Co-founders of ArtKōrero consultancy Chimere Cissé, left, and Julia Pavlovska.
Co-founders of ArtKōrero consultancy Chimere Cissé, left, and Julia Pavlovska. Image Credit: Supplied

NFTs have created quite a stir, wouldn’t you agree? The non-fungible digital tokens that were once the niche interest of crypto-enthusiasts hit international headlines in March 2021 when digital artist Beeple’s “Everyday: the First 5000 Days” became the first NFT to be auctioned by Christie’s. After exceeding expectations to sell for a staggering $69 million, the auction marked a watershed moment for the movement and would soon be followed by equivalent sales from Sotheby’s and a cascade of digital collectable crazes ranging from cartoon apes to virtual sneakers.

However, while there is an abundance of female entrepreneurs and creative leaders across the arts, the NFT space has so far largely inherited a male skew from its technology and finance antecedents. To get a balanced perspective on the issues that these developments raised, Kurator sought out leading female voices in the nascent NFT sector, Chimere Cissé, an Art Publicist and Collector, working at the intersection of culture, tech innovation and sustainability, and Julia Pavlovska, an Art and NFT advisor; both co-founders of ArtKōrero consultancy.

NFTs are going from strength to strength globally.
NFTs are going from strength to strength globally. Image Credit: Supplied

The Kurator: Tell us a little bit about how you both came to be involved with NFTs.

Chimere Cissé: Julia and I founded our Art Consultancy, ArtKōrero, from a conversation in the back of a taxi during the summer of 2020. We saw a need for artists to be able to monetise their work outside of traditional art spaces, such as galleries and art fairs, which had all temporarily closed due to lockdowns around the world. We knew that private venues and brands wanted to engage with and support artists, but many didn’t know how or have the time to curate unique approaches.

So we launched ArtKōrero to solve this and began initially working with fine artists, producing physical exhibitions and public displays of art across the globe whilst providing guidance on acquisitions to our global collector base.

We were already interested in the blockchain space and had been following the industry’s growth, but it wasn’t until we signed leading NFT artists Marjan Moghaddam, Vesa Kinvenen, Anchorball, Sheikha Awad, Canyon Castator and Thomas Du Bois to ArtKōrero, and we saw artists such as Hans Ulrich and Jordy Kerwick enter the space that we expanded our view of the credibility and talent in the sector. We knew quickly that to be fully representative of art, NFTs had to be something that we not only embraced, but that we supported in terms of providing a curatorial voice for collectors, whilst launching an ecosystem that was simple to use and fairly rewarded the artist.

TK: What does the role of Artistic Director actually look like in the Throne context?

JP: The team at Throne shared our vision from day one. Not only did they want to create a platform that democratised the process of creating NFTs and web3 products, by providing an open ecosystem for all creators, but they were also keen to bring together a diverse group to lead the project, including female NFT creatives and advisors. It has been built by a team that come from different industries for creatives of all kinds.

CC: As Artistic Directors of an NFT ecosystem, our goal is to seek out and onboard the best creative talent in the world. Whether that be from the realm of art, music, or film. The exciting thing about non-fungible tokens is that any digital asset can be minted as an NFT and displayed, kept, or sold. Many of our favourite artists and digital creators are only just now discovering the potential of turning their work into NFTs. We help them to commence their journey.

TK: What changes do we foresee in the arena?

CC: As younger collectors are entering the market, they’re looking beyond traditional media like sculpture, canvas, or works on paper. Collectors emerging from the IT sector are more comfortable with the idea of digital objects holding real value; even the biggest legacy auction houses have had to adapt their business model to cater to the demands of the new audience.

As things stand, most of us still have preconceptions about what digital art looks like viz-a-viz traditional media. But going forward, I anticipate that more and more art will begin to blur the boundary between physical and digital worlds because that’s exactly what’s happening in our everyday lives.

TK: Where do you see the technology making the most impact next?

