First Breath

February 2023 –– 
With InfraMunk is Breathing, Munky wanted to create a series of deeply personal and psychedelic viewing experiences through the cellular mutations of a tree he photographed in Marin, California. In the work, the biological metamorphosis evolves gracefully and tricks your mind into believing there’s nothing happening until there’s discovery; where you don’t fully understand there’s breathing until it’s wrapped its arms around you… and that’s where the connection lies.

He wanted to explore the mutations of the natural form through a type of digital microcellular breathing, achieved in collaboration with high-level machine learning grounded in the genre of biology, anatomy and psychedelia. There’s poetry in the process of photographing a subject in an invisible light source, unearthing a trio of signature color states as chapters, and then unleashing another process of highly iterative cellular mutations through an infinite discovery of anatomical formations that could only be uncovered through an exhaustive process of embeddings and prompts with an AI. These embeddings were grounded in native ceremony, and trained from gmunk’s own photography, light-installations and lens-based digital art. They then trained multiple handpicked Ernst Haeckel sets, and invoked those embeddings into the prompts, using the Stable Diffusion 2.0 model with the Automatic 1111 GUI to mutate the tree’s cells. To the trained machine, these cells existed as pixels being subdivided, ushering in the imaginal realm with visceral respiratory metamorphosis states and deliberate pacing to create the digital breathing.

There’s always a connection to the tree because you’re constantly reminded of its form – it’s grounded by a depth model to retain its shape and the silhouette of the tree always exists throughout the process; there’s never a detachment from it. This way the experience is grounded by the subject’s photographic capture and draws you into its transfiguration process; creating a meditative and personal journey.

Artist: GMUNK (b. 1975)
Title: First Breath
Type: born-digital, single-channel digital video
00:03:00 seconds (2560 x 3840 pixels)
Auctioneer: SuperRare
Curator: Ronnie Pirovino
Collector: 33
Price Realized: 13 ETH | $20,895.03
Minted February 15, 2023.
Executed in 2023. This work is unique and is accompanied by a non-fungible token.

Lot Essay

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“ In the genesis chapter of Inframunk Is Breathing, an infusion of something as basic as the breath of life triggers a cellular-level excavation through the lens of mutation. ”

A digital valve releases a respiratory bloom and what transpires is a hypnotic dance of psychedelic botany.

The rhythm and pace of Inframunk is Breathing replicates the gradual awakening of the eye and the neural pathways. Through this graceful transformation, true discovery is possible. Your mind-body is exposed to protozoan level transfiguration and, as such, you are provoked to challenge and question what meets the eye.

A tree, indigenous to the Pacific Northwest, racked with fog, is now considered to be something other than the label it is given. In allowing its non-ordinary life and image to evolve, we expand our understanding of it and therefore our capacity to be surprised.

A metamorphosis is at hand that does not distort or deform, but reveals the truest definition. This truth is only detectable in a state of heightened awareness – here achieved through respiration, high-level machine learning, psychedelia, and photographic exposure to an invisible light spectrum.

“ The intention is to peel back layers of diffusion and blockages, to invoke a guided meditation of sorts that is crafted through a learning machine paired with the intuitive, organic invocation of the spirit of nature. ”

To the machine, the tree is a conglomerate of pixels. To the human eye it is comprised of cells, even more so, to the naked eye it has leaves, branches, a trunk, bark. Both systems, the machine learning and the human viewer, are initiated into an altered state in which the tree begins to breathe and grow.

A journey of microcellular breathing causes the audience’s vision to be repeated, patterned, alive, dismantled and reformed in an unusual and beautiful way. So to is the machine learning, given its own equivalent of a psychedelic dose in the form of prompts and embeddings, trained on the artist’s custom designed light sculptures and full-spectrum photographs, and crossed with Ernst Haeckel organisms to unfetter the limitations between science, art, and the human touch. The machine responds to the stimulus by subdividing the pixels, the very genetic and photographic make-up of the tree and in turn is made alive.

While the intent and techniques are deliberate, the outcome sought after and achieved is mostly unknown. Transformation, mutation, change, on a digital microcellular plane, as well as a soulful one, must be allowed to surprise and expand.

