Exclusive Interview with Algorand's First NFT Poet! Meles Branta talks about the future of NFT, his works, how to get started as an artist, and more!

Exclusive Interview with Algorand's First NFT Poet! Meles Branta talks about the future of NFT, his works, how to get started as an artist, and more!

By Cryptocomrade | Comrade Reviews | 24 Jul 2021

After the most amazing interview with Fantom Foundation's CMO Mark Pomposi, it is my great honour to present yet another Publish0x exclusive. Today with us we have Meles Branta - an anonymous NFT artist known for being the first NFT poet on Algorand. Yes, you heard that right, poetry made into NFTs! MB's physically backed NFT collection "Candlelight" has been acknowledged by the Algorand Foundation and the Dahai fine art market. Today it is my pleasure to announce that we'll be covering who this mysterious poet is, what he aspires to achieve in the NFT industry, why he chose Algorand as his NFT platform, how he produces his NFTs ( a step-by-step guide), what's the future of NFTs, and more! Let's begin! 


Image Source: https://twitter.com/ArtDahai/status/1412510303858966540 

1) Meles, first of all, tell us about yourself. Where are you from, how old are you, what do you do for a living?

I love this question, because it immediately gives me the opportunity to be annoying and ornery as I’m not going to fully answer it! I’m from the UK (as you’ll pick up from my spelling and slang), and I work in finance. I was previously an employed FX trader for a major institution (doing proper trading, running my own risk book, market making, and taking prop positions). These days I still work in the finance space, and heavily within the blockchain ecosystem. I choose to write under a pen name to keep my professional and poetry work separate as much as possible.

2) How did you get into blockchain and how did you get into the NFT industry?

I’ve been passionate abo it blockchain for a long time, but it wasn’t until Algorand really started showing their vision that I saw something that spoke to me as a potential game changing future that links governments, grassroots finance, and deals with the challenges of transaction costs and accessibility. I got into the NFT community via Reddit and Algorand, which is a very small community currently but growing fast. And then I decided to start doing some collaborations with some of the more established artists before I became confident enough to do my own work. And then I saw the opportunity to work with Dahai on some really unique physically backed NFTs. I thought...why not!

3) What does your pseudonym "Meles Branta" stand for?

Ah - simple! It is a combination of the Latin species name for the European badger and the Canadian goose, reflecting my dual relationships :)

4) Why just Algorand? Why not Avalanche, Tezos, Ethereum, EOS, or other smart contract platforms? Surely their vision is no smaller and tech is not worse, would you agree? Do you publish NFTs anywhere else?

Why only one blockchain? I’m a time-poor individual, and I know that I can’t reach everyone. I wanted to do my very best on everything I put out, and so confining myself to one ecosystem made sense. Why Algorand? There’s lots of arguments to be made about proof-of-work vs proof-of-stake, about centralisation, or gas fees, or energy usage or a million other ways that every technology differs from every other one. For me, the NFT community in Algorand felt like the true frontier - many others are already established, commercialised and standardised. I wanted to be in a space where I would be surrounded by other creatives all trying to work out what to do in this ecosystem and how we want to shape it.

5) That sounds fantastic! Let's move on to your work then. When we think NFTs we usually envision some form of digital ultra HD artworks, you, meanwhile, took a different approach. How did you come up with the idea of making NFT poetry?

I supposed I approached it from the other direction! My main expressive tool is poetry, while other visual media are very much a weaker area for me. So it was more a case of me thinking: “I have these things about crypto, finance, value and trading that I want to express. The best way that I can express them is through poetry, so how can I make that poetry into something that will make sense in the NFT space.” I started with words overlaid on imagery, in a pure digital format. But when the opportunity came to make physically backed NFTs, that was when I really started to feel like I had something unique to contribute to the NFT space. But even then - it was a long process of experimenting and discovery before I settled on the format I am currently working with.

6) I see! Talking about your poetry, I have noticed you do not adhere to a certain style or format. How would you describe your style of poetry?

My style is about purpose - I start with a goal, the emotions or ideas I want to convey, and then work around that. To me, poetry is the challenge of conveying images, emotions and ideas in the most powerful way possible. In the same way that every emotion and experience are different, so too necessarily is the style. That means that many of my pieces will differ in style and tone. That said, I undeniably draw on some of the heavily allegorical and metaphorical styles of the 19th century western tradition, although I feel equally free to deviate from this when I feel it is the right decision to make.

