Life in neurocolor: How the early aughts internet shaped the aesthetics of web3

Life in neurocolor: How the early aughts internet shaped the aesthetics of web3

Life in neurocolor: How the early aughts internet shaped the aesthetics of web3

4 weeks ago

The first time I spoke to painter, street and digital artist neurocolor via email, he invited me to the “underground places” of Mexico City where we would drink mezcal and not tequila, because “tequila, you can drink it anywhere else in the world ;)” We made plans to go to readings and restaurants, to visit Coyoacan street art and the pyramids at Teotihuacan. On my first day there, after pulling together an outfit from the selection of clothes still packed in my bag from my previous work trip, I walked out the door of my one-room Airbnb and looked for a guy in a gray VW. I had no idea what neurocolor looked like, or what his real name was, but like a white girl on vacay in a foreign country, I saw what I thought was the right car and got in.

A young man with messy black hair and thick, blue-rimmed glasses sat behind the wheel. In the passenger seat was Ann Ahoy, a tattoo and crypto artist from Germany. The three of us were on our way to Bitcoin Embassy Bar, a place where crypto enthusiasts could sit, have a drink, pay in crypto, and attend events exploring everything from DeFi to NFTs. 

When we arrived after a quick dinner at Pizza del Perro Negro, neuro was greeted by the entire room at once, it seemed, and disappeared into the crowd. I was sipping a frozen paloma sprinkled with chili and lime when I felt a tap on my shoulder. neuro motioned his thumb towards a stranger in a green bomber jacket wearing round glasses and a shy smile. “Criptocromo,” he said.

Photo by the author

After hearing a presentation about a multimedia literature project that would soon be minted as an NFT, we all gathered around to talk about everything from urban landscapes to politics in the art world to problems facing cryptocurrencies and environmentalism. As someone who ditched academia to work in crypto, I was delighted to find people who wanted to talk about blockchain in broader contexts. I mentioned that I was a vegetarian at dinner (because almost everything served in Mexico has meat in it, unless by request), so when I then brought up the supply chain issues that made so many items harder to find, neuro looked at me and said, “you are one of those coastal leftist vegans who thinks the world is overpopulated, aren’t you?”

“I’m definitely not vegan,” I laughed cautiously, worried that I had somehow come off too progressive at dinner.

The event featured some of the biggest names in cryptoart, and I couldn’t believe how eager they all were to get to know me. The community created by the intersection of Mexican hospitality and cryptoart was immediately evident, a community that lent even outsiders like me the kind of familiarity usually reserved for people who had spent years earning their place. neurocolor, in particular, had offered himself as something like a personal guide, informing me of the best places to go to eat and drink, introducing me to nearly all of the artists we had intended to meet, even telling me in that first car ride how Mexican politics affected art and culture in the nation’s capital and beyond. He was forward, opinionated, articulate in both Spanish and English, and his humor was so dry that it took me 3 days and someone else pointing it out to realize he was teasing me.

Classic chilango.

The next day, we were supposed to go to the pyramids, but due to COVID they were closed to the public, viewable only from afar. “Not worth the drive,” we agreed, even though I wanted so badly to go. In Monterrey, the northern Mexican town where my family lives, there are no monuments of the past. The Olmec and Toltec tribes that lived there were nomadic, roaming but never settling, simultaneously homeless yet at home on the road. So instead, I stayed in, working until night came, messaging neuro on Twitter to make alternate plans. Walking tour? Too touristy. Art museum? Too stuffy. Salsa? Not really my thing.

We landed on Sunday dinner, meeting after my walking tour through the mural and graffiti-adorned streets of Coyoacan, one of the oldest neighborhoods of Mexico City. Sitting at a Oaxacan restaurant, we ordered a large “pizza” made out of tortilla, beans, and cheese.

Photo of Coyoacán by the author

Photo of Coyoacán by the author

“Should we get chapulines?” he asked. “We should get chapulines.” I nodded, not totally sure what those were and unable to search the web because my cell service was so bad. The waiter came and neuro ordered in Spanish: a bottle of mezcal, guacamole, and the Mexican pizza con chapulines en el lado. After the waiter left, I asked him about his art, and how he came to crypto. “I probably learned how to draw before I was speaking fluently in my own language,” he said. Even his earliest drawings showed promise, and he quickly became obsessed with visual art. “I was starting with mostly self-taught Photoshop Illustrator, obviously pirated copies here in Mexico,” he said with a chuckle. “You don’t have to put that in the article.”

neurocolor studied visual art in college and immediately fell in love with painting. “But yeah, now I consider that my dark ages, because I really like to paint, but I was always more into digital. And in school, there was too much of an attitude, like, ‘digital art is not real art,’ or ‘graffiti is not that real art,’ ‘painting is the most important manifestation and expression of visual art.’” 

But with digital art, there was an audience hungry for work outside of the classical. The 2000s were the breeding ground for what would eventually become the first global art movement in the history of the world. DEPTHCORE, Deviant Art, and Flickr were open spaces for artists, animators, photographers, and meme makers to drop their art and share them with online communities. “[On DEPTHCORE] it was kind of like abstract, futurist, 3D, vectors, explorations, where it was just so much fun to feel the wonder that was coming out of it.” These styles of digital art, informed by both the information age and the communities being formed on the internet, were emotional, dark, glitchy, strange, different from everything that had come before. A burgeoning group of digital artists were creating their own lexicons, symbols, and values, transforming themselves from angsty teens to internet culture connoisseurs who, at base, cared about free expression, and who would eventually become the NFT artists and collectors championing the cryptoart movement today.

It was a weird time, not only because millennials were the first generation to grow up with computers in our homes, but because we survived the 1990s and Y2K. The dialect of “The Matrix” and other sci-fi classics about computers and alternate realities were very much part of our collective consciousness. Were we Neo or Mr. Anderson, a human or a machine?

“Well in Mexico, we never really thought that society was going to crash [in 1999],” Neuro interjected, “because we have always been in the crash, we have always been crashed,” he said, furrowing his brow in a way that I quickly noticed was the natural state of his face. “We are already living in a dystopia.”

Up until the 1990s, pollution in Mexico City was so bad that if you weren’t used to the air quality, you would have trouble breathing. Cars ran on leaded fuel, and the industrial nature of the city combined with the natural layout (a basin located over 2,000 meters above sea level and surrounded by mountains, pounded down by intense solar radiation) concentrated the pollutants further. Then you had political corruption that was, up until recently, unparalleled by most other countries.

But perhaps it is that very relationship with dystopia that makes neuro’s artwork feel so vibrant yet dark, so anachronistic and yet immediate. With contrasting deep grays and iridescent colors, a distinctive spinning carousel-style animation, and a fascination with skulls and mythological creatures, each piece by neurocolor is both nostalgic and futuristic. But even then I had to ask, “why so many skulls? Is that a Mexican thing or are you just kind of emo?”

