Bookmarked Article

Digital diamonds and quantified self: In conversation with Mitchell F. Chan


Stepping once again into the spotlight, Toronto-based artist Mitchell F. Chan is gearing up for the launch of his cutting-edge project, “The Boys of Summer.” Set to release on August 16 on Wildxyz, this fusion of digital game artwork and generative PFP collection delves into a ubiquitous preoccupation: the quantification of self.


“The Boys of Summer” transcends the realm of typical digital baseball character collections. It unfolds as a participatory market performance piece, inviting collectors on a personal journey of self-quantification. As you engage with the game, a series of inputs about your baseball character gradually transition into more personal realms, culminating in a rich dataset that forms your player's metadata. This journey isn't solely about winning; it encourages introspection into our value systems and challenges our inherent biases.



Chan's diverse artistic background spans various mediums, from physical sculptures to video games. Every component of “The Boys of Summer” was meticulously crafted by him, showcasing his commitment to the artmaking process. This dedication, combined with his insightful commentary on societal trends, is what sets his work apart.


Best known for the creation of one of the first major NFT art projects, “Digital Zones of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility,” Chan's work probes how humans navigate the world and how technology and social structures shape our behaviors. His art has been highlighted in numerous media outlets, including Artforum, Art In America, VICE, Canadian Art, Slate, the Toronto Star, and Gizmodo.


In this interview with Chan, we'll delve deeper into “The Boys of Summer,” discuss the influence of crypto culture, self-quantification, and sports on his artwork, and explore his artistic journey and future plans. 

“The Boys of Summer” appears to blend several cultural currents: crypto culture, quantification of self, and sports. Can you elaborate more on why you chose these particular intersections for this project?

As an artist, I am always reflecting on cultural themes that show up in our everyday lives. One of those themes that I’ve been thinking about over the last few years is the idea of self-quantification, and it dawned on me that  crypto culture, and sports– two things I am very involved in –  provide a rich and dynamic context for exploring this theme.


Crypto and PFP culture offer a unique perspective on the concept of value and data. In the realm of crypto, NFTs, and PFPs, the value of digital assets is determined by their traits and attributes encoded in data. By creating PFPs as the medium for this project, the artwork itself becomes a commentary on the very values and data structures inherent in the crypto and digital art world.


The notion of quantifying oneself has become increasingly relevant in our society, where personal data and metrics play a significant role in our lives. People now actively engage in self-quantification, whether it's through health trackers, social media metrics, or other forms of data tracking. This desire to control and shape our own quantified identities underscores the project's focus on examining our value systems and biases. The use of baseball characters and their associated statistics serves as a thought-provoking metaphor for exploring how we determine success and worth in a data-driven world.



Sports, particularly baseball, offer a compelling historical backdrop for discussions around data and quantification. Baseball's long-standing relationship with statistics, epitomized by works like Michael Lewis' "Moneyball," showcases how data can be leveraged to optimize performance and decision-making. By using baseball players as avatars in the game, the project draws parallels between the sport's statistical nature and the broader theme of quantifying oneself. This connection helps to illustrate how data-driven approaches can influence societal perspectives on achievement and success.


“The Boys of Summer” creates a multi-dimensional exploration of how data and value systems intertwine, shaping our perceptions of success and self-worth. This intersection enables a nuanced exploration of these themes, inviting viewers to question their own relationship with data, identity, and achievement in the modern world.

As an artist, how do you perceive the role of data and quantification in shaping our identities and societal interactions, which seems to be a recurring theme in "The Boys of Summer"?

I see the role of data and quantification in shaping our identities and societal interactions as a complex and often contradictory one. On the one hand, data can be a powerful tool for self-understanding and empowerment. By tracking our own data, we can gain insights into our habits, patterns, and potential. This information can then be used to make informed decisions about our lives, improve our health and well-being, and achieve our goals.


On the other hand, data can also be used to manipulate and control us. In the wrong hands, data can be used to create a false sense of self-worth, to exploit our weaknesses, and to limit our choices. This is particularly true in the context of web3, where the value of an individual is often measured in terms of their social media following, their crypto portfolio, or their number of NFTs.


The song The Boys of Summer by Don Henley captures this tension perfectly. The song is about a group of friends who have grown apart as they have gotten older. They are now measured by different metrics: the size of their houses, the number of cars they own, and their success in the corporate world. The song suggests that these metrics are not a true measure of their worth, but they have come to define them nonetheless.



Can you explain the process of creating the generative characters in "The Boys of Summer"? What factors did you consider when assigning traits and identifiers to them?

The process of generating the characters in "The Boys of Summer" involved creating different elements to create a unique and diverse set of characters. To achieve this, I incorporated a mixture of different data sources and thematic considerations.


Traits commonly found in PFP collections, such as hair color, skin tone, eye color, and clothing were intentionally randomized, and not assigned as identifiable traits in secondary markets. This decision aligns with the broader theme of the project – the quantification of self and challenging societal biases. By eliminating ‘traditional’ markers of identity and appearance, the project prompts viewers to question the basis on which they form judgments and perceptions of others.


Baseball traits and attributes played a pivotal role in shaping the characters. These traits were also randomized during the process, which adds an element of unpredictability and playfulness to the characters.


The factors considered when assigning traits and identifiers were designed to evoke thought-provoking questions about how we categorize and quantify individuals. By intentionally excluding typical human identifiers and incorporating baseball-related traits, the artwork challenges viewers to question the significance of these factors in our perceptions of value and success.

