There is beauty in almost every NFT—should you wish to see it. With Carla Chan’s ever evolving Space Beyond NFT artwork, one that invites quiet retrospection of our fading natural landscapes, it comes as no surprise then, that we do. For their second ongoing collaboration together, The Dawn of Radiance, La Prairie‘s returning artist-in-residence developed an interactive piece that would evolve with changing meteorological and demographic data. Surrounded by changing landscapes of nature during her residency in Switzerland, this particular artwork might be considered as a culmination of her moments of reflection—at both the Monte Rosa Hut amidst melting glaciers and La Becque Art Residency, along the shores of Lake Geneva (Lac Léman).
The core mechanics of the artwork demands a transformation: where factual weather data is given an imaginary, elusive form. Utilising the experimental nature of blockchain technology to create Space Beyond, the artwork relies on real-time data to actively alter the digital landscape, with each edition of the NFT tied to one day of the year. Perhaps Chan seeks to blur the boundaries between reality and illusion: what might seem out of reach today, might be eventually visualised via the artwork due to the fading physicality of our natural surroundings. “It sparked me to do a piece of artwork that would last beyond my own life.,” she muses, proving the potential of the indefinite digital scape.
This quiet move into the realm of art, design and nature is not an unprecedented one for La Prairie considering the brand’s origins amidst the shores of Lac Léman back in 1931. And for Chan herself? Working with the luxury beauty label just made sense. She’s always found herself drawn to exploring the ambiguities in nature, and treading the fine line between figure and abstraction. Prior to her work for The Dawn of Radiance, Chan had created two main works for their first collaboration: Space Between The Light Glows and Space Between The Light Fades as depictions of the fleeting moments during the Golden Hour in the Alps.
For Chan, Space Beyond is one she hopes will continue to evolve and inspire—even beyond her lifetime. Amidst the timely collaboration with the luxury beauty label La Prairie, and her continuous discovery of the digital art form and what it proffers, we delve in with the artist to unveil it all.
It was the ‘fading of nature’ during your Artist Residency that inspired you to create Space Beyond. What about your experience led you to this sentiment?
Everything started with the artist-in-residency programme with La Prairie, and the second time was near the lake which felt quite different from the first, amidst the glaciers. My first idea for the Fading Space of Dawn installation, was to combine the process of a glacier melting into a lake, in this case, Lac Léman, the largest lake in Europe. I had the idea to design it using the digital gaze and augmented reality (AR)—think of it like a phone or a virtual window to look at what was happening.
It was also about looking at it beyond just the moment itself. When I was there, it was raining a lot and it left me with a very moody experience. I wanted to recreate this atmosphere through an AR event within a space that felt like you were reversing in time; people could be walking underneath and experiencing this ever-changing weather, which links to the idea of changing states—from ice to water, from melting snow to rock. Besides just the beauty of our nature, I wanted to delve into a deeper understanding behind it all.
I wanted to ask after the beauty of the moment that was disappearing from us slowly, how something that we see everyday might no longer be with us soon.
Why did you choose to use data in your artwork?
Weather data to me, represents a real-time changing of nature. During the first residency, I spent a lot of time within the glaciers. I was thinking to myself: whatever it is I’m seeing now, will probably not be there in 5 years. So there is a very devastating story behind the beauty of nature, and that is what sparked me to do an artwork that would live beyond my own life. That’s when I came across the wave and hype of NFTs. For me, working on the NFT was something that worked well in this case due to the longevity of time it offers. When it comes to blockchain technology, you put something on the Internet and it could remain there forever—which made sense for an artwork that is forever changing and driven by unpredictable weather. I don’t know what our climate will look like in ten years. Maybe we’ll no longer see anymore snow, or we’ll see pouring rain everyday. And for me, this unknown element to the NFT artwork is what makes it so interesting.
I actually wanted to do an artwork that was driven by the future—that was the main idea. Not just about the weather data, but also population data. Both human and natural factors coming together to become one piece of artwork. That’s why I decided to use the NFT format: to connect to the blockchain, to use data, and to take my role out of the process, letting the Internet drive what happens in the future.
Tell us more about how Space Beyond is linked to online weather and demographic data—what aspects of the artwork changes with the data?
Basically, it’s a software, with a very, very heavy set of coding. We obtain the data from NASA and the different governments’ open sources, such as temperature, wind speed and humidity, before I map the data into an abstract form. It’s pretty much a place, a void, a song: a space of data that sparks each individual’s own imagination to envision what the space is about on your own.
