For a season, my friend Tartaria Archivist and myself were busy just making art and exploring programming and just generally enjoying the rollercoaster of crypto and crypto-art. We had kicked around the idea of building some kind of generative system for Tezos (FXHash didn’t exist at the time) and an old friend of ours had retired from being a programmer and had the chops to build just such a thing. Having done projects within ArtBlocks and understanding their system, we knew that there was a particular kind of thing that ArtBlocks couldn’t do (by design) – work with raw materials. At the same time, I’ve had lots of friends going back to 2016 or so who made computer art using programs and glitch techniques that didn’t really know how to program themselves: they usually used freely available tools or tricks and combined them to produce interesting art. For myself, I had learned a lot of programming from reverse-engineering programs meant to slice up an image and reposition it, programs that chose pixels and colors and moved them around, simple manipulation scripts that I tweaked to my own purposes. There really wasn’t a great way to use any of these with generative platforms because most of the tools I built for myself had as their first step something like “Load Image.”
The problem was this: “Load Image” is something that requires me doing a manual input or selecting a random file – but all of it was not something I could put into an ArtBlocks script. ArtBlocks is strictly code – which is amazing for the masters of that kind of logic and elegant in its execution, but it wasn’t where I felt most at home. As we were discussing our project idea with our potential developer buddy, FXHash launched on Tezos and implemented a lot of things that were a conspicuous gap in the space: open admission for project creators, sandbox for testing code, automated project launching when a script works, cheap gas fees on the Tezos chain. It’s really cool. Even FXHash, though, we found could only support a small library of files – something like 15MB worth if I recall correctly. That’s plenty, too, for most generative projects that focus on the code and what the code makes and only occasionally dips into a folder of some PNG files or SVG files or something for stacking or pulling colors. What we wanted to make was something that didn’t just dip into raster and pixel and video materials, but something that could really focus on the kind of detailed textures, bent traditional artwork, deliciously shattered imagery that was smeared and digitally rebuilt in new ways that you can only really accomplish if your program starts with “Load Image” and you’ve got several gigabytes of data to sort through.
To launch a new platform was no small task, but our developer agreed to give it a go and we went to work building a pilot project for it. The metaphor for the platform would be a forge: something that melts down raw material and creates something new with it using technical apparatus. I commissioned some artwork from my favorite comic artist and licensed some music from my favorite musician and went to work.
For the first project, we wanted to name it appropriately: “Forge Awaken” – since it was the beginning of a new kind of NFT creation. I had been working on a script I was just calling “melon_slush” that I was giving to verified members of my discord, and it made neat branching lines in the colors of the imagery I loaded into it. It was similar to the script for “zap” that was used for the laser_show_last_will series – different, but similar. What we wanted to convey with this first series was the sense of creating elemental things, creating primary forces from the ether. So I shared the melon_slush script with Tartaria Archivist and we discussed how projects on this platform would work in general. Mainly: I had to be willing to let go of the coding heavy-lifting and trust that my partner would make something cool. The whole idea was to empower people who either didn’t know how to code or could code perfectly well but needed some kind of compelling finished product or raw material to really make their code shine – and that meant collaborations.
Tartaria Archivist went to work on the piece and started throwing renders and random effects we built into our channel. We’d sketch out an idea of what it could do, try to figure out how to make that happen, then realize it was a terrible idea and scrap it and start something new. One interesting thing about having been in the NFT space for a while is that your brain starts to take the shape of analyzing things for rarity, for patterns, for attributes that can be traced and compared and sold or bought. So while autoRAD has some kind of traits built in and a little rarity here and there – we wanted to really establish different kinds of results with this project that would be easily discernible as features and traits.
What should be the fundamental elements of Forge Awaken? I had just come off working on Sargei Slaughtermelovich and Suprematism, and so I was obsessed with the concept of non-objective primal forms like Malevich’s square, circle, and cross. It was always interesting to me that the triangle was not one of his primal forms and wasn’t featured as prominently in his art as it has always been my instinct to do. Also, Malevich was deeply concerned with the non-objectivity of his forms: the freedom from all the trappings of human concepts and constructs and traditions and the focus on pure feeling. I’m not sure that’s as easy to do (even in primal forms) as he made it sound. A long time ago while studying symbolism I had stumbled across Rudolf Koch and his explanations of primal shapes, and I thought that the triangle would be fitting for the forge.
We were trying to build a project that is firmly based on code and pixels, but yearns to become art – real art. It seemed fitting to choose a shape that symbolized upward mobility of earthly things to higher things using technology. Aside from that, our running theme for the project was the crucible, the forge, the heat of processors scrambling and reassembling information: fire.
The normal upright triangle like this is also the elemental sign for FIRE. So making it the staple generated result of Forge Awaken was our way of embracing this elemental force. T.A. really ran with the concept and built some amazing things with it. What we kept coming back to was the design choice to use the raw material whenever we could to make interesting imagery that would be hard to plan with just programming and automated processes.
Consider that a lot of the intuitive strength of these designs comes from having materials that determine things rather than algorithms. Here’s just a couple random examples from the library of raw materials that build these behind the scenes:
Our developer apparently didn’t consider just building the thing enough of a challenge, so he and T.A. also collaborated on figuring out a really unique auction system that also smelts and curates the project as it goes. There’s some built in rarity mechanisms that only the collectors can bid into existence and decide are worthwhile. We can’t insist that any particular piece be minted or destroyed – the control is out of our hands and the collectors aren’t at the mercy of RNG the way they often are in minting generative projects. We’re watching as the Forge Awaken series blazes and cools pieces into existence, and so far they look amazing. Our hope is that this will set a good example for the quality and nature of projects on the platform, and that it will serve the artists currently without a home and be a lasting part of the Tezos art-centric ecosystem.