You said your old tweets were more wretched than what you put out into the world these days. I haven’t had a chance to find them yet. What does wretched mean to you now? Has it changed since then?
The earliest worm stuff (late 2019/early 2020) is mostly colored by me more and more so dealing with the strictures and idealism of being a Good Christian, and embracing the jubilance of posting anonymously and unfiltered in what felt like a burgeoning scene at the time.
That all snowballed into something greater when lockdown came about and I found myself with curfew under some of the strictest restrictions in the world, and, like many others at the time, took refuge in escaping that condition via posting—just making something fun for ourselves to enjoy together out of thin air because everything else was awful. When I say my early posts were more wretched than my current posts, I mean very literally they were more debased, shameful, cringe. There's probably still some bangers in there, but if I wasn't looking back on myself and wincing a bit, I wouldn't be evolving.
There was never much consideration in the name wretched worm. Basically, I'd seen enough glimpses to know something cool was happening on twitter, and i've always been a poster—though more heavily a lurker prior to worm. I wanted to post. I needed a name. I was really fixated on Psalm 22 (still am really) at that time, where in verse 6, David calls himself a worm.
I remember chilling in the garden in the sun one day and ‘wretched worm’ popped into my head and I was like, “there it is.” I found out later about William Carey’s grave that says “A wretched, poor, and helpless worm, on thy kind arms I fall.” And I think there are some black metal songs with the name, but again I had never heard of either prior.
It was the perfect name though really, and the longer I've had it, the more it resonates appropriately. But this one stuck. I like its connotations in the biblical sense; that despite all faith and idealism I may have, under God, I fall short and am an imperfect creature—that these earthly pursuits are just chasing the wind and it doesn't matter how many posts or paintings or anything I make—they all mean nothing in the Light of God. I like that as a starting point. To abide in God and openly acknowledge one’s own wretchedness is still a liberation... In that sense, wretched has always meant what it meant then to me.
Culture at large continues to descend into abjection, 'wretchedness' from the moment that Cain built the first city as “the supreme work of man'' and as such, the ultimate rejection of God. God has given us the choice to build a city for him or ourselves, and since Cain, we have chosen ourselves. This is an insight I've drawn from Jacques Ellul, a few quotes from his book, Meaning of the City:
The Scriptures […] tell us what man wanted to do when he created the city, what he was hoping to conquer, what he thought to establish. And this narrative of the origin of the city is essential, for we see there in its purest state, and expressed simply, the feelings of the builders. Such feelings are no longer evident in our modern day when the prodigious complexity of the world hides the simple plans of the never-changing human heart.
The city is not just a collection of ramparts with houses, but also a spiritual power. […] It is capable of directing and changing a man's spiritual life. It brings its power to bear on him and changes his life.
The social group which the city represents is so strong that it draws men into sin which is hardly personal to them, but from which they cannot dissociate themselves even if they so desire. Individual virtues are engulfed by the sin of the city.
What is an interesting throughline in this to me, is the premise that if one is to transfigure the city, and so the world, one must see things plainly as they are first. And so, I am wretched worm.
I’m usually repelled by anything that derives its value from some notion of wit or cleverness, because it feels thin/flimsy, especially anything that demonstrates its understanding of recent developments/current events, etc.. i.e. jokes/art about phones, social media, understanding the assignment, novelty of new tech, or the humiliation tethered to some public event. For me, it’s always the timeless subjects sitting alone at night with a mug, packing the raisins on the porch in the stillness in the heat or the cool, or longing to be in the company of someone impossibly distant, that are the sensations worth thinking on. But you are a huge exception to this for me, at least on a surface level. One of your first posts I ever read was about the Jacquemus orange bucket hat.
Thinking about these two works of yours—Untitled (2014) and TRYING TO DO SOME THINGS THAT WILL MAKE YOU PROUD (2013)—where you collaborated with tattoo and graffiti artists and you gave them prompts to execute with materials under their interpretation…
What draws you into collaborating in this way? Spontaneity/randomness? The technical proficiency or lived subjectivity of the collaborators? Or some other function? Given that you gave them the materials to execute with and all your work often emphasizes its materiality via your idiosyncratic material pairings and deconstructed assemblages, would you have felt satisfied with any kind of rendering of them? Or, how much were you trying to direct this process, say under the assumption that the configuration of form will be a response to the materials you selected under the prompts given?