JP: One of the areas where NFTs are really picking up steam is the relatively new concept of tokenised fashion and virtual wearables. When Dolce & Gabbana ventured into the space this year their NFTs acted as complementary digital versions of physical items, something we’re also seeing in art. But just as some of the biggest NFT sales in the art world have not needed a physical counterpart to prove their worth, there is also a burgeoning market for virtual fashion that takes its cues as much from animation and game design as it does from fashion as we traditionally conceive it.

CC: We’re still at the very beginning stages of an emerging technology - which is super exciting. Adoption will continue to increase and the technology around the industry will expand the accessibility and scalability. I also see huge advances in the integration with artificial intelligence, and as always, where artists pioneer, branding and marketing soon follow. Brands haven’t even touched the sides as to how NFTs and virtual reality can transform their customer’s experience. Ultimately, these two potentials of the new medium can complement each other.

TK: Coming from more of an art background, what’s it like working in a technology venture?

JP: With NFTs we see not just a new tool for artists to work with, but a new vehicle for commercial delivery too. Galleries and dealers like Vito Schnabel and Super Blue are entering the NFT space. This opens up all sorts of exciting possibilities for artists. Just look at Damien Hirst’s latest project—“The Currency”, where each NFT in the collection corresponds to an original physical artwork stored in a secure vault. Eventually, Hirst plans to force owners to choose between the physical and the digital version of the piece they own, with the other version being burnt.

CC: I couldn’t agree more. Web3/NFT development is helping us to better meet the needs of collectors who don’t see physical art as necessarily more “real” than the virtual equivalent. Not so long ago, the idea that you would burn an original painting by Damien Hirst only to receive a digital file would have seemed ridiculous. But we definitely now work with some collectors who believe that it is the NFT that is the ‘true’ version of a work!

TK: Why do you feel there is an imbalance of women in the NFT space, with numbers showing that only 16% of NFTs created in 2020 were by women.

JP: I think that finance and technology have traditionally been male leaning, it’s true. And those being two key underpinnings of NFTs, we see that again reflected. My hope is that by encouraging female-led blockchain projects, it will support more women in entering the space. It was great to see L’Oreal call this out recently - noting the lack of female representation in the space and linking with United Talent Agency to launch an NFT empowering women-led initiatives.

CC: Women are more risk-averse when it comes to financial investments. We generally choose safer options when it comes to stores of value, and that I think plays into the lack of female participation in the NFT sector. We’re passionate that more women should enter the space though. We’re creating a new industry here featuring a new technology, there’s no reason it shouldn’t have equal representation from the beginning.

Gender and racial diversity should be a consideration for all blockchain project decision-makers when hiring and supporting projects. It also comes down to funding. I’m fully aware that Harvard noted that only 2.3% of female start-up founders received VC funding in 2020, down from a record high of 2.8% in 2021. We have a way to go, but communities like FTW DAO [] are leading the way!

TK: Blockchains have come under a lot of criticism for their environmental impact, how do you respond to this criticism?

CC: We are in a climate emergency. If we’re all not seriously reviewing our respective industries and making or leading the necessary changes that will future-proof our planet, then we are going nowhere.

Throne’s NFTs are created using the Ethereum blockchain which uses energy to mint a token. The good news is that changes are being made to reduce the consumption of energy across the blockchain space. One of the changes is that Ethereum will transition from a mining technique called proof-of-work to proof-of-stake. Unlike a proof of work (PoW) protocol, PoS systems do not incentivize extreme amounts of energy consumption. We strongly support any move to reduce carbon emissions and move our entire planet to renewable energies.

TK: Where do you see the NFT sector going in the next five years - what are your next goals?

CC: We want to continue to support artists and collectors in acquiring both physical and NFT art, providing the connecting point between the two, while growing our curatorial reputation.

JP: We also want to expand on our previous work in connecting private venues and brands with incredible artists. Throne has enormous potential for realising multifaceted projects across the Metaverse. I’d love to see it become the go-to platform for artists with ambitious visions.