Throughout the game, the statistics of the characters become increasingly personal, like how much time they devote to sleep or their oral care. How does this aspect reflect on the broader theme of self-quantification in our society?

As technology has advanced, we have more tools at our disposal to track and measure our own lives in granular detail. This data can be used to gain insights into our habits, patterns, and potential. However, it can also be used to create a false sense of self-worth, to exploit our weaknesses, and to limit our choices.


In the game, the characters are initially only tracked on a few basic metrics, such as their sleep quality and their calorie intake. However, as the game progresses, the statistics become increasingly personal. The characters are tracked on their oral care, their exercise habits, and even their sexual activity. This reflects the way that we are increasingly tracking and measuring our own lives in all areas, from our physical health to our mental well-being to our relationships.


The game also shows how this level of self-quantification can be used to manipulate and control us. The characters are constantly bombarded with data about their performance. This data is used to create a sense of competition and to pressure them to constantly improve. This can lead to a cycle of anxiety and perfectionism, as the characters strive to achieve ever-higher levels of performance.


The game ultimately suggests that self-quantification can be a powerful tool for self-understanding and empowerment. However, it is important to be critical of the data that we collect and use, and to be aware of the ways in which it can be used to shape our identities, social interactions, and determine our worth.


In “The Boys of Summer,” you use baseball as a medium to express these ideas about data and quantification. Can you discuss more about why baseball, in particular, was chosen and how it lends itself to these themes?

As an avid baseball lover and fan, the sport was an obvious choice as the medium for "The Boys of Summer" due to its historical connection to statistics and data-driven analysis. The decision to use baseball players as the avatars for the project taps into this rich tradition and draws on your personal experiences and inspirations.


My background working as an intern for Bill James' Baseball Info Solutions, an analyst whose work influenced the development of sabermetrics and the transformation of baseball, provided me with a foundational understanding of how data and statistics have revolutionized the sport. In addition, the documented impact of sabermetrics in Michael Lewis' "Moneyball," reinforced the central idea that a person's capabilities and potential can indeed be distilled into a set of statistics.


Baseball's deep-rooted relationship with statistics underscores the concept that numbers can be used to represent a person's skills, strengths, and potential. This resonates with the larger theme of self-quantification, where individuals track and measure various aspects of their lives to gain insights into their own abilities and progress — sometimes to a fault.

You've chosen to create "The Boys of Summer" as a video game artwork. How does the medium of video games enhance the participatory and interactive aspects of your art?

Video games enhance the participatory and interactive aspects of my work by allowing the viewer to become a participant in the art. The viewer is not just a passive observer, but an active player who can make choices and influence the outcome of the game. This participation helps the viewer to connect with the art on a deeper level. You’ll see how immersive and engaging the experience is once you opt-in to play it! 


Hopefully, this will help players reflect on their own relationship with data and to think about the ways in which data can be used to shape our identities and societal interactions.


Your work often explores how technology and social structures affect our behavior. How does this NFT drop reflect or challenge these themes?
I believe that this artwork is a thought-provoking exploration of the ways in which technology and social structures can affect our behavior, and hope that it will serve as a reminder that we need to be mindful of the ways in which we are being shaped by the data that we collect and use. We also need to be critical of the value systems that are being created around data-driven decision-making.


In the press release, you mention the idea of the 'quantified self' as something new, yet it's accompanied by a lot of non-consensual and invisible quantification. Can you elaborate on this dichotomy and how it influences your art?

While the quantified self is often seen as a new phenomenon, it is important to remember that we have been quantifying ourselves for centuries. For example, the ancient Greeks used to track their physical activity and diet in order to improve their athletic performance. And in the Middle Ages, people used to keep track of their finances and property in order to manage their resources.


The difference between the quantified self of the past and the quantified self of today is that the data that we collect today is often non-consensual and invisible. 


For example, when we use a social media platform, we are essentially giving that platform permission to track our every move. And when we use a fitness tracker, we are giving that tracker permission to collect data about our heart rate, steps taken, and calories burned.


I believe that art can be a powerful tool for exploring these issues, and I hope that my work can help to raise awareness of the dangers of the quantified self and the potential for data to be used for good.

How has your journey from architecture studies to becoming a pioneer in the field of NFT and public art influenced your perspective on art and its role in society?

Drawing from my architectural background, I've developed a knack for understanding how people and their surroundings interact. This outlook has given me a better grasp of how art can really shape how we see and experience spaces. Take my public art projects, for example — I use light, sound, and movement to create these cool, immersive experiences that you can interact with.


Now, I'm also pretty obsessed with technology, and I've been diving into how art can mix with all this new media stuff. You know, like NFTs and blockchain. They're opening up all these exciting possibilities for artists to make and share their stuff. Like, my NFT project "Digital Zones of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility" was basically me going deep into how blockchain can shake up the whole idea of owning and selling art.


And then, with my work in public art, I've realized just how important art is for bringing people together. It's like this powerful tool that can make people think and talk about important things and build a sense of community. Take "Nil-Nil," my recent project — it looked at how the whole COVID-19 situation shifted our social lives online.


Honestly, I'm a firm believer that art can get us thinking, feeling, and connecting. It's not just about sticking to the usual, but about exploring new ideas and making a better future happen.