fascinated with using NFTs as a way of representing relationships, connections, or shared history, ideas that are core to FWB, and the real-life energy that manifests at FEST.
“I went [to FEST] last year and was amazed at the social connections that unfolded. It coalesced this dynamic set of experiences that weren’t dominated by marketing or commercial parts of the tech, art, or entertainment industries.”
This year, Andrew is looking forward to doing this workshop with Highlight because he doesn’t have the ability often to share what he does behind the scenes. With his workshop, he’ll bring participants at FEST into the project in the final hours of creation before it’s deployed and available to mint.
As he puts it: “Typically, people at design conferences bring laptops and share files. This will be more of a summer camp vibe. So I’m designing an experience that lends itself to participation and co-creation in a more organic, relaxed environment.”
For Andrew’s FEST project, he gravitated towards the concept of a social/cultural space populated by “energetic beings” – ethereal or ephemeral figures – within a shared space.
Built using WebGL and GLSL shaders, the project employs movement through a simulated cloth ragdoll effect. The cloth itself is an organic, moving surface with translucent coloring. A feedback loop is created between previous iterations, where an image layer is fed to each artwork from previous versions.
One of the challenges of doing a generative series like Andrew’s is thinking about the features and metadata between different outputs. As part of his session, Andrew looks forward to having a conversation with participants on the project’s final features and metadata.
“This isn’t a simulated need for input. I’m at a natural ebb in the creative process, which is where folks at FEST will undoubtedly inspire the final leg of the project and how I can make the metadata meaningful.”
Looking forward, Andrew is very curious about the AI and machine learning tools now becoming available to artists. He hasn’t used them in his projects yet but sees artist friends approaching AI in an interesting way. “We’re in such an early period of experimentation. The obvious stuff, like making a fake Drake song or making a photo of an anime character, helps drive people to create things and test the boundaries.”
Benson is still waiting to find what his entry into AI may be – “And maybe there isn’t one? But if there is, it’ll most likely be around capturing gestures or working with data.”
Andrew’s also excited by the resurgence of some of the long-term thinking around what’s possible for artists engaging with web3.
“Part of what originally got me hooked were some of the big ideas in the space: creating artist-owned infrastructure for supporting each other; creating blockchain-based collectives for community organization; creating alternative social and economic structures,” he says.
“There was a lot of utopian thinking in 2021, but not the tooling to support it. Now the tooling has been developed, we need to revive the conversations on how we want to use them. There’s a horizon we’re always chasing that feels far off, but suddenly we’re here and we can make these utopian dreams a reality. Will we act on them?”
Despite the bear market, Andrew is energized by the progress in the space and excited to be part of the next cycle.
“There’s a reappraisal of the relationship between NFTs, digital art, and traditional art galleries, and a lot more clarity on what’s applicable from each world, what each does well, and how they fit together. Those moments of clarity are always cool.”