I had this experience when I was pretty young, like 24. I made this sculpture that was a 50-gallon fish tank with opposing pond pumps that pushed around some windbreakers and playing cards designed to be played in a jacuzzi and the tank had a speaker ratchet strapped to it facing inward so the sound went into the water/glass and the sound you heard in the room was soopa muffled. This is the part where I sound like a prick, but everyone who saw the piece gave me all these compliments about it, but the whole experience made me feel soopa empty and weird. I saw this thing in my head and then I spent a bunch of money making it physical so that other people could see it. Took a bunch of taxis getting the materials, delivering it to the gallery, etc.. But in the end, the thing just sat there on the floor and was this heavy material object that was nowhere near as nimble as it was in my head. In my head, it can melt and fly and rearrange its face to teach kids algebra and you know, it’s boundless, and here I had done all this stupid stuff in the material world that ultimately limited what it was compared to all the things it can re-form into in my head, only so that people could pat me on the back like a baby and say “GOOD JOB.” So I was like, “okay, going forward I gotta do this in a way where I’m surprised too.” If it’s just an exercise of setting out to X destination and arriving at the exact location I set out for before I even saw the road, everything about that felt really DOA.
The materials were more a way of mitigating a certain neurosis that comes with being comfortable with a particular set of techniques or traditional art making materials. i.e. someone skilled enough to draw Moana with a pencil but can also switch it up and copy handwriting/mimic the touch of a child’s crayon drawing in graphite. If you tell someone they have to make an image out of chocolate sauce and dried cloacas, all the players get reduced to a beginner’s luck state real quick
This applies to your AI work also. Are you satisfied, as an expressive act, in establishing the parameters for work to be generated through and then allowing the process to take place as a perfect storm in the contained environment you establish? Or is there a back and forth response to the outputs you're getting? Do you consider the AI to be closer to an art assistant or tool?
More of a tool. These techniques of course have the potential to deliver many delightfully surprising and unexpected outcomes. However, the way that I use them still requires a tremendous amount of guidance and modification of their processes. To me, this has always been an area of fascination—these ways of working that introduce what cannot be planned into the process—but this is also an idea that exists along a continuum rather than a binary of yours/theirs, in that you can imagine these very traditional approaches to automated injection of unpredictability into a system. i.e. sleep drug a lion, tie marbles on strings to its toes that dangle above a tray of ink in the wind with a sheet below it, and the interaction of the wind+ink+marbles+restlessness of the half-sleeping lion will all result in an arrangement of ink on the sheet that will be radically different each time this sequence is activated.
One can imagine scenarios where this system is augmented in such a way that it would be considered more or less ‘assisted’ i.e. remove the lion: now we just have the wind+ink+string. It’s still automated but perhaps to the same degree that you would consider the music made by wind chimes automated. Conversely, we could add back the lion and remove the drugs: the lion is stepping in the tray of ink, gnawing at the edges of the sheet, leaving inked footprints on the sheet, etc.. All of a sudden, it seems the pattern on this sheet is much more indebted to the mood of the lion, what it ate for breakfast—the will and subjectivity of the lion.
How important is it that you impart your hand directly into the work at some point in the process?
For my own piece of mind/sense of having done something, not at all important. There is plenty of exercise of my will elsewhere in the process for me to be able to sleep at night without feeling like I cheated. That said, the recent works are all much more like paintings. For the artwork that I used as the cover for my first release with nina.protocol, AUUBIBA, I spent weeks just lighting the interior of one of the character’s mouths just to get the perfect glow against the back of the characters teeth curling up around the edge of its tongue. I will work with the AI tools to generate hundreds of images based on a composition I feed it, then from these images I select the nuggets that are sticking out, combine them together, and then many days or weeks are spent on painting and re-lighting this skeleton image.
