The future of cryptoart as art

The future of cryptoart as art

Above: MOMA, New York” by eschipul is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The future of cryptoart as art

2 months ago

This article is part of a series

Back in April of this year, I found a job posting that caught my eye. The MoMA was looking for a Web3 associate. No word on if they filled the position (if you’re MoMA’s Web3 associate, hit me up), but the role itself struck me as important–an institution as integral to the trad art world as the MoMA searching for someone who knew a thing or two about NFTs pointed to a shift: The influence of underdog cryptoart was finally going mainstream. 

As more institutions like the MoMA dip their toes into the cryptoart waters, even art that isn’t digitally native may increasingly come to live on-chain. The separation between cryptoart and art looks more arbitrary to me by the day, and maybe it always was; cryptoart is still art, after all. Does the crypto qualifier even devalue artwork by assigning it to a category separate from “real” art? It depends on how you look at it. Artists who mint their work on-chain are already smacked with false accusations by the technophobic and ignorant–it’s not real art, those critics say, embarrassingly unable to differentiate between an XCOPY and a Bored Ape clone. It’s just a cash grab–they never thought of digital art as art to begin with, NFTs or otherwise. But then again, photography wasn’t considered art for years, either. Eventually, figures like André Bazin (in his 1960 essay “The Ontology of the Photographic Image”), would argue that photography is the most important artistic innovation to date. Look how far we’ve come. There’s something exciting and subversive about the reclamation of the word “art” by the cryptoart community, an assertion of identity and legitimacy outside the purview of museums, MFA programs, and brick and mortar galleries where artists don’t even earn royalties. Now, the artists who deserted those ineffective institutions for Web3’s greener pastures get to watch the trad art wardens crawl back, their tails between their legs, begging for a piece of the action. It’s their turn to assimilate.

Cryptoart is closing in on its Bazin moment. Astute observers saw it coming back when Beeple sold big at Christie’s, but the signs have existed for longer: punk activist influencers like Nadya Tolokonikova embraced NFTs during a time when most of her political contemporaries decried them, celebrities like Paris Hilton have become some of the most well-known collectors of NFTs, and alternative cryptoart communities (like those found on Tezos) are full of young, queer, BIPOC artists—traditionally, the too-cool-for-school predictors of trends and tastes. The cultural blocks that signal mass adoption have been stacking up for years. Just in time for the Ethereum merge, a merge between art scenes is coming, too. 

Now, we see heated discussion about where other types of art stop and where cryptoart begins, with the language around it being far from static. Once a word describing off-chain art about cryptocurrencies, cryptoart came to refer to a movement of blockchain native art with the establishment of fine art-focused NFT marketplaces. Now, some artists and collectors define cryptoart even more specifically as digital art that utilizes NFTs as a medium, and that aesthetically and philosophically reflect the interests of the crypto space. Is a JPEG of an oil painting, scanned and minted on SuperRare, cryptoart? By some emerging definitions, no. We may already be entering the next era of adoption, where NFTs are both a practical tool for distributing art and a medium in and of themselves, and not always at the same time. The words that once served the cryptoart community with a degree of certainty now find themselves developing alongside it–a rewrite of the lexicon could be on the horizon.

The role of blockchain in the art world is less murky than when SuperRare was founded in 2018, even less murky than a year ago when the DAO went live. Recent NFT acquisitions by museums like LACMA, the presence of NFTs at events like 2022’s Art Basel in Switzerland, and the adoption of NFTs by artists ranging from Takashi Murakami to Marina Abramovic seem to signal cryptoart’s trajectory. Even legacy galleries, arguably the greatest gatekeepers of all, are diving in. Taglialatella, for example, has not only collaborated with SuperRare on two IRL exhibitions, but the gallery is launching its own SuperRare Space. An optimistic experiment in decentralized art curation, Taglialatella’s participation suggests that the trad art world is capable of adopting Web3 ethos. Once the niche interest of visionary tech enthusiasts, DeFi investors, and digital artists seeking better opportunities, blockchain has developed into a tool that showcases the power people can cultivate when they work together. Cryptoart is surviving the recent bear market, even as NFT collectibles crash around it. Art doesn’t play by the same economic rules as other assets, because art will always have value beyond the monetary. The enduring power of cryptoart is not dependent on a profit model that lines the pockets of the powerful, but rather altruistic creativity from the people who care about the space, a booming fuck you to anyone who dares stand in the way of progress. 

The value of currency may fluctuate, but if cryptoart doesn’t actually make it, the market won’t be the culprit. People determine the worth of their communities, and it’s up to these communities of artists, collectors, and curators to safeguard against opportunists, to protect one another, and to learn from the greed that motivated so much of the old art world. Structures like the SuperRare DAO intend to allow those people to remain empowered, to enable the critical marriage of art and revolution. It isn’t just about a single artistic community. It’s about art as a whole, how we can find a way to uplift all artists and break the patterns that have become inherent to engaging with art under capitalism. I know the presence of art on the blockchain is an unavoidable facet of the future–the question lies in whether or not people will twist art’s next evolution into an imitation of what they labored to kill. Whatever the answer ends up being, it will change art. Forever.

20

Oliver Scialdone

Oliver Scialdone is a queer writer and artist based in Brooklyn, NY. They earned a dual-MFA from The New School, and their work can be found in Peach Mag, ImageOut Write, and elsewhere. They used to host the reading series Satellite Lit and they're the Associate Editor at SuperRare Magazine.

Art

Tech

Curators' Choice

Pixel chlorophyll: horror, conflict, and harmony in the works of Criptocromo

Pixel chlorophyll: horror, conflict, and harmony in the works of Criptocromo

Pixel chlorophyll: horror, conflict, and harmony in the works of Criptocromo

5 months ago

The Flavoprotein Artist 

Blue light-sensitive flavoproteins called cryptochromes contribute to regulating directional growth in plants, and in some species even have a role in controlling circadian rhythms. It’s an apt moniker for Mexican artist Criptocromo, whose body of work includes imagery inspired by greenery. His pixel art is frequently rendered in bold and contrasting tones, with subject matter veering into the unsettling. “I’ve always been interested in the plant kingdom,” he said when we spoke over video. “It all started, I think, since I was a child. I got carnivorous plants.” Over time, he began to learn more about plant biology and took gardening workshops. In his profile on SuperRare, he even describes himself as a “flavoprotein artist.” But his previous job, creating television graphics for a news channel, was not one that allowed him to explore what he finds fascinating and inspiring. In 2014, he began creating digital art and posting it on Tumblr to satisfy the need to express himself; he first came into contact with NFTs by following XCOPY on the platform, and curiosity took hold. “I sent my animation to SuperRare. I said, ‘let’s see what happens.’ I wasn’t even into cryptocurrencies.” To his surprise, they accepted his art.

Criptocromo, a soft-spoken man in his thirties with an inviting smile and thick square glasses, minted his first token on SuperRare about four years ago (the piece, “Domestication,” referencing “The Creation of Adam,” depicts a hand reaching towards the leaves of a plant and includes a text box similar to those found in retro video games); he’s been in the crypto art space ever since, minting not only on SuperRare, but also on platforms ranging from Rarible to Hic et Nunc. And plant life isn’t the only notable feature of his art. Criptocromo’s work is full of very fine pixels where shadow, shading, and color express the horrific and grotesque. Most tokens are not still images, but rather pulsing GIFs that produce disquieting emotions in the observer.

