Cosmic Reef, a New Collection of Digitally Native Work by Leo Villareal

Minting his first set of NFTs, the artist is already at home in this medium

Non Fungible Tokens (NFTs) have unlimited utility as essentially traceable serial numbers in the decentralized web3 world. For artists, they’re an invaluable tool to authenticate, protect and ensure royalties from their digital work. NFTs are often minted for static illustrations and many of these pieces are the subject of hype media given their massive trading values in crypto communities. The NFT art I’m most excited about is work that is generated by code that is minted into the NFT itself—it’s akin to the instructions for a Sol Lewit wall drawing because the owner of those instructions is the owner of the work, not the venue where the walls get painted. Joey Roth‘s Vector Field was the first example of this approach I became familiar with a few months back and Leo Villareal‘s forthcoming Cosmic Reef I find tremendously exciting. Where this gets even more interesting is that the act of minting a piece, which happens at time of purchase, generates a unique character string that is used by the artwork’s code to influence how the final work takes form.

I first met Villareal in graduate school in 1997 when I took his digital video class, and have had the privilege of witnessing the evolution of his work ever since. While I previously thought the “Bay Lights” project was his ultimate masterpiece, I’m reassigning that label to Cosmic Reef. He’s an artist whose base medium is code, and the physical display of his art is in many ways a service to the software itself. “I have always used software to drive light sculptures that exist in the physical world,” he shares. “NFTs present an opportunity and mechanism to distribute my art in a purely digital form which enables me to connect to a new audience and community. Each Cosmic Reef iteration is not just a single image or short video. It is live code that’s being run in real time, creating its own 3D world.”

Cosmic Reef is a realization of the similarities we see in the textures from outer space, underwater and much of nature in between. The animations we’ve seen so far in this teaser video are visceral, familiar and enchanting all at once. As Villareal describes, “A particular order can be found in deepest space, in our oceans and forests, and in all living things, including ourselves—a unified code producing endless variation. Gravity and cosmic winds shape star-forming nebulas into coral-like forms. Flowers self-organize in a radial symmetry with signals hidden from the human eye. Stars are birthed, explode, collapse, and are reborn. Invertebrates move on the tides of oceans, signaling with ever-changing bioluminescence. Light bends time as events unfold in our own lives.”

Launching on Monday, 24 January, at 1PM EST, Cosmic Reef is a collection of 1,024 unique digital works. Pieces will be sold at Art Blocks through a Dutch auction beginning at five ETH (Ether) and declining over time until a purchase is made. Mint here. If you’re new to this blockchain world or just to the Art Blocks platform, this beginner’s guide is very helpful and worth a read before diving into the Cosmic Reef.

Images courtesy of Leo Villareal