October 10, 2022

ROBNESS AND THE TRASH ART REVOLUTION

The enfant terrible speaks to Aleksandra Artamonovskaja about memes, fakes, and freedom
Credit: RobnessロブネスCyberpop and Norman Harman, A Visionary’s Row, 2021. Courtesy of Sats Moon Collection
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ROBNESS AND THE TRASH ART REVOLUTION

One of the principal architects of the Trash Art movement, ROBNESS came to prominence for appropriating digital objects from across the Internet in order to stress-test crypto art’s nascent institutions. His 64 GALLON TOTER (2020) — a GIF of a trash bin lifted directly from the Home Depot website and tokenized as an NFT — famously challenged the legal requirement that original creations be “transformative.” It also channeled the Duchampian disregard for artistic genius (and was promptly removed by the marketplace). Revered by the NFT community for his endlessly iterating performance, here ROBNESS reflects on the legacy of Trash Art with Aleksandra Artamonovskaja.

ROBNESS, (Still from) 64 GALLON TOTER, 2020. Courtesy of the artist

Aleksandra Artamonovskaja: Over the years, your art and your narrative have inspired a whole movement. Why do you think your work has had such a powerful impact?

ROBNESS: IF I WAS TO ACTUALLY NAIL DOWN HOW THE #TRASHART SCENE GREW AS IT DID, I’D HAVE TO SAY IT WAS A DASH OF ARTISTIC STUBBORN PRIDE TOPPED OFF WITH THE SUPPORT OF ARTISTS ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF THE CRYPTOART SCENE. THE EARLY DAYS OF RARIBLE WERE IMPORTANT BECAUSE PEOPLE WHO WERE NOT ADMITTED OR WHO WERE STILL WAITING FOR ADMISSION ONTO OTHER PLATFORMS HAD A CHANCE TO CREATE FREELY. QUESTIONS OR WORRIES ABOUT COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT WERE THE FARTHEST FROM IMPORTANCE. THE IMPACT I BELIEVE WAS A UNIQUE COMMON GROUND. WE ALL CAME FROM NOTHING, YET WE’D LIVED IN THE ARTS FOR A DOMINANT PART OF OUR LIVES AND WERE DETERMINED NOT TO LOOK BACK AND ASSUME SOME SORT OF WEIRD NEW DESTINY FOR THIS RENAISSANCE WE ALL CLAIMED WAS COMING.

AA: How do you reflect on Trash Art today?

R: MY REFLECTION IS MORE OF A GRATITUDE. ANY CHANCE I GET I HAVE TO GIVE CREDIT TO ALL THE OTHER ARTISTS WHO GAVE A PART OF THEIR SOUL TO EXPRESS THE TOTER IN THEIR OWN WAY. EVERY TIME I SEE A PIECE EMANATE IT HUMBLES ME. 

AT THIS POINT I CONSIDER #TRASHART A MEME INFUSED WITH CONVICTION ABOUT ARTISTIC FREEDOM. I’M PROUD OF THAT AND MORE ASTONISHED AND GRATEFUL THAN CONTEMPLATIVE ON ITS MOVEMENT IN THE NFT CYBERSPACE.
ROBNESS V2, DESKTOP STATUE SYSTEMS LIMITED #1442, 2022. Courtesy of the artist

AA: We witnessed several versions of ROBNESS on Twitter over the years, including V2, ZORRO, and DIGITAL ART BITCH. How central is performance to your practice?

R: JUST AS ACTORS PUT ON COSTUMES AND MASKS, I BEGAN TO SEE THE DIGITAL TOWN SQUARE PLAY HOST TO ALL SORTS OF CHARACTERS IN THE CRYPTOART AND NFT SPACE. HOWEVER, I BEGAN TO FOCUS ON THE ANONYMOUS INFLUENCER ENTITIES BEGINNING TO DEVELOP. I THOUGHT IT WAS A NEW PARADIGM IN SOCIAL NETWORK CULTURE AND WHAT BETTER WAY TO REFLECT THAT AS ART THAN TO ASSUME AN IDENTITY. DIGITAL ART BITCH WAS BORN AS A WEEK-LONG EXPRESSION OF HOW ANONYMOUS ENTITIES ON TWITTER CAN INFLUENCE CULTURE STRONGLY AND SOMETIMES WITH IMPUNITY.

AA: What is the biggest challenge for you in your creative process?

