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Collector Bingley Sim collecting his 'Kiss' Mother-in-Law from artist George Burchett at A+ Works of Art, Kuala Lumpur, August 2023

Real World Art: Meet your Digital Twins

When a hand-made original art work by artist George Burchett is created uniquely in four different forms or ‘dimensions’ — 3D Printed Sculpture, 3D Digital in Augmented Reality, 2D Pigment Ink Print and 2D Digital — which is the original?

The simple answer is that there are four originals, each a unique one-of-one art work. However, with digital ‘bits’ able to be replicated perfectly, it is the pairing of the 2D and 3D physical, traditionally signed, dated and numbered one-of-ones, with their identical digital twins that makes the original digital forms so special and appealing.

George’s ‘Mother-in-Law’ project, initiated in June 2021 and developed with technology and project support from NIYOS, is perhaps a first for the art world: a showcase for the possibilities of original art works and other treasured objects existing in those four dimensions simultaneously.

Art works in digital form have many compelling attractions and applications. They can be enjoyed and shared far more widely and conveniently than physical art works ever can be. They can also be replicated and experienced in many more ways, both in the physical and digital worlds, making them valuable in their own right. Yet many institutions and collectors have justifiably felt uncomfortable to collect purely digital art, due to future uncertainty surrounding what might be considered original.

The NFT mania of 2021-22 briefly (over-) promised to turn digital art works into certified originals on their own. The reality for most is that Non-Fungible Tokens (NFT) are essentially just a secure public certificate of ownership of a pointer to a digital storage location, much as a web browser URL (address) points to a web page, which may or may not exist in future.

With most NFTs issued to date, the pointer could be followed to access freely the original digital image/object data, which can then be replicated perfectly to create another “original”. Only copyright law protects the data from legal replication and onward sale or exploitation. But with many mass-produced, machine-generated “art works” that were issued as NFTs, the copyright law requirement to be created by a human to be protected was significantly missing. With digital art works that can be easily, perfectly and legally replicated, most would see little to no value beyond the hype.

Tokenisation does have extraordinarily important and valuable application, especially in providing an immutable public ledger of history of issuance and ownership, which has long been a major difficulty facing the physical collectibles world, but the significant mis-steps with NFTs have temporarily distracted attention from those benefits. 

The ‘Mother-in-Law’ project with NIYOS addresses the question of how to ensure digital art remains unique. It combines development and application of leading technologies with artist-created original works to create pieces of enduring substance and future creative application and enjoyment.

So perhaps the longer answer is that multi-dimensional art has its greatest strength when all dimensions are considered together as one original. Existing simultaneously in multiple dimensions starts to sound like quantum physics. That is for another day.


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