A colossal wave crashing onto the two-sided rectangular LED display on the external façade of COEX in Seoul’s Gangnam district was a sight that captivated many Seoulites. They stopped to stare, mesmerised, into a three-dimensional tank of screens that offered a cathartic visual experience.
On the other side of the world, a larger-than-life waterfall flowed in the middle of Times Square in New York, stealing the show amid the visual noise of its surroundings.
WAVE (2020) and Waterfall-NYC (2021) by South Korean digital media design company d’strict are two of many public artworks that astonished crowds amidst the pandemic and catapulted the firm to fame with their instantly-recognisable, captivating aesthetic. Both pieces were created using anamorphic illusion, a type of projection technique used to create an illusion of depth and three-dimensionality.
While d’strict now frequently collaborates with big-name brands, a’strict – the artistic arm of the company – is open to digital media artists from both within d’strict and outside. A’strict functions as an art collective creating non-commercial artwork with more creative freedom.
‘Among our projects, WAVE was the most popular. I think it came from the unexpectedness of the artwork in the middle of the city. No one would expect a wave to be there and to be so real,’ said Sang Jin Lee, vice president at d’strict. ‘Timing worked well for us because we became well-known during the pandemic. Waves and waterfalls in the middle of the city provided solace and were a stress reliever for many, in times of frustration. I think this made our work connect with the audience,’ she says.
Starry Beach (2020), exhibited at Kukje Gallery in Seoul in September 2020, is an example. Maximising sight and sound, a’strict created an intuitive and immersive beach experience, which enthusiastic visitors queued for hours to see. Morando (2021), which was shown at the much-acclaimed ‘LUX: New Wave of Contemporary Art’ show at London’s 180 The Strand, uses an X-ray technique to depict infinitely blooming peonies and the ethereal cycle of life.
‘A’strict focuses on intuitive artwork which can be enjoyed without prior knowledge of art and something that can resonate with people’s everyday lives,’ Lee explains. ‘Nature is a theme that people can intuitively resonate with and immerse in, and also gives them a sense of comfort.’
Through immersive digital art installations, both d’strict and a’strict aim to bring nature closer to people’s lives. D’strict’s own exhibition space, Arte museum, is structured around nature-orientated themes such as ‘beach’, ‘wave’, ‘waterfall’, ‘forest’, ‘flower’, ‘garden’, and ‘jungle’, to name a few. The museums are currently located in Jeju, Busan, Gangneung and Yeosu in Korea, with d’strict’s first overseas branch having debuted in Hong Kong in October 2022. Plans for 2023 include museums in Las Vegas, New York, Los Angeles, and Chengdu.
As well as anamorphic illusion, generative art technology is also an integral part of a’strict’s work. A recent collaboration with crypto artist duo Hackatao resulted in Spirit Forest Incanto, in which a reindeer changes its colour subject to the movement and behaviour of visitors. The colour of the reindeer – red, green, yellow, etc. – is responsive to how visitors walk towards them or touch them. Using code, the reindeer can generate multiple appearances that shift based on subjective input.
A’strict will soon launch a flower project titled Mugunghwa, which uses generative technology to produce multiple variations of Korea’s national flower. The aim is to create 815 different variations of the flower to be sold as NFT editions, meaning that each collector can own a unique version. The flower will be incubated and exhibited from the seed stage in one museum, then presented as a blossomed flower in a travelling show across Arte museums across Korea.
‘Using a technology called real-time engine, the flower will be coded to bloom and die continuously and change its colours. The characteristic of generative art is that there is no beginning and end. The work keeps moving,’ said Lee.
‘For example, if we code to create five red flowers in five types of shapes with five different stems, we will have multiple random variations possible within this setting. We can also program it to reflect the reality, such as when it snows, the flower will be white, if it rains, it will turn yellow and so on.’
D’strict also has a crypto art project arm called Arte Meta under which these NFT projects are handled.
The digital revolution in generative art emerged due to NFTs, says Lee. ‘For NFT artworks, many of them have to be mass-produced and often each one represents each person’s identity so each work would have to be unique. Unfortunately, it is difficult to create 10,000 different variations of an artwork,’ she said.
‘People started using generative technology to produce random variations of works. What differentiates generative art from randomness, however, is that combinations will be made from pre-coded settings.’
D’strict’s next project will touch on environmental issues. ‘Ice’ will be a work of anamorphic illusion of the arctic melting, exhibited at one of its Arte museums. ‘It won’t be an explicit statement on saving the environment, but it can send a message indirectly,’ said Lee.
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