“Both!” He laughed. “I mean, people from Mesoamerica, they like skulls, and people nowadays like skulls. The thing is, skulls are badass.”

Not wrong.

Mexicans love that shit. We love the idea that spirits are friendly, that lost loved ones come back to visit us, that death is not the end, but a new beginning. When the Spanish first came across the ancient Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, modern-day Mexico City, they were greeted by a tower of skulls. They were freaked out, naturally, by what they perceived as an aggressive display of the macabre, but to the Aztecs, these skulls were a celebration of life.

“I know it’s cryptic to remind you of things like that, but the aesthetics, the shapes of the skulls, are crazy,” he added. “I don’t know. It’s very heavy, like, I imagine scenes in the times before civilization, people were using skeletons as decorations, like skulls from other animals. It’s like we have been in touch with these symbols for so long. They are a part of our visual imaginations.”

Thinking about how intricate his artworks are, usually having multiple moving parts, several animated layers, along with references to video games, science fiction, and anime, and sometimes even integrating phrases from Japanese words, I had to ask: How did he come up with his concepts? When did he know when a piece was finished?

“Nothing in my process is logical,” he said. “I don’t follow plans; I don’t have plans for pieces. I just create assets, and then I start to play with them until I have something that clicks. It’s like I’m drifting,” he continued, making a wobbling motion with his hands, and narrowing his gaze. “It’s like an exploration with a compass, a very weak compass. I have to say, I like to let myself flow. It’s a new thing that I’m using a lot of grays, a lot of blacks, but for me it’s always making something that clicks internally.” A strategy not unlike mine, when a single line in my head blossoms into an entire poem. It reminded me that art, no matter the medium, often comes from intuition.

And as the mezcal gave way to louder voices and more talk of the grim, our main dish arrived. The pizza quesadilla was massive, filled with the rich, stringy cheese of Oaxaca and black beans. On the side was a ramekin filled with little brown…insects?!

“What the fuck is THAT?” I blurted.

Chapulines,” neuro said matter of factly. “Grasshoppers. Try it! It’s delicious.”

I took my knife and twirled the bugs with its point, making them wriggle as if still alive. About half an hour and several mezcals later, I built up the courage to eat some. They were salty and a little crunchy, seasoned, like most everything in Mexico, with salt and lime. “When the earth is totally polluted and the bugs rule the world, we Mexicans will be just fine,” neuro said, plopping another few grasshoppers on his plate. “Hakuna matata.” 

Photo by Nathan Beer

It was a few days and several meals before I would learn neurocolor’s birth name, but by then, it felt wrong to say it out loud, especially to him. I realized that it wasn’t his real name at all. Sitting on a sofa in Casa Patricio, the community house in the heart of Del Valle, a neighborhood affectionately nicknamed “Crypto Valley” by the numerous crypto artists who lived there, I asked neuro about his pseudonym and why he preferred to use it IRL. 

“I was a teenager in the beginning of the 2000s. I was going to electronic music clubs. And so I grew up admiring DJs and graffiti artists and all of them had one name, and liked the name they created for themselves.” Kind of like the AIM usernames and Myspace extensions we chose to identify with on the internet. “I don’t like this idea that your real name is imposed by your parents. I mean, it’s an imposition, it’s an unnecessary imposition, because you need to be named somehow to function in society. So getting your own name, getting your own persona allows you to be born again,” and in some ways, to become your true self.

But perhaps the most revelatory aspect of both blockchain and the cryptoart network built on it is the freedom it allows artists like neuro, who were stuck teaching and altering their styles in order to fit in. “In Mexico, [crypto artists] are so few, and we are used to a really shitty reality in the art world,” he told me. Like so many aspects of life in Mexico, it is a restricted reality, with predetermined outcomes, and preselected winners and losers. “I always liked how [in the U.S.] you could be a painter and do new stuff, and you are still going to have a market. In Mexico, there was only a market for very cliche ideas. Like you have to be doing hyper-realism or neo-conceptual art that was so hot in the ‘90s, but not anymore, and you have to apply for a grant from the government, et cetera. So you have to either make the government happy or follow the really old fashioned art market here.” 

Effectively, there was no room for innovation, and even less for people who wanted to break from tradition. “So for us getting to know about crypto, evolving with cryptoart and with crypto in general, allowed us to break that barrier and be connected with people all over the world. That was kind of possible with the web 2.0, but, nah, it was far from being this dynamic.”

And as talk of crypto slowly turned into talk of capital, corruption, and social instability in Mexico, I wondered if there wasn’t something historical about what I was witnessing. I had been searching my whole life for this kind of environment, one where insanely smart people spoke about insanely cool stuff, conversation reaching deep into the night for a revelation that would inspire the next great novel, the next great mural, the next great generation of creators. Had Mexico City turned out to be the post-war Paris I wanted New York to be?

A few days later, we went to Xochilmilco, the place where long, Aztec-style boats covered in flowers and vibrant paint drifted along the swampy part of the city. Nearly everyone we came to visit made time to join.

neurocolor grew up in Unidad Independencia, a neighborhood filled with lush vegetation, balconies with pieces of laundry hanging outside of them, and windows ordained with plants and clay pottery. We drove by it on our way to Xochilmilco, his music blasting through the car’s speakers. I sat in the back with Moxarra and his dog, Galleta, bopping my head along and taking notes.

Photo by @oveck

The drive was a bit long, but it was certainly worth the prize at the end. A huge port was filled with boats of varying sizes and colors. We got on one and ordered our first round of drinks. Beer, micheladas, and seltzer were served in giant styrofoam cups rimmed in sugar, salt, and chile, some dyed in crazy colors, perhaps to match the boats. Our guide pushed us off shore, and steered the boat from the back with a long oar, kind of like the boats in Venice. neuro’s speaker blasted electronica and he danced along, clearly in his element. As I began talking to Criptocromo about dreams, a tiny boat paddled up next to us offering an array of snacks. Then a bit more downstream, another, selling something else. 

Afterward, we went back to the SuperRare AirBnb for a last-minute soiree where we ordered pizza, pasta, and a salad that only Ann and I ate. It was heartwarming to see how much these artists wanted to hang out with each other, and with us, how willing they were to drop other plans to make space for the spontaneous.

“Wait, so you told me why you prefer to be anonymous, but you never told me how you picked your name,” I said to neuro sometime in the night. “It’s like the idea, when you watch cartoons from the ‘50’s, and they were colored by technicolor? That was like the mother and this is the contemporary version of that concept,” he said, pouring some mezcal into a mug. “Then add the psychedelic: What is a color in your mind? It’s what your brain perceives it to be. So basically, every color is a neurocolor.” When he said it, I thought about eyes, specifically, retinas. One part of the retina was responsible for perceiving changes in light, shape, and movement, and the other part was responsible for interpreting color. Interesting, then, that his artworks so often used only grays in some parts, and only color in others.

