On decentralized governance: The case for DAOs and structural revolution

On decentralized governance: The case for DAOs and structural revolution

Photo by EthereumClassic, marked with CC0 1.0

On decentralized governance: The case for DAOs and structural revolution

Virginia Valenzuela
1 year ago
Over the centuries, humanity has attempted a number of different models for large-scale governance. From monarchies to republics, democracies to dictatorships, from communism to socialism to utilitarianism, and so on. And while each may be predicated on some philosophy of who should be in charge and more importantly, how large groups should coordinate, the problem of governance being efficient and effective, and how to remain so over time, urges us to continue the search for that more perfect union.
In 2008, the economies of the world felt the crash of American exceptionalism at its worst. Banks were found to be bad actors, whose main purpose was not to help the population manage their money, but to offer them predatory loans to buy assets they could not afford. When the housing bubble burst, it was the American taxpayer who paid the bill for economic resurrection, and it’s the taxpayer who continues to bear its yoke.
It was no coincidence then, that in 2009, Satoshi Nakamoto mined the first block on the Bitcoin blockchain. Embedded within that block was the contemporaneous headline: “The Times Jan/03/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks.” This statement, a rallying cry etched in the annals of history for all time, embodies the political motivation behind blockchains as a technological innovation for coordination of the common good.
If we zoom out from the excitement of insiders and the confusion of outsiders that surrounds cryptocurrency, NFTs, DAOs, and other groundbreaking technologies a la blockchain, we can see that these experiments are merely the latest answer to the age-old question: how do we govern ourselves? And relatedly, how do we protect ourselves from bad decisions being made on our behalf or in our name?

Preamble

In a lot of ways, we can think of Bitcoin as the first DAO. A proto-DAO of sorts, Bitcoin was formed through a social consensus about the parameters of how to keep a public ledger, and a calcification of the values around why an unalterable, permissionless and distributed ledger could become the optimal means of exchanging value and certifying history. Miners would be rewarded for honest efforts toward maintaining the network and for contributing computing power, and anyone could opt in or out as they pleased. Users could trivially access every transaction ever made, tracking the provenance of any given unit of value stored on the network, thus providing the ultimate form of financial transparency combined with irrefutable security. The political philosophy behind Bitcoin makes changing the network incredibly difficult; but theoretically this is possible given the right social consensus around any proposed changes.
Then came Ethereum, which grew as a branch off of the Bitcoin trunk, allowing users even greater opportunity to apply and experiment around the values of open-source code, distributed ledgers, and voluntary consensus mechanisms. The implementation of a Turing-complete programming language—on top of the miracle innovation of Nakamoto consensus—set the stage for a Cambrian explosion of different methods for financial and social coordination.
The DAO, which ran on the Ethereum blockchain, was the first social experiment built as a higher level of abstraction on top of the primitive of programmable digital value. It was an experiment around whether it was possible to set up a decentralized, anonymous venture fund, with shared financial interest as its mechanism of coordination. We evolved from operating as individual financial actors, loosely aligned through the basic rules that govern the Bitcoin network – to complex coordination among large groups of individuals on the Ethereum network, mediated through programmable smart contracts, which require higher levels of alignment to manage a constantly evolving social consensus.

Types of DAOs

After the original DAO blew up, causing wreckage across the Ethereum ecosystem and forcing a period of fraught reflection amongst its early adherents, a number of other experiments with DAOs began to emerge. Within a few months, the Ethereum community had reached the conclusion that, while the DAO had been a catastrophic event, the latent potential energy stored in the concept of DAO’s as a coordination mechanism was too great to ignore, and that by evolving their social parameters, this potential energy could be unleashed and channeled toward world-altering outcomes.
The Moloch DAO, founded in February 2019, was one of the first to gain early traction following the crypto winter of 2018—likely as a result of the strong stance they took on the value of DAOs as a coordination mechanism, and the political drive to continue innovating. Instead of buying in like people did with the DAO, potential members were asked to sacrifice something meaningful to them “for the greater good.” Maybe that was 2 ETH; maybe it was a certain amount of time that functioned like sweat equity.
But one of their most consequential inventions was the ragequit mechanism. Like in a videogame where a player is losing and thus rage quits right out of it, the ragequit mechanism in Moloch allowed members to cash out their shares instead of spending money on a project proposal that they disagreed with. It was important as a primitive, or algorithmic building block, in the evolution of DAOs because it allowed people a way out of a political turn that would lead them to investing in something they found unconscionable. The concept of exit is a fundamental function of decentralized blockchain networks and its application in the context of a DAO makes participation not only more attractive from the perspective of a capital allocator, but substantially more scalable from a social perspective. Like the decision to “vote with your feet” in the context of American federalism, the ability to ragequit your capital in a DAO lowers the friction around exiting while facilitating greater variation and experimentation among and between DAOs that (at least nominally) compete for limited capital, attention, and member engagement.
The Party DAO, which also launched in February of 2019, was organized around the collective bidding of NFTs. Unlike other collector DAOs like Pleasr DAO and Flamingo DAO, Party DAO allows users to initiate a Party Bid around a specific NFT. If the PartyBid wins, the group of people who pooled their capital to buy that NFT becomes a temporary DAO that can hold the NFT and split the profits when it sells. This allows groups to form around specific NFTs, rather than groups voting on which NFTs they’d like to bid on as in other collector DAOs.
More recently, there has been buzz surrounding the Constitution DAO, which raised $40 million between over 17,000 people, and aimed to purchase a folio of the United States Constitution. Though owning the document would not have changed the way politics function in the United States, the implications of such a venture would have been enormous. What would happen if people outside of elected office could vote on deletions, updates, and alterations to a document that governs our very way of life? How would voter participation and the general idea of citizenship be impacted?