What are the ways that satisfy you in bringing your hand into both a human or AI collaborative work?
With the human collaborative work, when I first started doing this I was more of a purist about it. i.e. putting some sort of weight on this concept of the release of control itself being where the dynamism lies. I would try not to speak with the collaborator beyond the initial prompt so as not to give them too many clues that would influence them beyond the initial spark. But very quickly I found this a bit masturbatory, putting the emphasis in this artificially antiseptic place of conceptual purity that only really holds up from the distance provided by academia, where one can pretend so many processes do not require you to wash your hands afterward.
When I use AI to generate elements of my work, I want to avoid all the obvious tells that it's been generated, so I avoid its weaknesses in that regard and mostly focus on its biggest strengths, which for me are texture and material. I want to blend my own crafting with the materials it provides in such a way that my entire process is discrete and the AI leaves no fingerprints and becomes as invisible as possible. Your work, on the other hand, seems to more readily foreground elements that have this mark or hand of the AI upon them. For instance, GAN struggles with faces, but you depict a lot of faces in your recent work and everything ends up looking way better than almost all other more typical GAN stuff I see. How much are you thinking about trying to mitigate the weaknesses of GAN and, by the same measure, lean into its strengths? Are there specific tonalities to its renderings that you want to celebrate?
As someone who has been working with photoshop since they were ten years old, I so, so, so rarely meet anyone who is even thinking about these concerns. Working in the physical world you have so much assistance in inviting beauty into the work. There are so many gorgeous pigments and rich substrates—linens, and velvets, inks and waxes—you can spit on it, you can melt it, drive a car over it to smush it a little etc., etc., etc., and of course all the glory of the sun and the leaves it passes through casting gorgeous undulating shadows onto the surface and leaving new shadows in the ripples and undulations of whatever surface of gloppy or scratched paint you have built up. In the digital, you have none of this. You pour neon green into a blank rectangle and every single pixel in that field is the exact same turbo-flat homogeneous green and you cannot intuitively inject variation into this by scuffing it with sandpaper or staining it with cranberry juice, etc..
I spend a tremendous amount of time thinking about these things you describe—the artefacts of the technology and the fingerprints of the technique. I think a huge amount of work from the 80s and 90s really relished in this through fabrication, Koons perhaps having played with this notion most, utilizing production techniques in such a way that allowed the work to masquerade as though it were produced from entirely different circumstances. i.e. it all appears to have been made according to the same economy of production and organization utilized by corporations who own amusement parks. However, the object being realized clearly echoes the individualistic and idiosyncratic wims of Gepetto Jr. carving their puppets by candle light in a shed, kept company by a sleeping dog.
At one point in time I was very fascinated by this masquerade of using the perfection available through digital tools to imitate the veneer of advertising imagery or interior corporate visualization materials. I’ve always loved painting, not doing it, because I hate, hate, hate, hate, hate getting oil paint on my clothes, but looking at paintings is my favorite thing to do. After a while, with this masquerade approach I was like, “this is retarded.” How come everyone uses digital tools to make these sorts of images with a consistent finish that all reference the vocabulary of corporate applications for these tools?
You can connect a plasma cutter to a CNC and use it to cut out 5000 car doors a day in a factory, or you can use a handheld plasma cutter and make little irregular metal eyebrows to glue onto a coconut that you painted a face onto with lipstick and mandrill dung. I wanted to use digital tools like that, just simply as they are, the way you allow paint to be gloopy or streaky and sand to just be crunchy sand. I wanted to treat the digital tools like the material that was around and just use it how it comes out the tube. As someone who was very much baptized in this other way of thinking, though being in awe of the way Koons or Kai Althoff are so virtuous, I am able to pivot between whose voice they are quoting/embodying. It still feels extremely uncomfortable being like, “ok…I guess it looks like that because that’s how I did it,” but of course that’s also the reason why it’s exciting.