We walked over to the dining room table where the artists were passing around two pieces of paper with the words “Super” and “Rare” outlined in pencil, with crazy details drawn over it in pen. Each artist had added their mark, showing a beautiful, creepy, and expertly detailed text. neurocolor sat down to add his.

Photo by @davekrugman

Watching him sweep the point of the pen across the paper, I stood amazed. Here was a guy, not much older than myself, who had broken into an art world still emerging. A guy who, like me, had been stuck teaching and resisting pressures to change his art while waiting–working–for his dreams to come true. To me, this was the power of crypto: to create space, and opportunities, for people like us.

The Sunday before we left, we decided to go to Lagunilla–another one of neuro’s suggestions–a large outdoor market where one could find delicious street food, priceless knickknacks, cool vintage clothing, antique furniture, and more. When we arrived, we found neuro, Ann Ahoy, and Criptocromo waiting for us.

“Why are you always so early?” I asked, joking. 

“I’m neurotic,” neuro said, taking a handful of something out of a clear plastic bag and putting it in his mouth.

“What are you eating?”

“My own custom snack. Patatinas with chapulines and lime.”

After a few daytime drinks, a little bit of shopping, and a bunch of delicious food, we went back to Casa Patricio one last time. My early flight back to New York loomed over me. But somewhere in the market I had found a skull with marbled greens, reds, and blues. “Nice find,” neuro had told me. When I got back to my East Village apartment, I placed it on the shelf beside my bed, to remind me of a new place that feels like home, too.

32

Virginia Valenzuela

Vinny is a writer from New York City whose work has been published in Wired, The Independent, High Times, Right Click Save, and the Best American Poetry Blog, and in 2022 she received the Future Art Writers Award from MOZAIK Philanthropy. She is SuperRare's Managing Editor.

Art

Tech

Curators' Choice

We’re Not All Gonna Fucking Make It, and maybe that’s a good thing

We’re Not All Gonna Fucking Make It, and maybe that’s a good thing

We’re Not All Gonna Fucking Make It, and maybe that’s a good thing

2 months ago

This article is part of a series

I.

Walking through Times Square is always a nightmare, especially during the summer with so many major events vying for your attention. This time of year, civilians walk by sad Elmos and middle-aged women in stars-and-stripes bikinis interspersed with NYC Pride-goers, peace-and-love yogis, and new money millennials and crypto bro wannabes–some dressed up as pixel art characters, others sporting capes. Outside the Marriot Marquis, a woman pairing red tights and a red lace bra, wearing a T-rex head and a tail blows bubbles from a handheld bubble gun.

It’s Monday, so everyone is going upstairs to get their passes, to shill their projects, and to invite women to parties in hopes of masking the scene’s persistent homogeneity. Waiting for my colleague Oliver Scialdone to arrive so we can take the escalators up to the 9th floor, girls with Neopets shirts and men in all black, smoking cigarettes pass me by.

After picking up our passes, Oli and I walk to the train to hang out at my place for an hour or two before our first event of the week, a SuperRare x Corvet party at the Dream Hotel, which is coincidentally, the New York branch of the same hotel chain we stayed in during Bitcoin Miami. 

photo taken by the author

“Did you hear?” they ask me as we weave through Karens in yoga shorts and straight-laced folks in rainbow apparel from Target on our way to the train. “The CEO of Kraken [Jesse Powell] told his employees that he’d rather give them 4 months of paid leave to find another job than to make the company culture more inclusive.”

Finance was never going to be the poster child for inclusivity, I thought, but wasn’t crypto finance supposed to be more than the homophobic jokes at the water cooler and after hours meetings at the strip club that made traditional finance so gross?

II.

NFT NYC boasted 1,500 speakers across 7 stages, the largest offering since the conference’s inception in 2019. Like last year, some of the panels were grouped into tracks. I prioritized new applications in NFTs and DeFi while Oli highlighted talks on community and gaming. On Friday afternoon I had chosen all of my preferred events, made calendar events on my phone, and identified the booths I wanted to visit. By Monday, the schedule had changed, some events moved, and some canceled altogether.

On the first morning of the conference, the trains were slow and many were delayed, but I knew better than to take an Uber into Times Square. Oli and I texted back and forth, trying to figure out what was left, and what was worth diving into at the last minute. I arrived at Radio City Music Hall 15 minutes late in hopes of missing some of the boasting that often accompanies huge crypto conferences like this one. Alas, even despite the tumbling bear market–or perhaps because of it–the hype was turned all the way up.

image by Oli Scialdone

image by Oli Scialdone

“$30 billion have been invested in NFTs in the last two years,” a middle-aged gentleman in a casual suit stated as I walked into a near-full theater filled with people eating plastic-wrapped danishes and drinking too-hot coffee from cardboard boxes. “NFTs are the most successful new consumer product since the smartphone,” David Pakman, Managing Partner of CoinFund, continued. Are NFTs consumer products, I thought to myself as people around me cheered. And why were they cheering, anyway? Working in fine art NFTs, I had always thought of NFTs as a mechanism by which artists could sell their work, and conversely, a mechanism by which the creation, curation, and collection of culture could be rewarded. Did the act of value exchange necessarily make it a consumer product? God, I hoped not.

But the most enticing data point Pakman shared was that even though asset values have gone down, the market cap of NFTs has continued to go up. The speed and quantity at which NFTs were being purchased was outpacing the effects of the bear market, which was, perhaps, a more appropriate moment for the audience to rejoice. 

The host came onto the stage clapping his hands, then introduced the next speaker and summarily left the stage, but not before inviting everyone in the theater to an ETH vs. Solana dance battle in the “Puppy Room.”

the Marriot Marquis by Oli Scialdone

III.

If web3 was going to usher in a new era of control and ownership over online identity, then NFTs would be the community’s vehicle of choice. Everything from your passport to your college diploma could be a token that only you could control, and in some cases, profit from. One presenter asked us to imagine a world where our credit scores were NFTs, and that each time a lender checked our credit, they paid us a fee to do so. All of these examples would be non-transferable, or “soulbound” NFTs, and they would replace all of the paper documents that we carry around (and misplace in our apartments), as well as all of the pieces of our online identities that we currently have to pay for in order to access them.

But that was all mere speculation. 