R: ALWAYS FINDING A NEW VISUAL VOICE. I’M KNOWN IN THE SPACE AS BEING CONSISTENTLY INCONSISTENT, WHICH I AM PROUD OF. THE TOUGHEST PART IS TO JUMP FROM ONE TO THE OTHER. 

I’M USED TO BREACHING ARTISTIC LIMITATIONS, BUT I HAVE TO FIND THAT VOICE FIRST. TO ME THAT’S THE DIFFICULT PART. USUALLY IT’S ABSOLUTE TORMENT UNTIL I FINALLY FIND IT, THEN I BEGIN TO WORK AGAIN.
RobnessロブネスCyberpop and Norman Harman, A Visionary’s Row, 2021. Courtesy of Sats Moon Collection

AA: Your crypto art journey began with the Rare Pepe series, and now your most recent piece, PEPESHINICHI (2022), is part of the so-called “Fake Rares.” Could you tell us more about the project and the card?

R: “FAKE RARE” AS A TERM IS MORE OF AN INSIDE JOKE ABOUT HOW SOME OF US COULDN’T GET OUR RARE PEPES INTO THE ORIGINAL COLLECTION. RARE SCRILLA LED THE CHARGE IN CREATING THE FAKE RARE PROJECT TO CONTINUE THE LEGACY AND MAKE A WHOLE NEW COLLECTION, ADDING TO THE ORIGINAL 1774 EDITION COLLECTION. MY PIECE, PEPESHINICHI, TOUCHES UPON A JAPANESE MATHEMATICIAN, SHINICHI MOCHIZUKI, WHO WAS THOUGHT TO HAVE BEEN SATOSHI NAKAMOTO. HE WASN’T THE MOST POPULAR CANDIDATE AT THE TIME BUT I WANTED TO CONSECRATE THAT PERSONAL MEMORY INTO THE FAKE RARE COLLECTION.

AA: You’ve created work together with other legendary artists such as EM!, Norman Harman, Max Osiris, and, most recently, Campbell McGrath for theVERSEverse. How do you reflect on your creative collaborations given how important they are to your practice. 

R: COLLABORATIONS ARE ONE OF THE CORNERSTONES OF CRYPTOART AND A TRUE TESTAMENT TO THE DECENTRALIZED NATURE OF THIS TECH. 

AFTER THE ADVENT OF HIP-HOP AND ELECTRONIC MUSIC, I BELIEVE THAT CROSS COLLABORATION USING A DIGITAL MEDIUM HAS BECOME MORE ACCEPTED AND THAT HAS RUBBED OFF ONTO DIGITAL ART CULTURE. CRYPTOART WAS A PERFECT MOVEMENT FOR THE TORCH TO BE PASSED ONTO.
ROBNESS V2, PEPESHINICHI, 2022. Courtesy of the artist

AA: Collectors influence market dynamics, something you experienced early on after being banned from SuperRare alongside other Trash Artists, including Eric P. Rhodes and Max Osiris. How would you describe your relationship with collectors and their role in your artistic career?

R: THANKFULLY, I WAS ABLE TO BE APPRECIATED FOR THE PATHS I’VE CARVED FOR MYSELF. IN A SENSE I GREW UP IN THIS SPACE WITH THE COLLECTORS WHO ALSO JOINED DURING THE EARLY SUPERRARE DAYS. I OBVIOUSLY RUBBED SOME THE WRONG WAY BUT A LOT OF THEM UNDERSTAND MY APPROACHES AND WHY I AM THE WAY I AM. COLLECTORS WHO VALUE YOUR PATH, SUPPORT IT, AND MOVE WITH YOU ON YOUR JOURNEY ARE A BLESSING. I’M ALWAYS THANKFUL FOR EVERY PIECE I’VE SOLD AND THE COLLECTORS’ CONTRIBUTIONS HAVE CHANGED MY LIFE FOREVER.

AA: How do you feel about the global interest in art on the blockchain, particularly from traditional institutions?

