This is what density and lightness look like in artist Case Simmons’ 2021 Clouds on Chains series:
To start with, two decades browsing the infinity of images on the web. Searching via multiple engines for an object, word, tenor, colour. The images that appear are shaped by what others have searched for before. The lightness of the absent-minded muscle memory of a billion human thumbs searching for the thing flickering through their mind in the moment, the deep cultural anxiety of that, and the density and gravity of the image search as a paradigmatic POV. Some of the Clouds on Chains materials are from Yahoo and Flickr searches 15 years ago; intended and unintended splinters of algorithmic pathways, fragments of the global movement of information in our recent history.
Next, the photoshop-native practice of polygon lassoing and cutting the collected images. The literal chains in Clouds on Chains have been loosened from bikes, chainsaws, chain fences, chain mail, from necks of the famous and anonymous, from online jewellery $3 to $3000. Through this labour, untethering the content from its photographic genesis, releasing it from its background to hover in transparent .png space.
Then, categorising a million images, on digital palettes and in dense libraries stored on a heavy server somewhere.
Searching, seizing, preparing, archiving.
The next steps of Case’s process have taken a 2021 leap. Twin upheavals - the gravity of a global pandemic, and the fizzing exuberance of a nascent way to make, sell and collect art through NFTs – have reacquainted him with digital space and code. The switch to digital space has burst open the scale of his work. At 420 x full scale pieces, Clouds on Chains (and its audience) could not fit in a gallery. Viewing in digital space finally fully empowers the depth and detail of each artwork.
A two-decade creative practice that grew from and with the web has come home.
Case has designed and written the algorithm that now assembles the images, piece by piece, through their categories, tones, and traits. Clouds in crepuscular, high noon, sunrise, and midnight constructions; chains in metal, gold, and platinum; a spectrum of colours. They layer up - arranging, shifting, rescaling, rotating, relating, overlapping, distorting, blurring, fading, contrasting, harmonising, finding their position in the whole. A controlled mix of cloud & chain imagery, shifting coloration, and various backgrounds, balancing on a taut line between intention and surprise.
How are we let into the creation of an artwork? Often art is understood as a solitary practice, the process invisible and guarded, the final outcome admitted only when complete and beneficial to sales. Some technology-led generative art celebrates the process (the code) as the creation itself, that, by being on chain, is implicitly open.
Case’s work overlaps these two social practices of art. His works have been installed, complete, in physical galleries and museums for years, where people viewing them have come up close, noses almost touching the print, trying to imagine the six-month process of how this was made. And now his digital art practice has extended into NFTs, opening new gaps for a community to form around the artist and the work as it develops.
CASE: I went into this intentionally with an attitude of trust and optimism. I asked and listened to the community, and I knew right away that the people I was meeting were the ones building it.
Those people are the smart contract engineers and front-end designers and developers that are essential and recognised partners in NFT projects, plus people who encouraged, guided, collected and connected. The connections build up - searching, relating, layering, contrasting, harmonising, 6-degrees of separation, weak ties, strong ties, overlapping circles, chats, likes, retweets, dense, casual, irreverent, light, algorithmic, global.
Clouds on Chains already bears the fingerprints of the community who will collect it. Clouds, chains, a series numbering 420 x pieces... this is playful, there are little smiles and nods everywhere.
The community scaffold has supported Case’s release of Clouds on Chains as an independent project, revealing (again) the rich possibilities for digital art beyond a traditional gallery model or a traditional-gallery-model-applied-to-NFT-mechanics. The traditional model that has deeply structured the way art is made, viewed and valued, is currently inadequate for this art community and moment. Gatekeeping and scarcity can dampen social and cultural outcomes.
CASE: The infrastructure of the traditional gallery can't hold all the artists to make the community thrive. The art world could learn so much from web3, but hesitancy to do so just reinforces outdated dynamics of collector-dealer-artist.
Decentering away from a platform/gallery and into creative ownership of production, curation, marketing, sales, risk and reward depends on connections and community; it’s the interdependence of independence. In this profound 2021 leap, art practice expands, and artists apply their creativity and labour to the full spectrum of activities, or where they can’t, their peers can, transparently. And, as doesn’t need to be said, the audience has expanded too - outside the gallery to the digital-prime community.
You can’t detach the Clouds on Chains collection from its creative process or from its culture and community, they are woven together, but the result is this:
CASE: A simple idea executed to the max. A programmatic visual tapestry that is provocatively psychological, immersive, explorative.
Stepping away from the process and coming up close to the complete work, nose almost touching (now with a thumb-and-forefinger zoom), dive into the detailed, dense, heavy image that fills and echoes horror vacui, the fear of emptiness. Zoom in again: irreverent details, exuberance, joy, and lightness.
Clouds on Chains by Case Simmons is released December 22nd 2021 at cloudsonchains.xyz