For example, “Lettuce” invites the viewer to a dark scene bathed in eerie neon green light, where a towering plant monster emerges from the shadows. A human victim drops their fork. The subtle wafting of the leaves on the monster’s head as rain pounds down around it makes the scene all the more haunting. When I asked Criptocromo about the relationship between nature and humans present in his work, he paused for a moment and apologized as he dug for the right words to express himself in English. But I suspected based on his demeanor, the way his eyes seemed to flicker after each question, that regardless of what language he found himself communicating in, Criptocromo often spoke thoughtfully. After a few moments, he explained, “we are all living organisms. We come from a living organism.” The domination of humans by plant life and the absorption of humanity into nature are both very present across his body of work, this feeling that the plant kingdom is executing revenge upon humanity for how we have systematically destroyed it. 

“Skeletal Garden” explores similar concepts but more quietly—the art shows a skeleton awash in golden light over a backdrop of night skies and deep indigo mountains, dark turquoise grass dotted with white and blue flowers. It appears to be growing from the ground and simultaneously sinking into it, at rest but somehow alive. The sentence “Congratulations! You managed to grow a beautiful garden…” floats in a text box. As Criptocromo explained, the piece considers how death can bring life, how a decaying creature can help produce a thriving garden by giving itself back to the earth. “It’s more to see the transcendental part,” he said.

He similarly explores the relationship between life and death in “Xiuhtecuhtli.” In “Xiuhtecuhtli,” the eponymous Aztec god, known as the god of fire but also associated with life after death, rebirth and transformation, crouches low over a flame as if about to lower himself into it, grinning with his arms crossed over his knees. And in “LuciferChrist,” Jesus and Lucifer are depicted as a single being, with red skin, horns, and a flashing blue halo. A text box below quotes John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Criptocromo continuously coaxes harmony from the space between seemingly conflicting forces, be it life and death, people and nature, good and evil. I asked him about the presence of spirituality in his work, but when he suddenly became bashful, I realized that through our language difference and the spotty audio connection of our video chat, he thought I asked him about sexuality in his art instead. I didn’t correct him because I thought that either way, his answer would provide fascinating context. He said it wasn’t a focus of his work, but “I love the symbols,” sharing that he’s become interested in lucid dreaming. “It has more to do with grading your own language and symbols and trying to make sense of your own imagery.” He added that artists should listen to the dark sides of their personalities, as creatively those are “routes where great things are hidden.”

Beyond Sprites

Not all of Criptocromo’s pieces include the text boxes, but many do. Even those that don’t are inspired by vintage gaming, most obviously through the use of pixels, but also through backgrounds, color, and aspects of character design. According to Criptocromo, nostalgia remains a strong factor in the look of his work—he grew up playing vintage games and considers it a “very generational influence.” But he rightfully differentiates his particular style from art that simply reproduces the aesthetics of retro gaming: “I am not so much interested in pixel art formally speaking, like creating sprite animation…I try to give my artwork a more illustrative approach.” And while the impact of classic games is evident (he cited “Donkey Kong Country” for the SNES as a favorite, but shared that he recently played “Undertale,” a contemporary game with classic pixel graphics that subverts traditional dungeon crawler narratives), Criptocromo expressed that he wants to get deeper into “the texture side of the artwork, of the noisy pixels moving.” The chilling “GN” exemplifies this, showing cloaked blue figures whose crimson eyes beat and crackle in time with background pixels, reminiscent of the 1973 René Laloux film “Fantastic Planet.” Criptocromo loves the GIF format for this reason, saying that “It looks more crisp. It’s sharp. It’s more malleable, maybe.”

These qualities are what drew me to his work initially–my tastes in visual art are squarely rooted in pixels, glitches, and noise, references to retro tech, vintage A/V equipment, and old games; he elevates that style. And while there are other crypto artists whose work exists in a similar vein–contemporaries like Neurocolor, Sarah Zucker, and p1exlfool–Criptocromo doesn’t have the sizeable online following many of these artists have, despite the time he’s spent in the scene. Something about his work still feels alternative and underground, I think in part because his art specifically builds upon the aesthetics of video games, conjuring images of small groups of people huddled around early consoles in private living rooms. His use of light, color, and shadow are reminiscent of low budget creature features with terrifying practical effects, but the accessibility of his art also plays a role in fostering this DIY quality–though his pieces on SuperRare and other Ethereum-powered platforms fetch higher prices, Criptocromo still has tokens available on Hic et Nunc for 25 XTZ and under, or, as of writing, less than $100.

And his work goes beyond still images and GIFs. He minted an animated NFT on SuperRare called “Circum[n]utation; it features Spyder Malamadre, a character frequently featured in Criptocromo’s art, destroying a city—the animation is thirty-two seconds long, inspired by ‘90s video game intros, and has music composed by Adrián Baez. Music is another interest—he’s released a few volumes titled “Music for Plants,” available on SoundCloud and Youtube, but doesn’t exactly consider himself a musician. Inspired by experimental techno, darkwave, IDM, and ambient soundscapes, his music rides the sounds of lo-fi, dungeon crawler scores, and occasionally even gives remnants of Mort Garson’s internet-beloved “Plantasia.

Now, Criptocromo has built strong bonds with fellow artists and collectors. Of the community, he said, “I think if it wasn’t for them, I don’t know if I would still be here…there’s a sense of unity and it’s very magical.” His face lit up when he described drawing inspiration and comradery from artists like XCOPY, Ofiicinas TK, and Carlos Marcial, and he’s specifically enthusiastic about the crypto art community in Mexico, his home. In addition to minting art and exploring music composition, he’s excited about participation in a platform focused on comics, an unexplored space for crypto artists in comparison to other mediums. Ultimately, he loves the scene and the place he’s carved out for himself in it. “I didn’t even imagine that we could have all of this community going,” Criptocromo said. “So I dunno. Growing so fast, it has been really a nice experience and I am very thankful.”

20

Oliver Scialdone

Oliver Scialdone is a queer writer and artist based in Brooklyn, NY. They earned a dual-MFA from The New School, and their work can be found in Peach Mag, ImageOut Write, and elsewhere. They used to host the reading series Satellite Lit and they're the Associate Editor at SuperRare Magazine.

Art

Tech

Curators' Choice

Miami vice: Bitcoin and decadence

Miami vice: Bitcoin and decadence

Miami vice: Bitcoin and decadence

5 months ago

I WANTED A VAPORWAVE DREAM BUT ALL I GOT WAS THIS SLEAZE-SHIRT

I never expected my weekend would conclude with me crying at Miami Beach Pride, but as the tears came welling up while I stood on the sidewalk about two blocks away from the diner where I got breakfast, the moment seemed fitting. My last major Pride event was long before COVID lockdown began–I typically dislike big corporate celebrations, and most years I avoid New York’s famous parade down 5th Avenue. I’m not really about humoring cops or tolerating the cisgender heterosexual women screaming YAAAS KWEEN at drag performers while simultaneously shooting glares at any lesbian who looks a little too masculine for their comfort. But after the time I had during my week in Miami, the rainbows and glitter slapping me across the face came as an unexpected reprieve. It stung so good.

