Last week, we brought you the first part of our interview with Mitchell F. Chan, a Canadian conceptual artist most known in the NFT space for his pioneering digital art project “Digital Zones of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility,” AKA Digital Zones.
We discussed his path as an artist and how he arrived at Digital Zones, NFT history, the importance of art curation in Web3, and much more. If you haven’t read it, go back and check it out.
Today, we bring you the second half of our interview with Mitchell, where we focus on his latest NFT project ’Boys of Summer,’ launching on August 16th on the wild.xyz marketplace.
The following interview has been edited for concision and clarity.
Nate Kostar: All right, so let’s talk a little bit about the new NFT project that’s being released on August 16th, ‘The Boys of Summer.’
Mitchell F. Chan: Boy, oh boy, how much time you got? (laughing) So okay, The Boys of Summer, it’s a big, complicated project with multiple moving parts…
I like to break the project into three elements, I think, because at first it looks like a PFP project — but it’s not exactly a normal PFP project. Then it looks like a baseball RPG video game — but it’s not a baseball RPG video game. And then it looks like this networked performance that happens in the markets.
I can walk through each element of this. One of the big inspirations for this project was PFP culture, and in particular, early PFP culture. I learned a lot hanging around with OG punks and seeing how their culture developed in this very honest way before money and a lot of attention came into this space. They developed a language of companionship and a real community — community that takes a couple of years to develop. And then I watched the evolution of what happened. I watch the evolution of the discourse around PFPs and what they start to represent in the space.
So, these pieces start off looking like PFPs. This is a collection of 999 PFPs. And crucially, the only traits that you’ll find on the marketplace are their names and their position. The position might be first base, left field, catcher, whatever. But their aesthetic qualities are not enumerated in traits. They’re not going to be searchable by the marketplace.
And then those PFPs, which I think are nice — I created them very lovingly — but they can be plugged into this game. This game is open and it’s a web app and it’s tokenized. It’s a one of one unique artwork. And this artwork, the game, is the hub for the entire network of collectors.
When you connect your wall to the game, you see your PFPs and you start playing this game that looks a lot like a baseball game. The first thing you do is you choose a number for your Jersey for your character. Your lucky number, 23 or whatever it is. You click Continue. Then you get to put some stats, some points into your stats, hitting, throwing, whatever, and you click Continue. Then those numbers make new numbers for you. Then you get a batting average, home runs, etc.
The cycle continues and you get to see the numbers go up and down. This is what we do. This is what our NFT PFP culture has become. It’s a game of watching numbers go up and down. But eventually this thing progresses and it stops being about baseball.
I won’t give away too much of it, but eventually your player may not be a baseball player, but your screen is filling up with more and more boxes of numbers and statistics and you have to choose them. You may have to choose how much money you spend each month investing and how much money you choose to spend paying off your student loans.
And you will click Continue, and there will be another box for your net worth and your net worth will go up and down and your credit rating may change and then your credit card interest rates goes up or down. More and more statistics keep filling up your screen until the game, until your window, which used to just show your happy smiling PFP with their funny glasses and their cool lifestyle, is just filled up with boxes and statistics—which is to me the imagery of our times.
Our notion of self as a human beings with skin and eyeballs and blood and saliva, a big meat bag, becomes replaced with my perception of self as a collection of data. And then crucially, that leads us to the final element of the project, which is that as you are playing this game, all that that data that you were generating about yourself, whether it’s your home runs or your net worth or your number of legal dependents, is getting saved in the token URI associated with your metadata.
Now your PFP, which started off in the marketplace just as an image with the only metadata being its name and its position as right fielder, there’s 60 different traits that are all sortable and that are going to be valued by the market in some ways, whether the market decides that they value home runs or whether the market decides that they value your SAT score.
That’s what we’re doing. It’s like what we’re doing. We’re existing to generate data that can be ranked and scored, etc. It will be. The place where all our data is ranked and sorted is markets. This is true in NFTs and it’s true in PFPs.
PFPs are an incredibly apt reflection of the times we live in because, of course, it’s also true in our own life. My data belongs to Google and Google decides how valuable my data is when they sell it to whatever mortgage and loan company, etc. And so all these different levels. I’m taking you from baseball as a place where we begin to get comfortable with people as a collection of stats, right? And NFTs. And I’m bringing them together to us living a life where we are nothing but data. And then I’m making it happen in the marketplace.
Nate Kostar: Okay. So, you’re playing with this idea of the ‘quantification of self’ and I wonder, it’s almost a willingness to accept this data as being important to our lives. Is there any way within the system to reject the accumulation of this data?
Mitchell F. Chan: The only winning move! (laughs). No, there’s no way. And here’s the thing. It’s fun to play the game and add data to your character because it’s fun in real life. It’s fun to use my Fitbit. It’s fun to use your Apple Fitness app. You have some control over it. You can replay the game again and again to get better stats. You have some control over it, but then ultimately no control over what happens to it and what people can see.
Nate Kostar: I want to conclude with one question. It seems like with lot of your artwork, including this NFT collection, you’re really concerned with asking questions and giving the user or audience space to ponder and contemplate. Do you think the artist’s job is more to ask questions than to answer them?
Mitchell F. Chan: Yes, absolutely. Here’s the thing. If you have the answer, if there’s a question that you have about the world and you have the answer, please put down your paint brush and go be a politician or something. Please go and solve the problems of the world if you have the answer.
But as an artist, I look at the world, I have questions about it. I have questions about where this drive to quantify ourselves comes from. I have some ideas about it, but I wouldn’t say that I’ve solved it. You make art to rephrase a question. You make art to take a question that is big and unwieldy and put it in a form where it seems manageable, where you can poke at it, where you can take it apart and help people think better about it, or help people think better around it.
And yeah, that’s what I believe good art does. It has a clearly defined understanding of what its question is, what section of the world out there we’re trying to analyze and talk about, and it just helps a viewer think about it in a different way.
To learn more about Mitchell F. Chan and ‘The Boys of Summer’ NFT collection click here.