NFTs are changing the world. With everything in flux, can the digital art space be next in the blockchain revolution? Eathan Janney hosts this exciting panel during NFT LA with some top people in the art space: Justin Aversano of Quantum Art, Nicole Buffett of Metamorpha, Ed Zipco from Superchief and art curator extraordinaire, Lady Cactoid. Eathan and the gang dip into NFT and blockchain’s impact on art. We hear their thoughts on media, community, and why NFTs are a boon to the art world. Join in on the fun and tune in for more!
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NFT LA collection – Eathan Janney’s Panel On How NFTs Have Turned The World Of Digital Art On Its Head Feat. Justin Aversano (Quantum Art), Nicole Buffett (Metamorpha), Ed Zipco (Superchief), & Lady Cactoid (Art Curator)
Believe it or not, this whole NFT LA conference started from a podcast that started from nothing. People ask us how we put this together and we don’t even know. When I try to think about it, I say it’s because of you guys. We’re all a community here. It takes everybody being participatory, active, creative, self-expressive, showing up, and being a part of it to make this happen. Thank you guys for making us look good by being here and being cool people. First, I’ll pass it along to Justin. Do you mind introducing yourself? Tell people a little bit about yourself?
My name is Edwin Zipco. You can call me Ed. I’m the Director and CoFounder of Superchief Gallery and Superchief Gallery NFT. We opened the world’s first NFT gallery brick and mortar IRL NFT gallery. We are also celebrating our one-year anniversary. It’s on March 25th.
I’m Lady Cactoid. I’m a curator. I have been working in the museum and gallery world for most of my career. I’ve been interested in our technology. My husband is a Solidity developer. We’re working together on a bunch of NFT initiatives and one of them being an NFT initiative in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. I’m happy to be here.
I’m Nicole Buffet. I’m a painter by nature. Now, I’m an NFT artist. Who knows what I’ll become because the whole space is such a space of evolution and growth. I’m honored to be here.
The word that’s coming to my mind here is heavy hitters. We got people who are heavy hitters in the way that they’re hitting heavy with their heart, putting themselves out there, pushing the boundaries on what’s going on, and taking ownership of what it means to be Web3. I’m thinking about our first topic of conversation here.
On the show, the topic that comes up is, are NFTs here to stay? Things like that. What I always think about is it’s like asking if any new invention or any new technology is here to stay and what it’s going to be when you first see it. We don’t know. The wheel was an invention and it’s still here. There are still modifications to it. I met a guy who made a shark wheel. That’s a square wheel. He reinvented the wheel again.
What I see is NFTs are a medium like the printing press or something like that. It opens up a world of new opportunities and it’s up to us to explore them. I’ll start with you, Justin, on this topic of media. You have all these different mediums in which we can make art and how you like to translate between different ones, printing screens, photographies and stuff like that. I want your general thoughts on what is a medium? What does medium mean to you and the NFT space? How is NFT a medium all in itself?
I see that NFTs are a vehicle for the mediums to exist through the internet and decentralization. The people are powering the validation because of how these things exist on the blockchain. The blockchain technology itself is revolutionary and artists leading the way on the blockchain is what’s going to have everything on the blockchain. Artists are obviously leading the way.
Ed, I know you’re deeply intertwined with artists in New York and Los Angeles. When we talk about digital media, you go to Superchief Gallery with all these cool digital artworks. There are some physical artworks in there as well. Can you talk about the media as it pertains to what you’re doing?
For us, it was important to legitimize NFTs from the art world perspective and make sure that artists that are coming into it are having a healthy, good experience and getting good guidance. To speak your point as far as media and medium, I feel like echoing what Justin was saying where it’s about the blockchain being a revolutionary moment, a game-changer for artists with royalties, provenance, and all of it.
It’s also this meaningful moment between technology and art where it’s the first time communities are intersecting in a meaningful way. The doors are open to use NFTs and blockchain as a departure point for creativity and to see it as a toolkit. Artists are interacting with tech firms creating use cases and new ways to be creative and invent new wheels or reinvent the wheel again through thousands of different persons. That’s this wonderful moment we’re having right now.
Lady Cactoid, you’re coming from trying to bridge the traditional art role a little bit into this world. How do you see this?
We think of time as being linear, but quantum physics teaches us that it’s circular. I’m interested in having a conversation with artists who are experimenting on the blockchain and the grand scope of our past and our future. We’re putting artists in the conversation with art history, with objects 2,000 years old, and objects made yesterday.