Miami Beach Pride by the author

Miami Beach Pride by the author

I landed on Wednesday afternoon. The next morning, when I left the Dream Hotel in South Beach to scavenge for coffee and a croissant, three men cat-called me. The leader had his chest puffed out like a little boy with something to prove, and I made the mistake of glancing his way for a moment too long. He lurched after me as if he meant to follow (thankfully, he didn’t). I tried not to look too obvious as I put distance between us, and his laughter trailed behind me. Men have this different way of harassing butch lesbians on the street. It’s as if your masculinity threatens them, or like they view it as a challenge. The subtext always seems to be I’ll fix you or I’ll show you your place, even if they don’t say it out loud. 

Of course, that wasn’t the first time–I’m used to people who shout slurs at me on the street. Or women who glare at me in bathrooms and point me out to their boyfriends as I leave. Teens at the bodega laughing–gesturing my way and whispering, What is it? The occasional refusal of service in shops and restaurants. When I was younger and still tried to go to straight bars, sometimes men would want to fight. Even so, Puffed Out Chest and his friends felt more real. I was alone in a new city over a thousand miles away from home. The whole experience was so isolating.

On my way back to the hotel, a fourth man gave me an up and down and muttered just loud enough for me to hear: “I’ll show you, baby.” In that instance, the city’s reputation as a gay haven shattered. I couldn’t get the citizens of South Beach to stop glaring at me all throughout the week. 

After that I tried to avoid leaving the hotel alone, which didn’t prove difficult; my friend and colleague, Vinny Valenzuela, arrived in Miami Beach that day, both of us there to cover April 2022’s Bitcoin conference. Even with someone by my side, men in polo shirts, sitting outside at restaurants, had their eyes trained on me in displays of aggression. “Did you see that guy?” I’d ask Vinny while waiting for a ride or trying to cross the street. And she’d say, “Yeah. He was glaring at you. What’s his deal?”

How “Ossitocina Al Parco” is bound to this article:

Artist Dax Norman joined us in Miami for Bitcoin 2022 and produced work in conversation with our trip. In his signature style, colorful GIFs with subjects who roll into themselves and melt together, Dax rendered art of two people caught in a loving embrace. He told me he started drawing the day he arrived in Miami. “I like the neon colors of the city very much, and in my day to day life, always see beauty in the contrast between the artificial lights made by the street lights with the sunset as I drive my car.”

Dax said the piece is about how two people in love become something different than themselves as they merge together, “put concisely and somewhat abstractly.” The ungenderedness of the figures depicted in the art, the way they meld, the way that we as humans change each other through closeness and affection, makes sense in context with Dax’s explanation: if love makes two people something more than themselves, can that resulting dynamic object be gendered?

Not only is Dax minting the work on SuperRare alongside “Miami vice: Bitcoin and decadence,” but will mint using the KSPEC protocol, meaning the collector will own both the artwork and article together on the blockchain, much like the subjects of the art, becoming more than just the sum of their individual parts, changing one another through harmony and juxtaposition.

How “Ossitocina Al Parco” is bound to this article:

Artist Dax Norman joined us in Miami for Bitcoin 2022 and produced work in conversation with our trip. In his signature style, colorful GIFs with subjects who roll into themselves and melt together, Dax rendered art of two people caught in a loving embrace. He told me he started drawing the day he arrived in Miami. “I like the neon colors of the city very much, and in my day to day life, always see beauty in the contrast between the artificial lights made by the street lights with the sunset as I drive my car.”

Dax said the piece is about how two people in love become something different than themselves as they merge together, “put concisely and somewhat abstractly.” The ungenderedness of the figures depicted in the art, the way they meld, the way that we as humans change each other through closeness and affection, makes sense in context with Dax’s explanation: if love makes two people something more than themselves, can that resulting dynamic object be gendered?

Not only is Dax minting the work on SuperRare alongside “Miami vice: Bitcoin and decadence,” but will mint using the KSPEC protocol, meaning the collector will own both the artwork and article together on the blockchain, much like the subjects of the art, becoming more than just the sum of their individual parts, changing one another through harmony and juxtaposition.

CAPITALISM BUT MAKE IT CRYPTO

Miami might have a gay reputation, but it’s more recently become known as the home of a different scene: crypto. Plenty of shops accept cryptocurrency, there’s a coin named for the city, and lovers of blockchain have started to flock there. Miami is so crypto friendly that Mayor Francis Suarez, a Bitcoin fan, even unveiled artist Furio Tedeschi’s take on Wall Street’s Charging Bull, an armored mech sculpture with laser blue eyes, reminiscent of something out of “Transformers” (Tedeschi worked on one of those movies). And while New York’s symbol of institutional finance has become synonymous with wealth inequality, Tedeschi’s bull seems to say, same, but make it edgelord. It is not a symbol of blockchain’s revolutionary potential or a subversion of banks and brokers and capitalists–instead, it’s a symbol of imitation and assimilation, just with a different filter. 

The whole trip, I found myself having conversations with Uber drivers and bartenders, Miami-based NFT collectors and gallery people, who explained to me how the cost of living in Miami has historically been lower than places like New York or Los Angeles. But more recently, the price of taking up space is on the rise. When I spoke to locals, the service industry workers among them sounded worried. Most crypto people were not. 

I guess when you have enough in your wallet, you’re not concerned about where rent money’s coming from.

Screenshot from @davethewave

In some ways, the last decade’s great experiment with crypto has opened doors for legions of people, especially outside the United States. But in other respects, crypto has failed, and nowhere to me was that failure more evident than at Bitcoin 2022. While plenty of enthusiasts still believe in Bitcoin philosophically and technologically, while people have invested their faith in the idea that Bitcoin is the key to liberating us all from oppressive financial systems, the Lambo-driving, designer-wearing, coke-snorting elites who flocked to Miami that week were a perfect visual representation of how dire the situation is really becoming. To start, at the time of the conference, one bitcoin was worth about 38k USD, and while there’s certainly room for debate considering crypto’s volatility, popular crypto analyst @davthewave has predicted that in 2022, bitcoin will reach 100k USD (though the current bear market has perhaps said otherwise).

This is to say, there’s a lot of money to be had in bitcoin. Or rather, there’s a lot of money to already have in bitcoin. If you’re just starting now, and you’re not already wealthy, you can maybe save up, sink a couple hundred dollars in, probably recoup your investment and profit a little if you play the game enough. But in 2021, the National Bureau of Economic Research found that 27% of bitcoin wealth is controlled by about 0.01% of bitcoin holders. This disparity was reported widely by outlets ranging from The Wall Street Journal to  CBS News to Gizmodo. To place it in perspective, according to recent Federal Reserve data, the top 1% of income earners in the United States control about 32% of the nation’s wealth, meaning that for a community claiming it wants to disrupt the financial establishment, wealth inequality among bitcoin holders is looking frighteningly familiar, if not worse. Most bitcoin whales invested early, watched the value of their tokens skyrocket, and were then perfectly positioned to keep hoarding. And now, because the cost of entry is so high, the only people who can take the bitcoin route to adequate earnings are those who have wealth to begin with. What those people really mean when they say they want to disrupt the financial establishment is I want to disrupt the financial establishment, but only if I can stay rich. It’s not a vibe.