In the last year, several modes of art and entertainment have adopted the utopian visions of web3, spurring both user- and creator-focused innovations. Tale of Us, in conjunction with artist and curator Alessio De Vecchi, has attempted to create a DAO for fans to capitalize on their loyalty, aiming to give them a kickback on sales based on how many times they’ve played a song, using tokens to track involvement and huge NFT sales to fund their treasury. Brendan Canty and Minted used NFT sales as a way to take their films into post-production and invite collectors to become producers. And “Axie Infinity” has made owning a character in a video game as an NFT (and even playing the game) potentially profitable. As a poet, I’ve always worried that my passion would leave me penniless. Were the arts leading the way to crypto adoption out of necessity, or because communities formed by joint struggles and creative endeavors were just better at getting to the point?

image by Oli Scialdone

Ivan Soto-Wright, the Founder and CEO of Moonpay (one of the companies sponsoring the conference) came onto the stage, speaking about partnering with the movie industry, providing NFTs to moviegoers that would invite them back for an exclusive experience. “The next phase of NFTs,” he said, “is real world utility and functionality.” There was that word again, utility, a word that began to buzz throughout the crypto world, a largely empty promise approaching the same level of cringe as “large global consciousness” and “we’re still so early.”

His presentation was forward-thinking and inspirational up until the point he announced that Moonpay was “not only aiming to establish a payment infrastructure, but also a web infrastructure” (whatever that meant), and he quickly pivoted to a live demonstration of Moonpay’s newest offering: Hypermint. Moving us through the application, Soto-Wright showed us how any user could make a custom smart contract on Ethereum, Solana, or Polygon without any coding required.

TED Talks turned demo days were the norm throughout the week. Battle cries surrounding the resilience of the market and the inevitable bounce back to bull territory reminded us that we were all gonna make it. “Bear markets are an opportunity for visibility and therefore education,” Ryan Wyatt, Polygon Studios’ (another NFT NYC sponsor) CEO stated at the beginning of his talk. He then quickly transitioned into gaming, saying quite aptly that “bad experiences and misinformation are the two biggest blockers to gamers,” which could be true of anyone who has been scared off from crypto by headlines of rug pulls and celebrity cash grabs. Sure, education could be the answer, but what was the counterpoint? The crypto industry was quick to thwart negative misconceptions of itself, but during the summer of 2022, the thing that lay under the hood was beginning to look more like an I.O.U. for a spacecraft, rather than an engine of innovation.

Entrepreneurs and evangelists alike were trying their best to spread the good word of web3, to pluck us from the ragged claws of Facebook and Google, but like any golden child, they (we) can be dreadfully starry-eyed and stubborn. No one wants to be spoken down to, and most people don’t want to be saved. Least of all when the savior is also trying to sell them something they don’t want.

IV.

My days were spent nodding my head to people explaining the problems facing web2, and shaking my head to their thinly veiled attempts at finding new investors who had already spent $600 plus travel costs for the opportunity to attend the conference. “The future of NFTs?” the Radio City Music Hall host cried from the stage, “fonts, books, movies, videos, and applications in the real world.” But who was going to build them?

Most of the people on stage were community managers and CEOs (many of them 30-something-year-old males wearing ripped jeans and hideous designer sneakers), and most of the people I spoke to roaming the halls of the multiple arenas were in marketing and public relations, and only spoke to me because of the SuperRare press pass around my neck. Or to invite me to parties. The art and community panels were poorly attended, Oli later told me, while the marketing and sales panels were so packed that arriving on time still meant listening from the back of the room. Had “community” just become a code word for “consumer base”? And if so, what was “revolution” code for?

Having enjoyed the ASMR-esque drone of the multi-day hackathon that was ETHDenver, I couldn’t help but wonder, where were all the devs?

According to a report from Electric Capital issued in January of this year, there are over 18,000 active developers committing code to open-source crypto and web3 projects, and over 65% of them joined in 2021. While that jump in participation is a positive sign for  the industry, there were over 26.8 million active software developers worldwide at the end of 2021, as estimated by the latest State of the Developer Nation report, meaning that less than 0.001% of coders are involved in crypto projects, even though demand is high and rising. It also means that more than half of those interested in working in web3 have less than a year of experience in both the philosophy and the coding languages that power crypto. Were the only people excited about crypto the “idea guys?” Yikes.

But the revolutionary ideas kept coming, and as the talks went on, I felt myself getting more and more pumped for the future of NFTs, only to remember that the sugar high of the crypto Kool-Aid was artificial. ETH was still on its downward spiral, and PFPs were losing their financial footing. No matter how many people showed up in BAYC swag or dressed up as their metaverse avatars, nothing could shake the cruel reality of a market correction.

The last panel I attended that day was called “What Normies and Boomers Should Know in NFT and DeFi Investing: a VC Deep Dive.” The title was comical in that it lumped young people who were not interested in crypto with an older generation often labeled as grumpy and out of touch, and that it assumed the average investor had the same goals and resources as venture capitalists (now who’s out of touch?). After explaining that the issue with using NFTs as collateral is that they are not really liquid assets, and expounding on a future where DeFi will replace centralized finance and NFTs will replace “everything else,” one of the panelists (regretfully, I can’t remember which) stated that this was indeed the only future because “crypto is too big to fail.”

panel with theVERSEverse by Oli Scialdone

By mid-afternoon, I was as full of as much information–and as much b.s.–as I could manage. I was ready to leave. As I walked to the train again, my phone’s news app announced that eBay had just acquired Known Origin, and Twitter shared a retweet campaign alerting me that malicious QR codes had been spotted throughout NFT NYC. It appeared that both web2 behemoths and web3 scammers were ready to take advantage of the year’s biggest NFT conference.

V.

SuperRare hosted events each night, which were populated by artists, cryptoart collectors, industry insiders, and influencers. Platters of giant, immaculately cleaned shrimp, garlicky hummus accompanied by vegetables too good for even the best farmer’s markets, and cured meats draped over one another delighted guests who got drunk off $20 cocktails that were free if your name was on the list. Some artists dawned attire as eye-catching as their artwork, using the conference as the red carpet the traditional art world denied them.

Though SuperRare boasted our status as an art world disruptor, I couldn’t help but notice that the crypto world was beginning to look less like a pair of skinny jeans ripped through wear, and more like a pair of Gucci sneakers made to look beat up. We were at times disruptive, as when our pop-up Soho gallery exhibited only digitally-native artworks; yet we were at times emulating the very culture of status and luxury that the traditional art world embodied. Costumesque outfits, expensive hors-d’œuvre left half uneaten, talks of the next chic travel destination for the pop-up gallery. Was this the final destination of internet art culture, which emerged as an alternative to the mainstream, or was it a necessary symptom of intertwining art, any kind of art, with monetary value?