I wanted to work in a way that acknowledged the awkward reality kinda the way it feels to wear an image of your parents on your forehead—not in a showing lineage way but in foregrounding all the awkward feelings of having a half-developed identity that go with being a child through these images that have an unresolved relationship to a consistent finish. I think about things expressing themselves algebraically, like for people that work with node-based shader trees in creating textures for 3D models. You take an image of a tongue and you pipe that into to express itself as the depths of lumps in the surface by mapping the brightness of the pixels to a height map, then you choose to ignore the color of the tongue and instead pipe in a photograph of pavement being piped into the color selection variable resulting in a road with the texture of a tongue. I like thinking about all of this as swappable in this way. i.e. the wind in a space with all the windows closed being modulated by the pressure building up behind a zit in someone’s forehead, sitting over a table with a candle altering the humidity and putting those microscopic wax deposits like a crown all around the zit thus ratcheting up the swirling of the wind. But within image making, I feel like one of these variables people play with heavy in a timeless way, is the wear-and-tear-like slashed up typography/rust/burnt edges/light leaks/noise, etc., etc., etc., etc., but there are all these other variables related to stylistic qualities both bold (Pixar vs. Ryan McGinley vs. internal corporate media) to tertiary (quality of light).
I like thinking about a cross series of work. These things being piped around so that whatever force typically expresses itself through these wear and tear variables is the same exerting force in its original rhythm, expressing itself through the way it moves through the spectrum of these potential stylistic or otherwise projections.
In the previous gallery spaces you ran—Bed Stuy Love Affair and motherculture—and in the all-consuming installations you make inside more typical white cube establishments, there is a throughline of rejecting the institutional norms that prop up the Art world via formality, bureaucracy, and demure presentation. But you are still inside that world and, so I believe, careful not to burn the whole thing down? NFTs arrive as an opportunity for rupturing upon these institutional norms. Can you talk about what of these establishment precedents you see as worth maintaining or iterating upon vs. what should be burnt to the ground?
To me, the main crux of this is that the traditional art universe is largely considered an arena for proposing radical thought and inquiry vs. NFT spaces are still largely handled as aesthetic pleasure markets, like people running around buying little multicolor packets of skittles and giggling about being able to flip them 100x. The supposedly sociopolitically engaged collections function more like bumper stickers to put in your pfp to say “LOOK EVERYBUDDY IN CASE THERE WAS ANY DOUBT IM A MF FEMINIST - AS EVIDENCE I OWN A CARTOON OF SOMEONE WITH PURPLE HAIR.”
Versus in traditional art, this conversation is more likely to manifest in the form of some sort of more in-depth critical or analytic documentarian photo essay related to ports where human trafficking occurs and the living conditions of the women forced to pass through these sites. Both have their place, j’adore pop music, j’adore skittles, etc., etc., but I’d like to see more tooth in the NFT space, more work asking uncomfortable questions, rather than it existing largely as a space for circulating the digi equivalent of cutie Cracker Jack toys. I love this component of this space also. I would like to see more of both. If this were too balanced, perhaps it gets boring though.
If we’re going to talk about which aspects of the traditional art world I’d want to burn down… I can’t even begin. In so many ways that’s such a stale equation that runs on such archaic tracks it’s not even worth speaking about what’s worth burning down, because that stable needs such a herculean hose-down followed by some swift defibulators. Also, I’m not going to burn it down, and I think it’s tacky to make threats you’re not going to make good on. You can change your mind and kiss and make up, but when you blurt it out and everyone knows you won’t, this is very unbecoming. I’d rather speak about what will actually happen, which is that this traditional universe will eventually adopt many technical implementations and cultural practices that began in crypto contexts. There’s obviously tons of hot air about DAOs to an almost comical degree, but the fact remains that web3 spaces are earth’s current hotbed for rapidly implementing and testing new ideas.
We live in an age of delaminated meaning, context collapse, where, in the rubble of history, everything is up for grabs to the artist. I understand you don’t care about symbolic legibility in your work. So what is informing or driving the forms and materials you draw from?
