Stories of ruptures and rebirths. Sam Spratt’s “The Monument Game” in Venice

Nine digital paintings conceived as NFTs and exhibited for the first time in a physical space

A life cycle, which starts with the first human ever and ends (or rather is reborn) in a network of collaborative individuals that share their stories and their deeper thoughts: this is the story of Luci, a cycle of nine digital paintings by Sam Spratt, conceived as NFTs and exhibited for the first time in a physical space at Docks Cantieri Cucchini during the Biennale (on view until June 23).

But let’s take a step back: formerly an oil painter, Spratt has been doing digital painting for almost 13 years. Yet, the Luci series “is pretty much the first time in my life I’ve ever bothered to tell a story of my own. Most of my life I had spent creating other people’s stories”. The series of Luci features the story of an Australopithecus afarensis. We follow their birth, evolution and the rebirth – a story that Luci shares with their own author. In this arc, the evolution of humankind is paired with one of an individual, creating a connection between the single and the multitude (and between stories and history). As Sam points out, “the heart of Luci is the rediscovery of stories that we have tried to pass down to one another, but that through some of our advancements as a species, we have slipped a little bit along the way and created these dissociative portals where we can get a little lost, and trying to claim them back and see that the goal to be human is worthwhile”.

Sam Spratt, The Monument Game, Venezia, Docks Cantieri Cucchini, 2024. Courtesy of Ben Skaar, Dave Krugman, and Anna Vittoria P.

The work is, in Spratt words, “created from rapture”, which coincides with a difficult period of Sam’s life: “the rupture was essentially going about 30 years of my life”, explains Sam, “feeling like I missed the mark. You immediately start going out into the world and asking questions, like ‘Man, how did I fuck up? How did I mess up this bad?’, and you think, ‘Well, maybe it’s my dad’s fault, or maybe it’s my brother’s fault, or some relationship, some girl did this to me’. And when you realize you’ve mostly done this to yourself, it’s embarrassing”. In Luci’s cycle, we find the same narrative arc, “from waking up to saying goodbye and facing fears, being confronted with how much more work you have to do, even if you’re suddenly aware that this is a time in your life that you need to change”.

The eight paintings exhibited in the first room are unique works, previously collected by various patrons online. If you are wondering how digital NFTs could be exhibited in a physical space, the answer is even easier than you think: “we end up circling back to this actually fairly retro technique of the light box”, explains Spratt, “where we’re using essentially just a wood frame with a metal frame inside it, and then the same color temperature of LEDs as they’re on my screen”.

In the second room, things get a little bit more complex: the first three pieces – Birth of Luci, Lullabies for Isaac and First Sacrifice – were sold by Spratt on the platform SuperRare in October 2021. Every bidder received a free NFT by the artist, one each of a series called Skulls of Luci.  The three winning bidders received three of them (“one that I chose for them”, explains Spratt, “one that they could do whatever they wanted with, and one that they had to give to someone else to try to spread this into a direction of the very first notion of a social network”). Sam held back three for himself.

Sam Spratt, The Monument Game, Venezia, Docks Cantieri Cucchini, 2024. Courtesy of Ben Skaar, Dave Krugman, and Anna Vittoria P.

Finally, we get to the latest and most ambitious piece of the series, The Monument Game, the first participatory work by Spratt, which engages a wider audience. The work consists of a monumental landscape from Luci’s narrative universe, filled with a variety of characters and scenes. The artist sold 209 NFTs as tickets to his collectors to participate in the game. Every “player” was invited to produce the most thought-provoking sentence, and leave it as a permanent mark on the artwork. The result is the initial version of The Monument Game, “that first layer of observations and dots you see on top of it, of the poems, confessions, love letters, apologies, jokes, vandalism, you name it. That was a competition. Each one of those was left by someone that collected this edition. It enabled them to come close to the work, but they had an incentive structure. I wanted this outer run, the very first interaction that they had with my work, to basically be spending the most time they’ve ever spent with a piece of art, maybe in their lives. And in many cases, that was exactly what happened”.

In Venice, this experience is extended to all the visitors of the exhibition, widening the range of heterogeneous interactions and comments left in the work, from the deepest ones (“Wait hold on, I’m not ready: life waits for no one. There is never enough time for anything. Never suspect the tree is satisfied, fire burns and water freezes. The shock you feel is worth it. Empty your mind no matter the cost, if you are hesitant do it sooner, your wishes come true until they don’t”, wrote Observer 219 on April 27) to the non-sense (just a child typing random letters from the keyboard – one of Sam’s favorite ones). The final result is “an actual undulating organism that moves as you get more people in, but get people to spend more time and energy in it”, concludes the artist.

Laura Cocciolillo
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