The Harvest: Per Kristian Stoveland’s Love Letter to Science Fiction
Per Kristian Stoveland’s artistic mind inhabits the liminal space between the logical and the playful. A visual artist who fell in love with coding at a young age and the co-founder of the Oslo-based design studio Void, Stoveland has recently found a home for his love of generative art and graphic design in Web3. On January 18, 2023, he released his latest NFT project, The Harvest, on the generative art platform Art Blocks. With a current floor price of 7 ETH and more than 2,684 ETH in trading volume on the secondary market, Stoveland’s first big entry to the Ethereum blockchain has been well-received by the NFT community.
But the artist’s recent foray into Web3 came about somewhat unexpectedly. Specifically, it was on the heels of a passionate return to creating generative art that he had, for some time, put down to focus on client-based work at his design studio.
Thanks to the blockchain, Stoveland has had to reevaluate the trajectory of not only his work but also his artistic identity and career path. That identity has its roots in the cities and towns of Kenya and Zimbabwe, where he spent much of his childhood. Without that experience, Stoveland might never have taken art seriously.
NORAD, Montessori schools, and family
When Stoveland was just two, his parents moved the family to Africa. At the time, his father oversaw Norwegian foreign aid plans for water development in Kenya and Zimbabwe for NORAD. His parents were adamant, however, that they didn’t want Stoveland and his younger brother to receive a typical Norwegian expat education. Instead, they opted to send them to a local Montessori school.
“I’ve become more certain that my time at that Montessori school set a standard for me,” Stoveland explained to nft now with test prints of The Harvest hanging in the background of his home office. “In many ways, my brain works logically and analytically like my father’s. But being dropped into that school kind of fired me on a trajectory which didn’t follow his footsteps. That [education] set a foundation that has always kept me more on the creative or more playful side of things, even though my biology kind of screams for logic,” he said.
After returning to Norway as a teenager, Stoveland started a band with some friends. This serendipitously pushed him toward a career in design, as he decided to take on the task of creating the group’s album cover. Around the same time, he stumbled upon the world of coding. Stoveland fell in love with Adobe Flash, a program that used to dominate the Web2 world, as it had an impressive set of creative tools for building animation and interactivity into websites.
Within a year, Stoveland was making art as an active member of the international generative art community, which he says happily mirrors the generative art NFT community he sees on Twitter today.
“It’s funny, a lot of those people from the Flash heydays I [now] recognize in the NFT community, like Joshua Davis and a few others,” Stoveland says of that historical throughline.
The path to NFTs
After graduating from the Oslo School of Graphic Design in the early 2000s, Stoveland worked as a designer and coder for several years before co-founding Void in 2015. It was in August 2021, when fellow Void co-founder Bjorn Staal released The Liths of Sisyphus on Art Blocks, that NFTs really entered Stoveland’s radar.
“I thought, I can do this [kind of work],” Stoveland recalled of the early days of NFT exploration. “I did do this. Why did I stop?” Unfortunately, Stoveland’s work at Void tends to deal more with logistics and implementation and less with the conceptual or creative processes of the fantastic installations they are known for producing.
But fittingly, much of what Stoveland does at Void is akin to making generative art; however, instead of coming out on a computer screen, it emerges in LED lights and project mappings and various forms of installations. Stoveland ultimately leaned into NFTs as a medium with which to find his way back to a more “pure” form of generative art for himself instead of for a client. To this end, he says that the blockchain has allowed him to focus on a more self-involved and happily indulgent form of creative expression.
“I could put out my art on fxhash, for example, whenever I wanted,” Stoveland explained. “There were a lot of things that were just easier. fxhash made me able to learn a lot about where I want to go [with my art] and about the technical part of NFTs.”
After releasing some smaller-scale projects on fxhash, Stoveland decided to try his luck on Ethereum with a long-form and in-depth project. After months of experimenting with the code that would eventually become the basis for the project, Stoveland approached several well-known NFT platforms to see if they wanted to help launch the collection.
While he was met with a number of positive responses, he took a chance and turned them down. The reason? Art Blocks had approached him to curate his work, not the other way around.
The project that would emerge on that generative platform was The Harvest, a sci-fi lore-infused series of 400 NFTs of digital landscapes of varying color schemes with beams of light shooting out from their topographies. Launched just last month, The Harvest’s collection description details a vague but inspiring narrative of interplanetary beings (The Caretaker and its horde) gearing up for a momentous occasion. It also imparts a sense of celestial awe to the reader.
