The otherworldly architecture of the metaverse

The otherworldly architecture of the metaverse

“Blueberry House” by Huge Fournier on SuperRare

The otherworldly architecture of the metaverse

With the metaverse land grab in full swing, one has to wonder what foundations and fictures its architects will bring.
2 months ago

A cluster of giant blue orbs, with periscope-like eyes, rises from icy rock formations into the sky. A tube emerges from the cluster, connecting a final blue sphere with a door into the Ibiza-blue sea. This is Hugo Fournier’s Blueberry House—think Narnia meets Pierre Cardin’s Bubble House in the South of France. You can own it, as a NFT.

Metaverse architecture is an emerging art form. Like the opening sequence to “Game of Thrones,” it’s rising up all over Decentraland, Somnium Space, Sandbox, Cryptovoxels, and other metaverses. Fournier, a Paris-based designer and film director, is on one end of the spectrum, designing exteriors and interiors as non-interactive, conceptual dreamscapes. Then there are artists like Krista Kim, whose full-fledged Mars House (which sold for 288 ETH—a value of $512,000 at the time) can be explored in both Spatial and VR via an Oculus headset. And, finally, there are architectural firms that are taking on clients and big brands, ideating and designing metaverse buildings like they would for real world projects. Of course, they’re all doing it with twists—chiefly, without needing to adhere to the laws of physics.

Much like Dubai quickly transformed from a desert to a glittering metropolis, the metaverse boom is largely a response to the digital land grab of the past few years. In November 2021, a plot in Decentraland sold for $2.4 million worth of cryptocurrency. That same month, a plot in the NFT-based world “Axie Infinity” went for a reported $2.3 million.

Project Aurora by Voxel Architects 

The metaverse is going to aid the IRL experience with more jobs, no cars, and no traffic. Less pollution and more happiness.

George Bileca, CEO of Voxel Architects

What is being built on these multi-million-dollar digital plots? So far, mostly art galleries, shopping malls, company headquarters, flagship stores, and music and event venues. 3D architects are also constructing villas and mansions. To give but two examples, Aurora is a nine-residence project in Sandbox conceived by Hamburg-based Shift/Studio, and Meta Residence is a nine-bedroom mansion created by Voxel Architects in partnership with ONE Sotheby’s. The latter will be meta-constructed in  Sandbox and physically constructed in Miami. (Metaverse “Cribs,” anyone?) 

Architecture lovers should be delighted to hear that there is a historical conscience at play in some of these works. The graceful work of art director Charlotte Taylor is often John Lautner-esque; Luis Fernandez’s spaces are reminiscent of the great Oscar Niemeyer; and Zaha Hadid Architects just announced their own whole metaverse enterprise Liberland which boasts a city hall, plaza and exhibition center all designed in Hadid’s signature, sinuous, Pritzker Prize-winning style. 

Liberland by Zaha Hadid Architects

 Should everything in real life have a metaverse twin? Perhaps we can stand to see fewer municipal structures (no fires to put out, no people to arrest?) or gas stations (though, there was that one gas station in PolkaCity that recently sold for $130k). George Bileca, CEO of Voxel Architects, whose firm designed and built the Cryptovoxels B.20 Museum—headquarters of Sotheby’s and Consensys—says he is sure that everything in the real world will eventually have a metaverse counterpart. “There’s a use for anything here,” he mentioned to me. “Even a restaurant can be a game where you need to eat in order to survive, or there can be a metaverse where your [digital avatar is] conditioned to eat.”( In fact, McDonald’s has already filed trademarks to build restaurants in the metaverse from which to order food to be delivered IRL.)

Creativity Without Constraint

So, is building in the metaverse a lot like Dubai, but without all the cranes and construction noise? A launch I attended recently on the Mona platform, called the Ready Player Me Sky Lounge designed by Mobin Faraz (a native of Dubai) felt very Dubai to me. With its neon-lit floors, tropical plants, and James Turrell-esque overhead lights, it put me in mind of both the Dubai Mall and the rooftop lounge at the Miami Fountainbleau.

As an architect you design for the present, with an awareness of the past, for a future which is essentially unknown.

Sir Norman Foster, English Architect & Designer

Mona co-founder Justin Melillo, who previously worked for Dreamworks Animation and Magic Leap, saw an opportunity to build a creator-first metaverse platform, offering the tools needed to build and own high-fidelity worlds. Mona spaces do not operate on a land sale model. Rather, they are working with partners like Spatial and MetaMundo to facilitate interoperability across the open metaverse.