There’s a popular sentiment in certain pockets of the crypto space, especially within bitcoin, amplified by influencers and Web2 social media. Need tuition money? Invest in bitcoin–I did! Need to pay rent? Invest! Wanna escape your dead-end fast food gig? Invest! The results can be disastrous for those who don’t have much money to throw around. The attitude is akin to what Boomers have spent the last three decades telling Millennials (and now those even younger): It was so easy to buy a house when I was your age! If you don’t have enough money to do it, it’s because you’re not working hard enough. Entire sections of the industry have cropped up around the cult mindset that bitcoin will save us all. Every time I see #WAGMI online I want to break something. We will not all make it. As long as a majority of the world’s population lives under corporate-centralized capitalism, it just isn’t happening unless the advances enabled by blockchain are paired with real systemic change, and to be frank, I doubt that blockchain will be Bitcoin. I’ve heard people talk about change. I’ve seen people try. But I didn’t even catch a glimpse of that in Miami. From where I stood, it all felt pretty bleak.

GASLIGHT, GATEKEEP, I DON’T WANNA BE SUED BY SOPHIA AMORUSO

While in Miami, I attended an event with Vinny in which a panelist told the audience, “Decide what you want, and it will happen.” The statement had us both scoffing. CryptoBabes, the organization that put it on, aims to provide educational resources for women in crypto and Web3. In practice, it was a networking event for girlboss types who liked bitcoin: modern, career-minded, professional women interested in making money and climbing that corporate ladder. Spicy. I brought my DSLR and Vinny showed up armed with the Notes app–we were determined to find a good interview. 

The sea of pink powersuits transported me to Buzzfeed listicles, North Face and Ugg combos, those hipster Disney princess memes everyone loved ten years ago for some reason. We were the only attendees with visible tattoos. Even the party’s look, nestled into an outdoor space with perfectly trimmed grass and Instagrammable pools, signs placed nearby asking party-goers not to swim, screamed live laugh love-core, with bunches of millennial pink balloons accenting the dated aesthetic. Even the CryptoBabes logo, on display throughout the party, used that one cursive font emblematic of early Pinterest, reminiscent of an affluent cishet couple’s out of touch gender reveal party (before it sets the state of California ablaze).

At the bottom of the Eventbrite page, in parentheses, the organizers had included, “men are welcome,” and while plenty of men indeed showed up, no one at the party looked like me–the vibe was idealized cisgender heterosexual femininity, downright assimilationist visions of womanhood inherently entwined with capitalism. Succeeding as a woman is easy! Drop tons of money to perform gender the way advertisers tell you to, then value your personal success and wealth over collective liberation. But this time, make it crypto! As far as I’m concerned, it’s all just different shades from the same Kylie Cosmetics palette.

We arrived about halfway through a panel discussion featuring women professionals in Web3, bombarded with a mix of toxic positivity, buzzwords, and some serious discussion about the place of women in corporate crypto. After the speakers wrapped up, Vinny and I tried to get an interview with one of them, but we could barely even slide in to wait–the panelists were mobbed by attendees looking for the sort of connection that could lead to a salary. One panelist sat down with an audience member who was crying. I overheard another walk someone through what to say during an interview. It actually took so long to speak to someone that we went to the bar, got a round of drinks, and returned to find that the crowd had barely thinned. I spotted someone in a shirt that read Jesus loves Bitcoin on the back and pointed it out to Vinny. We both thought it was hilarious. Speaking of cult-like spaces in crypto, these evangelicals thought they were preaching the good word. 

CryptoBabes by the author

CryptoBabes by the author

CryptoBabes by the author

CryptoBabes by the author

When we finally managed to speak to one of the CryptoBabes panelists, the topic of the old guard came up. I asked Daniela Henao, COO of crypto-analytic platform Defy Trends, about the biggest barriers for marginalized people in Web3. She made it clear that even people who view crypto as an investment opportunity are weary of what the space is in danger of becoming. “If we’re not intentional about it, we’re just going to be building the same things as before,” she said. I found her interesting, personable, and intelligent, with more substance than what the event promised. I genuinely wanted to hear what she had to say. But as we discussed the future, the interview got interrupted at every turn by people trying to network. 

“Is it okay if I finish this conversation first?” Daniela asked fawning fans more times than I could count. When I phrased a question by asking about women, queer people, and people of color in Web3, someone jumped in and shouted, “I’m bisexual and a person of color!” as a gateway into the conversation, clearly not understanding that we were conducting an interview. She didn’t say anything to myself or Vinny, directed all of her comments towards Daniela, but when I made eye contact with our interloper for a moment, she frowned (or was I reading too much into it?) as if she felt we had overstayed our welcome. Daniela very gracefully requested that she wait a few minutes. The fervor of the audience was nothing short of blind and religious.

CryptoBabes by the author

RICH MEN DON’T HAVE TASTE

“It occurred to me that of course the intersection existed between the rich boys club and Bitcoin lovers–the venn diagram isn’t exactly a circle, but it’s getting close.”

Later that night, we attended an event that on the surface seemed antithetical to CryptoBabes, but perhaps had more in common than was immediately apparent: The Maxim Magazine Bitcoin party. As a concept it felt especially absurd, and if there is anything I love, it’s absurdity. I remembered seeing the word Maxim in red across the covers of magazines on newsstands circa 1998, a banner over photos of near-naked women in compromising positions. While researching for coverage of the party, I learned that Googling Maxim Magazine prompts the search engine to issue a warning across the top of the webpage: Some results may be explicit. Turn on safe search to hide explicit results. I always thought of Maxim as the trashy version of Playboy, and although its website does feature a vertical simply titled “Women,” I mostly found articles about vacation spots, luxury timepieces, finance, TV, and cars. It’s certainly more of a lifestyle publication than an erotic one, offering up the image of men who try to buy their tickets to sophistication.

I was forced to watch a man dressed in all white dancing with a woman who wore a matching outfit. She looked younger than half his age. They moved together in a way engineered to ensure his crotch could rub against her thigh–their positions looked so uncomfortable and unnatural that I was sure they had choreographed the whole thing in advance. These men, while not the same individuals, could have been interchangeable with the man I saw dancing. Video by Nathan Beer.

 The venue was nice of course, the outdoor part featuring trees, a pool, lights, and cabanas, and an indoor space housed a roped-off VIP area and a gorgeous wooden bartop. I almost forgot it was a Maxim party at moments, but then I’d remember after seeing a bikini-clad server strut by, dressed like a Vegas showgirl and about to deliver someone’s bottle service. I didn’t expect many real Bitcoin enthusiasts to attend the party, but in that respect I was surprised–I ran into someone from New York who hosts crypto events, and even encountered some NFT collectors I met the previous day at a brunch party thrown by SuperRare and Y.at. Did I mention? Maxim definitely covers crypto. It occurred to me that of course the intersection existed between the rich boys club and Bitcoin lovers–the venn diagram isn’t exactly a circle, but it’s getting close. 

