Beyond the self: a conversation with Ines Alpha
New augmented reality filters are popping up daily, adding a playful note to the social media game. Still, it’s been tricky to determine which creators’ contributions pass through an artistic process and which do not. Indeed, some skeptics are unwilling to consider AR effects a full-fledged art practice, as we would for painting or other mediums accepted by the establishment as art. But norms are changing. In Ines Alpha’s words “Augmented reality is just another tool artists can use. Art doesn’t have to be a painting or a sculpture. It evolves with time and with our society as well. Anything that can help an artist to tell a story, to share a different point of view, can be considered art. It’s not the tool that creates the art piece; it’s the artist’s intention. And that’s how you make the difference between a basic filter and an artistic one. Not the majority of AR creators have a specific and personal vision or message they want to share with the world. Most of them just enjoy experimenting with the software.“
Based in Paris, Ines is an artist whose practice is steeped in internet culture. (She has been an enthusiastic Tamagotchi breeder since forever). While honing her career as an art director, she binge-watched 3D creatives’ online tutorials in her spare time. Her journey to becoming a full-time digital artist began when she teamed up with creative mainstays, such as the music producer Panteros666, to co-produce video clips featuring otherworldly blobs and ethereal shapes. In relatively short order, she was drawn to augmented reality. Using 3D makeup, she has cultivated a signature style that challenges received ideas of what fine art can be. Ines is building up the beauty industry’s future. Nothing less.
HyperEmotionalSkin, in collaboration with Adrien Chuttarsing. Image courtesy of the artist.
Cracking the reality dilemma with AR filters
Nowadays, it’s a cliché to hear creatives talk about blurring the lines between the real and the virtual. The catchphrase more often lends itself to boosterism than a substantive aesthetic statement. Ines’s work however, fully merits such an otherwise careworn description. Her work in 3D and AR deepen an optimistic narrative that fully embraces our hypermediated era.
“When I started experimenting with 3D, it was pretty natural for me to suddenly add 3D elements on a face as makeup,” she explained. “I used post-production software for my first projects, and AR seemed way too complex to learn at that time. But post-production means creating a tailor-made 3D design, so no one can try that 3D makeup look on once the video is done. I knew I would need to use AR at some point to democratize my work. Because how can I call my art ‘makeup’ if no one can wear it?” To make the magic happen, Ines gradually integrated AR into her creative process. Pointing to the medium’s world-building potential, she declared, “You can create things that would be almost impossible or at least a nightmare to reproduce in the physical world.” Apart from its constructive functionality, Ines has found AR to be the perfect medium to deconstruct the beauty and makeup standards.
Because how can I call my art ‘makeup’ if no one can wear it?
— Ines Alpha
ImpulsTanz x CinCin / Filter developed with HongweiTang. Image courtesy of the artist.
Ines Alpha by Nathan Beer
Ines Alpha by Nathan Beer
The artist’s home by Nathan Beer.
“I’ve always been into adding 3D elements in our physical world, using what we can see with our eyes and augmenting it with digital software to make it more magical,” she told me. “I love the effect it has on your brain, the questions that can arise while watching those kinds of work or even making them, tricking the brain into believing everything is real.”
This mind-luring approach, specific to AR, is also closely aligned with the internet era’s identity fluidity, a core component of her explorations that has been evolving with the rise of social networks and the rate at which the web is shifting. Along these lines, Ines’s filters tackle self-awareness, meta-aesthetics, and beauty. Using the latest in tech to generate futuristic identities, she questions the underlying societal values of facial depictions. The iridescent layers of her creations are meant to empower people, giving them the freedom to play around, create, and embody a new screen-native self. Her hope? To entice people to embark on a mixed reality experience that, over time, may help them temper IRL frustrations and fears.
Ines has been lucky enough to keep her creativity and personality in most of her creations, some of which illustrate her universe with more intensity and trueness, such as projects developed using multiple mediums. Developed in collaboration with creative coder and AI enthusiast Adrien Chuttarsing, her HyperEmotionalSkin connects makeup with users’ feelings and generates designs that depend on the emotions users are willing to show the camera. Meanwhile, her alpha beauty booth–a collaboration with digital artist and engineer Sava–lets you apply your 3D makeup look with your finger. Easy-to-use and inclusive, these digital makeup wearables fill social feeds as they allow users to participate in the creation of art. It’s a smart way to increase the visibility of her creations as algorithms become more and more untamable each day.
αƖρнα Ɓєαυту Ɓσσтн. Image courtesy of the artist.
From social apps to the crypto space
To a large segment of people, NFT art is synonymous with little more than over-hyped digital status symbols. For others, including me, this revolution has been a significant turning point in art history, digital ownership, community building, and aesthetics.
Ines has been looking for ways to monetize her work. At present, smart contracts offer the most viable means for her to do so. “For now, it’s the only way to sell digital artists’ work with a proper certificate and trace it. That’s great news to make digital art accessible to more people, protect it and value our work more traditionally,” she mentioned, adding that ownership of AR is a slippery slope. “It’s complicated, especially when collaborating with big companies such as Meta. I have no idea what the law is about this, shame on me, but uploading my art to their platform makes it their own?” Still, these apps are the best way to display and share her work, and she hasn’t yet found the right way to link her AR works to NFTs. In particular, the filter-related ones are more of a self-triggered experience than an artwork because of their ephemeral nature. But, she is quite optimistic about the future. “I guess it’s not gonna be a problem soon enough anyways,” she said, as the ever-evolving features of NFT platforms widen the possibilities offered to creators a little more every day.
This new creative economy has been a game-changer for Ines. Web3 has allowed her to broaden the scope of her e-makeup creations which valorize a form of beauty that is more diverse, quirky, and open to imperfection than what is traditionally considered worthy of celebration. “It’s a good thing that art pieces that were not made in a traditional way have value now. That value has been given by people and not by a very selective privileged group. What’s beautiful or not doesn’t belong and doesn’t have to be decided by a niche of people.” Ines’s views on creative freedom and autonomous decision-making are key components to the Web3 ecosystem and its community ethos, and that’s why we are all in here.
From the few experiences she has had so far, the crypto space has been very kind to Ines. “I’ve always felt that people working in the digital space were supportive,” she explained. “Always up to sharing knowledge, resources, and tips. It’s thanks to Nicole Ruggiero that I made my first baby steps in the community.”
When I asked Ines what’s next for her, she told me that in addition to creating new filters and partnering with other collaborators, she has started exploring new ways to merge realities. One such project is with a company that wants to produce stuffed animals with her 3D designs. “I hope this project will happen! It’s so exciting for me to be able to have physical versions of my work. I’m already thinking of also having accessible (price-wise) and sustainable NFT versions for those who can’t afford the plush toys.” As for the rest, it will mostly depend on what chance may bring. Yet for the time being, Ines remains committed to exploring how makeup will be re-shaped through Web3 and the metaverse. How will this conceptual space affect our standpoint and, more globally, our identity? This may keep her busy and creative for a while.
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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