Anyone keeping an eye on today’s tech space will have heard of the craze surrounding cryptocurrency, blockchain, and the digital art medium known as non-fungible tokens (also known as NFTs).
For those still unclear about what NFTs are and how they work, they’re basically digital crypto tokens with completely unique properties that can’t be replicated – hence their popularity as a digital art medium. Click here for a more in-depth explanation.
And among the countless NFT creators in the space, one doing pretty well for herself is none other than celebrated Malaysian artist Red Hong Yi.
With her penchant for architectural design, Sabah-born Red has over the years created incredible pieces of physical art that captivate and intrigue on a visual and cerebral level.
From creating a portrait of Jackie Chan out of bamboo chopsticks to setting fire to a miniature map of Earth made from matches for TIME Magazine, her many art pieces have only served to highlight her capability to provoke thought about the world around us via the most visually-stimulating ways possible.
More recently, Red’s artistic pursuits have led her right into the world of blockchain and cryptocurrency, where she’s managed to already make a splash with a couple of early pieces parodying traditional fiat currency (as opposed to decentralized cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum).
Her latest NFT release is a series titled Memebank, and builds upon her inaugural Doge To The Moon by spoofing real-world fiat currencies with elements of internet satire culture.
Seizing the opportunity, we took a minute to talk to Red about her new series, and her thoughts and musings on the whole NFT space in general.
Getting into crypto art.
Talking about how her NFT journey began, Red revealed that it was only at the end of 2020 when she actually discovered crypto through a bunch of knowledgeable acquaintances.
While discussing the subject, Red’s friends talked her through the scene and explained to her the essentials of blockchain technology, and the various ways crypto’s decentralized nature posed a stark contrast against the controlled nature of today’s economy.
“From there, I really wanted to get into crypto,” she said. “But then they told me that I was in the unique position to actually create digital art within the crypto space – that was also just before the whole NFT scene exploded into what it is now.”
“At first, I didn’t understand,” she added. “I didn’t know how NFTs worked, so I waited and tried learning before the time was right to jump into the space.”
Unsurprisingly, Red’s eventual leap into the scene was nothing short of a success, with her singular Doge To The Moon selling for a whopping 36.3 ETH in July 2021 this year (approximately US$78,000 at the time). The piece featured both a digital and physical artwork, with the popular Doge/Dogecoin meme juxtaposing the elements of the Chinese Yuan.
“The idea behind Doge To The Moon was all about parodying the nature of fiat money, where any amount of it can be printed at any time,” she explained. “I made it so whoever owned Doge To The Moon also owned the base copper plate, and can print as many copies of it as desired.”
Next, Red followed up her first piece with another eye-catching NFT collaboration – also a parody of traditional money – with TIME Magazine.
As part of the TIMEPieces series, Red created a dynamic animated image of a little girl from Borneo standing within a two-dimensional pixelated world (like in Super Mario) who must choose between fiat money and crypto, with a giant banknote issued by the imaginary Memebank floating in the air above.
“The banknote in the center reflects a changing perception of currencies and their role in our time,” Red explained on her TIMEPieces feature page. “This banknote is issued by Memebank, a parody central bank that pokes fun at fiat currencies with crypto meme culture.”
“Hidden in this banknote are ‘easter eggs’ such as morse codes, a very pixelated ‘decentralized’ text, and even smaller pixelated icons,” she added. “I hope we will build a better future so that little girls will be empowered to choose their own adventures in a world that celebrates nature, technology, and the human race.”
Welcome to the Memebank.
Moving on from TIMEPieces, Red has now gone all-in on the fiat money spoofing with her latest Memebank series, which is nothing less than an expansion on Doge To The Moon.
“Just like previously, I did Memebank to spoof the whole concept of fiat money. This time, I expanded the concept and brought in five more different currencies from around the world – the Japanese Yen, British Pound, Singapore and U.S. Dollars, and of course, Malaysian Ringgit.”
She explained that just like the original spoof, the Memebank NFTs would each come with their own physical versions that will be eventually shipped to respective owners once auctions are completed.
Take a look at the new individual pieces below:
1. Satoshi Says NOPE (Japanese Yen)
Description: Inspired by the Japanese Yen banknote, “Satoshi says NOPE” is a phrase by a meme after Satoshi Nakamoto, the name used by the presumed pseudonymous person or persons who developed Bitcoin.