By the time we left, I could admit that the novelty of the whole thing charmed me. It was a Robert Crumb comic all dressed up in a suit and black tie, someone doing shots of an expensive aged single malt from his rich daddy’s liquor cabinet. An Ivy League chapter of the Young Republicans. Not camp, but not not camp, either. Camp without self-awareness. Even so, I knew that if I walked into a club and it resembled the Maxim party, I’d leave. And, true to form, we eventually ended up at a snug gay bar bumping club remixes of Madonna. The place wasn’t my usual vibe–a little too Hell’s Kitchen for my tastes, with closely trimmed beards and muscle tees abound–but still more palatable for me than the unnecessary show of cishetero masculinity on display at the Maxim party. I sipped my well drink, then listened to my boots smack against the sticky concrete floor as I walked. A boy, thinking I was a man, stopped me to try and flirt in a classic queer space comedy of errors. There’s a lot of talk in crypto spaces about community, but in that gay bar where I came as a stranger, I belonged. I belonged unequivocally, with no caveats or translation, no price of entry except my experiences. My presence was accepted so easily, because queer bodies understand the cost of taking up space, out there in the world, among the types of people who read Maxim on purpose. I haven’t found anything in the crypto community like that yet, only in specialized spaces for marginalized people who band together because we see the ways Web3 is coming to resemble everything it wanted to crush–ultimately, people are still running the show, and they carry with them lifetimes’ worth of socialization, of feelings, of biases. All anyone can do is try to be better, but that isn’t a strategy at all.

AND NOW WE PRAY

Miami Beach Pride by the author

Being queer and existing in the crypto space aren’t mutually exclusive. But something about the excess of the Maxim party, the rigid gender performance encouraged at CryptoBabes, the people I spoke to about the value of art and artists, the men who catcalled me, the fact that I felt so incredibly out of place in most of the crypto spaces I visited in Miami, built up and up until I found Pride. It was an incredible release, a great antithesis to everything. Spiritual, even. I kept returning to religion while considering the people who believed so ardently in Bitcoin. At Pride, I noticed someone on a float holding a sign that read Jesus loves you, bitch, and immediately I thought of the Jesus Loves Bitcoin shirt. Jesus loves you, bitch is a powerful statement for people ostracized from churches, devout families, entire communities (most religious queer people in my circles aren’t Christians, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty out there). The sign’s font was a flowing cursive, not dissimilar to the CryptoBabes logo, but it was handwritten with a sharpie, not in a display of performance and branding but rather an authentic and personal expression. 

“I’m over capitalists cosplaying as radicals and reproducing the very issues that drove everyone to crypto in the first place. Fuck the rich. Bitcoin for the people.”

I’m not a religious or spiritual person, but religion has something in common with Pride which has something in common with Bitcoin. People want to believe. They want to be part of something. Tensions were high when it came to Miami Beach Pride. The issue at the forefront that day was the Parental Rights in Education Law, whose propoents used faith to justify their attempts to legislate queer people out of the lexicon. There was no question about what people there believed in. 

In contrast, I remain unconvinced that the culture of Bitcoin includes room for radical change, and I worry it’s dragging other parts of the space down with it. Earlier this year I remember hearing about a party: models held Bored Ape cutouts and men in ties mingled under night club strobe lights. And while this isn’t to say all Bitcoin lovers are bad, harmful, or in it for the wrong reasons, too many clearly are. Currency is soulless, when you get down to it. Blockchain is a tool. Your faith shouldn’t die in the coin, but live in the people reimagining its possibilities. I care about what crypto can do for unbanked people. I care about using DAOs to distribute mutual aid. I care about how good artists can bypass a system that would traditionally exclude them. I care about the potential for blockchain to revolutionize the way we manage documents and store information. I care about what it means for the distribution of green energy. Are there people in the Bitcoin space who want to deliver on the potential of the technology? I’m sure. But the space needs to clean house. I’m over capitalists cosplaying as radicals and reproducing the very issues that drove everyone to crypto in the first place. Fuck the rich. Bitcoin for the people.

20

Oliver Scialdone

Oliver Scialdone is a queer writer and artist based in Brooklyn, NY. They earned a dual-MFA from The New School, and their work can be found in Peach Mag, ImageOut Write, and elsewhere. They used to host the reading series Satellite Lit and they're the Associate Editor at SuperRare Magazine.

Art

Tech

Curators' Choice

TAKING UP SPACE: aGENDAdao AND THE UNAPOLOGETIC POWER OF TRANS WEB3

TAKING UP SPACE: aGENDAdao AND THE UNAPOLOGETIC POWER OF TRANS WEB3

Above: electron ticket (Kate the Cursed, 2021)

TAKING UP SPACE: aGENDAdao AND THE UNAPOLOGETIC POWER OF TRANS WEB3

6 months ago

THE QUEER DISCONNECT

“Oh, you can’t tell TikTok you work at SuperRare,” my partner advised me. To be fair, she was only agreeing with a concern I had expressed to her: that the queer people I knew on the app, particularly my trans siblings, would respond poorly if they knew I wrote about NFTs for a living. In September 2021, when I was still a freelancer with SuperRare Magazine, I interviewed Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonikova and learned the hard way what happens when you’re a queer person in the vicinity of NFTs. After posting my article on Instagram, a friend of a friend, connected to me only through the queer Web2 grapevine, commented, “the article is about how they’re using the stunt arrest for money, as proven by their selling of NFTs, which are fundamentally a scam, right?” I didn’t respond, but a friend came to my defense. The resulting exchange burned hot and fast, and ended with the implication that I was a bad person for writing about NFTs. Similarly, when I came to SuperRare full-time, a friend of mine, also trans, quipped that he couldn’t believe I, of all people, had taken a job in the NFT space. 

When I go to queer parties or gatherings and meet new people, I tell them I work for a digital arts publication, because if they know me before they know the specifics of my job, they’re more willing to keep talking. I’ve even come across queer Discord servers with “this server is anti-NFT” written into the rules. Queer people as a whole, particularly in the leftist, socialist, somewhat anarchistic creative circles in which I move, don’t like NFTs, and I understand why. For most of them, non-fungible tokens connote rich people who collect NFTs like Pokémon cards, or cryptobros who flex their assets on dates and become irate when you dare to disagree over the aesthetic merits of their PFPs. To them, crypto just means digital capitalism, repackaged and dangerously unregulated, a waste of energy and a strain on ecosystems. 

I think these are hasty generalizations. Plenty of good exists in the NFT space alongside the bad, and the refusal to learn remains (somewhat ironically) prevalent in queer scenes–no imagination, no optimism, no sense of exploration. Ultimately, blockchain is a technology, technology is a tool, and a tool’s moral compass isn’t inherent, but rather dependent on whose hands it falls in. Except everyone’s trapped in their algorithmically-generated Web2 echo chambers, their For You Pages and Youtube recommendations, Instagram stories shared among the same 500 people who all follow each other, unwilling to disrupt what they think they already know. 

