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May 27, 2022

Tezos and the New Digital Geography of NFTs

Diane Drubay speaks to some of the leading creators in the Tezos ecosystem about the art of building community in Web3
Credit: The Bad Lament, Skate Hands, 2021. Courtesy of the artist
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Tezos and the New Digital Geography of NFTs

With lower gas fees and a proof-of-stake protocol that doesn’t carry the environmental baggage of proof of work, Tezos is unleashing a new creator economy in parts of the world where artists have historically lacked international exposure. The root of this new ecosystem is Hic et Nunc (HEN), a marketplace launched in March 2021 on the Tezos blockchain, comprising a majority of members from South America (especially Brazil, Columbia, and Argentina), Southeast Asia (Malaysia and the Philippines), and India. 

Where the traditional art market has relied historically on competition and exclusion, the core of the NFT community is collaborative and supportive. The increased affordability of NFT minting and collecting has also led a number of artists to become collectors themselves, supporting their fellow creators and accelerating the secondary market. For the Tezos community, collection and donation are now habitual behaviors — indicative of Web3’s potential to draft new social contracts and generate greater equity. I spoke to five of the most active members of the community to discover the projects most important to them, as well as their hopes for this new digital geography.

Mumu the Stan, Terminal, 2022. Courtesy of the artist

Diane Drubay: What has been your experience of working in Web3 so far?

The Bad Lament: I’ve had a great experience working in Web3 over the last two-and-a-half years, mostly due to the friendships and connections I’ve made in the NFT arts community, as well as the opportunities I’ve been given. As a working artist, it has given me another outlet and distribution model to receive income for my work.

Numa: Intense. It’s like a roller coaster and gives one a lot of anxiety, but it’s been my most productive time artistically. It has also given me access and connections that were previously unimaginable.

Mumu the Stan: I’ve learned so much over the past year — from tech aspects to artistic disciplines I wasn’t previously aware of, to getting involved with community building. It’s exciting to be in the early stages, shaping the future. 

Bjorn Calleja: It has mostly been great. It gave me the opportunity to present my animations and my art to a bigger audience, while offering a platform to exhibit and market the animations and digital work I create. I’ve also made new connections and friends all over the world through Web3. During the early period, it gave me the feeling of excitement about starting all over with my art practice and exploring ways to contribute to the space and the community. Eventually, the rapid phasing somehow burned me out. Now I am learning to work with it in my own time. 

Sutu: I’ve been minting on Tezos since March 2021 on the Hic et Nunc platform. I joined a movement of artists who were concerned about the environmental impact of certain blockchains, migrating from Ethereum to Tezos for its energy efficiency and affordable gas fees. I also created Neonz — a generative avatar project featuring 10,000 unique retro-futuristic characters. Connecting my app to the Tezos blockchain allowed my community to activate their Neonz in AR as neon signs and face filters. The next phase of the project is as an online game. I’m excited about the possibilities for NFT art to unlock all kinds of new digital experiences across multiple platforms. Neonz sits under a much larger vision for my own metaverse, the Sutuverse — a Web3 playground driven by art.

Numa and Monster Definer, Monstros Indefinidos, 2021. Courtesy of the artist

DD: Can you share any examples of NFT projects that serve the social good?

MTS: The Tezos community is really great at mobilizing fundraisers for different social causes. The Tibum residency, originally developed by Hic et Nunc, was designed specifically for artists from the Global South, while the projects that emerged from it, such as SocialCryptoDAO, were unique, with each serving their own social causes. We have seen this time and again with people donating artworks to raise money for Colombian charities, Palestinian charities, Ukrainian charities, in support of those affected by floods and COVID lockdowns in Malaysia and the Philippines, wildfires in Turkey, and those affected by the volcanic eruption in Indonesia. One such initiative evolved into AfghaNft, which onboards artists from Afghanistan into the Tezos ecosystem. 

TBL: Teia is a great example of a community-driven platform providing a space for developers, artists, and community members to join in the running of the organization. Promoting diversity in the NFT space is massively important to ensure a representative and inclusive community, so I’ve always been a huge fan of Diverse Nft Art. I also follow Islands of Cool — a great project that tackles carbon removal through NFT projects.

BC: I hear about a lot of amazing projects in the Twitter Spaces I tune in to, but I do not feel it is a necessity for art. In my opinion, art is a social good in itself. Nevertheless, I’ve been involved in the “Art for Ukraine” fundraiser organized by DeadPanZoom and Organic Material, Orphan Crypto’s Auction in the Attic, as well as Bangon.tez by a\terHEN, which I believe are more sustainable in the long run. 

S: Over the last year, I have been involved with NFT fundraisers in support of Ukraine, as well as the endangered Choco community in Colombia through Artists For Plants. I’ve also recently become the art director for Arts Help.

N: I recommend the following: MONOGRAMA, Mebengokre Nyre, Arte Nativa Fulni-ô, and Oyxabaten Collective.

Sutu, (Still from) Shaman, 2021. Courtesy of the artist

DD: How do you view the relationship between national and digital communities in Web3?

BC: I wouldn’t want to segregate the two as both support and appreciate my art, though there is a small gap that needs to be bridged between them. This is mainly a question of educating traditional art world audiences about blockchain technology, but also about familiarizing NFT collectors with the arts. 

S: I know that some of my Australian collectors appreciate that I’m from Australia and are proud to see someone from home innovating in the space. The online community is more international and post-geographic. But the internet has always been like that — you find people that share your interests and then you form a community around those interests. There was a lot of love for Hic et Nunc and I met a lot of people from around the world as part of that movement. Indeed, I never had any collectors before Web3.

