Pioneering net.artist & URL Fetishist

WHAT A SUCCESS! How does that make you feel? RR: It makes me happy, but I wasn’t counting on it. The ups and downs in this market are so veal. It almost feels like that it has not so much to do with the quality of the work. I always make works trying not to worry about what the results are. Of course, if it goes well it makes me very happy, but I try to make works in a way that I am not afraid of failing. Especially when I started with websites there was no sales aspects to the publishing part, so I just put it online and didn’t think about. But it’s quite emotional. I know it from a lot of artists: the side effect of NFT is that the sale is so immediate and so in your face — being that public with a work may cause a kind of health issue. In a gallery if you have a show you don’t really know whether it sells or not, you just enter the exhibition and observe the work. THE PAST You are pioneer in, the Internet is your stage since many, many years, you are known as URL Fetishist. Let’s talk a little about your entry into art, your developments and then your journey into NFTs. What was your career like before the NFT revolution? RR: I was in art school and sort out experimental audio, video and animation. That was my angle. Then the computer came along and we had some beginners classes in interactive animation instead of linear animation and I was very interested in the idea multiple time lines existing at the same time. In a normal any kind of moving image you have a duration but in an interactive environment you can have one circle is spinning this way and another circle spinning that way and they can each have their own dimension, they can behave independently. That was a concept that immediately did something to me. Then the idea that the size of the work is not defined, that was also very interesting to me. The Internet has many dimensions. Some people view it on a small screen, some people view it on a large screen. I was experimenting on my own computer. I figured out with videos it was very difficult to upload anything, the quality was so bad. So I started looking at Flash and I liked that you could make works that are scaleable and reduced in visual vocabulary. That’s why I started working in a geometric, linear style it was also a practical reason. When I remember the days before, it was a lot about CD-ROMs, but I couldn’t find them anywhere. I went to the university library but they didn’t have any and I only saw pictures of them. And I figured if you make digital art it should be visible so that we can create a history and we can move on. A work has to be accessible, that is really important to me. The sales part came later. “The idea that I can share my work and that anyone in the world can see it was very exciting!” I started putting works online on a free hosting platform and the responds was very positive. Then Miltos Manetas found my work online and said „this is Neen“ and he introduced the idea of domain names. He came from the contemporary art mindset of the whole history of conceptual art. And he realized the screen culture is a very new way of making art and very unusual. The whole conceptual art is constantly asking „Is this art?“ and they try to find something that is not art. But at the end it’s all about placing a physical artwork in the powerful context of the art world. When you constantly redefining what is art and you seeking the limits, then the Internet is one step further, because you are removing the white cube. The screen was something the art world didn’t have control. The screen culture had value. And for Miltos Websites were an art form and domain names created digital scarcity. I totally ran with it and I saw it as my main medium. The first five years I hardly make money, but it didn’t matter. I could make connections with artists around the world. I met people in LA, in Berlin, in Paris, Spain, everywhere — it was very non localized and exciting. THE ARTWORK In the first few years you still worked very figuratively. And then you moved on to complete abstraction.                             In the early 20th century, abstraction was seen as an expression of emotion, in the 1930s as an escape from reality, in the 1970s it functioned as a liberation from memories and nostalgia. Abstraction is also related to scientific world views, which became more and more abstract in the last century (atomic nuclear physics, quantum and relativity theory). What does abstraction mean for you? RR: I’ve alway been interest in a certain level of abstraction. And I was always interested in early stages of technology that create limitations for the artists and require a certain type of abstraction. I was always very interested in this idea of abstraction out of necessity not out of luxury. But I was changed in school. My heritage was always to make ideas that make sense and to be able to talk about them. But there was always the guilt with abstraction in terms of „It’s just pretty, but it doesn’t have any content“. It took me a long time to be ok with it myself. I was always interested in interaction and movement. And at some point I thought it’s not the subject that I am interested in, it’s the movement itself, the interaction itself. The subject was not necessary. It was very intuitive, not a preconceived idea at all. It wasn’t something where I said I want to reach this goal therefore I am using this visual language. It was step by strep what you can see when you go through my works. I am still somewhere in the edge between the two — figuration and abstraction. For some reasons now often when I make still imagery it makes more sense to be figurative, when it’s moving it makes more sense to be abstract. I really try to follow my intern vision as much as possible. I sketch everyday and just keep drawing until something interests me. If it’s interesting I follow it. “I really think it comes from inside and there is a creative energy and inspiration that I have no control over.” Abstraction somehow also means dematerialization, somehow also fits the current decentralization. Do you think the Metaverse, and thus the use of digital art in digital spaces, will come? RR: I think we are already very deep in it with Social Media, Discord, YouTube and Twitter … For me cinema was already a virtual world and literature is a virtual world — anything, any art form that is sticking in the brain and takes you to another train off that is not the physical space that you are. If you read a poem that poem is pretty in your brain and a different vibration, if you drink a cup tea