This is a pattern in leftist queer spaces, with the most performative individuals vying to be the most ideologically pure. The echoes of Your Fave is Problematic culture have endured. Engaging with crypto is a bigger sin than engaging with traditional finance, and engaging with NFTs is more egregious than engaging with the traditional art world, despite abundant problems with both. If I worked at Facebook (oh, I’m sorry, Meta), the offense would likely be forgivable–a job’s just a job, after all. A kid’s gotta pay rent. Yet, the perception that NFTs are inherently evil, and also more evil than other evils, collapses under educated scrutiny, especially when separated from the perspectives of queer champagne socialists in the Global North. I would argue that late stage capitalism, facism, and the rising wave of techno feudalism actually produced the conditions that birthed demand for crypto and NFTs–blockchain is no more or less symptomatic of systems of power than anything else around us (I’ll spare you a full analysis for the sake of brevity). But NFT hatred persists in queer spaces, isolating queer Web3 creators from IRL sources of support and solidarity.

“Ultimately, blockchain is a technology, technology is a tool, and a tool’s moral compass isn’t inherent, but rather dependent on whose hands it falls in.”

Screenshot of aGENDAdao’s current pinned tweet, featureing art by Kate the Cursed.

“Many people are getting pushback from their own communities, IRL queer communities, for engaging with Web3,” Sarah Moosvi told me over a call. I had the opportunity to speak with her and Aria Faith Jones, both founders of aGENDAdao, alongside artist Katherina “Kate the Cursed” Jesek. My introduction to the NFT space shocked me; it wasn’t generative PFP projects or watching art flippers make millions–my first experiences were following queer (mostly trans) artists minting affordable artwork on the Tezos blockchain, most of which had an underground, early computing aesthtic to it. When I first tip-toed in, I expected a sparse trans landscape after hearing other trans people espouse the dangers of NFTs, or at the very least roll their eyes when the topic arose. With IRL and Web2 spaces unwelcoming to trans people in Web3–and with Web3 spaces frequently falling victim to the same pitfalls as Web2 in regards to harassment, transphobia, and systemic biases–transgender people in Web3 needed a place to connect. 

Moosvi, who also works in film distribution, began establishing a blockchain-focused gallery program in 2020 while movie theaters were closed during COVID lockdowns. Using the unexpected free time to pursue an early passion for art, she came to NFTs because they bridged the literal distance between her and artists she knew in Asia. Eventually, between summer 2020 and 2021, she started thinking seriously about how to support artists in Web3, but didn’t “want to do it on the backs of artists, just capitalizing on their work.” The result was twofold: she now works as the director of TDC Gallery and as one of the founders of aGENDAdao. “My relationships with the artists really kind of developed in that year,” she said. “I had my own role as someone who collected the work of queer artists, but wasn’t really out in the community.” Kate the Cursed approached Moosvi with the initial idea for aGENDAdao, originally called transnbDAO, because the artist saw an opportunity to support trans and non-binary people in Web3. “That was the moment I actually decided to really be visible. Aria was in the early calls, and that initial group became aGENDAdao.”

Aria came to Web3 as an artist–originally a musician, her work on music videos expanded to other forms of visual art before she eventually started experimenting with Blender. After developing her skills and uncovering a knack for teaching, Aria began to upload Blender tutorials to Youtube and garnered a following. When she realized her viewers were minting and selling art made with those tutorials on the blockchain, she wanted to learn more, and ended up discovering a community of trans artists. “When I got into NFTs,” Aria said, “I right away found people like Kate, and it was just like, oh my goodness. People are so out…To have that community saying, yeah, it was okay, look, I’m doing it. This person’s doing it. Not only that,” she continued, “but they’re having success.” Before she found a space for herself in Web3, she didn’t address being trans online, except through her art. “It was really an amazing thing for me where I was like, you know what? I don’t need to–it wasn’t even hiding, but it was just avoiding it. I’m just not going to talk about that stuff. But it was such a big part of me and my art that it was hugely releasing when I was able to do that. I was like, oh my gosh, I feel so much more like myself, and I can express myself more inside my art.”

MUTUAL AID ON CHAIN

“Digital Graffiti” (Kate the Cursed, 2022)

“As a transgender tech artist working with non-standard mixed media processes, my unapologetic existence often feels like a powerful act of creation in itself. Taking up permanent space in the digital world with my words and artworks feels even more compelling.”

When it launched in August 2021, aGENDAdao’s original purpose was mutual aid. But more broadly, Moosvi told me, “it was about really kind of banding together and making sure that artists could be their true selves and not have this disconnect…It’s really just saying that if you wanted to be visibly trans in this space, there was a community there for you.” Initially, the DAO’s treasury was funded by selling Kate the Cursed’s art via TDC Gallery’s Mirror account–in a piece titled “Digital Graffiti,” the artist asks what it means to take up space online, writing “As a transgender tech artist working with non-standard mixed media processes, my unapologetic existence often feels like a powerful act of creation in itself. Taking up permanent space in the digital world with my words and artworks feels even more compelling.” Another early fundraiser was the sale of thirteen editions of her “electron ticket,” minted on OpenSea; holders were entitled to a private tour of Kate’s studio via livestream (an “electron ticket” is now in the Queer Museum of Digital Art’s collection). One of the first uses of DAO funds was a stipend for aGENAdao artists traveling to Miami Art Week, offsetting the cost enough to assure transgender people could take up space at a major art industry event. While trans people would always find each other in Web3 (we always do, everywhere), having a source of financial support strengthens the community and expands possibilities for trans artists. 

We often talk about community when we talk about Web3, and trans people understand the importance of community better than most. There’s no single universal trans experience, but I think most of us feel pushed to the fringes of not only cishet society, but queer spaces, too. Trans community is about more than just connection–it’s about solidarity. It’s about taking care of each other when no one else will. A huge part of that is financial support–if you’re trans you’re likely no stranger to the idea that the same $20 gets passed around from trans person to trans person, Web2 style, in the form of GoFundMes for gender-affirming health care or people in urgent need of housing. Those situations can mean life or death, but the same attitude carries over to less dire moments. IRL, we go to crowded bars to watch each other read poetry and we buy each other’s artwork, not only because we want other trans people to flourish, but because art made by other trans people is where we most see ourselves. This aspect of community is replicated on the blockchain–aGENDAdao has donated to queer Web3 organaziations, who have at separate points in time donated to aGENDAdao. It’s common for trans artists to make sales and put their earnings back into the community economy by actively choosing to buy art from other trans creators, and aGENDAdao provides a forum for those artists to find each other (Aria said that, as an artist, the prospect of buying from other trans artists is so important to her). When we’re low on fiat or crypto, trans people still follow each other online, like and retweet and share and stitch and reblog each other’s achievements, take joy in the successes of our siblings and share in their sorrows and setbacks, even when we’re virtual strangers, strewn miles apart. We’ve even seen times when the Web3 trans community has fought back with wallets by choosing not to financially support those in the space espousing hateful rhetoric. And while there are divisions in the trans community (I think referring to trans communities in the plural is more accurate), Web2 brought trans people together in a way that never existed before. aGENDAdao carries that spirit into Web3. 

“Those moments where even though the community is an online community, that it could kind of materialize when you need it, and create safe spaces where needed, was incredibly powerful.”