One of the beautiful things that Justin has been doing is these screenprints on papyrus that he sources from the Nile River in Egypt. The grain of the papyrus and bringing that into this digital space and having a conversation about the process and what artists are taking inspiration from. There’s so much discussion about the market and the economic opportunities, which are real and are fueling all of this experimentation. There need to be more conversations about the stories that are fueling the art in the first place. That’s what I’m interested in.
I’m picking up on what you’re saying, Lady Cactoid. It is about more. In this case, more is more. Web3 is a translation space for all of us. It translates any language and all languages into even more languages for more people to connect and understand and no one’s left out. I love the inclusion and the culture of inclusion that the space is offering. Artists and everyone, anything you want to create can be translated into this space. That’s the beauty of it.
That’s a great topic to roll into Nasdaq. Anything that can be created can be rolled into the space. Nicole and I had this happenstance, a discovery that we both did the same artist residency called Djerassi, various different moments in history, which is a great residency. Look it up. There are interesting artists and a story behind it. They’re not necessarily heavy into this blockchain stuff or this NFT stuff. We want to help them.
Digital Art: NFTs are leading to areas we cannot foresee, and that is what’s so exciting.
This topic of, can a piece of woodworking integrate with NFTs and blockchain? This has to be digital art. There are going to be all these different mediums of expression that don’t necessarily connect to digital. What do you think about that? How do we think about the answer that we think those other mediums can be involved in NFT? How does that happen and how do we bring those people into the space? Let’s say I’m making beautiful woodworking artwork, a work of art. Are there use cases important for me to learn about blockchain and NFTs to move forward in my career or my expression?
In a similar way, we’re going to think about how artists were using Instagram to show their portfolios and everything they’re making, from fashion photography to being a designer or woodworker and showing that. The blockchain is more so in a way where you get to monetize on your creation and receive royalties. The most revolutionary part for artists, in general, is that we get royalties forever. Artists, musicians, and everyone who creates deserve that. That’s where we’re at.
Going on to the point of the physical, you could create a physical GLB file on the things you’re creating that’s three-dimensional or a photograph that represents the things just like you would post in your Instagram post. It’s available. It’s a means of building a community around the work we’ve been doing through followings and followers and whatnot. It’s the same idea, but we’re seeing it in a different way.
We were talking about this, Nicole and Lady Cactoid. If somebody made a beautiful chair, for example, attach an NFT to it. If that chair gets traded or sold in the future, there’s royalty on it. It’s as simple as that. It doesn’t even matter if it has a digital twin or anything like that. It’s beautiful that this can start to be integrated.
We got involved with NFTs because we wanted to make sure that it made it past that first year of getting group acceptance or group awareness. It wasn’t mass culture awareness, but it was the scenes for the art world. They were the use cases. Seeing that there could be happy and positive stories that came out of it instead of people having terrible experiences and getting shot out of the room.
It’s making sure that royalties are not only something that is enabled by blockchain, but it’s something that is put forward as a precedent. Good luck having somebody sell a painting for $50,000 and not be interested in royalties at this point. You can’t see an entire industry be brought into the blockchain, have these new opportunities, and not find a way to create the parallel.
For us, I wanted to make sure that they’re putting to bed the idea of starving artists. That’s a terrible thing that we always let happen because we couldn’t think forward enough to allow the type of respect that’s given to other creative endeavors. Singers have royalties. Films have royalties. The fact that it’s never been brought into this medium or this art world is something well worth looking for time to correct. We’ll have to continue to do well. Good luck not having that be for paintings. It’s there.
I like that. Put the starving artist to bed. Let them have some rest and relaxation, wake up and have a nice meal. Let’s get some royalties.
Also, freedom and happiness.
Shelter and other human rights.
Financial and spiritual sovereignty.
On the track.
The main impetus for me entering this space was when I learned about royalties. I’ve worked in the art world for many years and there are no royalties. If you get to the point in your career, which is rare, your work is being sold at Christie’s or Sotheby’s. Many gates have to be unlocked to get to that point. In general, you have to be represented by a blue-chip gallery. That gallery has to take you around to fairs for years to get to the point where you’re being auctioned in Christie’s or Sotheby’s. At that point, you see nothing. You don’t get anything. When I learned about that, that was mind-blowing.
What excited me was artistic sovereignty and being able to create markets for artists on our own. I didn’t anticipate the dynamism of the relationship that happens on the blockchain and Discord between artists and other artists and collectors and these communities that are here. That is wild. It’s leading to areas that we can’t foresee at this moment, but that’s what’s exciting.
One of the things in this topic is that art is a currency of its own. Art is money. I said to my dad, “Dad, I’m making money with my art, but the art is the money.” Technology is an articulation of a value system that began inside of our minds. The same idea is that money is a concept, a physical thing. We don’t even need the physical thing anymore. It’s becoming more quantum, metaphysical. We collectively decide that something is beautiful, important, and included. That’s what we’ve created. It’s a coming together of technologists, financial experts, and artists. It’s incredible. I’m honored to be here.