SuperRare as a Curation DAO

Last August, SuperRare launched the $RARE token, thus beginning the next chapter in NFT marketplace curation. As a governance token, it constitutes membership for making curation decisions in the SuperRare network. Owning a single token allows you to vote on new Spaces, the admission of new artists, and green-lighting treasury expenditures that look to support artists, arts programs and cultural development. The larger construct is to look at curation, not just from an art perspective, but also a cultural one.
“It totally warps your perception of collaboration and corroboration with other team members and employees,” says Lee Knight, SuperRare’s Technical Community Manager. “It’s a novel experience as compared to traditional work environments, relying heavily on community involvement and a sense of responsibility and accountability.”
In the not-too-distant future, having a certain amount of tokens could grant members access to an IRL event, putting them in the room with the social milieu that we are creating within the network, connecting us all to a cultural and aesthetic desire that we believe in and want to see expressed in the world. We can think about how we are adding and influencing cultural significance all around us, our involvement via collection and DAO membership becoming just as important to the digital art world as the artists themselves..
SuperRare aims to eventually become the biggest pool of non-financial capital in the world. And unlike other DAOs, we plan to invest in things that do not have a direct financial return on investment. By believing in art as having intrinsic value outside of auctions and sales, the SuperRare community will be able to add more cultural capital to the world and begin to rectify decades of neglect for the arts driven by the over financialization of society these many years.

Hopes for the future

Thanks to blockchain technology, we are now well on our way to realizing true and meaningful sovereignty, wherein centralization becomes less and less powerful, and the sovereign individual can decide where they want to live, how they want to make their money, and with whom they want to collaborate. Power structures flip from centralized state authority exerting its will on individuals through the use of force, to a digital-first, free-agent universe. Distributed ledgers, non-custodial wallets, decentralized apps, smart contracts, and DAOs are a way for us to come together naturally, functioning under terms that we freely agree to, and in many cases, have legitimate agency to change.
DAOs are slowly becoming the new city-states, functioning best when members are drawn together by a joint cause and shared values. Whether that be to fund new political projects, collect assets, or collaborate on major social problems like supply chain or resource allocation, DAOs allow us to have an active part in both how we make money and what we do with it. Token networks solve the bootstrapping problem by helping entrepreneurs to raise capital without going through predatory systems, and instead being funded by their own community, rather than centralized entities.
The SuperRare DAO is like a city-state focused on art and culture, the same way Athens was a city-state dedicated to the arts and learning. By harnessing the social, cultural, political, and monetary capital of the cryptoart movement, we can indeed change the world that we live in, giving everyone a say through collective governance. DAOs are by design egalitarian, cross-national, and cross-cultural, making it the perfect way to collaborate on what many have called the Digital Renaissance – the first ever global art movement.
In the future, we can have rules set inside the DAO where, for example, we will be able to rage quit on some things but not exit the DAO entirely. We can have sub-DAOs dedicated to specific needs, functioning much like committees, except with actualized results, executed by smart contracts in real time. At long last, the Chomskyan anarchist philosophy which calls for decentralized markets, politics, and society can be realized. What will you do with the responsibility?
32

Virginia Valenzuela and Kyle Olney

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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The history of the DAO

The history of the DAO

The Heist

The history of the DAO

1 year ago

Above: “The Heist” by brennan.v licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
Modified by Luke Whyte

We all know the storyline of the stereotypical heist. A plan is hatched, a team is assembled, cool or comically bad costumes are put on, and one way or another, the robbers break in, grab the money, and run. Some culprits are caught, and others go on to try other schemes, hungry for the rush that only Vin Diesel and angsty teens using the five-finger discount know the taste of.