Mona spaces have remarkably few constraints. The Cathedral is a Mona space that floats in mid-air and is surrounded by a Mars-like landscape. It was inspired by the structure of Milan’s Duomo, minus its roof and walls. The firm is also interested in cultivating outside talent. Mona’s Renaissance Build-a-Thon awarded 12 ETH (over $30k) to the creators of Andromeda Arena and Neon City Streets. Reflecting on the contest, Melillo said, Some creators are building super photorealistic homes and gallery spaces, others are building vast worlds, and some are building wild concert venues complete with pyrotechnics, laser lights, and robot bartenders.”

 

Token Smart Ampitheater by Voxel Architects

Luca Arrigo, CEO of Metaverse Architectswhose clients include Airdrop.com and Forever 21—told me about a banking client that inspired his 21-person firm to reimagine the ATM. Right now, they’re working on a virtual machine that will envelop an avatar in an immersive experience. Thinking about his real estate clients, Arrigo said, “Why should there just be a For Sale sign? The sign could open up into a menu of information.”

What other commonplace items and experiences are ripe for transformation? Perhaps a school blackboard could open onto a VR tableau for a history lesson, or meetings could take place in a whiteboard-adorned jungle office space?

Growth Engineering and other researchers have shown that gamifying an experience produces feel-good chemicals, which have worked wonders in education and workplaces. Metaverse counterparts could be fun, and maybe even change the way we view consumerist tasks. Either way, client interest in “metaverting” their businesses is exploding: Metaverse Architects gets three inquiries a day and has reaped $350k in revenue since January.

“uNtitlEd” by Janne Limited on SuperRare

“Digital Architecture” by Janne Limited on SuperRare

How Do We “MetaVert” Architecture?

Sir Norman Foster, the famed architect, once said, “As an architect you design for the present, with an awareness of the past, for a future which is essentially unknown.” As we speed toward the future, our needs change. Driverless cars are already spurring designers to rethink the automobile as we have long known it (e.g., putting beds in the back, removing gas pedals, etc.). How will this work in metaverse architecture? 

Do we really need beds, kitchens or bathrooms in the metaverse? 

Well…maybe.

Melillo believes that even in the metaverse, there is still an appetite for architecture including beds and other familiar objects. “We have thousands of years living with objects,” he said. “People really do want to lie down.” 

Likewise, George Bileca noted, “In our first Cryptovoxels building, we had a toilet in there with no purpose whatsoever—ultimately, it was used for a treasure hunt.” Moreover, he added, “Why do children play with fake houses? Just to play.”

Luca Arrigo takes the opposite view. “I’m not going to make a kitchen, toilet or bed, unless I’m designing a twin space of another that exists or will exist in real life,” he says.

I attended a Mona Twitter Space featuring The Cathedral in which the architect, Roberto Ercolani, explained that the reason he included one section of red sofas and one of blue ones was to help guests navigate the space. “Meet me on the blue sofa,” one might say.

Metaverse spaces can also act as showrooms for furniture. Inside Hugo Fournier’s “Comfortable Room,” you’ll see Pierre Paulin’s undulating Tongue Chair. In another of his projects called “La Maison Bulle,” there’s a Jan Ekselius Etcetera Lounge chair. Product placement has power: in one episode of the show “Friends,” Rachel famously bought an Apothecary Table from Pottery Barn, and the table long experienced an uptick in sales, even in syndication.

Optimistically, metaverses will stay subtle with advertising messages, and the “pop up” ad of Web1 or some of the political horrors of Web2 and social media aren’t ahead. It’s easy to imagine situations like Times Square or Tom Cruise in “Minority Report,” with ads calling out to us—“John Anderton, you could use a Guinness right now”—as our avatars move through their days. Hopefully we won’t.

Let There Be Light

Hugo Fournier has not fully committed to fleshing out his spaces for metaverse compatibility. In a reverse-Icarus move, he cites the limitations of the current design tools, especially in terms of the lack of sun-derived light. “Light is what creates beauty and realism.” This made me think of a recent visit I had to Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute at sunset, and how spectacular it was to see the light fall on its Brutalist concrete cubes. 

Justin Melillo doesn’t see light as a limitation in the metaverse. Using Mona, he says that creators will be able to recreate any natural or artificial light setting that looks no different than that of real life. 