With Inframunk Is Breathing the inaugural inhalation, the First Breath becomes the trigger to unveil what lies beneath but also what lies beyond. The result is euphoric, transcendent and elemental, a shattering challenge to a biological status quo.

The Process

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The process to make this work started with a full-spectrum photograph of a tree racked in fog, captured in Marin County, California. The composition was carefully considered to have ample negative space so the form of the tree was situated on an open background so it was easily detected and traced throughout the mutation.

Once the photograph was captured, three signature grade states were established and denoted as key chapters in the experience. Then an exhaustive process ensued in collaboration with wizard Ronny Khalil using Stable Diffusion 2.0 and a dizzying array of prompts, embeddings and depth models, coupled with high-level machine learning to create the desired metamorphosis. The motion and cleanliness of the transformation was always paramount as the transition to and from the base photograph was the key to an compelling breathing state.  
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The Iterations

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The process of using Stable Diffusion to mutate a static photograph was rich with iteration and infinite potential. What was so illuminating in the process was watching the machine learn how to iterate and how varying the prompts, embeddings and samplers would change the trajectory of the transfigurations.

The process was all about experimenting and constantly surprising yourself, and the multiple Ernst Haeckel sets mixed with gmunk’s own installation and photographic work was always so thought-provoking. Some of the favorite prompts used were: Collective Unconsciousnes, Imaginal Cells, Web of LifeVisceral Respiratory Lung Labyrinth, Glowing Bioluminescent Creatures and of course, The Imaginal Realm. However it was the embeddings and samplers that seemed to give the broadest range of explorative states and were the cornerstone of the machine learning process.

This is only the beginning of this workflow and feel incredibly inspired to continue to push this further. Machine Learning is a powerful tool that is just a tool. Wish a clear vision and intention it can be transformative, but it’s just a means to an end like most other tools in an artist’s repertoire. 
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The Exhibition

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GMUNK’s Inframunk is Breathing “First Breath” is his latest time-based video artwork, veering into the surreal psychedelic realms. It’s a hypnotic, sublime spectacle with subtle audio, meticulously rendered in 4k resolution. A lavish lenticular print is included with the NFT, presented by SuperRare online and in an exclusive live event at Danvas Gallery on February 18. The show is open to the public in Los Angeles from 6-9PM. To coincide, the auction countdown starts on SuperRare. The VIP, invitation-only, reception begins before the show opens to the public. Traveling from his home in Berkeley, California, the artist will be in personal attendance to celebrate the occasion.

The NFT is being minted on a custom smart contract from Transient Labs, offered by SuperRare for the first time. The experience is elevated to museum quality with the exhibition by Danvas Gallery technology. The gallery uses bespoke top-of-the-line mini-LED screens, designed and assembled in-house. On view in the show, along with the 1/1 NFT for sale, is a mini-retrospective of GMUNK’s artworks from SuperRare and Christie’s and in noted collections.

GMUNK is a well-established, globally recognized digital artist, graphic designer, and creative director, known for his highly stylized and visually stunning works in the fields of motion graphics, advertising, and digital art. Over decades, his massively impactful commercial work has been prolific, with projects for clients such as Disney, Nike, Google, Microsoft, and Samsung.

More recently, he has incorporated fine art into his studio practice and offers collectors the opportunity to acquire unique NFT artworks, as well as physical prints. His art has been prominently featured and presented by Christie’s and SuperRare, among other leading platforms.

“Having the privilege to curate an exhibition with GMUNK is my opportunity to zealously share new artwork by one of the most influential artists of a generation. I knew immediately that he had an important voice as I relished his ubiquitous short digital film, Finn, which went viral before that was a thing in 2001. He has remained inherently vital from those moments when we entered the Internet age to our present time. The world of lens-based art, video, motion graphics and design has been shaped by him.”

Ronnie K. Pirovino, Curator
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Digital Artist

for SuperRare
Credit List

Digital Artist: GMUNK
Photographer: GMUNK
Stable Diffusion Artist: Ronny Khalil
Composer: Keith Ruggiero
Concept Writer: Jay Zaretsky
Graphic Design: Michael Cina