But in the age of blockchain, where there are no physical safes to crack, no galleries or galas to descend into via rope, heists become loftier, the robbers smarter, and their traces even harder to track. Add to this the fact that the blockchain is global, and therefore outside of any one government’s jurisdiction, that there is no court to enforce a lawsuit and no customer service rep to call when your digital vault is found empty, and you’ve got the best damn version of Ocean’s 11 ever written.

Like so many stories with a heist at the center of the plot, the history of the famous DAO project, the DAO, features greed, ambition, success, and a deadly blindspot that leads to an inevitable end. But did the founders of the DAO learn their lesson? 

What is a DAO?

A decentralized autonomous organization, or DAO, is defined by Omid Malekan in his book The Story of the Blockchain as “a programmed entity that exists in the jurisdiction of a blockchain, issues tokens to stakeholders, and fulfills functions governed by smart contracts.” They are like corporations in that they represent a group of people and their interests, but they differ in three key ways. 

1. Corporations are organized under bylaws that outline the group’s rules and regulations. These rules are carried out by officers and employees, and are meant to smooth out the day-to-day needs of the organization. Notably, these bylaws constitute a legal document and are thus enforceable by law. DAOs, on the other hand, are structured by smart contracts that carry out tasks in real time. Their rules are programmed into the contract’s code and, in turn, are not susceptible to human error or misconduct.

2. Instead of distributing shares that dictate ownership and voting rights to investors, DAOs distribute tokens.

3. DAOs exist on a blockchain, and thus are governed by the laws of code, rather than the laws of the land, unlike a corporation that has to follow the rules of the country it is registered in.

Another big difference is the leadership structure that governs each entity. The standard structure for a corporation is as follows: shareholders, board of directors, officers, employees. Shareholders rarely get involved in any meaningful way except to elect board members. Board members protect shareholders and make decisions on their behalf, and ensure that the officers are doing their jobs. Conversely, a DAO is designed to be run directly by its investors.

What is the DAO?

The DAO was a venture capital fund, founded in April of 2016, that ran as a DApp, or decentralized application, on the Ethereum blockchain network. Anyone could join by sending any amount of ether to the DAO’s smart contract. Then, they would receive tokens representing their amount of equity in return. Not only would these tokens allow investors to vote, but they could also be traded on the secondary market like a stock. 

The way it was structured, new blockchain-based ventures could apply for funding, and token holders could vote on whether or not to fund those ventures. Once the vote passed, money would automatically be dispersed to the project from the community treasury. Once they made money, profits would automatically be sent back to the token holders. Each of these transactions would be executed via smart contracts, leading to an efficient exchange each and every time. New investors flocked to it, relishing this new technology that would allow them to see their money moving and growing in real time.

Within weeks, the DAO raised more than $150 million. This insane amount of money not only brought attention to the possibilities of crowdfunding on the blockchain, but it also increased the dollar value of ether by 50%, growing the worth of the funds in tandem. Once the DAO’s tokens were added to cryptocoin exchanges, they also began surging in value, making this one of the most successful and exciting moments of the blockchain era up until that point.

What went wrong?

In June of 2016, only two months into business, funds began disappearing from the DAO’s treasury. Investors watched as their ether slipped through their fingers in real time. Someone had found a flaw in the code, and had begun transferring millions of dollars of ether to their own blockchain address. The DAO tokens’ value plummeted. Ether lost one-third of its dollar value.

Using the same strategy, a group of Ethereum developers transferred the remaining ether into a secure wallet. Then, they had to figure out what to do next.

It is very difficult to rewrite history on a blockchain. In fact, one of the major features of blockchain technology is its decentralized ledger, which is stored on numerous machines around the world. To undo the heist of the DAO, every active validator would have to go back and alter their ledger. The Ethereum developers had a huge decision to make regarding this theft. Do they step in and change history, or let history run its course?

Ethereum’s core development team, led by founder Vitalik Buterin, were afraid that having such a large amount of ether in the hands of bad actors would be detrimental to the young Ethereum blockchain. So they implemented a hard fork, whereby the consensus rules of the blockchain would be amended in order to reclaim the stolen ether and put it back into the accounts of those who invested in the DAO. 