The Spatial-compatible Mars House created by Krista Kim is constructed to be a place suffused with therapeutic light. The first NFT of its kind to be sold, it comes with a calming musical score by Jeff Schroeder of The Smashing Pumpkins, and is an extension of Kim’s years working with light and as a devotee of Transcendental Meditation. Light in traditional art and architecture has long been important (think about Rembrandt, the 1960s Light and Space movement, and the works of Tadao Ando).

Frank Lloyd Wright once said, “Light is the beautifier of the building,” but just how real should the metaverse look? Would realistic lighting add to the experience or blur the lines between the real and virtual world and disorient us, like the Forum in Vegas, with its indoor sky that changes depending on the time of day?

Building a Better World?

“The metaverse is the ultimate art project in human history,” said Krista Kim, who describes a lot of her work as Digital Zen. She believes in building a metaverse with a higher consciousness; transcending geography, race and borders. Especially as more Boomers are looking into life-extension and self-care, she sees opportunity for wellness and wellness education.

There are also innumerable other benefits to designing for the metaverse. There are no construction workers, no falling objects, no permits, and none of the ethical, sustainability or supply-chain issues that come from sourcing timber, marble or other raw commodities. Though naturally, electricity consumption still poses a concern.

“The metaverse is going to aid the IRL experience with more jobs, no cars, and no traffic. Less pollution and more happiness,” said George Bileca. The virtual experience may also help with overcrowding at real world sites. Imagine a metaverse DMV without those dreadful lines, or going to a sports arena or concert without having to park. 

Kim also sees the metaverse inspiring healthier real world experiences. She is working with an Italian glass company to build Mars House furniture pieces and with architect Thomas Schinko of Vasconi Architects to build a real world version of the property that will double as a wellness retreat and event space.

“Sky Journey” by Hugo Fournier on SuperRare

“The Green House” by Hugo Fournier on SuperRare

Does the Metaverse Need People?

It’s too early to say how all of these competing visions will play out. Maybe there’s room in the metaverse for all of them, or maybe the future of the metaverse has yet to be imagined. 

Then again, perhaps the metaverse won’t even have humans. Kim is designing with human connection at the top of her mind—in fact, she first “met” her boyfriend and now-business partner in Mars House, where they had a three-hour conversation while wearing their VR goggles. Conversely, Hugo Fournier never includes humans in his work; he describes his renderings as post-apocalyptic and says he believes humans will disappear soon. Blueberry House, in fact, is intended to be on another planet. 

As we inch into the metaverse, I welcome the light healers and the shamans and the ATM machines, and I hope I’ll live to see that endless blue horizon from a window in the Blueberry House.

32

Stacy Suaya

Stacy Suaya writes about art, design and travel, and her work has been published in New York Times Styles, T Magazine, Los Angeles Times and more. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter @stacysuaya.

FutureThink

Portraits

Negative Space

How I learned to stop worrying and love the coin

How I learned to stop worrying and love the coin

How I learned to stop worrying and love the coin

An exploration of social media's effects on stocks and crypto coins in the current markets.
5 months ago

It would be impossible to write about or analyze cryptocurrency without first discussing the world into which it was born. While I am not an expert on financial markets, blockchain, or even consumer behavior, I have made my living as a stenographer of trends and language, and the best place for a linguist or semiotician to hang out is on the web, namely Twitter, where memes, headlines, and out-of-context videos circulate in head-spinning fashion.

Twitter, Reddit, and TikTok, despite being major media corporations in their own right, aren’t usually viewed as such. And yet, their influence looms like a shadow over a landscape previously dominated by traditional news media. These alternative media outlets, replete with their own talking heads, have arrived at a pivotal time as far as the cryptocurrency market is concerned. If we are to understand how web3 and blockchain concepts trickle down upon the masses, we must first examine how it is that news traditionally spreads.

1. First, an event “happens.” Then, the following occurs1.

2. Real, fabricated, or somewhere in between, if an event is “newsworthy” (read: profitable), it will quickly soar to the front pages of newspapers and on lower thirds of CNN and FOX News broadcasts. Consider the sensationalism endemic to Covid, Trump, and January 6, 2021. Why are we entreated daily to these phenomena? The short answer is: the events that receive the most press coverage are events which do not impede the power of the ruling elite, but which instead grease their coffers, for these widely syndicated pseudo-events eclipse issues that actually affect the mass of people, like inflation, lack of affordable basic necessities, and dubious public health mandates2.

3. Finally, once these events are covered by traditional media outlets and professional class news flunkies, they are then opined on by blue-check social media personalities, many of whom have clout and parasocial bonds with other influential, albeit non-credentialed, internet accounts3.