Financial support comprises only one part of the community formula–the others are interpersonal, emotional, intellectual, and conversational. aGENDAdao’s Discord server, and the spaces that DAO members have built on other platforms like Twitter, allows artists to find one another, to build relationships, and to support each other in ways that are less immediately tangible, but vital all the same (the Discord is also where you can request your DAO token). Aria said she has a few comfortable online spaces, “but aGENDAdao specifically, where if I’m feeling a certain way related to my identity or queerness or transness or whatever it is, that’s the place I can go and be like, ‘Hey, this is exactly how I feel.’” These conversations happen not only among the founders, but everyone involved in the DAO, and the flow of support is organic because there is a community understanding. Moosvi added that she thinks of aGENDAdao alongside “this idea of a portable community, and it’s something that inspires the grant programs as well.” For example, the stipend that helped send aGENDAdao artists to Miami Art Week saw the translation of online community IRL. “Those moments,” Moosvi told me, “where even though the community is an online community, that it could kind of materialize when you need it, and create safe spaces where needed, was incredibly powerful.”

TRANS POWER, TRANS LOVE

It’s fitting that aGENDAdao blurs the binary between IRL and online communities. During our conversation, I noted that it seems trans people are frequently at the forefront of culture and tech, as creators, as early adopters, as both (Wendy Carlos, pioneer of electronic music, comes to mind as an example, her legacy contextualized by the numerous trans and non-binary musicians leading the hyperpop scene). While no data I’ve found documents the demographics of queer NFT artists, anecdotally, I feel comfortable asserting that a majority of openly queer people I’ve encountered in Web3 are trans. Moosvi described Aria’s willingness to dive into NFTs as a “quickness to embrace this new kind of identity online,” and I think that also speaks to the inherent nature of transness. A significant aspect of transness involves the reconstruction of the self, the reassessment of identity, and the willingness to embrace what you uncover, even when external pressures try to grip you tight and hold you back while you thrash. Moosvi continued, stating that “maybe for me, it’s about how being trans is really about creating your identity in your own terms.” Trans artists in Web3 are doing that twice over.

“As a collector and a gallerist, I really look forward to that day where we can collectively support the creation and then the conservation of trans cultural output,” Moosvi mused. I asked Moosvi and Aria what their most idealistic visions were for aGENDAdao’s future—”it’s unlimited, honestly,” Aria answered. The preservation of trans cultural heritage in the digital space sits at the apex of their plans for the DAO. It’s especially relevant now, as trans people and issues relevant to us have risen to the top of cultural conversations in ways both affirming and harmful. Too often, the legacies and achievements of trans people are swept out of sight, and while Web2 rapidly accelerated our visibility, the ability to mint work on the blockchain feels more meaningful and permanent. 

Moosvi is passionate about exploring DAOs as models and tackling the challenges that arise as they’re more widely adopted. How can DAOs be further deployed at the service of communities? What does it mean to run a DAO like a non-profit when it’s not one? What happens when even a DAO, used as a democratized community space, unintentionally excludes people who could benefit from its resources? “When you’re dealing with a community that is more at risk,” she explained, “I never assume that people have the time to donate, to just be a member of the community. Putting forward proposals requires time to put that proposal together. Contributors need to be compensated. Those details need to be worked out.” Operating a DAO requires labor, and that fact isn’t lost on Moosvi. As solutions are found and implemented over time, the hope is that trans people in Web3 will flourish even more. 

identity creation matrix (Kate the Cursed, 2022)

“I grew up with the mentality that if I’m going to ever have success or money or whatever, I’m going to do it on my own,” Aria told me. “I’ve always been very secluded that way, so seeing it work in a different way is really cool. Being like, oh, you can be part of this Community and it will lift you up. I think it’s really incredible,” she concluded. Moosvi then added that the DAO has been “an incredible way for me to discover trans artists that I want to work with and whose careers I want to support, because I have a skillset that can help them with visibility. So it’s mutual aid all around.” 

aGENDAdao has made its name as a space that both embraces queer people in Web3 and gives trans and non-binary arists the tools they need to cultivate successful creative careers. Taking it even further, they’ve built a space that separates the experience of being an artist in Web3 from the idea that a creator’s worth lies in art sales. Something bigger than that exists. Community is powerful, and trans people, when banded together, can accomplish incredible things. When one trans artist succeeds, we all win. That’s the beauty of what aGENDAdao draws attention to: the power of trans and non-binary people. It’s about the power with which we love each other, with which we support each other, and, ultimately, the power we have to make or break a culture, one piece of art at a time.

20

Oliver Scialdone

Oliver Scialdone is a queer writer and artist based in Brooklyn, NY. They earned a dual-MFA from The New School, and their work can be found in Peach Mag, ImageOut Write, and elsewhere. They used to host the reading series Satellite Lit and they're the Associate Editor at SuperRare Magazine.

Art

Tech

Curators' Choice

Do electric memes dream of JPEGS?: an interview with Moxarra Gonzalez

Do electric memes dream of JPEGS?: an interview with Moxarra Gonzalez

“GM JPEGS” by @moxarrarare (2021)

Do electric memes dream of JPEGS?: an interview with Moxarra Gonzalez

6 months ago

Moxarra Gonzalez by Dave Krugman

What counts as art?  It’s a question with no definitive answer that artists and theorists have wrestled with for centuries, yet somehow, the artistic establishment still claims to know the truth. Distinctions between art and not art, high art and low art, the valuable and the worthless, often reflect the tastes of the ruling class. Over time, as more and more artists embrace styles and subjects that the traditional artworld refuses to engage with, those styles and practices assimilate into the mainstream. Then, once something becomes too popular for the elite to ignore, the cultural canon appropriates it.

“This isn’t art,” is an accusation frequently leveled at crypto artists. And while there is a great variety of art minted as NFTs, from digitally rendered oil paintings to fine photography, Web3 has seen its share of distinct styles and movements completely unique to the digital space (some even predating Web3), from trash art to vaporwave to work that utilizes blockchain itself as part of the medium. Unsurprisingly, some of the most emblematic pieces of crypto art have traditional collectors rolling their eyes, especially those that incorporate memes or reflect the tastes of artists who’ve spent their lives online. Are memes art? Establishment art types might scoff at the idea, but I think a case is easy to make. Writing for Polygon back in 2018, Sam Greszes asserted that “Shitposting is an art, if history is any indication.” Even prior to this, I’ve heard underground artists, friends, acquaintances, myself even, voice the same take since at least 2013: memes are Dada1. Greszes makes astute comparisons, for example likening memes that rely on found imagery to Duchamp’s readymade art. The argument for the inclusion of memes and internet culture in artistic spaces is as old as internet culture itself. But most such artists are still, by all accounts, artworld outsiders.

