Narrative NFTs

Grandfather of NFTs

Narrative NFT: Cyberangels, Rembrandt, King Charles III

Narrative plays a prominent role in the postdigital art of Web3 and NFTs. In my book, The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age (Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press), the word “narrative” appears fifty times, from art narrative, autobiographic, biblical, community, creative, data-driven, historical, to personal narrative.

I have been exploring visual narrative art in many of my artworks that can be seen at my websites Mel Alexenberg and Grandfather of NFTs and at Wikipedia. I also created an Artiststory blog in 2007 with the 2011 post Postdigital Narrative Art.

I partnered with Michael Bielicky, professor of digital media art at ZKM University of Arts and Design in Karlsruhe, in establishing the Institute for Postdigital Narrative at ZKM in 2010. The video of my talk at the inauguration of the Institute can be seen at Vimeo.

The statement of the Institute’s aims are even more relevant today than they were over a decade ago. “Mankind has always operated on narrative to explain and understand its own existence. Our times, in particular, call for the exploration, expression and especially, creation of new story-telling formats. NFTs offer unprecedented opportunities for generating creative postdigital narratives.

NFT Honoring King Charles III

I created a three level visual narrative NFT to honor King Charles III on his acceding to the British throne. It begins from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem where more than three millennia ago angels in Jacob’s dream went up a ladder and then flew down three centuries ago into Rembrandt House Museum in Amsterdam where I transformed them into cyberangels and launched them from Rembrandt’s studio on a flight around the globe until they descended into the Victoria & Albert Museum in London to bring good wishes to King Charles from his mother Queen Elizabeth’s great-great grandparents Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

My cyberangel artworks have been in the collections of these three museum. The cyyberangels that have been asleep in the flat files of the museums for three decades are coming alive, taking flight through virtual NFT skies from Israel to Holland to England.

Art is a Computer Angel

This narrative begins with the birth of cyberangels when I was listening to the ancient Hebrew words being chanted from a handwritten Torah scroll while translating them into English in my mind. It described the artist Bezalel as being talented in all types of craftsmanship to make MeLekHet MakHSheVeT” (Exodus 35:33). These Hebrew words for “visual art” literally mean “thoughtful craft,” a feminine term. When I transformed it into its masculine form MaLakH MakHSheV, it became “computer angel.”

I rushed to tell my wife Miriam that I discovered that my role as a male artist is to create computer angels! I was equipped to create them as the head of the art department at Pratt Institute where I taught the first course on creating art with computers and was simultaneously research fellow at MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies.

Since Rembrandt was the master at telling Bible stories with angels in his paintings, drawings, and etchings, Miriam and I went to The Metropolitan Museum of Art to see them up close. He created an etching of Jacob’s dream for the only book he illustrated based upon the verse: “A ladder was standing on the ground, its top reaching up towards heaven as angels were going up and down on it.” (Genesis 28:12) The angels in Jacob’s dream go up from the Land of Israel and go down throughout the world heralding a message of peace: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4)

In Jerusalem, I created a serigraph “Angels Ascending from the Land of Israel” showing Rembrandt inspired cyberangels ascending from a satellite image of Israel. It is in the collection of the Israel Museum.

Rembrandt Cybererangels Fly around the Globe

My AT&T sponsored telecommunications art event on October 4, 1989 honored Rembrandt on the 320th anniversary of his death. I launched a digitized image of his angel on a circumglobal flight from New York to the Rembrandt House Museum in Amsterdam, Israel Museum in Jerusalem, University of the Arts in Tokyo, Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and back New York. After a five-hour flight around the planet, the deconstructed angel was reconstructed at its starting point.

When it passed through Tokyo, it was already the morning of October 5th. When it arrived in Los Angeles, it was still October 4th. Cyberangels can not only fly around the globe, they can fly into tomorrow and back into yesterday. Millions throughout North America watched the cyberangel return from its circumglobal flight over major TV networks’ broadcasts from New York. It was featured in sixty newspapers and the AT&T annual report.

The image in the middle level of the NFT shows me in period garb in Rembrandt's studio in Amsterdam welcoming a cyberangel from the Israel Museum’s Shrine of the Book where some of the oldest Bible manuscripts are housed that contain the narrative of angels going up and down the ladder in Jacob’s dream and sending the Rembrandt inspired cyberangel on to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

King Charles III and Victoria and Albert are Family

The official opening by Queen Victoria of a museum for progress in art and design in 1857 was followed by her laying the foundation stone of its new building in 1899 and naming it Victoria & Albert Museum. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert are the great-grandparents of King Charles’ mother Queens Elizabeth.

Queen Elizabeth participated in the opening of the “World of the Bible” exhibition at V&A in 1965 in co-operation with the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem and “The Bible in British Art” in 1997 with a poster for the exhibition showing angels ascending and descending on a ladder. This poster joined my 1986 “Digital Homage to Rembrandt: Night Angels” computer generated serigraph in the V&A prints and drawings collection. Both the biblical Hebrew words for “angels” and “kings” are pronounced the same.

King Charles is a keen and accomplished artist who has exhibited and sold his works to raise money for his charities and also published books on the subject. King Charles commissioned seven major paintings of Holocaust survivors to add to the official Royal Collection of Art in 2022.  The project was part of the king’s long-standing aim of educating future generations and ensuring that the horrors of the Holocaust are never forgotten.

One emotional visit to Israel occurred in 2016, when Charles travelled to Jerusalem for the funeral of former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres. While there, he visited the grave of his grandmother, Princess Alice of Greece, who saved Jews during the Holocaust and was honored as Righteous Among the Nations. She is buried in Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.

It seems that the cyberangels ascended the virtual ladder from Jerusalem to Amsterdam to London and have come back down to Jerusalem.