New East Digital Archive

The NFT art series bringing abandoned Soviet sanatoria back to life

24 March 2021

Lavender fields, palm trees, and dandelions flood the crumbling rooms of abandoned sanatoria in Ryan Koopmans’ new digital art series, bringing new life into ruined buildings from the Soviet era.

For The Wild Within, Koopmans collaborated with Swedish artist Alice Wexell to digitally introduce and animate scenes of vibrant plant life into photographs he had taken of abandoned resorts in the Georgian town of Tskaltubo.

The result is a series of moving images where nature takes over grandiose but decaying rooms, imbuing them with a living soul and a harmonious atmosphere. The aim of the project was “to create a sense of surreal tranquility, whilst referencing the themes of urban exploration, architectural history, and the resurgence of nature,” says Koopmans.

The central Georgian spa town of Tskaltubo was one of the Soviet Union’s most popular holiday destinations, welcoming more than 100,000 visitors each year at its peak. The town’s 22 sanatoria were later abandoned and ransacked for scrap following the fall of the Soviet Union, before being offered as “temporary” accommodation to thousands of families displaced by the conflict in Abkhazia, a region in the northwest of Georgia, in 1992. Many refugee families instead lived in the buildings for more than a decade. Koopmans took his images in 2018, and many of the buildings featured in The Wild Within have already been demolished.

Koopmans’ project is being released on curated art platform SuperRare using NFTs, or non-fungible tokens. NFTs use the technology behind cryptocurrencies — blockchain — to create a signature that is unique to a certain digital artwork. Once an NFT has been added to an image, GIF, or video, it can’t be removed or changed, allowing digital art to be bought, sold, collected — and most importantly, authenticated — just like fine art.

But while NFTs have captured headlines for allowing digital artists to cash in on their works, they have also garnered criticism — both for the forgeries and scams which have begun to circulate online, and for their harmful environmental impact. Creating a blockchain requires large amounts of computing power and electricity — a single transaction on the Ethereum blockchain, the system used by most NFTs, currently has an energy footprint of 48.14 kWh: equal to the energy used by an average US household over 1.63 days.

The Wild Within is available for sale on SuperRare from 24 March.

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