4. By the time the average social media user arrives at an idea about an event, chances are they are just repeating corporate-friendly opinions, for what passes as news is usually propaganda that exists to reinforce the status quo4.

Of course, no epoch would be complete without its interlopers, its menaces, its Machiavellis, the bulk of whom wish to subvert the rule of law in favor of an outsider, Robin Hood politics. These are the stories of some of those people.

Wall Street Bets

The degree to which the Wall Street Bets subreddit revolutionized cryptocurrency, and the accessibility factor of stocks in general, is incalculable. Bitcoin’s meteoric rise can be attributed, in large part, to the redditors, who, en masse, initiated a short squeeze on what was a heavily bearish Gamestop stock, pushing it to an unfathomable $347 on January 27th 2021, up from a paltry $17 just a few weeks prior. For the first time in a long time, people were seeing regular people, people with stimulus checks to burn, getting very rich just from tuning into the subreddit, which opened the door for more copycat shorts, like NAKD and AMC.

The rallying cry of the redditors was one of sticking it to the man–in this case, the hedge fund managers, some of whom even shuttered their operations after suffering astronomical and unforeseen losses in the meme stock shorts. Populism and redistribution, for once, were on the table, and conventional investors were scared. What the rise of meme stocks did was open the door for the redditors to matriculate down the playing field of alternative currency, in this case, BTC, ETH, DOGE, and others coins, which have enabled many regular people to amass tiny fortunes over the past year.

DOGE and the Rise of the Shitcoin

Explaining the DOGE phenomenon in early 2021 to anyone who hadn’t, up to that point, been spending 6+ hours on the internet was almost impossible. The theorist in me wants to describe crypto’s most endearing pet coin as the postmodern phenomenon par excellence, but even that wouldn’t do it justice. DOGE is an example of a coin whose currency and fate exists solely on the belief that it will go up, and practically nothing else. While DOGE’s rise is not wholly dissimilar to stock market bubbles in general, like the tech stock boom of 1999/2000, which was speculative, but at least grounded in the potential yield of massive future dividends. DOGE, on the other hand, is a purely speculative asset built on nothing but cultural relevance and celebrity appeal. (That some merchants, like the Dallas Mavericks, now accept the coin as legal tender probably doesn’t affect the coin’s price, save for the initial announcement that they would be.)

In a sense, TSLA might be the most appropriate harbinger to DOGE, as the company’s actual valuation does not match at all with its productive capacities. DOGE, which Elon Musk was tweeting about a couple years ago, has gone up nearly 5000% in the past year alone. While it tapered off around $0.16 and has been falling since late October 2021, DOGE will be the precursor for future “speak into existence” coins, such as SHIB, the Thanatos to DOGE’s Eros.

(Hyper)reality Bites

A “speak into existence” coin follows the logic of the pseudo-event. An event can be very real, or it can fall into the realm of hyperreality, Jean Baudrillard’s conception of things and places that are “more real than real.” For example, images of fast food on billboards and fistfights in movies are hyperreal; they are more perfect, more beautiful, and often more preferable to reality, which so often disappoints (if you’ve ever eaten a fast food hamburger or witnessed a fight in person, you’ll know what I mean). The World Showcase at Disney’s Epcot could be considered a hyperreal experience, as one fulfills all dreams of global travel without having to deal with layovers, bug bites, and foreign tongues. Hyperreality, of course, cannot get by without injections of actual reality.

When Jim Cramer pimps a stock on television, people are more likely to buy it. If this continuous support happens, will that company see growth? Take Apple or Google, who survived the dot com bubble and grew to insurmountable heights. When Dave Portnoy pledges his allegiance to Safemoon or when Elon Musk tweets about DOGE, what happens to the exchange value of the coin? Can popularity and celebrity appeals imbue value into a coin, like SHIB, which has declared its own uselessnessSomething happens to the coin when its name becomes spoken into existence. As long as the coin’s name gets thrown around on Twitter or printed on the sleeve of NBA jerseys, its sign, the coin’s symbolic representation in a spectacle-driven society, will continue to exist, driving its price up, despite the fact that the sign does not refer to anything real. Compare Bitcoin’s valuation to Bitcoin’s use value in modern life and you will see what I mean.