2. Awkward Monkey Buys the Dip (British Pound)
Description: Inspired by the British Pound, “Awkward Monkey Buys the Dip” depicts the situation of poking fun at those who claimed that Bitcoin was a scam or ponzi scheme, but are keen on buying the dip today. “Buy the dip” is a phrase to encourage people to invest when a stock has dropped its price.
3. The Praying Otter (Singapore Dollar)
Description: Inspired by the Singapore Dollar, “The Praying Otter” depicts a viral meme of an otter in a praying stance, hoping to become a whale. A whale is a term for holders with large amounts of cryptocurrencies. The otter meme was chosen for the Singapore dollar as a tribute to the family of native otters that have become a popular local and tourist attraction since they were first spotted in 2014.
4. Diamond Hands (U.S. Dollar)
Description: Inspired by the U.S. Dollar, “Diamond Hands” depicts a derivative of the Wall Street Bets meme with antennas resembling the Reddit logo, holding diamonds. “Diamond hands” is a term that refers to traders’ abilities to hold their position regardless of downturns or losses in hopes for eventual gain.
5. Where Lambo? (Malaysian Ringgit)
Description: Inspired by the Malaysian Ringgit, “Where Lambo?” depicts impatient orangutans questioning when their Lambo (short for Lamborghini) will arrive after buying cryptocurrencies. The bunch of bananas in the banknote takes reference from the currency issued by the Japanese occupation in Malaya in the 1940s to supply authorities with money, which resulted in hyperinflation and a severe depreciation in the value of banana notes.
Her thoughts on the crypto art space.
Now with Red looking as if she’s completely embraced the NFT art scene, we decided to next ask her what she likes so much about the space.
“I love projects that can create a sense of community around their art, which is why I was so honored to be part of TIMEPieces, where so many artists from around the world came together for a common passion,” she said.
“As for other projects, I also love Cool Cats because of how cute and friendly it is. I think people from all age groups can enjoy it,” she added. “Then there’s also the breeding feature to come, and the whole sense of community the project has created!”
Additionally, Red also shouted out Damien Hurst’s NFT project The Currency, which forces buyers to choose between owning a digital or physical version of the art piece, with the final choice resulting in the other being destroyed forever.
“I think this is a really clever experiment because it really makes people decide between what they really want and value more – especially with everything becoming more digital nowadays,” she said.
She also gave special mention to the Malaysian chapter of NFXT.io – a collective supporting and promoting crypto artists.
“I realized how important it is to be in a supportive group if you’re an NFT artist, and NFXT.io has helped Malaysian artists come together, grow, and start important conversations,” she said. “It’s all about helping each other out, and this is one of those groups that’s great to get into to connect with other like-minded people.”
But despite her affinity for the scene, Red says that she’s also under no illusions that everything is perfect – especially with so many looking at the space as a way to make a quick buck.
“What I dislike is the crowds of people just looking to flip a profit, and so many just entering the space for the sake of making money,” she said. “I’ve seen many say that they’re upset because they didn’t make a profit on a piece. I think this eventually harms the artists that create their work in earnest.”
“But with this still being such a new technology, I guess this is to be expected, and it’ll take time to stabilize,” she added. ”Ideally, people should go in to buy things they like, and liking the things they own – as with traditional art.”
Before ending our chat, Red was kind enough to leave some words of wisdom for other aspiring artists looking to find success in the NFT scene.
“Before anyone enters the scene, I’d tell them to be patient. Many people think that just because NFTs are blowing up, they have to get into it right away. I think that’s untrue,” she said. “NFTs are really just like any other art market where you have to consider your brand, strategize, and actually create good art.”
“Also, one of the biggest takeaways is that you must build a following online, be it on Intagram, Facebook, or especially for the NFT scene – Twitter and Discord,” she added. “Because even if you create great NFT art, you need to consider where the eyeballs are coming from, and who will care about the things you create.”
Check out the Memebank series.
Red Hong Yi’s latest NFT series Memebank has launched and is now being auctioned off as individual pieces on the Ethereum-based NFT marketplace OpenSea.
A live exhibition featuring the physical copies of each NFT will be held following the end of the auctions, with dates set to be announced soon.
You can click here to learn more about Red’s Memebank pieces, and perhaps even submit a bid yourself on OpenSea before individual auctions end between November 22 to November 26, 2021.
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Cover image sourced from Annice Lyn and Studio Red Hong Yi.