Ruby 9100m and the art of breaking reality
Unless you’ve been logged off for a while, you’ve noticed that virtual beings have seeped into every corner of the internet. You may not like it; still, you have to accept that they’ve unlocked many new creative possibilities in fields from fashion to art to media. With ever-evolving storytelling, flexible designs, and unique online social experiences, they adjust to the wills of their audiences, followers, and creators. Invented by Hong Kong-born and raised artist Ruby (the IRL one), her avatar, Ruby 9100m, is one of these computer-generated entities, and has become well known through net culture and digital fashion communities over the last few years.
I first came across Ruby’s universe circa 2015. At this time, she was pretty active on Tumblr, sharing a daily dose of Internet gems and a e s t h e t i c visuals, kinky anime captures and slick fashion snaps you could scroll through for hours. She was also leading the Wee Girls Club, a global community of “multidimensional girls with a strong sense of culture, art, music, and design.” At that time, she was already ahead, showing a deep understanding of the web subculture’s ecosystem, aesthetics, philosophy, and community. It was around 2018 when she started embodying her digital self. The vanguard CG girl and transhuman she has been splitting her life with is her way of blurring the lines between what it means to be a physical and virtual being. “Ruby is my virtual extension and a vessel for myself to express my emotions and aesthetics freely. I also see her as my daughter,” she said while introducing her digital self. ” It’s like I built her, and I have to be very responsible and attentive for her as an identity. I take a meticulous approach to her branding and development. Also, she doesn’t have friends like other virtual beings, and I’m her best friend.”
Ruby 9100. Image courtesy of the artist.
Rendered identity as therapy
Some people may have a rough time catching up with the virtual-everything frenzy or may not be very into cyber-girl subculture. Others can still find the overall concept of digital personas a bit blazé and not artsy enough. However, net culture freaks will have a blast digging into the conceptual ideas that form Ruby 9100m’s narrative core: a well-crafted exploration of how the internet has been shaping new existences.
Ruby started away from reality as soon as she intensified her online presence as a fashion influencer while still a student, mainly using Tumblr. For her, understanding herself online is to understand herself in the real world–a metaphysical thought she has struggled with since an early age. “I had trouble valuing myself as a human being. It might be because I grew up in a traditional Asian family and a small city where I never felt I belonged. Plus a lot of unfortunate experiences in childhood that came along,” she confesses. “I was always trying to fit in, but I could not.”
She started sporting head-turning looks and got internet-breaking attention. “I was always trying to be someone people would like to see!” she said, insisting that other people’s gazes likely kicked off her shift into becoming a transhuman. “I guess the process of being looked at on social media at the age when I was still finding myself gave me extreme anxiety,” she said. “I suddenly thought that as everything we see online is highly calculated and not true, maybe I could create my second identity to replace my existence there so I can separate my real life from online life.”
Unlike most teams that manage these 2.0 muses, the one-woman team Ruby (helped by her feline assistant Lulu the chub) does not hide the Daz Studio and Marvelous Designer software intervention to bring her CGI alter ego to the digital realm. Likewise, she does not hide her emotions. Across the screen spectrum, the genuineness she shares presents a personal vision of the merging point of the real and the virtual: a daily crossroads of realities that are no longer up for discussion in 2022.
This total transparency is one of the catching aspects of her practice. It considerably expands the scope of her work from an artistic and sociological point of view and reduces the gap with her audience. Indeed, contrary to other V-influencers who are nothing more than an amalgam of current trends, Ruby 9100m reflects her IRL creator in all aspects and pertinently questions the relationship we all have with our own virtual self. “I guess the uniqueness of Ruby is that she is not completely virtual,” Ruby answered when asked about the singularity of her creation. “Ruby 9100m might appear to be the most virtual among avatars, but she isn’t plotted to represent any social norms or issues,” she states. “I guess this also somehow makes her ethically neutral. And business wise, her authentic identity and existence are also unique instead of being an industry-made character only for making money.” She definitely keeps a minimum distance from the competition and always favors a critical and creative approach despite her involvement in commercial projects. It’s a slippery slope she’s managed quite well so far.
Ruby 9100m. Image courtesy of the artist.
