Hackatao needed NFTs before they existed.
After forming in Milan back in 2007, they started creating digital art right away. At the time, however, audiences weren't so privy to the value and worth of digital art.
"We often had to transfer our digital creations to physical mediums such as paintings and sculpture."
Hackatao is a duo based in the metaverse. I'm speaking to them via video chat in a Seoul cafe. It's evening for me, morning for them. I don't see their faces, however, as their profile pic is one of their artworks.
Hackatao explains that although they've consistently experimented with physical mediums such as ceramics, paintings and graphite drawings, their "roots have always been digital."
The advent of blockchain technology and NFTs allowed them to "return to our digital DNA" and to “wholly embrace the virtual nature of our work."
In 2018, Hackatao stumbled upon the art and tech blog Artnome. The blog's creator, Jason Bailey, predicted the current NFT boom back in late 2017 through his article on "blockchain art."
Bailey's piece on "CryptoArt" in January 2018 captivated Hackatao by describing a "digitally native, geographically agnostic, pro-artist and decentralized ecosystem." Right away, Hackatao knew they wanted to become a part of this ecosystem.
They contacted Bailey, who put them in touch with John Crain of SuperRare, which wasn't operational at the time. Hackatao went on to become one of the first artists listed on SuperRare, which has since evolved into one of the NFT industry's most sought-after platforms.
When I met Crain on a beach in Miami in December 2021, he told me he liked the pop-art style of Hackatao because it reminded him of the skateboard graphics of his days growing up in southern California.
"We've experimented with a variety of platforms. Some of them didn't last, while others are still around today."
Hackatao has an unmistakable, distinct style. While there are certainly elements of pop art in their art, a closer examination reveals the duo's experimentation with painting, sculpture and graphic illustrations. Much of their work contains drawings within drawings. What appears before you is an intricate tapestry of various worlds connected to each other.
Hackatao is an amalgamation of the words "hack" and "tao," the latter concept deriving from taoism -- the everlasting dynamic between yin and yang.
"'Hack' stands for the pleasure of going under the skin and discovering what lies beneath, while 'tao' stands for Yin and Yang, the inventive dynamic balance."
If you look at enough Hackatao pieces, you start to get a sense of what they mean. Their work often contains so many elements that seem to clash and harmonize at the same time.
One of their most famous works is a recreation of Da Vinci's "Head of a Bear." Their version is called "Hack of a Bear," and resurrects Da Vinci's sketch via a 3D animation.
The piece was ignited by a proposal from Christie's and the collector who possessed "Head of a Bear." Hackatao describes the work as a "posthumous collaboration."
"While extensively researching Da Vinci’s oeuvre, we found several parallels between our practice and his. From his love of nature and science to his multidisciplinary experimental spirit -- even dyslexia."
While exploring the Hackatao universe, you'll also encounter creatures that Hackatao calls "Podmorks." These are "little totemic creatures" that are sculpted in ceramics and "decorated with drawings and vibrant acrylic colors."
"They [podmorks] mark the beginning of an experimentation period for us of the meeting and merging of our two diverse styles."
Many Hackatao pieces seem to share a common theme or characters, including often topless women whose skin is covered in drawings.
"Our work is inspired by everyday events and our surroundings. We also take inspiration from the pop world and historical references. Some subjects are close to our hearts, like climate change. We emphasize being close to nature."
Hackatao say their work often explores the theme of fear and fighting fear -- taking the burden of fear and turning it into something positive, something that drives you forward.
"Sometimes we like to step away from things to read philosophy and history. It gives us perspective as to how different our present is from the past. We like to highlight those differences."
Hackatao's main pursuit these days is the Queens+Kings project, which was inspired by requests from the duo's Discord community. The project launched in July 2021 in partnership with NFT Studios.
Queens+Kings is a series of PFP avatars that can be customized, or "hacked" by the users. The project invites users to become "your own creative sovereign." Hackatao clarifies, however, that this is an artistic project, not a PFP project.
"We simply realized that the PFP market has been severely limited, as it doesn't allow users to customize the traits of their avatars. This project aims to create and develop art in the PFP world."
Hackatao takes in daily feedback from its user community. Hackatao uses this feedback to consistently create and release new avatar traits that users can incorporate into their PFPs.
"We want this project to become a milestone in the crypto world and PFP space, a place where collectors can become co-creators."
Hackatao is holding a contest in its Discord community for pieces that will be exhibited at the Non-Fungible Conference in Lisbon on Apr. 4-5. Users can hack avatars to creatively express themselves. A community jury will select 25 avatars for the exhibition.
"Queens+Kings is a genderless project. Our aim is to become more inclusive and bring down social constructs that only keep us from moving forward."
Hackatao has created a roadmap for the Queens+Kings project that extends to 2023 and onwards, ever-evolving.
"We hope this is just the beginning of a long journey."
Before concluding our chat, Hackatao informs me that they're planning an exhibit in Korea for this upcoming spring and summer. The goal is to explore the relationship between the crypto NFT art space and the museum space. They're collaborating with the creative agency Numomo and the D’strict and Arte Museum in Gangneung.
Spectators should expect an interactive animation with physical and virtual properties. Hackatao insist that they are "in love with Korea," with which they feel "a special connection."
"We are always glad to participate in projects in Korea."
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