Hermitage Combines, 2021
Claudia Hart

In November 2021, I was invited by Dimitri Ozerkov, the Director of Contemporary Art at The Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia, to participate in his on-line exhibition, The Ethereal Aether. For the show, programmers recreated the old Leningrad Stock Exchange as a social virtual-reality website, so that users could don digital avatar bodies to explore the show on their home computers. The exhibit inspired me, and for the first time I was able to understand NFT as an extension of my installation-based practice.  For it, I produced two Hermitage Digital-Combine NFT that that I ultimately combined with a physical painting, produced by means of a complex process mixing hand painting and painting made by a digitally-controlled airbrush machine with natural materials into a complex whole. After the initial on-line project, I showed the Hermitage combines in tangible life, where each painting was an element in a single piece that included a poetic text, and was mounted on custom augmented-reality Hermitage wallpaper.  I have shown these works several times in this manner. The first was in an exhibition that I curated at bitforms gallery, San Francisco in 2022, entitled Digital Combines, along with six other artists work. I showed them again in 2023, in Dimensions: Digital Art since 1859, a project of Stiftung für Kunst und Kultur e.V., Bonn curated by Richard Castelli, in Leipzig, that included the work of 50 international artists.

All Digital Combines are memento mori, and meditations on decay. These particular pieces are inspired by appropriated photographs, shot during WWII in the Louvre in Paris and in the Hermitage - during the blockade of Leningrad (currently called Saint Peterburg). At this time, Allied troops were retreating from the Nazis, who idolized the Western painting canon and so were systematically pillaging. Both museums, currently pitted in opposition as the West restarts a new version of the mid twentieth-century Cold War, are filled with empty picture frames, the masterpieces of both collections having been removed and safely hidden in the countryside in advance of an invading Nazi army. I am also using the empty frame as a symbol of the NFT. To me the NFT as a phenomenon is interesting because it is polarizing - a disruptor – and therefore one half of my Digital-Combine form. I think of them as paradoxical constructs, produced for an era of radical political and cultural instability.

The Digital Combine by Claudia Hart, June 2022, Outland Art