In July of 2016, at block number 1,920,000, Ethereum’s hashing power, or the computing power used to validate blocks, forced a hard fork to rescue the DAO. The problem was, it wasn’t unanimous. A small number of validators withheld their hashing power because they did not believe in bailing out individual users who had failed to see the problems in their code. They believed that the design of the DAO was to blame, and that the blockchain should remain immutable. This resulted in two parallel blockchains: Ethereum (ETH), which is the one more widely used today and where the DAO disaster was undone, and Ethereum Classic (ETC), the one where there was no change to the original code, and where the stolen funds were never recovered, the heist left to run its course.

While the thief – or thieves – may have lost their Ethereum, they still got to keep their bounty on Ethereum Classic. The coins are worth less than they would be if they were still part of Ethereum, but a successful heist is still a successful heist. In this case, they got away with over $100 million worth of crypto, and have yet to be discovered.

What is the take away?

When it comes to smart contracts, the law is only as tight as the code that governs it. Security experts had warned the founding investors of the DAO that the smart contracts they were using were vulnerable to potential attacks. According to Omid Malekan:

​​“The bug that was exploited by the hacker was, appropriately enough, found on line 666 of the smart contract code of The DAO. It was later determined that if a capital T in a command on that line had been lowercase, the theft would not have been possible.”

From “The Story of the Blockchain” by Omid Malekan

Additionally, Vitalik Buterin has since stated that he regretted the emergency hard fork that resulted in a split in the chain.

But the moral of the story is: Hackers are getting smarter every day, finding ways to get into the wallets of even the most careful crypto enthusiasts. So if you are looking into a big venture on the blockchain, make sure you check your work, then check it again. Remember that in times of crisis, you might want to have the flexibility, and the consensus needed to affect change. With great gains come the threat of even greater losses.

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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A peek into the Island of Berlin and the future of the digital-social experience

A peek into the Island of Berlin and the future of the digital-social experience

A peek into the Island of Berlin and the future of the digital-social experience

1 year ago

Red pill, blue pill; is this real, or just a dream? Is all that we see as it seems to be, or is reality only something we can feel? With so many new virtual environments on the horizon, the possibilities to create new communities, new connections, new experiences, loom in the spaces between our physical world and the digital one, evoking the same kinds of questions that first went mainstream in 1999. But today’s world is a different one. The internet has evolved, and so have we.

Matt Schapiro is the founder of imnotArt, a hybrid virtual-physical NFT gallery located simultaneously in the Island of Berlin in Cryptovoxels, and in Chicago, USA. The gallery hosts events and exhibitions, and features NFT artworks from around the world. But unlike many other event and art spaces that began in brick and mortar and then migrated online, imnotArt is metaverse-native. They’ve also been fully dedicated to supporting artists and providing a space for people to share work and hang out, which is why they have didn’t take commission on any sales for the first 15 exhibitions that they hosted.

Left: an event at the physical imnotArt NFT gallery, Center: members of SuperRare outside of the gallery, Right: a virtual event at one of imnotArt’s galleries in the metaverse

Waking up in the Metaverse

I have never been much of a gamer, and I have barely skimmed the surface of the content being produced in online spaces like Youtube, Instagram, Twitter, or TikTok, but entering the metaverse was a breeze compared to the feeling of being pelted with messages, memes, and inside jokes that you only understood if you had been “plugged in.” There are a handful of simple controls: forward, backward, left, right, jump, and fly. (The last one, I have not yet figured out.)

But the biggest surprise was what I found when I clicked the link to enter Cryptovoxels for the first time. There were buildings with graffiti on the sides, galleries with digital artworks, an open sky, and one or two other people walking around, mostly dancing. It felt welcoming and expansive, like anything and everything was possible.

Schapiro had been exploring the metaverse as early as 2018, but it wasn’t until February of 2021 that he purchased a piece of land and began developing it. He spent some time in Decentraland, but it was when he found Cryptovoxels that the lightbulb went off.

We noticed that there was this amazing community being built within Cryptovoxels, and it wasn’t until I opened up the game that I saw that an artist had created a gallery. I clicked it, and with one link it just transported me to this gallery, and it blew my mind to see what people were able to create. To me it was a realization about the promise of what the metaverse can be.

MATT SCHAPIRO

To some people, the metaverse is a scary, amorphous place that only coders and gamers are welcome in. How do I get on? What do I do when I’m there? What even is it? These were some of the worries that I had, that quickly dissolved upon entering the game.