Honestly I mean I don’t have to tell you there has been a many-century conspiracy by people too insensitive to taste the temp of the wind on their tongue, to deny the power and value of the unbridled and unexplained. I really dwell in this realm and sometimes this place can be extrapolated into a conversation about global wealth inequality, nonlinear time, or the tenderness baked into social expectations within familial relations. But I’m all about wrapping that in a crepe and telling the story through the way the light hits the crest of a Nutella wave so another way to hit that would be to say, “in this one you are bathing in the vibe of a child that cannot afford food pretending to take a selfie with a broken sandal.”
As the cultural loop of novelty closes in on itself at an ever-tightening rate, meta contextual-self-referentiality opens into a greater expanse. What's popular is cool because it’s not what’s trying to be cool, and what's not popular is cool because it's not trying to be popular, and what was just popular is cool because it's not cool anymore. Generally people have a cynical disposition towards this, but you and I both find liberation in it. How do you parse this tripartite tension?
It’s so cray how few people on earth actually understand what fashion is. They think it is a solid thing or a pattern, but it is a way to describe movement occuring at a certain rate in relationship to its perception.
Going back to meaning, many people are like, “yes and like Lacan and Bob Dylan, Darwin and Freud did often be saying…xyz,” and that shit is like going in the spice rack and getting that ancient stale allspice way in the back and just pouring all that musty trodden shit all over the meal. Whereas playing with the just-past or immediately-arrived is like taking a fresh dog turd off your lawn that was just left there as the neighbors walked the dog past, growing a sooooopa sharp little truffle in the turd in two hours under a grow lamp, very, very, very carefully separating the truffle from the turd so you don’t get a single molecule of shit on the root, washing it, grinding it to granules, and pouring the truffle granules over the meal. It’s insanely pungent, almost ecstatically so, where you’re giddy with the retardedness that allowed this situation to become a reality and how uncomfortably sharply the flavor sits in your mouth
I also think this was a huge change within our lifetime. When I was a kid, sarcasm/irreverence was real weirdo-only territory. But by the end of the 90s, everyone in the western world was so over saturated with being pitched to all the time via advertising, you started to see these ad campaigns, like the Burger King WAKE UP WITH THE KING campaigns, and buzzfeed humor that all derived its value from the surprise of its incoherence which at the time felt very novel. Ultimately, I think all this is a bit of social puberty where we’re all passing through awkward double blind stages that probably result in something resembling a cheeky sincerity.
I think right now a very reactionary faux sincerity is in vogue but it is also a very beautiful thing about grace, that sometimes G-d puts you on a path where you believe you are acting as a giddy villain getting away with everything, but when you pass through the other side you are humbled and have become the very essence of the thing that you once mocked. The mockery itself becomes the vehicle to shave off the chaff.
Technology is a tyranny upon Man. Conceptually, it is a neutral field, but in action in our present conditions, it’s mostly to our detriment. An inescapable force though—even a primitivist orientation posits itself in relation to it. I don't want to see an inhuman accelerationist surrender to it either, but a transmutation of its directives that can only proceed from spiritual ground, orientated towards God within individuals. This is why I don't place emphasis on technology in my work, hiding the marks of AI behind my human intervention. I will give it no more valor or prestige for the redemption of Man than I would a roll of unstreched cotton duck awaiting gesso. We can build skyscrapers and we can build temples. Technology can be to our aid, but we must help ourselves first.
In what way do you resolve this burden of technology, in that technology may aid us in victory, but soon becomes the victor itself?
I find the celebration or investigation of tech in art to be an insanely corny subject. In an op-ed, yeah sure tell me about how long the battery can hold a charge and how quick I can torrent Moana, but art is an arena that can contain so much more depth. Do not waste your breath and my eyes on these fleeting topical commentaries on a political or industrial development better unpacked by a journalist or some other pundit of current events. Art is the exclusive domain that has carved out a space to say that which does not add up to a use value beyond its own being. Do not waste that enormous space that has been cleared for you with that which could just as easily find a home within an editorial or expository context.