I liked the part of cryptoart that prized anonymity over fame, artistry over sales, and community above all else. But sometimes the uglier parts of it made me wonder if I had myself sold out, trading my career as a social justice journalist for something shinier and exponentially better paid. Rubbing shoulders with some of the industry’s most elite artists, people like Coldie, Sam Spratt, Ryan Koopmans, Laurel Charleston, Brendan Dawes, Cyber YuYu, Sarah Zucker, and Cath Simmard, brought up mixed feelings. I wouldn’t know most of these artists on sight if someone hadn’t introduced me to them. But does anonymity cancel out fame? Of course not.

If I learned anything that week, it was that no market condition would stop the crypto world from partying, even among layoffs. But if bear markets force us to mature, to get smarter, as Pierina Merino, the founder and CEO of Flickplay, stated in her panel, then what would be the positive outcome beyond huge sales for crypto artists? There are so many ideas about how blockchain can change the world right now, but what will we do if big ideas, and even bigger parties, are not enough? And what will we, the radical revolutionaries, do to combat the unthinkable piles of money that continue to prop up crypto startups, even amid the downturn? Web1 was a wild west too, until it was colonized by Google and Microsoft and then sold to the highest bidders. Even web2 had its moments in the sun. Will we learn from the recent past, or ignore it, and watch our beloved cryptoart, and everything the movement stands for, turned into a sexy Frankenstein ready to sell you a 1/1 Gucci belt for you to wear in your luxury metaverse of choice?

32

Virginia Valenzuela

Vinny is a writer from New York City whose work has been published in Wired, The Independent, High Times, Right Click Save, and the Best American Poetry Blog, and in 2022 she received the Future Art Writers Award from MOZAIK Philanthropy. She is SuperRare's Managing Editor.

Art

Tech

Curators' Choice

Cien años de revolución: How Carlos Marcial is leading Latin America into its crypto future

Cien años de revolución: How Carlos Marcial is leading Latin America into its crypto future

Photograph by Dave Krugman

Cien años de revolución: How Carlos Marcial is leading Latin America into its crypto future

7 months ago

Sitting by myself at Mama Rumba in Mexico City, I sipped on a mezcal margarita and waited for my guests to arrive. The club was adorned with tropical flowers and neon signs that read “salsa” and “baila,” and the waitersdressed in white button-down shirts and ironed pants—diligently attended to their customers. Music played from the speakers while the musicians began warming up. The Caribbean-inspired club in the middle of Mexico’s capital was the perfect symbol of just how fluid Latin American culture can be: mainland and island rhythms, Mexican mezcal and Puerto Rican plantains, all flowing through bodies and taste buds of so many of the people sitting here, like me, looking forward to a dance. In this moment, I was not one thing or another, but a mix of many: an American in a foreign place, the daughter of a Mexican immigrant returning to her father’s homeland, a woman sitting alone at a bar, scribbling into a notebook.

Photograph by Dave Krugman

Before I finished my first drink, a curly-haired man with beaming energy, wearing a short-sleeved button-down decorated with palm trees shouted, “Vinny!” over the clinking of shot glasses and the tuning of instruments. Carlos Marcial pulled me in for a hug, patting my back like an uncle I had not seen in a long time. The renowned crypto artist then introduced me to his wife and collaborator, Alondra Durán, who wore a beautiful, flowy dress, perfect for spins and turns. Under a neon sign that read “Havana,” we ordered a round of mezcal and waited for the music to begin.

“So, this is your first time in Mexico City,” Carlos asked me. I nodded, adding that I had only been to Monterrey to visit my father’s family. I’ve always felt at home in Mexico, even though it is not where I grew up, and Spanish is not my maternal language. “I feel so honored to have been born here [in Mexico City]” Carlos told me, “just because…even though I wasn’t raised here, I had to come back because I was born here and I needed to see, you know, why I was born here, why it was a part of my narrative.” Carlos spent most of his childhood in Puerto Rico, which you can tell right away from his bombastic demeanor, the way he pronounces his r’s and s’s in Spanish, and the way he switches seamlessly from Spanish to English and back again, just like the Puerto Ricans I had grown up around in the Lower East Side in New York City.

Photograph by Nain Leon

We got to talking about NFTs right away, partly because we’re both obsessed with the technology, but also because I had bought my first NFT just a few weeks before my trip. It was the first time in my life that I owned something other than a store-bought item or a debt. “The first NFT I ever sold, I sold it for like $100,” he told me. “And at the time I was like ‘holy shit! $100!’ I had no idea where this was going, but the fact that I had earned money from my art, which I would be making anyway, was really amazing.” 

In a matter of a few years, Carlos went from lackluster design jobs to being a top-selling crypto artist who teaches university students about blockchain technology. As Carlos began selling more artworks, he also began collecting, a phenomenon in the crypto art world which, to me, articulates both a camaraderie between artists and a relatively new level of wealth among them. On SuperRare, artists retain 85% of the money from their initial sale, and collect royalties on the secondary market in perpetuity, which generates a continuous income stream that grows with the artist’s reputation. And because crypto artists don’t need to rely on auction houses and galleries—many of which are impossible to get into if you don’t have the right education, status, or address—they can finally be in control of their artistic visions, as well as their sales. Making art is beginning to offer a mass of people stability, money, and freedom, with no strings attached.

“It’s an underground movement,” Carlos said in between dances. “It doesn’t matter if the traditional art world, if Hollywood, whatever the cultural niche, sees value in what you’re doing.” Because in crypto, there is a market for everything: fine art, memes, animation, you name it. “How crazy is it that you can have artists in the middle of nowhere,” he added, “and they still have a chance of tapping into a global art market? And then you add artists from Mexico and Thailand and Russia, and you stop and think, ‘What happened here? How did this happen in such a short amount of time?’”

 

I think people get stuck in the money, stuck in the speculation, the influencers, the hype cycle, and that’s entertainment, but there’s something about believing in an asset when no one else believes in it, just because you connect with the artist and want them to succeed.

— Carlos Marcial

“Fiat est violentiam – Knife – #1” (2019) by Carlos Marcial on SuperRare

“Art Installation N°1” (2019) by Carlos Marcial on SuperRare

Kevin McCoy’s digital artwork “Quantum” (2014), regarded by many as the first NFT, sold in the NFT boom of 2021 for upwards of a million dollars. Minted on the Namecoin blockchain, the smart contract was intended to remedy the way digital artworks circulated online—which usually resulted in artists losing credit for their creations—and as a way for artists to sell their work directly to their fans.

NFTs have knocked down barriers, allowing more people to make, buy, and sell art, regardless of who they are, what school they went to (if any), and where they are located in the world. And while this sounds great to any art-maker, including poets and visual artists who may have otherwise made peace with the idea of never making money from their work, it holds even more weight for people who live in countries where political corruption, social unrest, and economies built on systemic oppression are the norm. In Mexico, as in much of Latin America, an artistic, political, and financial revolution has long been overdue.

