(London, 11th of May 2021) One of the most mysterious and enigmatic places in KULTURA/Occupy White Walls is The Art Labyrinth, a labyrinthine gallery conceived as an art installation created by an Italian artist known as Barabeke. When you explore the labyrinth it’s both an artistic journey but also psychological, even spiritual journey – like all great art.
The Art Labyrinth is situated in KULTURA/OWW, a novel (and free) game about art and architecture. It is an online art platform, built by players, which has already grown to 660 times the size of the Louvre. In this huge virtual continent there are over 80,000 3D galleries, with all kinds of works of art, many of them discovered through DAISY, a pioneering art discovery AI (that ‘finds art you’d like, even if you don’t know what art you like.’).
As Barabeke explains, “in my labyrinth there are works of art to admire, but there is also an aspect of frustration in the search for an exit: you reach dead ends, where you find messages, “wisdom quotes” related to the journey that visitors are experiencing, so this is an experience to reflect on. I believe that this labyrinth can be a good “mirror” and lead to inspiration. And then there is the final experience, the surprise at the center, which I think is significant and inspiring: it is something outside the box that people do not expect”.
Spirituality and the other Mona Lisa
Inside the gallery/labyrinth there is an interesting mix of works. There are paintings by Bosch, Bronzino and Leonardo, but also by lesser-known names, such as Hodler, Redon, von Lenbach, Hubert Robert. Those works outline a mysterious path, a story of great effect, created by Barabeke, who, when he creates, almost feels more like a shaman summoning spirits or an alchemist rather than an artist.
“Since I was a boy, I have been interested in philosophical and spiritual questions. I have explored in depth the Eastern religions and I have also dealt with healing. I have ranged from Qi Gong to tarot cards, and I have practiced hypnotherapy and shamanism. I believe I belong to the category of artists who are also healers, such as Alejandro Jodorowsky, whom I consider a master. I like his psychomagic experiments, his way of telling stories. One of my key messages has a spiritual character”.
Barabeke, an art name that in Venetian dialect means “bogeyman”, has a past as a social media manager, and is very active in the world of crypto art. “I have been using the pseudonym of Barabeke since 2006 when I was living in Canada. I also spent long periods in Spain, Cuba and India. Then I lived in London for a decade and returned to Italy. Since 2006 I have always done digital art, self-taught. I actually consider myself more of a writer than a visual artist: I’ve written screenplays, I’ve been a copywriter in advertising, I’ve worked as a social media manager, and I’ve been a startup head of marketing. At the same time, I have always cultivated my artistic vocation behind the scenes. I started to get some important feedback when I dedicated myself to crypto art. When I was head of marketing, I used to build communities. Now above all I like to design the psychological experience. As an artist I am quite underground, I feel I belong to the Visionary Art vein, a trend that has developed over the centuries. Using photographs taken by me or in the public domain, or paintings from the past, with a very wild and destructive photographic postprocessing I create a new reality of a visionary and archetypal character. I also worked a lot with mirrors. They fascinate me: I have always looked for what is hidden behind the mirror, beyond the real. My works are like portals to other worlds”.
Barabeke creates transfigurations that start from works of the past, from Bosch to Leonardo. He is in tune with the spiritual dimension of those masters. “My creations are almost evocations of spirits that come out of images. I think I received a sort of imprinting: above my cradle I had a copy of the Leonardo’s Cartoon with the Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and Saint John the Baptist. And curiously, Sant’Anna was the same as my mother. That Cartoon was studied by Jung and Freud. It caused me to develop a kind of sixth sense about Leonardo’s works. I wrote an article on Mona Lisa that I submitted to very important critics who have dealt with Leonardo, such as Martin Kemp (he did not agree with me). I was also interested in the Earlier Mona Lisa, which is the painting on my social media profile. I am one of the few who have been able to admire that painting”.
Pioneer of crypto art
Barabeke experimented with different genres. “All my research is based on the potential of digital. His artistic activity is structured and reoriented continuously over time, considering various areas: Glitch Art, Fractal Art, Fractal Surrealism. “Fractals have always interested me. I haven’t used them for a while now, also because they are complex to create and I am not a mathematician, although there are extraordinary software tools that can help those who want to use them to create art”.
The discovery of crypto art was fundamental. “I was in that world even before it got hype. I came to crypto art because I was interested in the type of society and system that could be created with crypto. I arrived when KnownOrigin was in its infancy. When the pandemic broke out, I devoted myself entirely to art and connected with very interesting artists from the world of crypto, such as Robness, Max Osiris, Gary Cartlidge. My works are hosted in several virtual galleries, for example my Salvator Mundi is part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Cryptoart in Cyptovoxels. For me, the great promise of crypto is to allow people to be self-sovereign. Media culture has invaded this world and is changing its original spirit. In any case, I believe that crypto art and the NFTs are not only a commercial phenomenon, but also an artistic movement that conveys a new aesthetic that is emerging, made up of glitches, imperfections, memes, animated gifs, reinterpreted creations. There are also artists who influence the art scene in a philosophical sense. This world is not just about commerce, it is also the desire to communicate something new, explore new styles, change the rules of the game. As KULTURA/OWW is also trying to do, which is on a parallel but potentially converging plane. I really like the philosophy of KULTURA/OWW: I see it as very artist and community oriented. They are art lovers who want to revolutionize the way people enjoy art, also offering experiences like the one I wanted to create myself with The Art Labyrinth. In KULTURA/OWW a world of opportunities opens up to explore art that is totally new. It’s not like visiting a live museum, but paradoxically you can learn more than in a live museum, because you have access to tens of thousands of works of art with accurate descriptions”.
The experience in Occupy White Walls
“I joined Occupy White Walls at the end of 2020. I’m fascinated by the fact that this kind of experience is available to anyone who has a performing laptop or a decent connection. It is a very educational world, because if you are passionate about art, you can have a remarkable artistic culture with a game approach. I also find it very important that the land here is free. I noticed that inside OWW many people collect my art, and this makes me proud. Maybe they bought my works together with a Leonardo, a Michelangelo, and then exhibit them side by side: it’s crazy. I consider the labyrinth as an artistic installation through which I want to provide an experience to the audience, and I have found in OWW a perfect vehicle as it enables to turn art into an immersive and gamified experience”. And then there is the discourse of AI, the Artificial Intelligence present in KULTURA/OWW, which has contributed to enhancing Barabeke’s research. “AI allowed me to discover artists and works that I didn’t know about. It has enormous potential. And yet exploring the galleries of others is also a process of discovery. The Art Labyrinth is my first permanent installation in the metaverse: already 15 years ago one of my artistic goals was having a stable presence in virtual worlds, a place where people can come to visit me even if it was just a little hut with an art gallery in the backyard. I don’t like being the one to go looking for people. And to think that once I was a marketer!”.
StikiPixels is the company behind KULTURA/OWW. Based in London, StikiPixels is a 20-person start-up founded with a vision of using the power of online games and artificial intelligence to democratise art, enabling the public players unhindered creativity and self-expression while providing artists a fair and level playing field. Can an online world change old-school reality? We think so.