WAGMI, NGMI, and Stonks

Language and solidarity are perhaps the two things which meme stocks and cryptocurrencies have which traditional stocks do not. Whole online communities exist, like religions, to rally around coins. Going on Twitter is like going to the casino with all your virtual friends. I caught on early to Fantom (FTM) through an interesting Twitter personality, @MKUltraMoney, whose tweets about politics, film, and this relatively unheard-of coin caught my attention. Coin posters on Twitter, in order to boost morale and accrue acolytes, use memes and acronyms to draw in a younger following. Refrains of WAGMI (We’re All Gonna Make It) and BTFD (Buy The Fucking Dip) exhort young traders never to disbelieve in the collective conviction that stonks will continue to rise.

Songs, clothing, and this beautiful WAGMI duffel bag exist as proof that one should never discount the ability that a minor language has to unite a group of people. moon (@moonoverlord), a personal favorite, typifies this attitude and ethos, favoring the call and response style of tweet to interact with followers. With over 175k of these acolytes on Twitter, moon and other accounts are able to influence the buying and selling of coins and NFTs, which helps them turn a profit, but also helps their most tuned-in followers to make money, too. moon turned me on the Axie Infinity (AXS) when it was under $10, so I am, of course, personally indebted.

In spite of the steady reliability of ETFs and mutual funds, it’s just not very fun to invest in them. If you put $100 into Doge, for example, you can, along with The Chairman (@WSBChairman) or Shardi B (@ShardiB2), cheer and riff and meme your way into gains, community, and even financial stability–something which the younger generations had all but given up on before the meme stock and crypto boom of the past year. Will this year be a continuation of strange prosperity and bullish alts? As they say, it’s still so early, so I’m guessing yes.

1

Scott Wordsman

Scott Wordsman is a writer and professor from New Jersey. His essays can be found in The Colorado Review, LIT Magazine, Map Literary, and elsewhere.

FutureThink

Portraits

Negative Space

Fashions fade, NFTs are eternal: the future of fashion NFTs

Fashions fade, NFTs are eternal: the future of fashion NFTs

MORPHEW

Fashions fade, NFTs are eternal: the future of fashion NFTs

Skins, POAPs, NFTs, and charity collide in the next phase of fashion.
6 months ago

The fashion industry, one of the largest industries in the world, generated $2.5 trillion in global annual revenues prior to the pandemic. Red DAO’s thesis around digital NFT fashion includes the potential of global revenues at least doubling over the next two decades due to the digitization of fashion and new capabilities offered.

MEGAN KASPAR, MANAGING DIRECTOR AT MAGNETIC CAPITAL & MEMBER OF RED DAO, A FASHION-FOCUSED DECENTRALIZED AUTONOMOUS ORGANIZATION.

Last year, you may have seen an image circulating of Elon Musk from the 2018 Met Gala, wearing a pair of RTFKT Studios, ‘CYBERSNEAKERS.’ The shoes were designed to mirror Musk’s Cybertruck, with a futuristic, geometric design. But the thing is, Musk never actually wore the sneakers at all. It was a digital simulation applied to an existing image. RTFKT featured the sneakers on their Instagram, where they gained momentum, garnering thousands of likes. Though the shoes did not exist in the physical realm, they were a hot ticket item. SuperRare later featured the sneakers on the platform. All of this led to Nike purchasing RTFKT Studios in December 2021 and rebranding them as “Meta Platforms.”

Humans have this knack for creating fixations on particular ideas, topics, and assets within their given realities. The metaverse itself, with the evolution of Web3, is the ongoing manifestation (or manifest destiny) of a newly formed hyperreality, and rise in fashion NFTs might signal what’s next to come in virtual world economies.

If you’re new to the fashion NFT space, you’ll want to start by studying the emerging popular commodity known as “skins,” or items of digital apparel that users’ avatars can wear inside virtual spaces or games. Take for example WonderMine, located in the Decentraland virtual world, where users can craft digital apparel for their avatars. Utilizing a “Crafting Machine”, one can mint items like a steampunk mask or Meteor Chasing Trousers. Each skin is a limited edition, and to acquire one, you’ve got to attend a wearable crafting event. The window in which to purchase is often limited, increases the skin’s value.

Another form of wearables you might find appealing is a toga for a toga party in a metaverse nightclub, like the one held every Friday night at Flashrekt’s Temple of Beats in the MetaZoo. Your avatar can dance the night away to electronic music in a toga and receive an exclusive Proof of Attendance Protocol Token (POAP), with limited edition POAP drops. Such tokens resemble the collectability of a memorable moment and etch your presence at an event on to the blockchain in such a way that one day might be worth money – imagine selling a wristband from the first fully immersive virtual Woodstock-like event on a future web3 version of eBay.