“Cryptovoxels, first, because there is no barrier to entry,” Schapiro told SuperRare. “It’s just one url click, one QR scan, and boom, you wake up in the metaverse, and we thought that was the perfect platform for us, as we are trying to bring people into this space, to have no friction and bring them right in.”

Island of Berlin: Left: graffiti, Right: open land

Inside the Island of Berlin

When I first heard Matt Schapiro talk about his experience of buying real estate in the metaverse, I thought, wait, how is that a thing? But just as individuals and companies can buy domains on the internet, they can also purchase land in this developing digital environment. Domains can be as cheap as $40 a year on WordPress, but land in Cryptovoxels has a floor of 1.7 ETH, or roughly $6,120 at the time of this publication.

The real estate prices in Cryptovoxels had kind of excluded or priced out artists who would have otherwise carved out a space for themselves. That’s where we saw an opportunity to build this concept of a community gallery where artists could submit their work, we could curate it, and every week we could do a show. So that’s how we got started in the metaverse and how imnotArt came to be, because at this point we had no vision or plan to open a physical gallery.

MATT SCHAPIRO

The Island of Berlin has quickly become one of the prime up-and-coming neighborhoods in the land of Cryptovoxels. Everywhere you look there are artworks to admire and social spaces in which to gather. And yes, there is tons of graffiti. Surrounding imnotArt there is ETH Men, a popular store with comic books and action figure collectables, a night club, and other galleries. “There were a lot of other people who were buying and developing land there at the same time that we were doing it,” Schapiro said, “so we think that Berlin is kind of like the art district, specifically around where we are. ETH Men is a project I’ve been familiar with since it launched back in 2017, one of the early NFT projects, and when I went in there it just blew my mind. It was the most amazing virtual retail experience I’d ever seen. It had a front desk, racks, it was like a real comic book store.”

Or as real as a computer-animated location can be. Cryptovoxels is voxel-based, which comes from the concept of building with squares. Popular comps would be Minecraft or Roblox, where users use blocks and other tools to build out their virtual worlds. This design is part of what makes building and exploring the metaverse a relatively natural experience for anyone who has spent time in digital spaces, whether it be browsing online or playing video games. “I think it’s an incredibly similar experience to games like ‘Second Life’ or even ‘the Sims.’ And even for people that are not natural gamers, I think the creators [of Cryptovoxels] do a great job of allowing people to enter the space because it’s a straightforward experience, and I think it’s going to get a lot more dynamic, a lot more virtual, with VR technology.” Which is something that many of us, native or not, are very much looking forward to.

Left: Matt Schapiro presenting in the physical gallery in Chicago, Right: NFT displays

The Perks of Being Metaverse-Native

NFTs are issued by contracts that exist on the blockchain network and that represent and authenticate a given work. (This application can and will spread to other items and commodities, both in the virtual and physical world.) Many of them are pieces of digital art, sculpture, and other images or visual concepts manipulated by computer programs. By design, they are metaverse native, which is part of why it has been so difficult to express their value to people who are not familiar with blockchain networks, let alone the environments that can be created with them. As Schapiro explained, they are not served best by a two-dimensional layout, such as appearing on a page on a website; rather, they require three- or even four-dimensional thinking.

As we were figuring out how to display NFTs in our virtual gallery, it’s clear that you need to be able to display vertical, horizontal, and square NFTs. And so a lot of what we did in terms of curating virtual exhibitions directly translated into how we built the physical gallery: from the layout to the number of screens to the immersive concept. So yeah, it really directly translated, and I think to your point of what makes us different, there are a lot of places that go from the physical to the metaverse, and I think because we organically started in Discord, and in Cryptovoxels, in the community, I think people see us as community-native, metaverse-native.

MATT SCHAPIRO

Left: Matt Schapiro presenting in the physical gallery in Chicago, Right: NFT displays

Teleporting to the Future: the Open World of the Metaverse

The internet evolved and was integrated into our lives relatively slowly as compared to the speed with which blockchain has entered our vernacular. Invented in the 1960s as a way for institutions, namely government organizations and higher education, to share information, it wasn’t until January 1, 1983, that those separate computers were connected to a singular network. The birth of the internet in 1983 did not lead to an immediate boom. In fact, it was over 10 years later when the dot-com bubble took form. 

Blockchain, whose foundations were laid by Scott Stornetta and Stuart Haber in the 1990s with their work on time-stamping digital documents through hash functions, came into its own in 2009 with the launch of Satoshi Nakamoto’s Bitcoin ledger. Within 10 years, 5,000 alternative blockchains have been created, many with numerous applications beyond peer-to-peer electronic cash exchange. Smart contracts, dApps, and NFTs are just a few examples of the potential that blockchain technology offers us in this brave new world of decentralized exchange of value and ownership. 