Generating value. I have this unique position and that’s why this is such a comfortable space for me. I’ve been in the music realm, the art realm, sciences, and entrepreneurship. When I think about generating values, entrepreneurs say this all the time, “We generate value for time.” You get a return on investment.
Digital Art: Everyone is important in the community, as long as you show up.
I love hearing from everyone. I don’t feel like artists get to feel entitled to say that they generate value. Even though they made somebody cry and had some cathartic experience that changed their lives or had a beautiful dance with their friends and make cash with their family or whatever their part does for people. You generate it. Translating that to the business side and getting a return, we’re getting something back for it. It’s beautiful.
We brought this word and it’s a good time, I’ll indicate. If we do have any interesting questions or something, think about it out here and maybe we’ll have time for 1 or 2. Think about moving and get your hand up there. The reason I brought that up is the community. This word bubbled up here. The community came up and this is an interesting facet of this whole energy space. The word community comes up over and over again like Discord, the basic Tribe and all that stuff. You’re launching a community. To tell us about your community, Justin, and what’s going on there. Tell us about Quantum.
When I talk about community, I look at my peers, the people collecting the work, and the people who are interested in supporting the artist’s journey. Even if they can’t afford to support, they’re there and they show up. They’re there to inspire other people to join. Everyone’s valuable in the community if you show up and that’s the most important thing. You can lead the room and show up for the people that you are inspired by or cared for in NFTs. You’ll learn a lot by being present with them and the community that they’re building.
I built a community around my project. It turned into a company called Quantum through my success in photography. Photography has always been an undervalued medium and no one takes it seriously. What we’re doing with blockchain makes it valuable and makes it not disposable. You’re looking through Instagram and swiping away. You’re looking at something that you deem valuable.
With that value, we created a community and we oversaw me and branched at others. I see one of our Quantum artists in the audience. Through the work we’ve done, we’ve supported dozens of other artists and hundreds in the future. To me, that is community. When you take from yourself and give it to them more, that creates a community.
To clarify all of this, the blockchain facilitates this. If the blockchain is not there, it seems like it’s harder. Is it because of the clear ownership that we give to people that they can not only think of themselves in the community but have proof of community? Is that it?
You could go down different paths with that. At the surface level, the ownership is on the blockchain. For example, if you own a piece of Superchief or Quantum, you see your fellow collector’s name there. The community develops both on Twitter and Discord when people communicate around the project and spend time within those servers talking about the artists and the project. That’s what gives life to communities and projects and the events hosted in real life. There’s a mirror between showing up in person to Superchief or wherever other spaces or Discord to be an online presence as well.
Ed, a huge impetus for you is bringing the community together and making this an IRL thing. We’ve got our podcast. We’re working on stuff. It’s an underground thing. Podcasting is very much the same as talking to a black box. That’s where it’s targeted. There’s this mysterious thing out there. Through Discord and different ways of building community, we’re able to connect people. It’s fascinating meeting people here who are on Discord. This is wonderful. Tell me about how that’s bubbling for you. Was that intentional in the beginning? Is it something that emerged for you?
It’s from the beginning, the purpose of Superachief. Everything that we’re doing is to bring together this community. We’ve been a gallery for over ten years. For us, how do we take the community that we’re a part of? We’re all going to each other’s parties. We’re all going to each other’s shows and exhibitions and we support each other. What if there is a place that you could keep going back to that was growing as fast?
Something that was breaking my heart early on was twofold. One, Superchief was born out of the 2009 economic depression. As soon as that moment happened, we watched artists in our community quit. We watched artists from our community go home to their parents and try to find real jobs and lose their lifestyle. People that I’ve known for college or I’ve known for 8, 9, or 10 years, they stopped. It was heartbreaking.
For us, it was like, “First, why isn’t there a safety net for our community? Why isn’t there a structure that unifies us?” We all do love, like, and believe in each other. Why aren’t we building a structure that does it? It also broke my heart when the people we worked with and people who are part of the friend group and community get cherry-picked out of it and do well but then get disconnected from their community and friend base. They’re isolated. I’ve watched our friends get depressed. I’ve watched the scene get depressed. They now feel like the friendship wasn’t real. They feel like they’re less than.
We built Superchief to grow fast and aggressive. Take opportunities and jump at them to elevate not just Superchief as a brand but the community that we’re a part of. We can make it seem like they can be with us as we get better, bigger, and older. I’m proud to say that Justin is a Superchief artist. Twin Flames premiered in Superchief in 2018 as a solo exhibition and we loved it. It was an incredible installation. The whole thing was a beautiful moment. To see what he did from 2019 to now is nothing short of astounding. It’s a beautiful and incredible thing.
