There will be no apes, punks, or otherwise during Refraction's activities at this year's NFT.NYC. What there will be is a series of digital art and music events whose scope extends far beyond—and often transcends—the madness of the current moment. “I think the most important part of our programming is that it’s less about one specific theme, and more about what Refraction represents as a DAO,” artist and Refraction cofounder Malcolm Levy says. Refraction's events showcase a robust curatorial outlook, encompassing everything from a full-scale multimedia rave to more intimate parties to a (literally) underground gallery presentation. Taken together, Refraction’s events cut through the clutter of Web3 and provide a service more durable than any singular trend or cultural flashpoint: real life community.
The events kick off on June 21st with an installation by the artist Sarah Friend at the Midtown gallery Public Works Administration, which is tucked into the 50th Street subway station in Times Square, next door to a subterranean cocktail lounge. Commissioned by Rhizome, Fingerprints and presented by Rabbithole, the exhibition is titled “Off: Endgame.” It will feature the final drop from Friend’s NFT project Off, alongside a brand new work called Wildcards, which takes inspiration from the world of magic decks.
Off’s 255 unique editions function as both an artist edition and a multiplayer game. Each collector receives a single monochrome black JPEG with encrypted data that only reveals itself if 170 of the 255 collectors work together to combine their respective images. “All my NFT artworks are also systems art pieces,” Friend explains. “A lot of my work is minimal aesthetically.. Possibly one of the most minimal things you can do is just make a black-off phone."
Refraction’s biggest event takes place on Wednesday, the 22nd, at a 50,000 square foot warehouse in Brooklyn. Along with other aligned arts and culture DAOs, Refraction will take over the warehouse and fill two rooms with music and art. In the first, Refraction will exhibit over 70 works from a list of artists that spans generations and continents. Some are founding artists or members of the DAO, while others were invited to create new commissions especially for the night. The show as a whole is designed by Craig Barrow, the British-born, Berlin-based artist and designer known for his work with Nike, Virgil Abloh, and Peggy Gou. Projections, digital screens, prints and installations will intermix as fog from smoke machines drifts just above the floor.
“What’s great about this show is that you’ve got more established artists alongside younger artists from around the world,” says artist and Refraction curator Dina Chang. She points to young Brazilian artist Gabriel Köi, who was at the forefront of the current wave of NFT art, as one example. These artists sit next to seasoned creators whose work is key in understanding the larger historical narrative surrounding NFTs. For many digital artists, NFTs have been the culmination of decades of work on less-than-monetized platforms. “Artists like Lorna Mills and Nicolas Sassoon, they’ve been making work for a long time,” Chang says. “There's a deep lineage of net art here.”
The music portion of the event is just as multigenerational. Over two decades ago, Prefuse 73 pioneered a brand of stuttering, glitchy hip-hop that continues to inspire disparate musical communities the world over. He'll be performing alongside prominent names within the Web3 music space, including Aluna—one half of British duo AlunaGeorge—and the rapper and activist Latashá, who will play a set of dancehall and rap with visuals from the artist Jah. “I’m super hype about what that’s going to look like,” Latashá says about the visuals, which will fuse photographs and 3D animation, and about the show as a whole. “We’re bringing Brooklyn to Refraction.”
Closing out the week, Refraction will present two events on the 23rd, both of which are smaller in scale and more community-focused. Between 4 and 8 PM the DAO will take over programming at The Lot Radio, a hybrid cafe and internet radio station housed in a shipping container situated on a sliver of land between Williamsburg and Greenpoint. “It’s a great community spot, it’s been a great spot for the music scene in New York and creatives in general,” Refraction’s Pauline Le Mell says. She should know: Le Mell served the director of programming at The Lot for five years. “I think it’s a great representation of what can be done at a local level." Kilopatrah Jones, Russell E.L. Butler, musclecars and DJ Wawa will play during Refraction's timeslot.
Overlapping with Refraction’s programming at The Lot is a private artist’s lounge at nearby Cafe Balearica, a two-story Williamsburg venue that contains both a cozy cocktail bar and a basement disco, which Levy calls “safe space to hang out” within the larger chaos of NFT.NYC. “A lot of artists might not be comfortable within this scene, or want to network. They just want to hang out, talk to other artists, other curators,” he says. “It’s important to create these spaces.”