And amazingly, even with a relatively small community of people who utilize and, dare I say, understand this emerging technology, blockchain has been able to evolve at a dazzling pace. The obstacle now is welcoming those crypto natives, as well as the wider pool of digital natives, into the metaverse. “The actual player base of these games is incredibly small,” said Matt Schapiro, “and it won’t be until people like us bring new people in that I think it really starts taking it to the next level.”

And what might that next level look like? Imagine an event taking place in your neighborhood. You can get up, get dressed, and mingle in the way you always have, enjoying the entertainment and chatting with your friends, both in person and, let’s be honest, via text. Now imagine that you invite those friends you’ve been texting to that same event with a url, and, because of the metaverse, they can join you virtually, enjoying the same entertainment and the same social experience, even though they live hundreds of miles away. Now imagine that the event hosts start airdropping NFTs into your digital wallet, sharing layer-two, or l2 wearables that you can put on your avatars, and posting QR codes that allow physical patrons to see a webpage on their phones, the same webpage that pops up on the virtual patrons’ computer screens. Maybe you buy a $20 t-shirt from the merch stand, and for an additional $5 you get a dad hat for your virtual self.

Left: a virtual/physical at imnotArt in Chicago, Right: an event at imnotArt in the metaverse

“There is a revenue stream that is being totally ignored by the classical markets,” said Schapiro. “It’s the same model that videogames went down where they realized that charging people $50 for a video game is not actually how to make the most money. What we want is the largest player base, and we want to be able to sell cosmetics and in-game digital items.” And the best part is, we’re already halfway there. Show me one person under 40 who hasn’t thought about, or actually purchased, something for a digital pet or avatar. More broadly, show me anyone who hasn’t “bought a song” on iTunes or paid for extra “storage” in their cloud. We already know how to buy things that aren’t tangible. Now is the time to make those purchases meaningful.

I think there are a lot of people that know the metaverse, who know that’s going to be the next big thing. There are a lot of speculators of land in the metaverse, but there’s not a lot of what I’d consider metaverse developers, people who are developing events and communities in the metaverse, and that’s what is so fulfilling on our end, and why we were able to take it to where it is now. We were developing reasons for people to show up to the metaverse. It is clear that it’s not just us who is going to do that, and it’s gonna happen whether imnotArt exists or it doesn’t, but we saw an opportunity in this moment in time to be a catalyst, if you will, to bring people to the metaverse or to at least be a part of that conversation of people who are developing inside of these worlds.

MATT SCHAPIRO

With higher attendance and deeper knowledge of these worlds, artists, writers, musicians, and creators of all kinds, will see their works gain visibility, appreciation, and sales. Academics, business leaders, and activists will see alternate streams of value and connection, bringing people of all backgrounds closer together than ever before.

What we’ve seen is that the community of the metaverse is incredibly diverse in terms of race, gender, and sexuality. It’s not like when I was in the space a couple of years ago when it was more male-dominated. I think the metaverse is different. I think the people who are realizing what’s possible, and the people spending a lot of time on it, it’s incredibly balanced, and the makeup of our community is balanced, and I think it’s a sign that we’re beyond the–and I say this with love, and including myself–the blockchain-Ethereum nerds who have been using the technology for the last couple of years. I really feel that it’s expanding out and it’s bringing in a really great audience of people who are seeing ways that they can be a part of these communities, make friends, celebrate their art, and share their NFTs.

MATT SCHAPIRO

So yeah, to answer the questions that opened up this discussion, this is as real as anything we’ve seen so far, and it is something that you can feel, just not in the traditional meaning of the word. Connections start with a feeling. Ideas start with a feeling. Success starts with a feeling. So grab that VR headset or that mouse or trackpad, swallow that red pill/blue pill cocktail, and log on. Welcome to the metaverse.

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

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Curators' Choice

If it ain’t Baroque, don’t mint it: the latest from Peyman Naderi

If it ain’t Baroque, don’t mint it: the latest from Peyman Naderi

Naderi’s photography

If it ain’t Baroque, don’t mint it: the latest from Peyman Naderi

1 year ago

Enveloped in black and green, her pale skin and fiery hair force your eyes to meet. Her gaze is serious, wanting; her eyes deep blue, and surrounded by shadow. The Elizabethan ruff around her neck illustrates her nobility, her restraint, perpetuated further by the serenity of her hands laying clasped in her lap. She is Lorca, a creation of artist Peyman Naderi, whose love of all things Baroque and Rococo has led us into the secret life of a girl lost in art history.