A lot of hard work and passion is going on there.
Can we try to make it a space so that Justin feels comfortable sticking around? We’re working hard enough to make it a place where he continues to work with us and feel comfortable being with us. It’s the same for Swoon, DrifterShoots, and other people that we believed in before. I’ve known someone for over twenty years.
When she was an illegal graffiti artist, we were drinking beers on roofs. We’re part of the same community. To see her taking over a couple of museums a year and still coming back to do things about the community is what we’ve spent the past years building. I don’t want the community to leave each other. I want to build something that multiple cities with a community base make them feel like they’re a part of it.
Do you guys have comments on it?
Digital Art: The best thing we can do is make sure an artist doesn’t need a gallery.
I had the opportunity to become friends with Ed, Justin, and Nicole. This community that you’re building at Superchief, I’ve been there firsthand to watch you execute these incredible events. It’s exciting. There’s so much happening. People have been craving to meet each other physically because we’ve been isolated in the pandemic. At the same time, the pandemic has given us an opportunity to connect with artists all over the world. That was possible. Nothing was stopping us from jumping on Zooms with artists all over the world. I wasn’t doing that until the pandemic hit.
I’ve been doing studio visits with artists all over the continent of Africa, all over Asia, and all over South America. There’s something different happening with the connectivity that the blockchain is allowing for. What I see exciting is that it’s almost like this spider web phenomenon. The blockchain is this decentralized web and we’re shooting these networks of spider webs all over the world. Artists are creating these micro-economies.
When you go to Europe, you’re going to form all these relationships with artists there. We began supporting the artists there. The collectors begin supporting us. We have such a problem economically with the disparity of wealth. This is a real tool to uplift the globe economically through art. Whatever scale that takes, it has never been able to operate at this scale before. That’s promising.
I’m going to kick over to Nicole.
I’m leveling the playing field.
We’ve been showing artworks. I don’t know if everybody knows, but Lady Cactoid was kind enough to put together a slideshow featuring art from everybody on the panel here. Hopefully, you’ve been enjoying the selections. I’m going to round up a couple of questions, and then we’ll probably have to wrap up as we get to the mainstage session here.
This is for the gentleman with the gallery. I was curious about how you feel, what you’ve learned, and what you’re doing to mentor and support artists coming into the NFT space. As an artist, what’s the value add feel like? I’m sure there’s a learning process to get it to where you’re at already. I’m curious. I’m interested in both the gallery and the digital space.
I would say the role of the gallery in the way that we’re doing it is I’m trying to make sure that our artists are having access to education. I want them to be independent. I want our artists not to need me. The best thing that I can be doing is making sure an artist doesn’t need any gallery. If it’s them getting to be on the blockchain, they can do that themselves. I want to make sure that they do it safely and do it in a way that’s educated.
Beyond that, I wanted to be specific about the value that we add. The old model was 50/50 because you couldn’t scale. Straight ahead, it was 50/50. There’s overhead. There are all the things. With this new medium, we’re talking about a global presence. We’re talking about an ongoing secondary market world. There are different systems in place now. It’s much different than the 50/50 model. We could cap at twenty. If somebody wants to build other revenue relationships with other things, that gets a little more complicated.
As far as us being a gallery, my favorite part of this is that we’re transparent with things. Things being transparent and then needing less oversight and less trust to be sure you’re going to be paid keeps things moving faster and keeps things needing less overhead. It’s obvious when somebody is adding value because you can be specific. What is your level of participation? Are you doing a physical thing? Is there a physical element to it? Is the staff appropriate for that? Is that our marketing team? All these things are checklists, but it’s not this murky, “You have to go through me because it’s the only way to sell.” That’s dead. That’s important.
We’ll wrap it up. One is asking if they own an actual piece along with the NFT.
We started as a traditional gallery, physical. In 2016, we started showing digital native work. For us, 2021 has been important to lean heavily into NFTs strictly to show that there could be a dedicated space strictly for NFTs. Now that we have done that, we’re going to still keep locations that are NFTs. The goal is a large warehouse gallery location that has daytime education and community programming, nighttime exhibitions, and a hybrid gallery. The idea is traditional physical works and their digital counterparts.
Thanks for that. What I did want to do before we wrap up is to get a chance to go down the path one more time and let each person share where you folks can find out more about them. There’s a lot. You could go down the rabbit hole. Hopefully, you come back from one and go down the other with everybody. Justin, where would you send people to find out more?
You can find me on Twitter, @LadyCactoid.