Moxarra Gonzalez by Oveck

Mexican artist Moxarra Gonzalez studied art at The Autonomous University of Nuevo León in Monterrey, but his introduction to digital art didn’t come until he worked at a newspaper in his hometown, creating infographics and illustrations with rapid turnaround times. Through a Facebook ad in 2015, he found Dada.nyc, the now-emblematic collaborative platform where users communicate via digital drawings made in a simple interface. He quickly became involved in the community. Moxarra’s move into NFTs arrived when the platform began monetizing its digital artwork through the “Creeps and Weirdos” collection, and today he’s regarded as a crypto art OG, with work minted on SuperRare2 , MakersPlace, KnownOrgin, Foundation, and other platforms. “I come from skate MTV culture,” he told me when I spoke to him over a video call. He lit a cigarette as he settled in to speak to me. I noticed he looked like he should’ve had a lanky frame, but in fact appeared rather sturdy. His black tee, glasses, and ponytail wouldn’t be out of place at the Bushwick skate bar I head to for a beer after work when decide I need to doomscroll on a weeknight. “I like to draw a lot…I like music. I like punk. So I think that’s reflected in my work.” And those influences truly are unmistakable–much of his art references the aesthetics and touchstones of the 1980s, but uses that framework to address events of the present, be it global news, the crypto scene, or internet culture. The result is frequently anachronistic, retrofuturist, and fantastically sure of itself. 

Moxarra’s roots in punk and skate culture are evident in series like Non Fungible Tokens–ten cards stylized like Garbage Pail Kids that reference different aspects of the NFT space–and Surprise PFPoops, his take on PFPs. It’s the type of art that reminds me of when Heinz sold green and purple ketchup that my mom wouldn’t buy, no matter how much my brother and I begged3. But that’s the point. To be a little cheeky and juvenile, even gross. Nothing is so serious that there isn’t room for a swirly green piece of shit wearing weed glasses with a tab of acid on its tongue. Or even better, a joint hanging from the corner of the mouth of Hielos, specifically the bust of Hielos that’s become so familiar to fans of vaporwave via the cover of Floral Shoppe by Macintosh Plus. Plenty of Moxarra’s pieces have a vaporwave sensibility to them–even if they aren’t quite so overt as “Vapor Dave”–particularly in his GM series, which utilizes bright neon colors, bold lines, and flashing gifs. Characters featured in these works are mostly (but not always) pulled from 1980s pop culture, and if they’re not, they occupy the same visual niche. Moxarra told me that he usually draws a GM everyday, and likened the practice to when he needed to turn art around quickly for newspaper deadlines.

“GM Assholes” depicts a man whose manner of dress denotes a corporate ladder-climbing yuppie. Not explicitly Patrick Bateman, but not too far off.4 Except then he’s holding a smartphone; a speech bubble blooms from it as he’s about to tilt his glasses down. The bubble contains the Microsoft logo and the phrase Little Capitalist Assholes. “It just came naturally from my collection of ideas because I tend to mix all the pop references that I have immediately in my brain,” Moxarra told me. “So when I see something popping up in crypto culture, I try to connect it with my past references. So yeah, a lot of connections of what I saw when I was young and what I can do right now. And all the eighties, baby boomer, boom of Wall Street and all that stuff. It’s like, I mean right now with the crypto boom. So yeah, a lot of connections of what I saw when I was young and what I can do right now.”

And Moxarra isn’t afraid to comment on the crypto scene, both in regard to insiders and outsiders. In “NFTEvil,” he addresses artists who hate NFTs using the format of the Old Man Yells at Cloud meme (memes really do make for effective communication in the arts), and in “HODL Please” he similarly uses the format of a meme, this time the Everything’s Fine dog, to poke fun at crypto evangelists who place a little too much faith in the coin. 

When we spoke, I asked Moxarra about the NFT space, and what he wanted to see change. He thinks that too many people are trying too hard to be seen. “All these little groups that have been like…they really want to identify with something. So that’s weird because when we started, we were anonymous. Most of the people thought that Moxarra was a girl.” In many ways, part of the point of crypto is anonymity—there’s a reason your public wallet address is a string of characters in lieu of your first and last name. Even when crypto artists have public facing identities, they frequently go by their social handles or nicknames (Moxarra is a nickname, after all). Some OGs do share their real names, and certainly some can be vocal. But on the whole, they’re still quieter than newcomers.

La Lagunilla Market by Dave Krugman

“They start in this world and they want to be famous like Picasso or, I don’t know Modigliani, or they look at the old school days of art, either the big people in crypto art like, I don’t know, XCOPY.” For Moxarra, it doesn’t matter who someone is, where they’re from, or what groups they belong to. The most important thing is the art and how he can connect to it. “Be anonymous, I think,” he said, in regards to crypto artists. He acknowledges his thoughts on the matter could be colored by the fact that when he first entered the space, no one knew who he was. No one knew who anyone was. “We didn’t really care if we got famous. I don’t really give a fuck if someone knows me or recognizes me on the street.” We discussed the positives and the negatives of the crypto art scene going mainstream; on one hand it brings legitimacy to the art and the artists; on the other hand, as when anything goes mainstream, it gets diluted into an afterimage of its former self, taken over by people who don’t understand what it meant in the first place. “Well, maybe the NFT scene will get established in a moment because we are seeing all these Christie’s and Sotheby’s auctions with NFTs. So more of the outsiders, they are getting to know NFT culture.” He paused for a moment, then continued. “But as we started this stuff, I don’t want to be mainstream now. I hope it goes mainstream, but I don’t want to be mainstream, you know?” The perspective was very punk of him, I thought.

“It’s a common joke between the Mexican artists,” Moxarra said. “We are just doing silly little drawings that move5.” And the crypto art scene in Mexico is impressive, featuring not only Moxarra’s talent, but contemporaries like Ann Ahoy, Neurocolor, Criptocromo, Hola Lou, and Carlos Marcial. There is incredible community among these artists–Moxarra told me that it’s different to be around other artists, in a good way; he said that it was difficult to talk to his ex-wife about NFTs: “every time I talked to her about my funny little drawings that I was selling for magical internet money, she was like, what the fuck is that?” The thing about people who aren’t involved in the crypto art space? They don’t get it. Not all of Moxarra’s art, but a fair amount of it, requires the viewer to have the correct cultural background to understand it. The work of so many OGs and the people who followed in their wake will be dismissed by those who aren’t in the space, all because they don’t know where it came from. And that’s all too frequently the benchmark for what does and does not count as art; it has nothing to do with the merits of a piece, but the audience’s inability to understand. And it’s not as if the work is inaccessible in the way that bourgeois and aristocratic art is inaccessible to the people. In many ways, artists like Moxarra are more of the people than anyone in the mainstream. Who doesn’t know Pepe the Frog, or the Everything’s Fine Dog? Your boomer parents, maybe6. Even pieces that more specifically reference crypto or Web3 don’t take much research for a noob to understand, as long as that noob has media literacy skills7. A refusal to recognize crypto art as real and true art is, most frequently, willful. Artists like Moxarra are necessary. Artists who create with no concern for the tastes of the mainstream. He’s pushing art towards evolution. Moxarra is out here, making GMs and minting little poops, among those who continue to set a new standard. 
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Oliver Scialdone

Oliver Scialdone is a queer writer and artist based in Brooklyn, NY. They earned a dual-MFA from The New School, and their work can be found in Peach Mag, ImageOut Write, and elsewhere. They used to host the reading series Satellite Lit and they're the Associate Editor at SuperRare Magazine.

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