The “cathedral-like” atmosphere and varied landscapes that define the collection’s visuals draw inspiration from science fiction artist Michael Whelan and architect and illustrator Hugh Ferris, reinforcing the idea of humanity’s insignificance in the grand scale of the cosmos.
And while Stoveland has kept the lore behind The Harvest intentionally ambiguous, so as to potentially expand it in the future with more projects, he invites viewers to use their imaginations to play with what they think the story could be about themselves.
“I’ve always been very interested in sci-fi,” Stoveland said of the project’s origin. “I always thought that, when I retire, I’m going to write a sci-fi book. What I realized when I was thinking about doing these sci-fi books was that maybe I can tell the story, but not do it through books. Maybe I can do it through [visual] art instead. Maybe a next project could be based on the reaction from some antagonist to this Caretaker.”
The collection contains 19 different color palettes, each referencing either a well-known science fiction tradition or universe: Arrakis, Serenity, Thoth, Nostromo, Moya, and more among them. Stoveland named the palettes after creating them, taking a few nights to consider what sci-fi tradition they caused him to think about when he viewed them.
Sharp-eyed NFT collectors have noted that some of these palettes are indeed more unique than others (almost unexpectedly so), and tend to trade hands consistently at double the collection’s floor price. The Nostromo and Sulaco palettes are two such rarity types, which, coincidentally enough, were the palettes that Stoveland considered the “baseline” for the entire project.
Blockchain and generative art: a match made in heaven
Stoveland finds the intersection of blockchain tech and generative art a particularly harmonious one. The large file sizes of images and videos that non-generative visual artists tend to create don’t gel well with the blockchain’s storage capacities — hence the existence of a system like IPFS.
But generative art, according to Stoveland, is “a level above that,” because the file sizes involved are often quite small, allowing artists to store their work directly on chain. “There’s basically no limit to how big a collection can be without increasing the size in any noteworthy sense,” Stoveland says, with an average size of an NFT from his latest collection taking up only around 25 kilobytes of space.
The blessing and burdens of success in Web3
The Harvest’s success has caused Stoveland to rethink how he approaches making art and what his future endeavors might look like. In fact, he says the project has been a significant “turning point” in his life.
“Before the project, [the goal] was just to complete The Harvest, and ‘I’ll think of whatever after that,’” Stoveland says. However, the project’s popularity brought with it certain privileges and responsibilities he never had to consider in the past. “I’m at a point in my life now that I have to see the future maybe a year in advance. My stress level has been much higher than [normal]. I thought it would go down after the drop, but it’s actually gone up,” he said.
However, Stoveland clarifies that this stress isn’t something that outsiders have forced upon him. Rather, it stems from his own personality and the duty he feels to his supporters. “I feel very responsible when I do something. I almost want people to calm down because what if something goes wrong? I feel responsible if somebody loses money or, let’s say, the floor tanks. And I feel that I, personally, am responsible for that tanking. But it’s still a responsibility for something that I’m really fortunate to have,” he explained.
The way that generative art code creates a collector’s NFT can also lead to an interesting new dynamic — one that artists need to account for.
When someone tries to mint a generative art NFT, that token’s code is pulled out by their web browser. The token is then put into the code, and the final result is displayed. Consequently, an artist needs to guarantee that their code will result in the same visual result each time a token is generated (if such variation is not something they are going for). In fact, part of Art Blocks’ process involves an individual taking a particular token from a generative artist’s upcoming collection and displaying it on different browsers and computers to ensure that the NFT is consistent across the board. And so Stoveland is contending with new technical and community-based hurdles.
By his own admission, Stoveland isn’t a “social media guy,” and the NFT community’s heavy reliance on Twitter and online engagement is something he’s still very much getting used to.
“It all feels unreal and insane, to be honest,” Stoveland said. “I’m very happy with the project. I think it looks gorgeous. But people putting that value in it just feeds a kind of impostor syndrome. Again, I’m aware that this is an extremely fortunate position. It’s a very interesting mix of stress and gratefulness.”
That gratitude is evident in the serious way Stoveland is considering the future of his work and what it means to have a relationship with collectors and admirers in Web3, a consideration often absent in the space. Furthermore, in an effort to reward his newfound collector base, Stoveland is making signed physical prints available to all who hold an NFT from The Harvest collection.
But it’s his future work that’s most likely to be the greatest gift of all. And while impostor syndrome has a hard time responding to reason, it’s undeniable that Stoveland has breathed fresh life into the generative art scene in Web3. Now let the man take a break from Twitter. He’s earned it.
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