Art and Revolution

The early economy of Mexico was built on haciendas, or plantations, which dominated the rural countryside and employed millions of people in an oppressive financial structure not unlike that featured in Steinbeck’s American classic “The Grapes of Wrath.” Up until the 19th century, it was not uncommon for people to be paid in commodities from stores owned by the same people who employed them. Prices fluctuated, never in the consumer’s best interest, and many workers were caught in a cycle of never-ending debt, a cycle that, in many parts of the country, persists today.

In 1907, half of the people living in Mexico had never seen a peso in their lives. 

In 1910, Mexican artists like José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Diego Rivera began crafting murals on government buildings and in the streets. They depicted scenes from the revolution: soldiers in white, politicians in black, farmers in the fields of haciendas under the burning sun, women making tortillas and grinding moles with babies tied to their backs; the poor masses rising up against the status quo. Art was made accessible to the people, not hidden away, and it featured their lives, their struggles, their dark skin and jet black hair.

When you see the migrants here in Mexico going to the United States, they’re looking for jobs. Here in Mexico, if you fail, you fall all the way. There’s no bottom.

— Carlos Marcial

Revolution or Renaissance

The NFT movement today has been compared to the Italian Renaissance on one hand, and to the Beanie Baby Boom on the other. The biggest obstacle for many people, including those who’d benefit most, has been their lack of access to understanding the technology. Those of us who grew up on the internet can see the value of NFTs, DAOs, and digital assets more readily, because we’re more accustomed to the tech that was the precursor to those inventions. We saw the programs being built, the value users placed in them, and felt connected to early internet art and communities. Then, we saw how Silicon Valley profited off of unpaid or under-paid labor. The difference with Web3 and NFTs is the people make the money, not the corporations.

“I think this is going to be like the Renaissance,” Carlos said. “But, you know, the Renaissance wasn’t decentralized. The artist was bound to whoever—the patron—and there was a whole stream of money, un montón de dinero, but the artists were still bound geographically, and working inside the castle.” The artworks, which were commissioned, tended to be portraits of nobles and still lifes, not artworks that came from their own hearts and minds. But collecting NFTs is an investment too, and one with huge headlines to boot. “I think people get stuck in the money, stuck in the speculation, the influencers, the hype cycle, and that’s entertainment,” Carlos told me when I asked about the crazy sales in 2021. Then he added, “but there’s something about believing in an asset when no one else believes in it, just because you connect with the artist and want them to succeed.” Which is exactly why people who bought works by XCOPY and Hackatao and Coldie at $25 in 2018 are now reaping the benefits of multi-million dollar sales on NFT Markets like SuperRare.

In the two years since the COVID-19 pandemic, NFTs have gone viral, and artists, like Carlos, have quit their day jobs and realized their dreams. Part of that is because so much of our attention was diverted from the physical world into the virtual. But Carlos is also certain that another reason is as a reaction, and a remedy, to corruption. “At the same time, [blockchain] is making transparent three of the most opaque human industries: governance, finance, and the art market. In Mexico, in the third world, governments don’t like transparency. And in the traditional art world you have pseudonymous bidders, and where the money goes and what happens on the secondary markets, no one knows. So what is the true value?” Is it whatever the auction house tells you?

For me it has been about, how do I bring the culture that I grew up around in Puerto Rico, and in Mexico, how do I bring that to crypto, to the metaverse, how do I make it last forever?

— Carlos Marcial

Photograph by Dave Krugman

Photograph by Dave Krugman

With a globally distributed ledger that is accessible to anyone with an internet connection, blockchain technology has truly revolutionized all aspects of the financial world. It has made it possible for people to see the provenance of any artwork, token, or contract, as well as to track every on-chain transaction ever made. This readily available data is intrinsically inspirational as it calls to mind a form of  ingenuity that many Gen-Xers, Millennials, and Zoomers have only seen in text books and movies.

For the first time since the Boomers were young, a gold rush-like opportunity has emerged, with many assets still affordable to adventurous young people willing to take the risk. You can buy into cryptocoins with prices under $100, and even buy fractions of successful ones like Bitcoin and Ethereum. You can buy NFTs for as little as $1 on platforms like Teia. And all of these things have the potential to eventually turn a profit. In fact, you can become a millionaire off of shit coins or flipping funny PFP cartoon characters, if you happen to buy in–and sell–at the right time. Which is not to say that the rich aren’t making fortunes off of crypto, too, but to the tens of millions of people that never thought they could pay off their student loans, let alone buy a home, NFTs and crypto coins are a ray of hope. “The gateway asset,” Carlos said, “kind of like the gateway drug into assets, for our generation, it’s crypto.” 

Now apply that newfound hope to places where there is no path to higher education (not even through debt), where there are capital controls and devastating crashes every decade, where every level of society is tainted by corruption, and where being poor is as good as a death sentence. For millions of lower and middle-class Mexicans, including most of my family in Monterrey, neither financial security nor faith in the system is forthcoming. “When you see the migrants here in Mexico going to the United States, they’re looking for jobs,” Carlos said. “Here in Mexico, if you fail, you fall all the way. There’s no bottom.” Which is exactly why my father left in 1964 and stayed in America long after his student visa expired. A culture existing under this kind of oppression has never had the opportunity to pull itself up. “That’s the beauty of crypto,” Carlos said, “and I think that’s why it has become ever so popular, especially in a place like Mexico City, where you have a young population of well-educated people. Bitcoin, and crypto more generally, has been their first interaction with things of value.” 

“Magritte’s Weed Pipe” (2019) by Carlos Marcial on SuperRare

Thanks to crypto, you don’t need access to insane amounts of wealth in order to collect art. You can choose to participate—and  build your wealth—in the crypto economy, one less dependent on connections and bribes. You can rise to fame and fortune without appeasing traditional power structures. Another path has opened—not a panacea, but a gateway, if you will—to taking control of your narrative, to giving yourself options, to earning power through culture. 

“Before NFTs, I think a lot of Mexican contemporary artists and Puerto Rican artists felt like, ‘I need to fit into the mold of whatever is popular, wherever the art market centers are in the world,’” Carlos said. “And that’s what SuperRare and crypto art has been building, precisely that you can bring all of that other part, you can bring that with you or you can stay in it and still be an artist that can live off their cultural production.”

Carlos’s art is emblematic of this newfound tradition. It’s colorful and dynamic in places, dark and mysterious in others. There are ancient symbols and animals that any person of Latin American descent would quickly recognize as their own: a jaguar, coyote, and serpent-god, each decorated in a unique pattern and brought to life by digital technology. But then he also plays with the masters of history, paying homage to Magritte and Duchamp while bringing them up to date.

