Robert Sawatzky
Feb 24, 2022

How a virtual human's artwork was both created and sold at a Hong Kong auction

INSPIRATION STATION: The generative, data-driven NFT artwork 'Drowning in Love', attributed to virtual human named MonoC, sold for $24,000 this week.

How a virtual human's artwork was both created and sold at a Hong Kong auction

It was inevitable that we'd see this sooner or later. 

With AI pushing the boundaries of generative art, NFTs pushing the boundaries of digital IP and virtual influencers pushing... well, their validity in most cases, it was only a matter of time before we'd see a virtual artist create a data-led NFT and sell it at auction to someone looking to own a headline-grabbing digital creation that could conceivably appreciate over time. 

And that's what happened this week as work attributed to an entity known as MonoC sold at a Hong Kong auction that fetched HK$189,000 (US$24,000).

Novelty story? Sure. Publicity stunt? Yes partly, though an expensive one at that for the buyer. But what's of interest here is how it relates to creative communications, and the unique way the artwork was derived.  

Concept image for the auction, 2022

MonoC (or mo.noc on Instagram) is a female character created by marketing company Gusto Collective, led by former Cheil executive Aaron Lau. The company is involved with metaverse-related marketing and brand opportunities. Projects like these allow it to raise the profile of a virtual influencer that it can own and control, unlike other influencers. It also gives the company a chance to explore what new digital products and brand opportunities are possible with new technology.

MonoC's work, Drowning in Love, came together as Gusto Collective partnered with Phillips auction house to create art that would be influenced by the very art auction process itself. The artwork was the 50th lot of 50 artworks involving actual paintings or sculptures in an online auction that Philips called 'My Kawaii Valentine' held between February 14 and February 22 in 'celebration of love'.

'Drowning in Love' concept image (Instagram)

According to the auction house, the artwork took in at least 100,000 live data points in real time as the bidding progressed on all 50 lots. The work was thus generated and rendered live progressively throughout the week depending on the datapoints coming in. As Phillips describes it:

Drowning in Love is contextualized by themes of companionship, self-appreciation and sexuality that are explored in nearly 50 works being offered. The algorithmic procedural generation on which the work is based will mean that how each of these lots sell during the auction will directly influence the final form of MonoC’s artistic vision. This artistic vision is anchored in a dual commentary on the vitality love brings into life and some of the more morally compromised aspects of love; obsession, idealization and delusion.


A post shared by MonoC �� (@mo.noc)

If all of the above is not quite meta enough for you, generative music, or music generation through the help of AI or automation, was added to the work by Hong Kong composer Terrence Ma (T-Ma) as it unfolded. This music was purportedly done in collaboration with MonoC, though this process isn't fully explained.

“Together with T-Ma and our team, MonoC creates something unexpected and beautiful out of live data that brings a new interplay between art and technology," Gusto Collective CEO Lau said. "She has grown organically in the metaverse from the heart of all we do at Gusto Collective. I am excited to see what innovations her creativity and our cutting-edge technologies will see in the future.”

Depiction of MonoC with composer T-Ma

Added Hin Hin Wong, associate specialist of 20th century and contemporary art at Phillips: "With this work, we celebrate the conventions of an auction house, while welcoming the new trend of artistic technology.”

In the end, MonoC's work was not the most expensive art sold 'My Kawaii Valentine', but wasn't the cheapest either. Final bids on the lots ranged from below HK$2,000 (US$256) to as much as HK$478,000 (US$61,000) for a good old fasthioned painting on canvas from artist Edgar Plans. 

You've arrived at Inspiration Station, a weekly look at imaginative and artistic work from creators of all kinds across Asia-Pacific. Step off for a minute to recharge your creative batteries and find inspiration for that next big idea of yours further down the track.


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