Peyman Naderi began his career in photography in 2013. A self-taught artist, he was drawn to concept art and dark portraits that allowed him to experiment with lighting, staging, and direction. Moving from natural settings into the studio, he honed his craft and learned how to manipulate both the physical subject and the camera’s perception of it, earning various awards in the process. “It makes me proud to be my own teacher and my biggest critic,” he told SuperRare.

Naderi’s photography collection “Lorca: a forgotten girl in art history” will appear on SuperRare later this week, showing us the many sides of a character that is shrouded in mystery. 

Lorca is a great artist who lived in my mind in a very old historical period, and now she has come to my mind and has shown me this story. I know that she was very powerful and very skilled in the art of painting, but has never achieved what [she] deserves. She was not interested in becoming famous during the period she lived in, but now she wants everyone to know who she was.

— Peyman Naderi

Lorca exists in the late Elizabethen/early Baroque period, as her hair and dress indicate. She is covered head to toe in opulence and luxury, but her poses subvert any kind of comfort that they may provide. In one frame she stares intently at the camera; in another she covers her eyes with her hand; in another, she looks away in an almost apathetic disgust as a fish drowns head-first in a glass of red wine. Like so many women of the period, she appears restricted, especially by her dress, and yet her command of the room and everything in it is what draws the viewer in. The fact that this character was lost in history is not a passive resignation, but an active choice.

For many reasons, I consider [the Baroque and Rococo periods] to be the best periods in history,” says Naderi. “Everything was very orderly, luxurious and magnificent, and I draw your attention to the precise sewing of the amazing clothes and hair of that time. Everything seems to be like a painting.

— Peyman Naderi

And it is accurate to say that the combination of costuming, high-contrast lighting, and the use of quintessential poses of the time do in fact evoke the popular chiaroscuro technique made famous by painters such as Rembrandt and Caravaggio. The bold contrast between the model’s fair skin and her dark dress and background inject the piece with an intense sense of volume that amplifies the themes present in the work.

And lastly, there is the question of texture. Naderi discovered his passion for photography in an abandoned, burnt cotton candy factory in the outskirts of Tehran, where he grew up. The Lorca photos, as well as many other photos from his other projects, have a sense of darkness, depth, and danger. The models seem to belong in the frame for the very reasons that make them stand apart from it.

“Dark portrait is a style that I am looking for and it is my wish to be able to promote this style and to be able to persuade people in this style. I spent many days in that factory, and the texture and walls there were very interesting to me.” Which is why looking at these portraits can feel very much like walking into a secret room, hidden from view. The charm of Naderi’s work lies in its darkness. With Lorca, one can see that there is pain, but also strength, that her entire world rests in the tension between control and rebellion.

I will never forget my past and those hardships have always been instructive for me, and now I try to create better works every day. I am always grateful to my kind make-up artist, dear Nasim. Nasim Beikzadeh has helped me a lot in completing the ideas and one day I hope to show her how much I appreciate her.

— Peyman Naderi

One of the photos in this collection, “Lorca in the Painting Art,” was the best fashion photo of the year in the Art Limited in France. This collection has won 2nd place in Fine Art Photography Awards in the portrait category, 2nd place in WPE awards international photography, 2nd place in 35Awards in the fashion category, and 3rd place in One Eyeland in fine art portrait. Naderi is one of 25 finalists of the fashion photography in Prix Picto De LA Mode competition judged by Master Paolo Roversi.

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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Freddie Mercury lives again in the form of four stunning NFTs

Freddie Mercury lives again in the form of four stunning NFTs

“Sanctuary”

Freddie Mercury lives again in the form of four stunning NFTs

Virginia Valenzuela
1 year ago
Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landside,
No escape from reality.
Open your eyes,
Look up to the skies and see.
I’m just a poor boy, I need no sympathy,
Because I’m easy come, easy go,
Little high, little low,
Any way the wind blows doesn’t really matter to
Me, to me.

— “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, lyrics by Freddie Mercury

Anyone who knows rock music, glam fashion, queer culture, or karaoke knows who Freddie Mercury is. Regarded as one of the greatest singers and songwriters in the history of rock music, his iconic outfits, stage presence, and killer four-octave range revolutionized industries, changed lives, and touched the hearts of millions. 