“I will not drown because I have learned to fly” (2020) by Carlos Marcial on SuperRare

“Coyote’s Soul” (2020) by Carlos Marcial on Nifty Gateway

The cultural capital Carlos brings to the art world goes beyond just celebrating Latin American culture. “For me it has been about, how do I bring the culture that I grew up around in Puerto Rico, and in Mexico, how do I bring that to crypto, to the metaverse, how do I make it last forever?” 

“What colonization does is it puts layers upon layers on top of what was already there,” he added, “and if you are a creator, and you can still create in the midst of all of this crazy, colorful syncretism, then I think very special things will come out of it.” Carlos’s creations embody a santeria that only the mixing of cultures and the preservation of ancestry can produce: “a virgin, the indigenous artifacts, and the Coke bottle all a part of the same altar,” he observed, showing how everything, the good and the bad, can be intertwined, and transformed into something magical.

Into Our Crypto Future

Carlos Marcial and his wife Alondra—a Mexican-born artist, feminist, and academic of indigenous decent—have recently launched one of SuperRare’s first five Spaces. Metafísica will onboard new artists from all over Latin America, and is focusing on female voices for their launch. At a small dinner party at their home, Alondra told me how excited she was to bring crypto to the people, especially to women and people of indigenous descent. Thanks to Carlos and Alondra, historically oppressed people who have rarely had the chance to succeed will get their shot on SuperRare. “[SuperRare Spaces are] an experiment, you know, and breaking it apart in a DAO and giving different people a chance, it’s too good to be true and too good not to try it out to see if it’s the future of how companies can organize,” Carlos ruminated. “It’s clear to me that whatever we’ve had before, it’s not working. So, why not?”

Photograph by Nain Leon

It’s been a slow lead up to the invention of Bitcoin, but at the very least, we can see something good coming out of it all, like avant-garde literature and art after World War I and the Influenza pandemic of 1917 or the abstract expressionism and conceptual art that came out of the decades following World War II. “[Crypto art] is like post-war art, or turn of the century art,” Carlos noted. “We have so many crazy, historical things happening, and I think that you won’t be able to talk, in 20 years, about COVID without talking about NFTs and crypto art.” Sure, these years were and continue to be difficult—houses are expensive, the stock market is headed toward a recession, and new coronavirus variants seem to pop up every month—but transitions from the old world to the new almost always are. So what is Carlos’s advice?

“I’m gonna buy more Bitcoin, fuck it.”

32

Virginia Valenzuela

Vinny is a writer from New York City whose work has been published in Wired, The Independent, High Times, Right Click Save, and the Best American Poetry Blog, and in 2022 she received the Future Art Writers Award from MOZAIK Philanthropy. She is SuperRare's Managing Editor.

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Curators' Choice

Web3 is not as private as you think

Web3 is not as private as you think

Above: “data privacy” by stockcatalog licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Web3 is not as private as you think

9 months ago

ETHDenver begins with waiting in line out in the cold, making new friends on Telegram and getting invited to parties. After administering a covid test and grabbing a wristband, I stand in another line to get into an elevator going up to the 4th floor where the conference was taking place. Outside, a McLaren patterned with the iconic Doge revs its engine.

Did somebody say crypto camouflage? (SuperRare/Nathan Beer)

ETHDenver is a cacophony of languages and accents, NFT enthusiasts and DAO members, noobs and experts, all of them friendly and chatty. Free merch abounds, and every five minutes or so I overhear the first in-person meetings of online comrades. “What brings you here?” is the entry point for nearly every conversation. But isn’t it obvious? The panels with new crypto start-ups, the coders competing in hackathons strewn across the shared spaces, the shortlist of famous names in crypto–like Nadya Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot and pplpleasr, the namesake of pleasrDAO–and the opportunities to network with people who share your same interests in Web3.

One of the first panels I went to was on a topic I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about: privacy in the age of the internet. With all of the recent conversations around user data and the ensuing calls for privacy, it is easy to feel like web3 could be our savior, our return to anonymity, and the reclamation of our virtual sovereignty. 

The problem is, it’s not.

Adrian Brink at De/Centralize 2018 (source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BBN1J1H_JWg)

Adrian Brink is the founder of Anoma, a proof-of-stake blockchain that markets itself as a truly private, “asset-agnostic,” payment platform. Their goal is to ensure that their customers maintain their privacy, even as they send money back and forth between people and parties.

But isn’t blockchain anonymous?

No. Not only is your computer’s IP address tracked by services like MetaMask and Etherscan, thus connecting a geological location to your wallet, but the platforms you use to buy crypto currencies may also share your data as well. Coinbase is one of the largest crypto exchanges in use today, and one of the hot topics at this year’s conference was how they take private data from their users and then share it with other exchanges globally. They’re not the only ones.

According to Brink, one of the biggest problems with modern-day democracy is the lack of privacy afforded to individuals. In fact, when it comes to our public lives, we are as open to the world as ever, whether we engage with social media or not. Search engines track our search history, online banking tracks our sensitive information, and every single website stores (and collects) information with every visit.

But why should I be worried if I have nothing to hide?

Because privacy is not just about what people know, but how people act. According to Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, people act differently when they know they are being watched. Even just the appearance of surveillance has the same effect, whether or not anyone is actually watching. This state of heightened awareness, epitomized by the feeling–fear? worry?–some of us have before hitting “send” on a Tweet that may be too political or in any way offensive to anyone, changes the way we act.

So why does this matter in a democracy? All forms of governance are about human coordination, which requires both common sense and a shared reality. Without these two things, societies cannot have shared goals or even civil conversations, and thus cannot achieve anything. Furthermore, with data-driven ads and news, each person experiences the internet, and by extension the world, in a different light. This is a clear problem that we are witnessing today, and not just in the United States, but all over the world.

And while it is true that DAOs are an effective solution for tackling specific problems, Brink does not believe that they are the answer to our problems. The solution, or one of them, is to return to a world where individuals have privacy.

Privacy matters because it changes the power dynamic between individuals and corporations. If Facebook owns your data, then they not only profit from giving you personalized advertising, they also affect your worldview, showing you content that makes your blood boil–I mean, that keeps you engaged. They can sell that data to bad actors (Cambridge Analytica, for example) who want to change the outcome of a political event, like a protest or an election (like in 2016). But if you own your data, that puts you back in control of your online life, and fights against surveillance capitalism all at the same time. 

As of right now, Brink says, 99% of all systems are completely transparent, and 99% of users aren’t aware of it. And between IP address tracking and the increase in KYC (Know Your Customer) requirements, even the pseudonymous nature of Web3 is slowly eroding. While there are companies tackling this very problem, like ZCash and Hopr, for Brink, the future of Web3 has to be multi-chain, and it has to happen sooner rather than later because governments are already starting to go after the business of blockchain.