For a generation embracing virtual identities and personalities, avatar digital wearables have become a popular form of ownership, a reflection of self rising to par with any physical world fashion choice or purchase. When a skin is also an NFT (and, in turn, transferable), however, it extends much further than that: Not only do they become digital reflections of identity in the metaverse but also tokenized tradable objects.” Some of the tendencies in this area of the metaverse reflect on the fashion world’s movements towards NFTs. Below are examples of these branding approaches presently underway.

Haute Couture Fashion and its Introduction to NFTs

 

This last fall, Dolce&Gabbana unveiled a historical debut NFT collection titled the “Collezione Genesi,” exclusively with UNXD, influenced by the seductive city of Venice. The 9-piece set, designed by Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, brings historicity, authenticity, and museum-quality momentum to the NFT ecosystem. Each piece is unique, elegant, and thought-provoking.

These showcased items resemble something of individual works of art in themselves, and as a whole, a creative representation of what NFT fashions can develop into when the physical and the metaphysical meet as one. The couture collection, built on the Polygon network, sold for $5.65 million at auction by the end of September 2021. But Dolce&Gabbana is not the only fashion house stepping up their game.

NFT Fashion For the Cause

 

Jimmy Choo expanded not long ago into the realm of NFT and luxury fashion in a pair-up with New York-based artist Eric Haze. 8,888 “mystery boxes” were launched alongside a digital sneaker on the Binance NFT marketplace. The auction house winner of the shoes will also receive a physical hand-painted pair of sneakers. The boxes are divided into four categories: Jimmy Choo / Eric Haze LOVE Glitter, Super-rare cards, Rare cards, and Neutral cards. The categories themselves reflect the value in the scarcity of digital commodities. Each one is listed at 30 Binance USD, or $13,672 at the time of publishing. Any profits from the auction will go directly to the Jimmy Choo Foundation, which supports “Women for Women International,” an organization that assists female survivors of war.

Another example of fashion trends and charities breaking into the NFT experience can be seen in New York Fashion Week 2021. Female designer Rebecca Minkoff teamed up with Yahoo to raise funds on the digital marketplace The Dematerialised, producing 400 digital garments. The immersive NFT experience allows the user to explore a series of collaged images featuring the collection “I Love New York.” OpenSea hosted the NFT sale, which sold out in the peer-to-peer marketplace in 10 minutes. 
The proceeds went to the Female Founder Collective, which gives grants to New York-based, female-owned businesses impacted by Covid-19. The fashion house has been known for its alternative branding, collaborating with platforms such as Clubhouse and OnlyFans in the past. However, this is the first of its kind pairing with Yahoo to create such an expansive charitable venture.

Digital Fashion in Pop Culture

 

For Art Week Miami 2021, the sustainable luxury brand MORPHEW launched its Genesis NFT Collection. MORPHEW bridges the gaps between the digital and the tangible in the collection, offering items adorned by Grimes, Doja Cat, Shakira, Madonna, and Selena Gomez. Each garment will exist within the sphere of both spaces simultaneously.

We are adding a layer of tech to fashion by turning each piece in MORPHEW’s Genesis NFT Collection into Digi-physical NFTs. The physical piece will have a chip (sensor) into the garment that will function as a certificate of authenticity, stored securely on the blockchain. The NFT will also function as the garment’s digital identity and come with a photorealistic 3D rendering that can be displayed digitally in a frame as one would do with any other piece of fine art, while the physical piece is protected and preserved.”

TONY CASORIA, NFT CURATOR AND CONSULTANT WORKING WITH MORPHEW ON ITS NEW LAUNCH

Brave New Couture

 

The purchasing power that we’ve instilled in the physical reality is seeping into our virtual identities through skins and NFTs. NFTs as fashion are not just another collectible form of commerce; they are reflections of our emerging faith in virtual communities and their distinctive cultures.

Alongside being expressions of personality and style, Fashion NFTs open the gate for POAPs, marking a moment in time eternally on the blockchain, a fashion statement of their own. With the emergence of augmented reality hardware, it’s possible we’ll see the technological and physical realms begin to merge in the near future, finding ourselves at home in a new infinite hyperreality. If we can take ourselves outside of what we know, into the realm of something new and yet to be understood, the possibilities are endless.