and the tea is from another part of the world it changes your mind too. I just see the Metaverse / the 3D world is an extension of the gaming culture. I think we underestimate often how big gaming culture is changing our perceptual reality, depends on how much time you spend there. And I do think that out of the gaming culture this idea of digital value is becoming more and more normal. I think there is this generation that has spent more on digital outfits in games than on physical outfits when they go to school. For that generation there is a lot of social anxiety in going into museums and galleries. It’s quite awkward for them, so maybe an online exhibition is much more comfortable for them. NFT ARTWORKS Do you use NFTs as a medium also or as a new distribution system only? RR: I am a little bit in between. I do like making things on chain, so the code is really on the blockchain, in the sense that this is the way really using the medium. So the work purely exist on the blockchain. But I haven’t done so much yet with the serve community aspect of creating a members club…. I always made art as a software and to me blockchain is a software platform. So it’s very close to where I was working. Before, the domain name was the store of value and I still think that the domain name has an aspect that is very friendly and more poetic. You can remember the name and you can just share the name on a phone call or write it down somewhere. You can’t really do that with blockchain. You recently said they are pre-NFTs for you, even more important as a concept. RR: I was very convinced that there will be a generation of collectors that doesn’t want to deal with physical objects. To me the domain names make sense. In software, convenience is so important. To move a domain name takes a week and lot of communication back and forth. The fact that the NFT is in your wallet and you can throw it and give it to someone and take it back is more streamline. This is the sort of business version of what my idea was. I still think that the websites are so easy to navigate for people that are not so technical. Will they go through a similar price development? At least that’s what many collectors hope! RR: I don’t understand the price development in my work at all. It all seams irrational. At Foundation some works went for 400.000 USD and the next one goes for 3.000 USD. I don’t think that one work is better than the other. It has very little to do with me. As long as I can make enough money to work all the time, then I am happy. On a historical view I think my websites are very important as a precursor digital value but when I speak to CryptoCollectors they often have never seen my work before NFT. RECEPTION Who are the buyers of your work? RR: Some people I have never met, some people are speculators, that just buy anything and trade, some are friends, that always want to own of my works. At Artblocks the prices are more accessible. It’s almost a community, like a group of a hundred people own one work together and each person owns a unique version of a work. I am very comfortable with this idea of communal ownership. The works on Foundation are a bit more expensive. But time goes and I speak to people, listen to Podcasts and I realize that a lot of the people in NFT communities really look on the work, and they understand code, they understand animation and the screen culture much more than a lot of people in the art world, who see everything through the linse of politics. They don’t talk about the visual side of the work. They are more focused on narrative and on activism. This is fine, but not what I do. So the NFT world is very visual in cline. They are obsessed with models, with graphic cards and motion and code. They live it what I am doing, they really see the details. What do you want the owners to do with your work? RR: Whatever they want! There is one story of my early collectors who owns my kissing website. He is sort of a tech guy and he travels a lot for work and he said wherever he puts the iPad with that work he feels like that his art collection is there. That’s a great way to display a website, that it is something that travels with you. With the ArtBlocks community there are some people starting companies that make displays specifically for generative works. There is a whole community of builders around it. I think we will see different things going out of that. But I love doing exhibition. I am very focused on galleries or museum. I really love the public space. THE MARKET The gallery market was and is still very slow and static regarding digital art. What was your experience with the traditional art market so far and what changed for you with the NFT revolution? RR: I feel that the galleries I worked with — they are also dear friends — have a limited reach. I always had an audience of millions visiting my website. There was always that wave. But there is a level of focus and quiteness in museum exhibition that is very different from the experience on the screen. I am always super happy to do shows. I do love the dialogue with the art world. NFT has a lot to do with the lockdown. NFTs can very easy connect the potential buyers with my work. This is the social expression of gaming culture. There are a lot of people who are screen first and they are uncomfortable going to a gallery. The NFT revolution is the connection to my Internet audience, giving it a buy-now button, means NFT is a financial instrument with a payment link next to the work. That is really a revolution. And it is a storage medium. I am really excited about the preservation. Many NFT nerds are connected to the works. They are collecting NFTs and they are the best people to fix if there is ever a preservation issue. If institutions or art collectors own a work the communication is not so fast. But when you have something like ArtBlocks and there is maybe 2.000 collectors all on the same Discord and they find a land of code to fix, they share and discuss it in real time. LAST QUESTION What is your prediction for the next years? RR: NFTs will find its ways. And digital art will find its own physical venues. I see myself continuing my work in the land I was always doing. The works before NFT were unique. But creating these variations of the same algorithm, the generative fractionalization of the work is a good input for me. I feel like there are more ideas in this work. I will do what I always did, but maybe a little be more blockchain specific. “Working on the screen for me is being honest. Let’s be honest: Where are your eyes most of the time?“ THANK YOU!