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[Herald Interview] Digital artist Cody Choi questions nature of ‘digital art’


A cropped image of “Database Painting Series 1 - Stolen Data, Tiger #00” by Cody Choi (PKM Gallery)
A cropped image of “Database Painting Series 1 - Stolen Data, Tiger #00” by Cody Choi (PKM Gallery)

When PKM Gallery showed Cody Choi’s “Database Painting Series 1 - Stolen Data, Tiger #00” at the Art Basel Hong Kong 2021 in March, it was a long-awaited moment for the artist who began “database painting” in 1997. He had to wait a long time for people to pay attention to digital art, he said.

“Not many people were interested in digital art until recently when NFT seems to have inspired interest in digital art,” Choi said during an interview with The Korea Herald on Thursday at his studio in Seoul. “Database Painting Series 1 - Stolen Data, Tiger #00” a work from Choi’s early database painting series “Animal Totem,” was turned into a nonfungible token and tagged at 70,000 ether.

The 60-year-old artist completed his first database painting in 1999 by multiplying overlapping data images using computers. Choi named his own digital painting method “new pictorialism,” which was a groundbreaking concept in the Korean art market. The database painting came from his insight that a new art genre should emerge reflecting the new era of a digital society.

“Before the 19th century, we used to value artworks that depict objects accurately, then we came to focus on how well the artists present their thoughts and imagination in their works since the 20th century. But in the 21st century, where data has become essential in everyday life, I began to think that the artists’ creativity would be based on data, which has nothing to do with the artist’s imagination. What I did in the database painting is to multiply data and create a relationship among them,” he said. 

Choi thinks the fast-evolving NFT art industry has enormous potential, although it is still in its infancy.

“The art world has agonized over digital art for a long time, and NFT art has finally emerged. Some say the NFT art market is just a one-time phenomenon. But I believe the NFT art industry is not something we can ignore,” he said.

Choi, however, criticized the currently overheated NFT market where there are too many works thoughtlessly created to earn cryptocurrency. Those works lack philosophy, or involve asking what is digital art, Choi pointed out.

While some say his “Database Painting Series 1 - Stolen Data, Tiger #00” presented at Art Basel Hong Kong was overpriced, Choi claims it underwent thorough evaluation before it was presented to the art fair and accepted for display. Through the work, he also intended to criticize the chaotic and playful NFT art market with the price tagged on his art.

“In fact, the intention was to show how the current NFT art market has lost its way with the so-called ‘digital artworks’ being sold at more than tens of millions of dollars. Maybe we can categorize works drawn simply with a digital pen as ‘digital art,’ but some of them are not extraordinarily high-priced.

“With the emergence of this new digital art market, I think the time has now come to think seriously about what is digital art,” Choi said.

Choi’s “Totem-Stolen Data-Tiger #00” can be viewed at https://url.kr/zoumin.

By Park Yuna (yunapark@heraldcorp.com)

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