1

Rowynn Dumont

Rowynn Dumont is an artist, curator, and writer, based in New York. Co-founder of Black Rainbow Media (NY). She is the Arts Editor for Agora Gallery (NYC) & COOPH Magazine (Austria). Rowynn holds a double Master's Degree and a BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her work can be seen internationally in Nimbus at Vespertine (Shanghai) and The Fowler Museum (Los Angeles). She has lectured at CAA (DTLA), the Paris School of Art, and The Sexology Institute (San Antonio).

Feature Articles

Artist Discovery

Feature Articles

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

Can events happen in the metaverse and in the physical world at the same time? Matt Schapiro is the founder of imnotArt, a metaverse-native NFT gallery located simultaneously in Cryptovoxels and in Chicago, USA.
9 months 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, and the Best American Poetry Blog. She is SuperRare's Managing Editor.

FutureThink

Portraits

Negative Space

Into the Metaverse: a short history

Into the Metaverse: a short history

Into the Metaverse: a short history

Ever wonder where the concept of the metaverse came from? Join SuperRare on a walk through the origin, history, and future of the metaverse.
10 months ago

Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being, or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal.

JEAN BAUDRILLARD

By Rowynn Dumont, Agora Gallery (NYC) & COOPH Magazine (Austria)

Simulation is not just the reflection of ourselves in the mirror anymore. We can see the development of an “expanding network of persistent, real-time rendered 3D worlds and simulations,” what is now known as “the Metaverse,” in real-time through technological evolution. But, from where did this idea originate? What is the history of the Metaverse?

The term was first coined in the book “Snow Crash” in 1992 by the author Neal Stephenson. In the novel, the Metaverse is a virtual topography where real estate can be bought and sold, and humans interact with avatars (originally a Hindu concept) and other software programs.

Hiro, the main character in the book, is a pizza delivery driver and hacker who lives in squalor. When he plugs into the Metaverse, his physical surroundings disappear, and he is immersed in this digitized universe. Hiro owns property in this virtual realm and people have respect for him. In this altered state, one has the power to choose one’s own identity. You hold the power to change how others perceive you. Everything is a construct. Identity formation can be etched into your represented character within the realm of a Subjective becoming. One could relate this to the Lacanian “object of desire,” as that which is attainable within the reflection of ourselves through replicant duplication. In this way, the Metaverse generates the means to emulate our most wanted desires into a codified tokenization of digital civilization. Thus one’s identity in the Metaverse is a simulacrum within a Neo Nation-State. As Stephenson puts it, “You can look like a gorilla or a dragon or a giant talking penis.”

Left: “Spotlight on Virtual Reality: Robot Repair” by World Economic Forum, Right: “Exploring the Universe in Virtual Reality” by NASA Goddard Photo

Outside of Stephenson, academics, philosophers, and pop culture icons have been skirting the territories of what is now commonly becoming accepted as a newly founded ‘ultra reality’ within the Metaverse. Particles of this can be seen in William Gibson’s short story, “Burning Chrome,” which was the first work to mention the concept of “cyberspace.” Gibson later develops this formerly abstract concept in his novel “Neuromancer:” 

Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts… A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters, and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding…

Cyberspace is an all-encompassing network that connects digital technologies. Though cyberspace and the Metaverse are not the same thing, they exist in the same realm of possibilities. The “Matrix” films, a production of the Wachowskis and producer Joel Silver, was influenced by previous films like “Dark City,” “Lawnmower Man,” “Total Recall,” and the anime “Ghost in the Shell.” However, the philosophy behind the movie can be traced back to the French theorist, Jean Baudrillard. Baudrillard’s text so heavily formed the Wachowskis thinking that “Simulacra” is often spotted throughout the first film as a prop on set.

One can follow the Wachowskis’s line of thinking back to Plato’s famous Allegory of the Cave. A group of prisoners lived in this cave deep underground, their limbs and necks fixed into place by chains. It was very dark, and all they could see were the shadows of puppets playing against the wall. These shadows were all the prisoners knew. They did not realize that their reality was a simulation. One day, one of the prisoners broke free from his chains and went above ground. At first, he was blinded by the light from above. As his eyes slowly adjusted, he saw a whole new world of color and clarity. His perception was suddenly altered when he realized that everything he understood about the world up until that point was literally a stand-in for what was real.

Left: “Virtual Reality Demo” by Uniformed Services University, Right: “Virtual reality treadmill” by National Institutes of Health

In the beginning, there was web1

Technological change is an ongoing process. Nothing happens overnight. Take, the Industrial Revolution, which was a transitioning period between 1760 and 1840. It started in Britain and later moved throughout the rest of Europe and the United States. The Industrial Revolution (IR) was the incorporation of automation through apparatus. Before this period began, everything was handmade. IR introduced speed; it was the Age of the Machine.