And with that, Brink’s time is up. He thanks us for our time and attention and leaves the stage. Outside, a light snow begins to fall. I have a drink at the bar. As I pay my tab, a notification pops up on my iPhone. 15 people liked your Tweet from #ETHDenver. 

Damnit.

32

Virginia Valenzuela

Vinny is a writer from New York City whose work has been published in Wired, The Independent, High Times, Right Click Save, and the Best American Poetry Blog, and in 2022 she received the Future Art Writers Award from MOZAIK Philanthropy. She is SuperRare's Managing Editor.

Art

Tech

Curators' Choice

Mike Judge dances his way onto the blockchain

Mike Judge dances his way onto the blockchain

Works by Judge

Mike Judge dances his way onto the blockchain

Virginia Valenzuela
12 months ago

It started with frog baseball; two weirdo teenagers playing games out in a desert field, their parents nowhere to be seen, their eyes and mouths glitching out like early 2000’s internet memes. The year was 1992, and newbie animator, professional blues musician, and former engineer Mike Judge had just licensed one of his first cartoons to Liquid Television for $4,000.

Judge loved drawing cartoons, even as a kid, but it was after he went to an animation festival that he was inspired to draw for real. With a 16mm movie camera, some paper, a pencil, and cels, he went to work in his free time. In 1991, he began sending tapes—yes, physical VHS tapes—out to studios to see if anyone would take a bite. Judge’s style was rigid, producing animations that felt hand-drawn and homemade, and his characters were simple on the surface and easy to laugh at. Even the storyline for “Frog Baseball” was nothing complex. And yet, the people at MTV loved it, and knew their viewers would love it as well.

“Frog Baseball” by Mike Judge, 1992

“I wasn’t trying to blow someone away with visuals,” Judge said. “I was going more for character and comedy.” Judge not only wrote and animated the short, but he also did the voices and composed original music for it.

“I’ve always done imitations, and originally wanted to get into sketch comedy, and I almost did that because right as MTV was talking early on about Beavis and Butthead I got an offer from this show, the Edge, and they wanted me to do animated transitions between sketches, and I thought, this was my dream come true.”

—Mike Judge

That two-minute-long film would eventually turn into one of the most iconic cult classics of the ‘90s, a little show called Beavis and Butthead that still charms audiences today. Sometimes they’d be at school, or skipping school, or watching tv on their nasty couch, commenting how “that sucks” or “that’s cool” in the world around them.

Mike Judge’s work captures moments in time in a way that is approachable, unique, and belly-achingly funny. If it wasn’t helping to spearhead cartoons for adults (did I mention he also created and was a voice actor in King of the Hill?), it was writing and directing cult classics like the 1998 film Office Space, which captured the chaos of cubicle work culture during the internet revolution. Or maybe it was the 2006 hit Idiocracy, which ventured into the apocalyptic future of an America where evolution no longer favors the intelligent, and fast food, guns, pop culture and monster trucks are king. Or, it was satirising the crazy world of Silicon Valley, based on the world Judge saw as an engineer in his early career.

Each of these works has accrued impressive followings and grown better with age. Which is part of why so many people are excited for Judge’s genesis NFT, “Dancing Dan.”

Judge’s genesis

There were cycles of walking, noted Judge, that gave him the idea that doing one of different people dancing would be, as Butthead would say, really cool. The animation—hand-drawn, of course—is of a stumpy man moving his hips to a funky little tune. It is accompanied by original music, a trio of guitar, upright bass and drums, composed and performed by Judge himself.

“When I was a kid, my grandpa would watch Lawrence Welk, which I really hated, and to me it was this old-timey way of dancing, and I really wanted to capture that,” Judge said. “There was also this song that inspired me. I’m a big fan of swing-era music and so I gave him that dorky swing.”

“Dancing Dan” is unique in that it makes the viewer feel nostalgic, but they’re not exactly sure why or what for. It taps into a style of animation that is not aimed at perfection, but rather the unique elements and imperfections that make something or someone a one-of-a-kind, making it a perfect fit for the blockchain.

Judge’s work coincided with a major cultural shift that was brought on by the digital revolution. But even with programs like ProCreate, that make it easier than ever to animate, Judge prefers a pencil and paper and a camera.

“People were worried when CG [computer graphics] came along, that it would ruin traditional animation,” Judge told SuperRare, “and it sort of did, but I’m guessing that when photography came along that people thought painters would be out of jobs. But that’s when great impressionist stuff happened. I think people, even just now, haven’t even scraped the surface of what can happen, just exploring CG. I think this could lead to a new explosion of art and innovation.”

Because when depicting reality is taken care of, it allows artists to look at the world through a different lens, to experiment, to explore.

“Huh?” by Mike Judge, 1991

Judge has been interested in NFTs for years now, and has even spoken at conferences like the Decentralized Web Summit in 2018. “I think NFTs are the next big step towards new artists finding success and connecting with their audiences directly. There aren’t quite as many gatekeepers, and there seems to be a big demand for it. I think it’s going to enable people to share their work in such an effective way.”

The NFT as a medium has also made it possible for artists to create works that, up until recently, did not have a place to be expressed, let alone sold for money. Judge remembered fondly how Chris Prynoski, a fellow animator who worked on the Beavis and Butthead movie, hosted something he called “five second day.” “Animators would submit something that was just five seconds long, and it really inspired people,” said Judge. Which was a relief for creators in an industry that often required each piece, each animation, to have a storyline and character development in order to be considered “finished.”

“Some people say animation is tedious or boring, doing tons of drawings, but for me it is the opposite. To me, illustrating is boring, rather than making something move. And often I’ll have a little idea, a cycle of something.” And now that little cycle can be presented, not as a scrap, but as a fully-formed product.

“Office Space” by Mike Judge, 1991

Judge is full of little ideas, and his work shows how big those little ideas can be. The movie Office Space started out as a little cartoon. Beavis and Butthead started out as a two-minute clip. “Dancing Dan,” and the other dancing characters he has in mind, started out, like so many of Judge’s ideas, as a joke. “Often when I get the urge to draw,” he said, “it’s because I see someone annoying and I am tempted to make fun of them.”

Which is perhaps part of why he has grown so popular and so beloved over the years. Mike Judge is not out to impress anyone, and yet, his satire has left a deep impression on the minds of millions. He’s just a dude with pencil and paper setting out to have a laugh, and inviting us to laugh along with him.

32

Virginia Valenzuela

Vinny is a writer from New York City whose work has been published in Wired, The Independent, High Times, Right Click Save, and the Best American Poetry Blog, and in 2022 she received the Future Art Writers Award from MOZAIK Philanthropy. She is SuperRare's Managing Editor.

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