From the closet to the metaverse
Fashion has always been a central piece of Ruby’s practice. Not only because it helped boost her self-confidence, but also because it is intrinsically related to the work she unfolds with her avatar. Her sharp sense of style and the eye-catching futuristic design of her 3D renders are her signatures, and they’ve captured attention. They brought her to collaborate with some of the industry’s mainstays like Nike, Adidas, Ambush, Bvlgari, Vivienne Westwood, and The Fabricant. In addition to increasing her profile and bringing her into the public sphere, these opportunities have provided an additional way to make her art visible.
Virtual fashion was a mandatory step as she fully embraced the virtual world with Ruby 9100m. Still, she had no educational background in fashion. “Everything I learned about fashion and art is from my experience, tryout, and passion. As a real-life fashion influencer, I liked to style myself when I was younger. And now I still style a lot but all that for Ruby.” Like many creators, she sat down during the pandemic and broadened her tool kit. She self-taught Marvelous Designer and learned how to build digital clothing. “I feel so amazing to be able to create anything I want to wear, but I cannot find it IRL. Digital fashion is a must in the industry. Other than minimizing the cost of production, it gives fashion even more possibilities for creativity.”
Looking towards the future and how digital clothing may evolve, Ruby supposes it will really depend on the technology and its acceptance to make virtual fashion’s utilities more approachable. “Combining physical and virtual products is also important to be the first step to make people interested in collecting virtual fashion items too!” she added.
In a more democratic, free-for-all space than the classic catwalks can provide, this year’s Decentraland fashion week allowed fashion NFTs collectors to grab physical versions of their assets. This metaverse-based event perfectly resonated with Ruby’s point of view and demonstrates how non-tangible clothes can accelerate and facilitate the ongoing transition and mass adoption.
Ruby 9100m. Image courtesy of the artist.
A mindful approach to Web3
Aside from being one of the most stylish gals of the Tumblr-era, Ruby has also been at the forefront of web-based art for a while, working through online spaces, challenging realities, and carefully tackling topics in IP. It was foreseeable that she’d be involved in Web3, taking her creations to the next step and monetizing them through smart contracts. “I think NFTs bring a revolution and evolution for digital art,” she said. “With encrypted technology and values added to digital art, it is no longer just ‘internet art’ that is hard to value but also now considered as one of the most important mediums in the art industry.”
However, she has been very cautious regarding the tokens’ pros and cons, using blockchain with tweezers and keeping her drops only for significant moments. “I usually do collabs with other platforms, companies, and artists for NFTs instead of just minting my work. I believe the creative process and concept are more important than just putting it [out] there.”
Joining the crypto world also contributed to spotlighting her works. It allowed her to reach an ever-growing community, diversify her audience from a niche fan base to the mainstream, and provide a better understanding of her practice. “One interesting fact is that NFTs bring Ruby more male audiences, while before most of my audience and followers were women and genderless people,” she noted.
Although she has not been deeply involved in any Web3-powered metaverses yet, and still has a long way to go and so much to learn about this blooming ecosystem, she is eager to explore its creative potential and add some new layers to her work. “It would be amazing to create a virtual and open space for Ruby with the world she could live in, with everyone’s effort to participate. As I didn’t purposely set any physical space for her to be in, it would be inspiring to see that in the future.”
Next steps: Playing with AI and Algorithms
Regarding how she envisions the coming months (and years) for her other half, she is thirsty for new ways to express herself and push the boudaries of creation and storytelling, whether using tech tools or not. “My ultimate goal is to make her an AI prototype,“ She said before concluding. “It would be astonishing to see the algorithm while Ruby comes to life and to communicate with a person who is supposed to be me, but maybe not! Apart from this, I have been working on transitioning Ruby’s current appearances into fine art. Stay tuned!”
Benoit is a French project coordinator, digital content strategist, writer, and curator based in Tokyo. He has been digging into web culture and digital art since the early aughts and sharpened his knowledge with an intensive academic journey, including a Master's degree in research in digital media at Sorbonne University in Paris. He has collaborated with companies, studios, and media such as MUTEK, VICE, i-D, Society for Arts and Technology, Club Media, and The Creators Project (VICE & Intel), to name a few. Through curatorial projects, research, and writing, he likes exploring issues such as networked culture, social media practices, and media archeology. He also enjoys talking about NFTs and ramen.
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