All pain, all sorrow, all corniness and triteness and self consciousness and insecurity, all puberty, these are expressions of G-d and usenet and black hamburger buns, super-pacs breast cancer, traffic tickets, award shows, and competition between neighbors are all firmly established within this all pervasive field. All part of the same story unfolding too, as will be whatever follows, whether that be 24hr VR chat, roasting bark in the snow amongst the rubble, or utopian living conditions with mandatory voluntary suicide at age 30, has always been part of the plan too.
I feel like a lot of conceptual gestures are inherently flat digitally, but can still work well in the real world—Smithson’s glue pours are a shared fave of ours, like the whole post-Duchampian mode of recontextualization. I’m just thinking, why does a conceptual gesture often fail online but can still work in the real world? I suspect it's to do with how online is already a world of infinitely replicated decontextualized afterimages, and so lack of materiality gives specific and different demands than physical work does. The best way to reframe digitally is to make an addition, not remove from context. I wanna add a million things.
My mom used to call me ‘Dick Cheese’ in high school, i.e. “get your ass down here Dick Cheese dinners on the table.” People who know her will be shocked by this because to the world, she is very proper and behind closed doors, does a lot to amuse herself. I say this to say that within the traditional, art attempts to migrate to NFT spaces, there’s been a lot of heavy-handed cheesedickery. These incredibly sophomoric gestures that reek of self satisfied smug cleverness of a boy recently who entered the art academy and was recently baptized in the possibility of a conceptual approach to art making, that has now returned from their studies for christmas, thrilled to announce to their family what simpletons they are for not grasping the value of opening an exhibition where the only art is a completely empty gallery, these projects where the NFT devours another NFT, duplicates the contents of the IPFS in a re-re-branded mint as if to make some watered-down nod to Sturtevant, etc..
I find one of the most tragic afflictions in this space is to be this completely misguided and painfully dorky interpretation of the idea of medium specificity—JUST BECAUSE IT IS ON A COMPUTER SCREEN DOESN’T MEAN YOU NEED TO SHOW US THE 1s and 0s IN YOUR CONTRACT SO WE KNOW YOU DID YOUR HOMEWORK LIKE A GOOD LIL BOI. There are a billion ways to acknowledge the structural conditions of the work and its distribution without resorting to these cheesy meta-mirror man-behind-the-curtain tricks where you’re obsessed with breaking the 4th wall like some dweeby Deadpool trailer. Tell me a story but make it fashion, or tell it to someone else.
Medium specificity re: NFTs is just acknowledging that most people are going to view the work through some kind of connected screen, that same, self-illuminating frame where they look at an endless stream of information and visuals while holding an understanding of the specific functions of NFT technology. Pulling back into solely focusing on the technology itself is so inhuman, and not how a wider audience reads NFT work. It's all this social tendency to get myopic and valorise subculture in art, which is born of Art being toppled from the pedestal it once held as integral to peoples’ daily lives in its transcendent capacity, as we have broadly lost our ability to engage with the transcendent.
The whole way that Art has been transformed into a purely social currency—be it via conceptual arts economy of intellectualism or NFTs economy of community, these are fine and good values through which to produce and receive Art. But if they aren’t ultimately oriented towards Art’s capacity for transcendence, then they simply propagate this stripping of religiosity from our lives and so we feast on empty calories.
People are divorced from their own vibe because the world is divorced from its own vibe—hurt people, hurt people. It's only in deeper rooting in God that one can transmute this suffering into sanctification and end the cycle. The cosmic orchestra never ends, but individuals can forget they are a living instrument. Ellul says “Prayer holds together the shattered fragments of creation. It makes history possible.” What is the best Art if not prayer held solid for a moment? Work is love made visible.
It does make sense that a medium in infancy is going to be concerned with itself and this is why we see so much NFT art about NFTs, but it also seems obvious to me the way to escape the eternal navel gazing is simplify ones frame of understanding NFTs and then work via that. Critique as a working mode has long been a fixture of contemporary art, but it's not the right approach here in pursuit of elevating the possibilities of NFTs. By the same token, in a Trad Art context, institutional critique has done little to shift material conditions for artists. Duchamp put a urinal in the gallery not so that we could all put urinals in the gallery. He did it to open new vectors beyond that.