7) Let's then talk about these images, emotions, and ideas! What is "Candlelight" to you and what messages do you want to convey through your art?

“Candlelight” was inspired by the experience of trading, and specifically using technical indicators. The title comes from the name for the charts, candle charts, and is intended to evoke the way that candlelight provides a flickering and inconsistent light. In the same way, technical indicators (in my experience) provided inconsistent and unreliable insights on the markets. Each poem is dedicated to a specific technical indicator or pattern: stochastics, the “head and shoulders” formation, Bollinger bands, and the Fibonacci extension/retracement. 

8) That's a very clever way to link the 2 worlds! Now, with your permission, let's talk about the process of creating an NFT, I'm sure the audience would be especially interested in that. Could you outline in detail what kind of software, tools, and resources do you use to create the digital art before minting it as an NFT?

Of course! Let’s split this into two parts. I’ll start with creating the poetry and the physical assets themselves, and then how I can talk about how the actual NFT is created. My writing is mainly done on scratch paper, in sketchbooks (unlined) and sometimes even notes jotted down on my phone. But when it comes time for proper finalised writing, I always prefer to work on a simple word processor, as it allows me to see the emerging shape of the poem. I actually use windows notepad for the simple reason that there are no distractions on the interface! After that, if I am building an image-based NFT, I will import a photograph from my own archives into Paint.NET, which I use mainly because it is both free and sufficiently flexible for what I need. My visual arts skills aren’t so sophisticated that I need something beyond that. From there, once the images are ready, I create the video and text overlay using Splice for iOS. Again, it’s far from the most sophisticated tool, but it is intuitive, speedy and efficient for my needs. That gives me a digital video file which is ready for upload. If I am making a physical asset, then once the poem is complete I will take my cotton rag paper and soften it (using my own techniques) so that I will work on the typewriter feed. I’ll type the piece, and then prepare the wax by infusing it with 2.5 carats of diamond powder before finalising the wax seal on the piece.

For the digital video assets, I would then upload the video to a hosting venue (piñata.cloud is a popular one for Algorand NFT creators). And then using AlgoDesk I would mint the actual asset that links to the hosted file with an embedded MD5 hash for authenticity. A great guide to self-minting NFTs is available here. For physical assets, I then send the asset to Dahai, who store it in their facilities. They also create and host the NFTs via their own smart contracts. Among other things, this makes it much safer to buy and sell via Dahai as the purchase process is simultaneous exchange, so there’s no risk of someone taking your NFT and running!

9) What a detailed response, thank you for that! I am certain my audience would find this very valuable. Next, let me ask you, what is next for Meles Branta, Algorand's premier NFT poet? In other words, what do you intend to achieve as an NFT poet?

Big questions! First and foremost, I want to raise the awareness of poetry and physical art on the Algorand ecosystem. It takes huge amounts of experimentation and time to produce this work, and ultimately it needs a healthy and thriving art collector community to support it as a sustainable endeavour.

I am doing a lot of commission work at the moment, and Dahai are an amazing avenue for that. I can work directly with a customer to create something for them, and the final exchange happens via Dahai so both they and I have great reassurance. I would love to keep doing more commissions, especially in the physical space. I’m also speaking to a number of real-world galleries about hosting some of my physical works. They would sell both the physical asset and the physically backed NFT simultaneously, which would be a great way of collectors who are new to NFTs and want the physical asset in-hand to get engaged with the ecosystem.

One of the most amazing moments for me was seeing my work traded on the secondary NFT market - people actively seeking out old pieces and trading them. It’s exciting for me to see that because it means the pieces are having an impact beyond the initial buyer, and that the wider community are feeling engaged with them. As the Algorand ecosystem grows, I hope to see poetry and art of all kinds (my own included!) on secondary markets. Also, at a time when we are experiencing a pullback in crypto valuations, it’s really exciting for see that the physical NFT market is still very strong. I hope that this might be a time that investors also think “hey, maybe I should diversify into some physical art and still keeping my money within the crypto sphere”.