September 5 would have been Freddie’s 75th birthday, and this year The Mercury Phoenix Trust launched a brand new collection of artworks dedicated to his life’s work, image, and memory. Founded by Queen band members Brian May, Roger Taylor and their manager Jim Beach in memory of Freddie Mercury, who died of AIDS in 1991, all sales will benefit AIDS research, education, and awareness projects in developing countries worldwide.

The four-piece collection, which goes up for auction today, features the works of MBSJQ, Chad Knight, Blake Kathryn, and Mat Maitland, all of whom sat down with SuperRare to discuss their contributions to this fundraising campaign as well as their love of Freddie Mercury.

“Freddie has always been part of my life, during childhood my sister used to play, dance and sing to Queen. Freddie’s voice was like no other. The joy & happinesses Freddie Mercury brought to our childhoods were an amazing influence & inspiration to ambition of achieving your dreams.”

“My favourite thing about Freddie was the fact he was just himself. AND PROUD OF IT. He was never scared to push the boundaries and this is how I can relate to him. If you are given a gift you must embrace it and share it with the world for all to enjoy.”

“The Freddie Mercury collaboration was the perfect fit for MBSJQ with the inclusion of vibrant colours and fantasy-like environments…it was a joy to bring my style of art to the memory of the legend himself.”

“Freddie’s music inspired me long before I knew anything about him, but once I was exposed to him as an artist outside of Queen, I found his fearless acceptance of his identity incredibly inspiring. He was a pioneer of self expression and his resilience in not letting other people’s opinions of him impact his career or what he wanted to do lives on. He was very ahead of his time in that it’s rare to see someone embrace their [unique self] so strongly at a time when it was looked down upon. He’s a champion of self expression and I think has helped so many people feel comfortable in who they are.”

“For this piece, I wanted to capture his larger-than-life presence. Freddie was such a huge persona that I don’t know how his spirit even fit into a human body. When I tried to communicate what he meant to me, I wanted to make him into a giant since that’s always how I always saw him growing up. I also wanted to capture his challenges with fame and him at times losing sight of his goals due to the grandiosity of his reputation and wealth.”

“The extravagance in both his persona and performance elements is a quality I admired from Freddie since first impression. Upon beginning the creative process the team was so generous with providing focused insight into his history, musings and home that it created a dreamy mental space to honor him. [I learned about] his quieter side—his garden, piano, Victorian lodge—and it blended into a combination of a dream-space I’d hope he’d find peace within.”

“The charity component itself, going towards AIDS research, had me more than happy to contribute.”

“I loved Freddie’s warm personality and charisma and this inspired me to approach my piece from a more human perspective, as opposed to depicting him as a performer. With this in mind I thought about the things that he loved and that orbited his personal life and featured them surrounding a romanticized central image of him.”

“I was aware that his 75th birthday was coming up and was honoured to be asked to create something for this NFT collection. Freddie Mercury’s life and personality have always fascinated me so it was easy to say yes. I was also happy to help and support the work of the Mercury Phoenix Trust.”

“You can do whatever you want with my work, just never make me boring.”
— Freddie Mercury

As The Mercury Phoenix Trust told SuperRare “Freddie was a lover of all forms of art. Starting with his studies in Fashion and Graphic Design, he went on to design the Queen crest as well as many of his own stage costumes. Queen and Freddie Mercury have always led the field visually as well as musically. From their invention of the promo video with Bohemian Rhapsody, to their show-stopping set designs and costumes, visual art has always been an integral part of their artistry.”

And so it is perhaps the most fitting homage to his life, death, and artistic spirit, to present such visually stimulating artworks in one of the most cutting-edge applications of blockchain technology to date. These NFTs, along with the award-winning biopic Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), show us the many sides of one of the most beloved artists of modern time. But they also ensure that other people afflicted with AIDS won’t have to follow the same path. 

AIDS today is no longer a death sentence, unlike when Freddie Mercury died of AIDS-related causes in 1991. Research has advanced enormously and with access to the correct medication and care, a person in a developed country can expect to lead a fairly normal life. However, this is still not the case in developing countries, where access to the medication is far more complex and complicated and often prohibitively expensive. Education, awareness, and prevention therefore remain key in these countries, which is why the MPT largely focuses on funding educational projects in these countries. With the advent of Covid-19 and the worldwide pandemic that has ensued, a lot of this ground has been lost as many of these projects have been directly affected or put on hold. We hope to raise considerable funds for the Mercury Phoenix Trust in a time where our traditional yearly fundraising campaigns have been halted due to Covid restrictions.

— The Mercury Phoenix Trust

Just as his music saved lives with its poetic lyrics and magnetic musical arrangements, so too will his legacy continue to pour hope into the lives that need it most.

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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