A reactionary approach to NFTs wants to burn the whole thing down to what ends? So we might rebuild it anew? Seems like a waste of time to me. Why not shift focus into its positive aspects and flood these veins with vitality in the knowledge that what is not of virtue will rot by its own means? NFTs are a great way to share art digitally, to permanently record provenance/context and explicitly embed art’s financialization into the work itself.
Let’s move from the lucidity of that understanding, rooted as all life should be: in prayer, and I believe we will reach firm ground, break free from the terminal velocity of art about art about art about art about art about art (Or NFTs about NFTs about NFTs about NFTs), and reignite the embers of what lay dormant in all. The oasis we are striving for cannot be reached via thinking. The best way to feel is to feel your feelings, you feel me? I want to feel you.
There is this tension that many young artists feel when confronted with their interior explosion of propositions and potential voices they wish to put out into the world. The world seems to ask them to whittle down these visions into something consistent that is immediately legible as being thrown from the same tongue in a sort of rigidly fixed hyper-individuality. Phrases like ‘signature style’ often come up in this flavor of conversation to describe the affliction. At the same time, we see artists cutting off their face and burying their parents as they don new identities that mask them from whatever appears on their passport. Why are the kids so fucking crazy worm???
It’s these ever escalating pressures of the market forces that create so much neuroticism in young artists. Trying to spin this twisted pretzel looking for a solution seems to offer no exit from them. Pursuing a career in art is both a noble and very narcissistic ideal but most artists do create in good faith, and that's why they accept a life of little remuneration in return for the freedom to make art. But when you can’t truly escape the commodification of art, artists’ hand-wringing over ‘selling out’ even when they reject money entirely, just gets sublimated into some other form of currency, typically social status. And so neurosis prevails. At least money is an absolute measure. It's quantifiable desire. The problem is the tendency to idolize money as an end, which is the exact modality of greed that has warped the art market from its modern inception into a crushing force upon artists.
Art’s financialisation in the traditional market is by no means transparent. The structure is propped up by institutional gatekeeping, price manipulation, backroom deals, secret cabals etc.. You know the vibe. The transparency of on-chain financialisation is not some magical remedy to this, but does at least hold the possibility of a solution, not in as simple terms as a public ledger as financial record (that could still be manipulated by IRL strategies), but in forcing a weight on to the provenance of a work tied to its historical context and how the trustlessness of the technology liberates artists from the emphasis of IRL identity. I value anonymity, not because I have anything to hide, but because it is simply more freeing creatively to work from an amorphous, obfuscated identity. When we strip back a lot of what is, essentially, PR provenance from art, and pin the artist’s identity to “this is the person who made the work and then made it public in this context,” we break free from tired emphasis on an artist’s lived experience and how that relates to the work, and draw focus to the work and idea itself.
The problems that emerge when artists feel married to a signature style to appease their collectors and the market, or to consistently making an effort to reject being put into a box, are downstream responses to market pressure that has commodified identity prior to work. When the commodification is embedded in the work itself, literally on chain, we get a positive reorientation of Art’s value that is more aligned with the internet's values around memetic resonance—freedom of information and collaborative/open authorship.
It’s the identity-prior weighting of provenance in ascribing a work’s value in the Trad Art world that makes collaborations difficult to financially evaluate. If someone high value works with someone low value, then the work is watered down by that measure. When the work itself is the measure of value, then you can have a situation where, in collaboration, an artist’s prestige may elevate the overall value, like the sauce got mixed together and now its a new flavor. And lowkey, a good artist should be able to work collaboratively in a way where they draw the best out of their collaborators and there is a mutual rising. Never forget your day-ones and always put your team on. Like Waka Flocka says, “watch my power spread.”
Authorship matters, but not because of who the person doing it is, but how they do it. The clearest example of this is the prevalence of derivative collections in NFTs, where someone can take an existing creative property and openly iterate on it in a minor way and if the vibe hits, the market bites. Art at large has grappled with this idea of replication and appropriation forever but the identity-prior weighting of Trad Art necessarily presents these works as a response to existing work, rather than an evolution or development upon them. The internet nativity of NFTs offers a fracturing in the impenetrable field of sleek individualized obelisks called contemporary artists in the trad world and a re-instantiation of a more unified pre-modern mode of creation.