Web3 and its relationship with the Metaverse can be seen in the progression of the web itself. Web1 was the network that laid the foundation for the development of a series of protocols, where one computer would be able to give a set of instructions to another. Multiple computers could connect and follow these steps, communicating with each other. It was this process that allowed one computer to share a document or program with another, thus forming the infrastructure of the Internet. Most users on web1 were passive, unable to generate their own content unless they could build their own websites.

What ushered forth web2 was the desire to do more with the internet than web1 allowed, namely, highlighting user-generated content and online c ommunities, and private companies were eager to fill the gaps. Big tech formed out of the need for more and more data, and ways to organize and retrieve that data, leading to the rapid expansion of Google and prominent Big Brother social media, like Facebook. The corporations behind this expedited the reality of actualizing human wish-fulfillment in that people could see themselves as active participants on the Internet, being an active participant in the development of its functionality.

The downside of this progress is that these companies have accomplished efficiency and ease through their private servers. That likens them to demi-gods who can collect and extract data while determining their own rules and regulations. Anything that is shared or posted using their platforms automatically becomes their property. They own the market and everything in it.

Web3 utilizes the decentralized nature of blockchain to provide an environment of anonymity. In this space, the individual retains the right of ownership and privacy over themselves and their assets. With blockchain, web3 creates the protocols, laying the landscape for a new set of standards and practices. Blockchain crosses boundaries and helps to initiate a sense of digital ownership and identity. It levels the playing field. And in doing so, it sets a precedent for the future of what will come.

Left: “Virtual Reality Demo” by National Institute of Health, Right: “Virtual Reality Camp” by Super Suz

The term ‘the Metaverse’ itself has been defined and redefined over and over again. One can say that Stephenson laid the foundations for our understanding of the Metaverse, but the idea of it is constantly evolving. Mathew Ball gives contemplation to the term in his blog, “Framework for the Metaverse.” He comes to this solid definition: 

The Metaverse is an extensive network of persistent, real-time rendered 3D worlds and simulations that support continuity of identity, objects, data, and entitlements, and can be experienced synchronously by an effectively unlimited number of users, each with an individual sense of presence.

What does the future hold for the Metaverse?

Ernst Cline wrote a book in 2011 called “Ready Player One,” and in 2018, Steven Spielberg converted the text into a film. The contemporary formation of what many Metaverse enthusiasts would envision as the platform’s future is reflected in this work of art. On the flip side of this, the tangible reality of the main character’s environment is not so unlike Stephenson’s character Hiro. His world is destitute and dystopian, dominated by technology. In these macrocosms, the gap between the rich and the poor is extreme, and we are beginning to see that in the real world of 2021. 

However, to quote Ball again:

“While these sorts of experiences are likely to be an aspect of the Metaverse, this conception is limited in the same way movies like Tron portrayed the Internet as a literal digital ‘information superhighway’ of bits. Just as it was hard to envision in 1982 what the Internet of 2020 would be — and harder still to communicate it to those who had never even ‘logged’ onto it at that time — we don’t really know how to describe the Metaverse.”

All of these artist-philosophers can agree that from their point of view, their works of art act as a defining warning or prediction upon what the future may hold. We must heed such a warning and take it into account. With that being said, in such a warning, there is opportunity. What is this opportunity, one may ask? The concept of the Metaverse and all that it can be represents a space of exploration and becoming. It allows humans to create a world from scratch that can be anything they want it to be. These works of art can be utilized as an outline for forging a philosophically well-constructed, open, and advanced way of thinking. One that lays out a level playing field for all. 

What the future of the Metaverse will look like, nobody exactly knows, but that is the beauty of it. It is up to each of us to help navigate that territory. 

1

Rowynn Dumont

Rowynn Dumont is an artist, curator, and writer, based in New York. Co-founder of Black Rainbow Media (NY). She is the Arts Editor for Agora Gallery (NYC) & COOPH Magazine (Austria). Rowynn holds a double Master's Degree and a BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her work can be seen internationally in Nimbus at Vespertine (Shanghai) and The Fowler Museum (Los Angeles). She has lectured at CAA (DTLA), the Paris School of Art, and The Sexology Institute (San Antonio).

FutureThink

Portraits

Negative Space