Don’t miss our inaugural drop of Season 01—Sentimentite by Agnieszka Kurant—going live at 12 UTC+1 on Monday July 25. Text “Hi” to +44 7476 560489 on WhatsApp to access the drop.
Zien is a WhatsApp channel to collect contemporary art as Expanded NFTs. ERC-721 (NFTs) tokens that can be redeemed on-chain for unique physical counterparts.
Zien brings worlds together: web2 and web3, 2D and 3D, NFTs and contemporary art. Zien is part gallery, production studio, foundation, think-tank, para-institution — an experiment in what can be done with the new tools we have at hand. We find ourselves at a curious stage of history, where some things feel “late” while others — such as crypto and blockchain — feel “early.” We believe there is huge potential in working alongside artists to grow new techno-cultural realities that emerge from this unique moment in time.
Zien emerged as an idea from the London crypto scene connected to DAOWO - the blockchain laboratory and debate series for reinventing the arts spearheaded by Ben Vickers and Ruth Catlow. Season 00 began in 2020. We collaborated with Ed Fornieles, Omsk Social Club (curated by Lucy Rose Sollitt), Eva Beresin (curated by Kenny Schachter), Petra Cortright, Joey Holder and Ben Elliot to experiment with NFTs and WhatsApp as a distribution channel. Inspired by Sol LeWitts wall drawings—executed by assistants from the artist's instructions—collectors could fabricate artworks they collected on Zien. Interactivity between artist and collector was at the foreground of the experience. People told us they really liked the way their NFTs came with something else, something tactile and offline. Zien had proved its concept in a convincing, low-fi, bootstrapped manner.
While JPG-mania took hold of 2021, Zien took stock, and chose the pill of active silence. (No meditation retreat was involved, we promise.) Instead, we raised money from friends and a supportive group of crypto OGs and VCs. This bought us time and enabled us to double-down on the product and form a small yet talented team.
64,000 years of art — from cave paintings to Picasso — have proven that when it comes to emotionally moving encounters, sometimes a screenshot is not enough.
Relating physical objects with on-chain assets has been an important topic of conversation over recent years within the Ethereum community and broader crypto scene. Post-2021, there is renewed energy to explore how NFTs can connect to the physical dimension.
“Can art NFTs be more than digital artefacts only?” This is the question at the heart of our work at Zien that was recently brought into focus by Our Co-founder and Chief Narrative Officer, Shumon Basar, when he remembered a 1979 essay from art historian Rosalind Krauss, where she introduced the idea of “sculpture in the expanded field.” She said that in the late 1960s and 1970s, sculpture burst out of the white cube gallery, and expanded into new situations that seemed strange and unfamiliar. What if NFTs could do something similar? The EIP-721 protocol (2018) and foundational codebase of NFTs aimed not only at digital assets but physical assets too. We believe NFTs are yet to fulfil the promise of what the EIP-721 protocol truly set out to achieve.
And so was born Zien’s “Expanded NFTs” — artworks collected as NFTs which are then redeemed on-chain for unique material counterparts.
Is there a problem with the NFT space and is there a problem with the art world?
Most NFT platforms are marketplaces only. Artists bring work, platforms upload it, and hopefully they sell. The quality of what’s out there varies immensely.
At the same time, only a handful of traditional art galleries and institutions are engaged in crypto/web3. Because of this, they tend to neither possess the knowledge nor technical skills to develop compelling art NFT projects, with either established artists new to the space, or native web3 artists looking to further their ambitions from entirely self-funded and self-initiated endeavours.
We believe there’s a third way between these spaces.
And, instead of a collecting process that's intimidating, confusing and difficult, Zien’s WhatsApp distribution channel is a personal, transformative user experience already accessible to billions of WhatsApp users.
Zien’s fully doxed team [see here for details] has decades of combined experience in crypto/web3 as well as museums, magazines and cultural production. Zien’s team offers a comprehensive service to artists it collaborates with: from idea conception, through to R&D, production, design, communications and sales. These rich resources unlock new possibilities in artist’s work, evolving what they already do into web2.5 and the 2.5th dimension.
This comprehensive invitation is allowing us to on-board a number of museum-level artists — such as Agnieszka Kurant, Shezad Dawood and Jakob Kudsk Steensen — who have not produced any NFTs to date. Other artists we have lined up for forthcoming seasons are as equally electrifying in their imagination and experimentation.
“I have been insisting that the expanded field […] occurs at a specific moment in the recent history of art.” — Rosalind Krauss, “Sculpture in the Expanded Field” (1979)
“NFTs can represent ownership over digital or physical assets. We considered a diverse universe of assets, and we know you will dream up many more.” — EIP-721: Non-Fungible Token Standard Proposal (2018)
“zien: verb. see [verb] to have the power of sight. see [verb] to be aware of by means of the eye. see [verb] to look at. see [verb] to have a picture in the mind. see [verb] to investigate. see [verb] to meet.”