This Artist Is the Only Filipino Included in Art Basel Hong Kong's Pioneering Interactive Art Exhibit
At this point, Bjorn Calleja has become one of the most talked-about names in contemporary Filipino art. His humanoid characters are surreal, monstrous, and cartoony, making his forms the perfect medium to capture the folly of human routine and personal transfiguration. This time, he's using his NFT animations to conquer Art Basel Hong Kong 2022 as part of the exhibit NFTs + The Ever-Evolving World of Art.
Prior to even being introduced to the concept of NFTs, the Far Eastern University alumnus was already experimenting with animation from his previous paintings. "There was no platform to exhibit and market them as artworks at that time, so I thought minting them would be perfect," he said.
The animator-painter started minting on the the Tezos blockchain back in April 2021. He had jumped face-first into the Hicetnunc, as well.
"I jumped early on Hicetnunc, which launched in March 2021, so everyone was excited and the energy of the community at that time was through the roof," he said. "I was able to meet and connect with a lot of good people, artists, and NFT collectors, being able to reach an audience this supportive and encouraging opened up new doors for both me and my art."
In May 2022, Calleja is—lack for a better term—"far out there" in the underbelly of the Filipino NFT gallery scene.
Grotesque in the most playful of ways, Calleja's Art Fair Philippines exhibition Unknown Unknowns earlier this year showcased his boldly augmented signature macabre figurations, fluorescent colors, and droopy eyes to a wider audience. We can distinguish Calleja's style for its careful, satirical interplay of micro-and macrocosms of humans in constant dialogue with themselves and the environments they're in.
At Art Basel Hong Kong, he brings these same fragmentations of reality and the individual to an even brighter spotlight. "The Exit" and "Violencia" were part of that same local art fair exhibition, but now they're going to have a super-sized public viewing. He's globalizing Filipino NFT spaces at the leading contemporary art fair in the world.
"These animations are created from physical paintings where I paint each frame and character as micro paintings within my painting. It allows for the play in scale when viewing the work and also adds another layer of meaning, raising questions such as 'Do these little people affect the bigger picture?'" he told Esquire Philippines.
Calleja is the only Filipino artist whose work is going to be included during Art Basel Hong Kong's pioneering interactive art exhibit entitled NFTs + The Ever-Evolving World of Art. The show was designed in collaboration with FXhash, the leading generative art platform on the Tezos blockchain. It's organized by blockchain firm TZ APAC and Art Basel, and runs until May 29 at Hong Kong’s Convention & Exhibition Center.
Along with more than 20 contemporary "generative" digital artists, Calleja's art style hopes to transcend gimmicks. “I think, as a contemporary artist minting NFTs, value should exceed utility and marketing gimmicks, nothing against them but I understand that it’s a long game and there is more to Art than these tangibles.”
Some of the other international artists featured in the exhibit include the likes of Nicolas Sassoon of France, Mumu the stan from Malaysia, Aleksandra Jovani? of Serbia, Matt DesLauriers of Canada, Park Se Jin (08AM) of South Korea, and many more.
With exhibits like this, we see how the art world can endure the digital age with this new generation of talent. These artists are continuing to find newer ways (and worlds), where modern art, technology, and creative economies collide. Amidst it all is the Philippines' own budding NFT market, and Calleja happens to be smack dab in the heart of it.
The Philippines, according to Calleja, is also slowly entering the global spotlight, as evidenced by the participation of artists like him in international art fairs like Art Basel, as well as the country's recent return to the Venice Art Biennale.
He also hopes to see a future where more physical NFT exhibitions are held, whether it's in local galleries, museums, or fairs. Calleja, in the end, is helping us usher in the next wave of Filipino art. Of course, he's going to need some friends along the way.
"I think we are building strong foundations, a growing collective of artists are pushing the culture forward not only by creating but also with events, workshops, talks, community building, and supporting each other," said Calleja.
He continued: "I am seeing a lot of Filipino NFT projects gearing towards the collectible side or PFPs, which is more of a game of business and hype, but hopefully the future gives a bit more emphasis on the art and the cultural value that this new technology is adding to what we already have."
Art Basel Hong Kong 2022 features artworks from 130 local and international exhibitors. Click here to visit the dedicated online viewing rooms, as well.