Generative Artist Cory Haber on Metadata with Meaning




Generative Artist Cory Haber on Metadata with Meaning

New York based artist Cory Haber talks about his path to making generative work, the conceptual underpinning of his latest drop SOL, and embedding meaning into metadata.

Could you just tell me a little bit about yourself and your background in generative art?

So I got started in generative art about end of 2013, early 2014. I was just about to get married and I was like, "I have this window of time before a whole new chapter of my life starts to go back to school and to do something I always wanted to do, which is to learn to code." I wanted to be able to take the ideas in my head and build them as software applications. 

So I went back to school and completed a program in New York City. I think literally the day I graduated from that program, I discovered processing. I was like, "Wait, you can write code that makes art?" It immediately just clicked with me and I just ran with it. I had no intentions of making money, having a career. There was no blockchain or Ethereum at the time. Then, maybe two years later, I discovered plotters and I was like, "Oh, not only can I write code that makes art, I could then make physical art from my code." I was like, "That's it. Every free moment I have, I'm going to spend on this." I was sort of off to the races.

How did the rise of Ethereum and NFTs change the way that you thought about your practice and monetizing your work?

Before this, my work was just all experimental. I had no formalized art practice. I've always loved making art, but as a side hobby with no expectation of earning money. I'd make three paintings a year, something just for fun when I had the time. I was very into photography. There are other art forms also that I explored. So I would actually do astrophotography, where I'd hook up my digital SLR cameras to telescopes and take pictures. I spent a lot of time going down that road.

Astrophotograph, Cory Haber
Astrophotograph, Cory Haber

Could you briefly explain the concept behind SOL?

Up until that point, I was very focused on these 1/1 flower paintings, like the ones in the Spring Days series of paintings. They're highly curated, and I work them over starting from a single seed to create that output. It's not really long form project at all. And I hadn't done much long form, but I had been itching to do it for a while.

Field in Bloom on a Cool Evening, Spring Days, Cory Haber, 2022
Field in Bloom on a Cool Evening, Spring Days, Cory Haber, 2022

I was trying to come up with an idea. Like I mentioned before, I spent many years sort of practicing photography, and traveling a lot in my 20s and 30s. I took a lot of sunrise and sunset photos. In the back of my head I knew that I wanted to do something like that. 

But I think what clicked with me was when I came across Andy Warhol's Sunset Series, which is a single photograph that he then made three silk screens from. And from those silk screens he made 632 unique screen prints for a hotel in Wisconsin or something like that. My first thought was, this is something a generative artist would do, right? He made 632 1/1’s from a single photograph. So I was like, that's it. That's what I'm going to do. And so started working on that.

Installation view: Andy Warhol: The Original Silkscreens, Mana Contemporary Jersey City. Photo: John Berens
Installation view: Andy Warhol: The Original Silkscreens, Mana Contemporary Jersey City. Photo: John Berens

However, something always felt lacking or missing, and it seems so obvious looking back now, but at some point I had said to myself, wouldn't it be cool if this was a real sunrise? Meaning that if the angle of the sun in New York City on this date was at this angle, could I replicate that in the image itself? It was just a simple question that I asked myself.

So turns out, it's not complicated. There are open source APIs for this, so I had to string together three or four different APIs to get back all of the information. And because I come from this world of painting on canvas and physical art, it felt very natural for me to want to write the information at the bottom of the piece. All in all, I just did what felt right.

Did you find that collectors were looking at that metadata and almost trying to find their own relationship to it?

Well, that's exactly what happened, and I was obviously hoping for that outcome. It made sense, right? When I talked about the project with other people, they thought it was a cool idea and I did too.

So when the project was released, people received random token numbers and couldn't pick anything specific. But that's when all the trading started happening. Even if it wasn't sales on the secondary market, people would find someone who had a token for a city they were from and ask if they wanted to trade. That's still happening today.

People have also reached out to me with some really touching stories. I remember one person told me they lived quite far away from their city of origin, but were very close to their family. They finally managed to get a token for their hometown and said they would never let go of it because it reminded them of their family.

Overall, I think people are making some really special connections with their tokens, whether it's the date or the location. It's been a really special part of the project.

There's real passion around some collectors, which is just unbelievable. Unimaginable.

How did you decide on the number of works?

I initially thought I would only do 100 generative outputs, but then I realized it made more sense to do one for every day of the year. Otherwise, it's like picking random dates in history and you don't want any overlap. So the project morphed into 365 1/1s, which I never thought I would do.

Work in progress output, SOL, Cory Haber
Work in progress output, SOL, Cory Haber

Was there a curation process involved for scoping down to 365?

Yes, there were many long nights. I made probably a total of 8,000 outputs, but I didn't just make 8,000 outputs and then curate it down. The reason there were so many outputs was I made the collection, the entire set of 365, and then I threw everything away twice. So the second time I looked at it and thought, "I'm done. That's it. I'm done." And then the next day I'm looking at it again, I didn’t think it was good enough and I threw the whole thing away. But each time, it went a little bit faster because I improved my workflow. 

I'm glad I did it, because I wanted a diversity of outputs. Some of them are things that only happen once out of 8,000 runs, which is amazing. There's one output where it's almost all white with a black sun and that just never happened again. Or the main image that I ended up using to promote it, that style only happened one other time.

SOL #27, "SOL" Collection, Cory Haber
SOL #27, "SOL" Collection, Cory Haber

How did you think about pricing the work?

Pricing was hard. Over the course of this year, my prices for 1/1 digital physical paintings had gone up a lot. So, if one painting went for, on average, 5 ETH, how much would one digital out of 365 go for? I knew I wanted it to sell out and I wanted the price to be reasonable and fair but I also didn't want to price it too low and undervalue my work. I thought the work was good; I was more proud of this than I think anything I've done.

I ended up pricing it at 0.18 ETH, and it sold out in about 35 minutes. I was happy with the pricing, but I also recognize that the market ultimately determines the value of art, and as an artist, it's always a bit of a risk. You just have to learn over time how other people value your work and adjust your pricing accordingly

Overall, I think people are making some really special connections with their tokens, whether it's the date or the location.

So you recently announced three previously unreleased SOL pieces. Do you think this project will continue to live on?

It's hard to say for sure, but what I do know is that it will continue to live in its current form, solely because each SOL is actually a sunrise for the next year. I designed it that way intentionally, hoping that if it proves popular, it could continue to live on beyond the year. The people who collect it can take a photo of the sunrise in their city on that day and post it. I'm currently working on a SOL Twitter Bot, which will automatically post each day's SOL to Twitter. Once it's up and running, SOL will continue to live on in its current form. 

The Twitterbot is such a great idea. It gives it a whole new life after it's shipped.

Yeah, exactly. Only made possible by the metadata. Someone reached out to me who's a collector, who started SOL Sundays, where he posts that Sunday’s SOL to Twitter each week.  So there's real passion around some collectors, which is just unbelievable. Before this I had a small following of people who could afford 4 to 7 ETH for a painting, and so, this obviously expanded my visibility and reach and it's been pretty cool.

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