I dont see much point in ascribing specific moral values to how people should act in response to these technologies. I am a Christian, and I hope in living my life guided by Christian values, I may exert some positive influence. But the question of how an artist chooses to respond to market pressures is an individual one of how much are you willing to accept, and where is your integrity rooted? That said, I do believe that artists being able to make a living wage from their work directly without the stifling factors of bureaucratic institutional mediation and liberate themselves from the hyper-individualised, identity-driven pressures of the trad art market, will help the kids be a lot less fucking crazy.
When was the first time in your life you knew you were in the trenches?
In my life, I have generally felt incredibly fortunate and I have always held firm to a certain idealism and romantic disposition that everything does work out and I’ve been vindicated in holding this belief. What ‘the trenches’ to me encapsulates is this sentiment of an idealistic dissatisfaction—no matter how good things seem, you can always go harder and dig deeper, and no matter how bad things seem, you can always always go harder and dig deeper. That's the trenches mentality, to love the struggle and being in the mud and never seek comfort and stagnation.
The trenches go on forever. The wanderers of the trenches stand wide-eyed with a voracious gaze upon everything—all the happenings and machinations beneath the world—and endure what is ugly and despicable in order to also see what is beautiful and enduring. It’s not for everyone. Some more sensitive souls may choose to flee, and for that I would not begrudge them.
Anyway, I got arrested a couple of times in high school, normal teen rebellion shit—graffiti and shoplifting—but that was a moment where I was like, “ok, everything does work out, sure, but also you can face real negative consequences for your actions.” Wile out all you want, but you gotta move smarter cos The Man can just come fuck you up. This was really my first glimpse of knowing I was in the trenches, longing to live exactly as I wanted, but accepting there are correct ways to do this, examples led before me, the trenches are not dug alone.
The first time in my life I really for real knew I was in the trenches resulted from an incident later on that left me badly physically harmed—a kind of nightmarish situation that simply happened to me for no rational reason. That’s when I intimately understood that sometimes truly horrible things may happen to us without any provocation, rhyme or reason. Of course, now I believe in God’s providence, His hand in all things, and trusting the plan. But in the midst of one’s suffering, it can be hard to make sense of things. Confined to my room for a while, I saw how it could even feel good to wallow in one’s misery, but my own dissatisfaction won me over. I came to the resolution that there is no choice but to go on, not some sluggish march towards the future, but led by the fire of my heart, of love wrapped in the garments of faith, to hunger for whatever dirt may be piled upon me in the knowledge. I can eat it all and everything is forever renewed in the procession of worms.
You’re always switching up/going through different periods, be it different kinds of text posts, images and pfp edits. Is there a specific motivation behind this?
This is about how when you name something you destroy it, or when they put you in a box, they caught you slippin, or how resting on your laurels is like being dead, or how your clothes never wear as well the next day, or ikyk but when you think yk that’s the same as not knowing because not knowing is knowing ydk, and how all these things mean the same thing but also don’t. It’s about how time never stops so change is the only constant, and things keep moving faster and faster and that’s so scary for everyone so they always want to pin things down and put them under glass with little annotations and descriptors while they stare at it and the sky turns to marvelous hues behind them. It’s about how Picasso stopped painting Cubism for a while when it became popular but then just came back to it and did Cubism better than anybody. It’s like, you have to be having fun but I don’t do this shit for fun. A million roads up the same mountain.
Sometimes I just wanna say the most boring obvious thing possible because everyone is so focused on trying to be different they all forgot what’s importantYou are alive, that matters. You will die, that matters. God exists, that matters. They say, “you’re so noncommittal,” I say I’m committed to being noncommittal.
But did I ever stop being wretched worm? You see how this goes on forever. That fact about how when you cut a worm in half it becomes two worms isn’t actually true. Only one half regenerates but the other half dies. But why tf would you want to cut a little worm in half anyway?