R: I KNEW IT WAS INEVITABLE AFTER THE SALE OF THE HOMER PEPE (2016), YEARS AGO. THAT WAS A WATERSHED MOMENT AND A VICTORY FOR ALL OF US. IN A SENSE, IT WAS ALSO AN IRL MEME THAT WE HELPED TO MAKE A REALITY. BACK IN THOSE DAYS, CHRISTIE’S DIDN’T WANT ANYTHING TO DO WITH US. AFTER GALLERIES LIKE SUPERRARE AND KNOWNORIGIN APPEARED, I KNEW IN THE LONG RUN THE OLD INSTITUTIONS COULDN’T IGNORE THIS. THE ONLY THING I REALLY DETEST IS PEOPLE IN THIS SPACE CONSTANTLY GOING BACKWARDS AND CATERING TO THEM WHEN I KNOW THEY’RE ONLY HERE BECAUSE THEY SAW THE DOLLAR SIGNS. THEY WEREN’T HERE TO SUPPORT US FROM THE BEGINNING. IT’S SOMETHING I CONSTANTLY REMIND NEW PEOPLE IN THIS SPACE ABOUT.

AA: If NFTs have liberated commercial artists to become “real” artists for the first time, does the NFT spell the end for commercial art?

R: I THINK IT HAS LITTLE EFFECT ON THAT ACTUALLY. THERE WILL ALWAYS BE ARTISTS WHO DECIDE TO SERVE THE DREAMS OF OTHERS FOR A PAYCHECK. 

HOWEVER, I DO THINK THE BIGGEST REVELATION WORLDWIDE FOR EVERY DIGITAL ARTIST IS THAT THEY FINALLY HAVE AN OPTION TO GO ANOTHER, MORE PERSONAL ROUTE TO MAKE A LIVING. THAT’S THE REAL REVOLUTION HERE. WE’VE MANAGED TO KICK DOWN THOSE DOORS AND DIGITAL ARTISTS CAN NOW TRULY ASSUME THEIR OWN ARTISTIC IDENTITIES.

AA: And finally, are there any artists or projects on your radar that you think deserve greater attention?

R: A LOT OF CRYPTOART “OGs” HAVE BEEN KIND OF PUSHED TO THE WAYSIDE WHEN I TRULY BELIEVE THEIR WORK WILL EVENTUALLY BE APPRECIATED. I WOULD ADVISE COLLECTORS TO RESEARCH THEM AND SEEK THEM OUT. THE VALUE OF THEIR WORK DURING THE YEARS 2018-2020 IS A NO-BRAINER. IN ORDER FOR THIS TO HAPPEN, WE NEED MORE DARING COLLECTORS TO COME INTO THE SPACE, WHICH I THINK IS AN INEVITABILITY. 

I AM ALSO GOING TO PLUG THE #TEZTRASH PHENOMENON. OTHER ARTISTS IN THE TEZOS WORLD HAVE ADDED TO THE TRASHART SCENE AND CREATED AN EVENT WHERE A TON OF ARTISTS CONTRIBUTED TO THE TRASHART ETHOS. COLLECTING THESE WORKS IS AN EVERYDAY OCCURRENCE FOR ME NOW AND IT’S HONESTLY JUST PURE FUN. SHOUT-OUTS TO EMPRESS TRASH, MAX CAPACITY, THE PERF€SS€R, $TELLABELLE, AND OTHERS FOR LEADING THE CHARGE ON THAT.

🎴🎴🎴

ROBNESS is one of the earliest crypto artists, contributing to some of the first collaborative projects such as Rare Pepe Wallet, launched in 2016 on the Bitcoin blockchain. He gained notoriety following the removal of his 64 GALLON TOTER (2020) from SuperRare, ultimately starting a global #trashart movement. ROBNESS exemplifies the crypto art “OG” and not only for being early to the scene. Over the last five years — decades in the NFT space — he has reinvented himself countless times, making art that has evolved hand in hand with the cultural narrative of the artists, collectors, and builders of the Web3 art ecosystem. From burning a Bored Ape and a CryptoPunk to being part of the Hermitage exhibition and Sotheby’s sale, his work remains both noteworthy and noticed.

Aleksandra Artamonovskaja is the Founder of Electric Artefacts, the first studio to begin onboarding artists into the Tezos ecosystem through Hic et Nunc. Following the co-production of a Whitepaper on Digital Art Collaborations, Artamonovskaja started her role as partnerships lead at Joyn, the co-creation platform for Web3 communities. She was previously part of the core team that launched .ART in 2016 and oversaw its strategic partnerships at the intersection of art and technology, including Rhizome’s Seven on Seven conference, Ars Electronica online exhibitions, and the Digital Innovation in Art Award. Artamonovskaja has led award-winning Web3 art projects and is a prominent speaker, writer, and educator about the role of decentralized technologies in the creative industry.