Considered one of the most pioneering NFT creators, Pak’s identity is shrouded in mystery. They reveal to Tatler how their groundbreaking practice fulfils their intentions and values

On December 4, 2021, it was reported that the record for the highest price ever paid for a work by a living artist, set by Jeff Koons’ Rabbit in 2019 at US$91.1 million, had been broken. The new record-holding piece, Merge (2021), had achieved US$91.8 million. But this sale was just the beginning of a controversy.

The “artwork” was in fact made up of 266,455 shares (each share represented a portion of a whole individual NFT). Each share comprised of a single dot known as “a mass,” which varied in size and price, and was purchased in varying numbers by almost 30,000 buyers within a 48-hour window on the platform Nifty Gateway. Every time a collector bought a new mass, it would merge with those they already owned; further, collectors could sell their mass on to other buyers—leading, potentially, to the formation of one giant mass.

Naturally, this “drop” added fuel to the discussion fire of whether an NFT is, in fact, art, and whether this multiple ownership model is comparable to the performance of sales like Koons’.

Merge was conceived by pioneering “creator”, Pak, about whom little is known: are they a man, a woman, an AI-operated entity? They use a voice modulator when speaking over the phone, but they only do that with people they work with. Twitter seems to be the preferred mode of communication, where Pak frequently shares dramatic but simple philosophical one-liners, invariably generating hype for forthcoming projects.

What is known, however, is their intention: to democratise accessibility to art, and other collectible goods, through sophisticated and innovative coding, pushing the boundaries of what NFTs, as a medium, can accomplish.

 

 

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Given the mystery surrounding them, securing an interview with Pak poses a challenge; but it is not insurmountable. They are active on Discord, a text chat app similar to Slack, originally developed to be a place for gamers to communicate with each other during multiplayer games. Now it’s largely used by those working in and around tech. Being severely technically challenged, downloading Discord and understanding how it worked added to the difficulty, but I was eventually able to connect with them for a lengthy “live text chat” session.

If Pak wasn’t going to share precisely who they are, they were adamant about what they aren’t. “I’ve never considered myself an artist, and I’ve never made anything for that world,” they say. “I avoid the self-definition ‘artist’ for many reasons; artists should not self-identify. It’s like saying ‘I’m a genius’ when asked what you do for a living.”

Similarly, they err on the side of the sceptics when it comes to whether or not an NFT constitutes art.

“NFTs are not a new idea—it’s just a new way to own things,” they explain. “Digital ownership has been around for a long time; it’s [NFTs are] now more a proof of the concept.” Their value, Pak says, is in their immutable, essentially one-of-a-kind nature. “The world will ask, ‘Why do you pay this money for a jpeg?’ To that I would say, ‘Because it’s still unique’.”

However, an NFT is a medium that can be adapted in such a way that it constitutes art. New media have constantly forged their way into the art-historical canon, and now NFTs primed for experimentation are being promoted as such.

 

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“I like to experiment because it’s a new medium, and I believe I can use this new medium to communicate my creations,” says Pak. “I don’t care if it’s art or not. I care whether it’s interesting or not. Is it intriguing? Do you think about it? Would it be valuable if it’s not interesting?” While interest is subjective, Pak’s treatment of NFTs is pushing the boundaries of how creators use the medium. Their practice is only possible on the blockchain, where their code can create modifications in the works if specific conditions are satisfied. It also provides an alternate method of collecting: one that champions accessibility and aims to foster a community-minded, collaborative, interactive approach.

Their work has some fairly famous fans: Elon Musk publicly tweeted his appreciation for Pak’s algorithms, sparking something of a Twitter friendship between the two. And Beeple—aka artist Mike Winkelmann—sought Pak’s help before he made headlines by creating Everydays: The First 5000 Days (2021), then the most expensive NFT artwork sold, at Christie’s in March 2021. He tweeted his gratitude: “Massive thank you to the amazing @MuratPak for patiently answering all my noob questions, you helped changed the trajectory of my life in an unimaginable way.”

Pak is also changing the trajectory of collecting and investing. Firstly, they pioneered the idea of an open edition NFT, as with Merge: buyers were limited only by the 48-hour time frame rather than a quantity of available masses.

It’s not just about accessibility though, Pak says, “but also about value creation. If you have one wealthy investor that’s willing to ‘buy’ your work, you can be the top-selling artist ever. One investor can bid US$5 billion on a work, and this makes the work most valuable ever. I think there is something very corrupt about that.”

To combat this, Pak controls the value of the work: as two smaller masses merge to form a larger one, the first two are destroyed in the process, balancing creation with destruction and supply with demand.

 

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Another way in which Pak limits supply and retains control of a work’s value is by trading NFTs for their cryptocurrency, $ASH, on their platform burn.art. You can submit an NFT, which then goes to what is essentially a black hole and “dies” or becomes inactive, and you receive $ASH in return. In fact only $ASH holders are able to participate in Pak’s latest drop—Carbon, which entails several parts. First, a single set of 3,825 cubes were auctioned. The second involved the sale of 999 editions of cubes, which went to bidders on the 3,825 cubes. The rest were sold, or given either to people $ASH, or had collected Pak's earlier works. 

In this way, hopeful participants had to trade existing NFTs in order to obtain $ASH; even if they didn't win the bid, they had the chance to receive a cube. “I believe significance of a work’s value should not be defined by one person who is willing to pay for it,” they say. “And that’s exactly why my value is not controlled by a few wealthy investors: I try to build a community and rise together.”

 

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Indeed, Pak has built a community through the possibility of collective ownership and direct engagement with their work. They also use theatrical means to tease and promote their work: their cheekily titled The Fungible Collection sale through Sotheby’s came about after Pak tweeted that they would gift an NFT to any auction house that should ask—and Sotheby’s did. They also sent “Hate NFTs” to their top 30 haters, consisting of an early hate tweet sent to them, the representative visual of which is a heart. It was configured in a way that meant they could not be bought, sold or transferred.

And still, with all this activity and community, we are no closer to knowing who Pak is. This alter ego does allow for the purity of their work to remain unsullied by any focus on identity. In fact, in Turkish (many speculate this is their heritage), the word “Pak” means “pure”; they formerly identified as Murat Pak, which translated to “desiring the purest”, a philosophy reflected both in the aesthetic simplicity of their work and their wholesome goals.

This reluctance to reveal personal details also keeps people’s attention firmly where Pak wants it: on what they produce. “I am not anonymous,” they say, “but when people see my name, they should recall the work rather than a face and body. I choose to identify myself via my activity.”

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