Much of your work is steeped in the ambiguity that nature offers. What do you hope your audience experiences when viewing your pieces?
Besides the AR and NFT artworks, I actually made three other video installations at the Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts in Hong Kong. I tried to build a void that you could soak into and experience the light changing. It was a spatial experience for me; like when I was at the residency, experiencing light changing made me feel like time was passing. So a lot of my work surrounds the changing state of matter and deals with the concept of time—putting people into a forever loop that doesn’t seem to end. It’s about how nature is always changing in time and space, the disappearing and fading of fleeting landscapes.
Your artworks are often based in the mediums of video, installations and other interactive forms of media. How did you first decide to delve into the digital art form?
I actually started doing this when I felt bored of painting. It was an instant decision for me. At one point in time, I just felt like canvas and paint wasn’t satisfactory for me anymore, because I could only capture one single moment. At that time, digital and computational art wasn’t trendy, in fact it wasn’t even considered as art. So getting to know something new and different was super exciting. My first lesson was on experimental film: being able to manipulate people’s emotions over a given period of time was a fascinating experience.
That’s why I did a lot of video, animation, and that’s how I ended up dealing more with imagined reality. But I still missed the physical form, which is why I still try and play with all the different forms and blend them together. People are still drawn to the physical experience after all, and that’s the unchanging thing about art: it’s about finding something that sparks people’s emotions.
Is your experience working with La Prairie to create this NFT artwork a preliminary venture for you into the metaverse?
It was my first time going into the metaverse, but it’s not my first time encountering blockchain technology—which is really the core of NFTs. I had come across it four years ago, actually. Whilst I think the hype around it is fascinating, I still want to make sure that whatever it is I do is something substantial, with an impact.
Everything about my work might look soft and perhaps even of minimal effort, but there’s actually a lot of heavy technology involved. I like exploring the feminine side of technology—it can be soft, and feminine, rather than masculine and difficult to understand. Every single piece of technology-related art is ultimately, something that takes time.
One of my personal advantages is that I’ve actually studied digital art, and so I know quite a bit about it. It’s important for an artist to understand their art field, to know that it takes time, and to reflect on what is happening around us. Of course, with more people starting to understand it and getting involved in it, I’m sure we’ll see more great artworks in the future.
With the rise of the metaverse and NFTs in the art world, how do you think your work will contribute further to the metaverse?
For me, it’s about how to inspire people to reflect on the digital medium. I like to dabble in contradiction; I like that my work is heavily involved in coding, but it doesn’t seem tech-heavy. Coming from a female perspective, digital art is hardly female-centric. Female NFT artists still take up a very low percentage compared to males in the NFT art space. But I want to tell the world that females can do coding, they can do something that is very much driven by males, considering how technology and hardware industries are somehow always very male-dominant. I cannot say that my work will spark a big ripple, but I do hope that it’ll inspire people to realise that a technology-driven piece of art doesn’t have to be ‘masculine’, and there should be more room for female artists.
As an artist-in-residence for La Prairie, previously for Space Between The Light Glows and now for Dawn of Radiance, what excites you most about your continued collaboration with the beauty house?
With La Prairie now, we’ve worked so closely together, that it’s already my second year with them. They’ve given me such tremendous support—especially with this NFT project. It was just a side project initially, it wasn’t even the main idea in the beginning. Due to COVID-19, everything was delayed: I couldn’t be physically present in places I needed to be, and shipping logistics around was also going to be chaos. So that’s why my idea was pushed to a more virtual space. For such a huge label to belief in my idea and support me, I’m very grateful and it shows that they’re really in support of artists.
It really gave me a space to try something different. I tried to get out of my usual black-and-white color scheme, use lighter scapes and even use green, which I’ve never used before. Since it was the second collaboration with them, I wanted to push myself to do something completely alternative, so that the person who would see my artwork again could witness something else.
As for myself, I’ll definitely continue to explore the NFT space: it’s definitely very exciting, considering the community, being able to create a digital footprint, and having an awareness of who collects your work or where it goes. It’s a new way of understanding and looking at art. Blockchain-related technology is something I hope to continue and I’d love to bring more of digital art into physical spaces that people can experience.
In line with La Prairie’s move to address concerns of climate change, a portion of the proceeds from the sale of Carla Chan’s Space Beyond NFT artwork will be directly donated to ETH Zurich’s Department of Glaciology.