Web3 has highlighted the lack of accessibility of blockchains that involve insanely high gas fees. Gas fees on Ethereum are, in some instances, higher than an artist’s monthly salary. So by choosing to support a Web3 community that is more affordable, you’re also choosing to support a more inclusive ecosystem. 

N: I believe it’s very important to strengthen national identity and support those who struggle with English. But I also see people from every country coming together, and I myself have met up with several friends in person as a consequence of this digital world. I always make reference to Brazucas NFT when helping Brazilians to enter the space.

TBL: We find strength in maintaining strong local communities as well as digital ones — support and connection cannot be understated when learning new workflows and online processes. Being able to connect with similar artists from different geographical locations widens our knowledge as well as our awareness of our sociological and environmental impact. 

MTS: Though ideally, nationality wouldn’t matter in the digital world or Web3, it does affect how you interact with the space and how much exposure you receive. The fact is that there remain language barriers, financial barriers, time-zone barriers, and infrastructural barriers which impede accessibility. These invisible barriers are why it’s important to have diverse representation of different nationalities and underserved communities. It’s up to us to get together in this strange digital world and build it to be better. 

Bjorn Calleja, Pes, 2022. Courtesy of the artist

DD: What would you change about the NFT space to make it more supportive of your community?

S: I would move Ethereum and Bitcoin to proof of stake to make the whole crypto scene more accessible to everyone, and better for the environment.

N: I would do something to help people who don’t speak English, perhaps through NFT-focused social media that removes shadow banning practices. 

MTS: I would like it not to be driven by speculation or hypercapitalism where the rich get richer and an absurd amount of money is thrown around based on pure hype. In general, I have found the Tezos community to be very open to this, though some aspects of that culture have seeped in. I feel that we shouldn’t lose the vision we’ve had since the beginning — of an art revolution.

BC: Not every artist is a good salesman, and not every salesman is a good artist. I’ve never been very good at marketing my art so I find life easier with the help of traditional galleries and dealers. Trying to market and sell art via social media can be exhausting, frustrating and takes a lot of time that might have been spent in the studio creating art or generating ideas. 

TBL: I would like more attention and support for 3D work, which affords so many creative opportunities that aren’t available with a JPEG. One of the biggest issues in Web3 right now is the divide between PFP projects and art NFTs. It would be great for the art to receive more of the spotlight, celebrating the creative economic opportunities for artists rather than the hype and profit of collectibles. 

The Bad Lament, Space Divers, 2021. Courtesy of the artist

DD: What would you advise for someone entering the NFT space right now?

N: Believe in your work. Be organized. Don’t give up easily. Learn to research. And do it on your own.

MTS: Aside from knowing the basics around blockchain and crypto safety, take care of your mental health. Just because this space is fast-moving, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take time off and rest. Pace yourself, and you’ll be ok. 

S: Do our course for Conscious Crypto Creators. It’s free and provides access to grants.

TBL: Find someone who’s been involved for a while, talk to them about the key things to be aware of — from wallets to staying safe from scams — and connect with those building communities. 

BC: Learn not to place expectations on your art in order to appreciate the small wins. NFTs are a money game, but creating your vision is bigger than any amount of money. Have fun and never forget why you started to create in the first place.

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The Bad Lament (Michelle Brown) is a VR and new media artist who uses digital technologies to experiment with visual storytelling. Her work has been featured in the Museum of Other Realities, Cannes XR, Toronto New Wave, Dreamland XR, and GitHub Universe. She is also co-founder of creative technology arts collective Elektrolab. She sits on the Kaleidoscope Femme Futures Fund Board and chairs the Community Broadcasting Foundation Content Grant fund. In 2019, she was the recipient of Brisbane City Council’s Creative Sparks award.

Bjorn Calleja is a Filipino painter and interdisciplinary artist. He earned his BFA from Far Eastern University, where he later became a part-time lecturer. Aside from exhibiting his work, his early career involved corporate jobs and stints as a graphic designer. He also co-founded the design studio Design. Other Things.

Mumu the Stan, also known as Moon, is a pixel artist based in Malaysia. A visual artist and poet, Moonʼs work spans drawings, digital paintings, and pixel art GIFs. Moon is an active community member of Hic et Nunc and a committee member of Crypto Art Week Asia (CAWA).

NUMA is an artist working across graphic design and music production who is currently exploring the blockchain ecosystem and NFTs. She believes that being eclectic and respecting difference is essential for personal and professional evolution.

Sutu (Stuart Campbell) uses art and technology to tell stories. He has worked with Disney, Google, and Marvel to create VR art for feature films such as Doctor Strange and Ready Player One. He has also produced three VR documentaries: Inside Manus (2017), Mind at War (2018), and The Battle of Hamel (2018). Sutu is also known for his interactive comics including the Webby Award-winning Nawlz, Neomad, Modern Polaxis, and the Eisner-nominated These Memories Won’t Last. He holds an Honorary Doctorate of Digital Media from Central Queensland University, is a Sundance and Tribeca Fellow, and is the co-founder of EyeJack, an Augmented Reality company.

Diane Drubay has been working toward the transformation of museums and the arts internationally since 2007 through various communities, conferences, and change programs. The founder of We Are Museums, a community-powered think tank, she is also a visual artist, as well as arts and culture advisor for the Tezos ecosystem and a\terHEN.