10) Maybe they will after reading this interview! On to our next question. Poetry NFTs are a very experimental thing to try out... Were you ever worried it's going to fail as a project? How do you find a balance between experimentation and new ideas without losing the appeal to the broader audience with their own expectations? In simpler words, how can you stand out and be like everybody else at the same time?

This is an absolutely awesome question - I may be a bit slower in answering it as it has so many layers. Was I ever worried it would fail? I guess that depends what you mean by fail! Am I worried most nights that my art and writing won’t sell ever again? Yes! I think every creator has those fears - they are part of what drives us. We invest a part of ourselves in everything we do, and so a rejection of our work can feel like a rejection of us as a person. But in some ways, I feel like a success no matter what happens from here. People are buying, trading, and talking about poetry on the Algorand blockchain. Before I started producing these works, they weren’t. So no matter what, I have contributed to the evolution of Algorand as a home for art and writing, and I will always be proud of that.

How do I find a balance between experimentation and producing works that are sufficiently “commercial” to support me? This is one of the beauties of the Algorand ecosystem! I can produce and give away works, because of how cheap the transaction costs are, to gauge what people think of them. I have done a number of experimental projects like this, and will certainly do more in the future. I also share ideas via the very strong Discord communities that have grown up around Algorand NFTs, and get feedback from both creators and collectors. The inspiration and feedback I get from working directly with collectors who commission bespoke works also helps me shape what I will create in the future. Meanwhile, I continue to build on the successes that I have seen on Dahai, and to produce more works that align with that style.

As for standing out? I produce works that are true to myself, my skills and my style. I never try to emulate or replicate what others have done, but I remain very conscious of where I fit within the artistic and NFT family.

11) What would you say is the future of NFTs? To some it seems like just hype and money laundering, to others a revolution in digital content ownership and distribution. I'd love to hear your take on it, are NFTs here to stay? How will they evolve?

Big question! Can I answer what *could* the future of NFTs be? NFTs provide a public, permanent and traceable proof of ownership for a virtual or physical asset. They could be the future of everything from art trading to property registration. They allow for instant exchange of assets, and thanks to “atomic swaps” you can exchange ownership for payment simultaneously - removing much of the need for complex escrow accounts and enabling transactions between non-trusted individuals. Done right, blockchain technology should significantly reduce money laundering because every transaction is public and permanently viewable. There are no dark corners to hide in!

However... NFTs could also be a huge bubble that comes crashing down. Where the assets are purely digital, their value can depend on the longevity of hosting services. Those assets that are “pop culture” or “gamified” will only hold value while those games and memes hold sway in the public mind. I believe that NFTs which are tied to physical or other types of assets (such as the use of NFTs to represent contractual rights to royalties or other contractual benefits) will hold value in the future, and that we will see more and more creative and commercial uses of them going forward. But the big question - are NFTs here to stay? Yes. In one way or another, the ability to prove and exchange ownership of assets in an efficient and traceable way is something that I cannot see us walking away from as a society.

12) Lovely! Then let me ask you 2 concluding questions. Firstly, what advice would you give to those aspiring to be NFT artists?

If you want to start making NFTs - then start! There is an amazing Algorand NFT community on Reddit and Discord that will definitely help and encourage you. One thing to consider though - there are a lot of card-type and game-type NFTs out there. Make sure that whatever you look to make, whether it is a fine art NFT or something lighthearted, has an identity and personality that is both unique and true to who you are. I hope that aspiring NFT artists see this space as an exciting creative opportunity to really express themselves without fear.

13) Finally, what message do you have to the entire crypto-verse out there?

To the crypto-verse: come get involved and buy some NFTs! Fine art NFTs are a great way to get started; the digital versions on Dahai start around 15 Algo, and the physical ones are available for those who want to either buy something with an extra underlying value or who want to actually redeem the NFT and have physical art hanging in their hallway! It’s an amazing way to support artists and invest in art, while keeping all your money within the crypto sphere.

That concludes our interview. Thank you Meles Branta for sharing your experience and insight, it's been great! We hope to hear more from you in the future!

Learn more about Meles Branta and his works here.

Contact Meles Branta: melesbranta@gmail.com 

Stay tuned to new poetry and art: https://twitter.com/ArtDahai 

*P.S. the author was not paid or otherwise financially incentivised to conduct this interview.  



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