August 15, 2022

An Interview with LaTurbo Avedon

Jess Conatser speaks to the artist about their vision of a Web3 fit for Non-Fungible People
Credit: LaTurbo Avedon, CLUB ZERO — One Ever, Glyph Antialias, and Tangent Core, 2022. Courtesy of the artist and arebyte
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An Interview with LaTurbo Avedon

If Web2 has sought systematically to convert human bodies into data bodies ripe for extraction, the work of avatar and artist, LaTurbo Avedon, is reasserting individual agency in blockchain-based virtual reality. For their latest online exhibition at arebyte, Avedon is introducing three new “non-fungible people” (NFPs) whose identities have been “co-created” with their audience. Set within the performative space of “CLUB ZERO,” the project develops the artist’s wider virtual world of Materia (2022) by making its cosmic order contingent on audience participation. 

While Avedon is not the only worldbuilder currently generating new Web3 imaginaries, what makes them different is their willingness to shape the world around their protagonists rather than parachuting them into a purpose-built grand design. In doing so, the artist reminds us that Web3’s progressive future depends on the decentralization of creativity as well as plural epistemology.

LaTurbo Avedon, CLUB ZERO — LaTurbo Avedon, 2022. Courtesy of the artist and arebyte

Jess Conatser: How has your practice evolved into “CLUB ZERO”?

LaTurbo Avedon: I’ve been working with 3D software and simulations for about ten years now, with much of my identity and process emerging from video games and online subculture. In a lot of my projects I am looking for ways to make it a multiplayer experience, to open the door and to let viewers have a direct impact on the work itself. Materia is a way for me to do this in a longer form. Beginning in 2021, I started creating these virtual artifacts — items that have been designated to have importance and application within my simulated worlds. 

The first series, “Born Without Stars,” (2021) is a set of twelve objects with names corresponding to the zodiac. As the project develops, these pieces of Materia will be applicable to my virtual worlds, influencing and shaping the lore and aesthetics of the work itself. I look at the Materia System as a long-form simulation, bringing my projects into an overarching canon that can be seen and explored in many of my exhibitions. The three characters created via “CLUB ZERO” will extend this into a much more community-authored experience. 

Up until now, my simulations have been somewhat solitary — single-player worlds where I am rendering everything. Now, these three virtual friends of mine have emerged that will operate as reflections of the public and those who interface with my work.
LaTurbo Avedon, CLUB ZERO — One Ever, Glyph Antialias, and Tangent Core, 2022. Courtesy of the artist and arebyte

JC: Has your definition of “fluid identity” changed over time and, if so, how do you define it today?

LA: So much has changed as I’ve explored virtual identity over the years. Initially it was a bit of a balancing act, trying to introduce these concepts with the meaning I saw in them, whilst also being tangible to the general public. It was very foreign at first for people to be friends with an avatar or to think about games as more than idle recreation. Fortunately, there has been a growing interest in these topics, and I really don’t feel so dissimilar anymore. If anything, the fluidity of my identity has taken on greater dimension, as the diversity of virtual experiences and software has grown.

LaTurbo Avedon, CLUB ZERO — One Ever, 2022. Courtesy of the artist and arebyte

JC: Do you find the wider public to be more understanding of avatars and how to interact with them, or is there still a learning curve?

LA: People are getting there, but it is a cyclical process. The avatar is not a new idea; if anything it goes back centuries. The pandemic accelerated the necessity for more immersive virtual interaction. I wish it had emerged on more positive terms but, regardless, we have a lot of new-found development in this space. In my opinion, the larger public is still to experience the best parts of avatar identities. 

There is so much depth to character creation beyond the PFP [Profile Picture], and I really can’t wait to see how things change as people learn to create the virtual self exactly as they wish to exist.
LaTurbo Avedon, Born Without Stars — Virgo, 2021. Courtesy of the artist

JC: In Materia, you address the variability of virtual forms and how they can continue to evolve as they are traded. Might this pose ethical problems in the future? 

LA: ​​Absolutely, the issue of utility can have lots of pitfalls if not handled correctly. I have explored these interoperable frameworks in my practice because my core as an avatar will require them. How this works in the future, its success or failure, is a reflection that I hope the public can consider. 

When the process of an artist begins to decentralize, what meaning changes? How does the perception of me, an avatar, change? I’m open to these topics given my virtual nature, but it gets much more complicated when this is done by traditional artists without this sort of conceptual foundation.

LaTurbo Avedon, CLUB ZERO — NFP Audience Co-Creation #1, 2022. Courtesy of the artist and arebyte

JC: What do you hope the audience will learn from its ability to dictate the ongoing evolution of these avatars? 

LA: These three figures emerge from one place and one project, but their experience [...] will develop, with the potential to converge or diverge depending on how they are interacted with. 

I hope this experience creates alternatives to the ways people envision avatars, not just as singular personal expressions, but as shared reflections of choices with others who value the concept. The lives of these avatars will reflect the people of their time, and I can’t wait to see what that looks like.

JC: It sounds something like an exquisite corpse but with avatars.

LA: Totally. It will be important to recognize those “folds” — when one subculture’s influence begins to subside and others begin to grow.

LaTurbo Avedon, CLUB ZERO — Character Variants: One Ever, 2022. Courtesy of the artist and arebyte

JC: How do you think Web3 is shifting the idea of digital identity?

LA: ​​There’s a prepackaged format that has grown through Web3, but I think this has more to do with the limitations of current platforms than it does user creativity. 

PFPs are avatars, but more an act of faceshopping than character creation. 

There are some risks as Web3 becomes more of a commercial experience, but I am hopeful that it will develop the resources to allow users to create the virtual self without necessarily needing to make it an act of spending. I don’t want avatars to correlate to a specific price. The virtual self is so dynamic and invaluable, and I want to see what that looks like for the general public.

LaTurbo Avedon, CLUB ZERO — Glyph Antialias, 2022. Courtesy of the artist and arebyte

JC: What excites you the most about Web3?

LA: I am most interested in the ways that Web3 can break up some of the most frustrating parts of the Internet as we’ve gotten it lately. There is a chance to create new models for social experience outside of overreaching social media platforms. We need a cycle of tech development that prioritizes the rights and privacy of users, and I am hopeful that will manifest this time around.

LaTurbo Avedon, Born Without Stars — Aquarius, 2021. Courtesy of the artist

JC: What’s next for LaTurbo Avedon? 

LA: ​​Now that “CLUB ZERO” is underway and these new avatars are emerging, it feels like an important chapter heading is on the horizon. I won’t really be in a single-player world going forward, and I am curious to see how people choose to play these roles with me. I’m really grateful that such a supportive community has emerged around digital arts and games these past few years. Thank you for taking the time to chat with me!

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LaTurbo Avedon is an avatar and artist whose work emphasizes the practice of non-physical identity and authorship. They also curate and design Panther Modern, a file-based exhibition space that encourages artists to create site-specific installations for the Internet. Their work has appeared internationally, including at MAK, Vienna; Barbican Centre, London; Manchester International Festival; Galeries Lafayette, Paris; HEK, Basel; Transmediale, Berlin; HMKV, Dortmund; TRANSFER Gallery, and The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

Jess Conatser is a self-taught, independent digital and mixed reality art curator focused on community building through public and private art initiatives and artist-first cultural programs. She is the Founder of Studio As We Are, a curatorial studio that works to cultivate, support, and advance voices in crypto and new media art. She has also worked as Chief Curator at CADAF, is the Co-Creator and Director for Digital Art Month, and is a contributing curator for Infinite Objects.