Julian Brangold Sits Down with the Argentine Artist
The following is a transcript and translation of an audio conversation between artist Frenetik Void and artist/writer Julian Brangold recorded over Discord on the 24th of April, 2022.
JB: Let’s talk a little bit about those first moments, before all this happened, even before CryptoArg. What was it like? How was your entrance into the crypto world, and how were those first moments where the connections you made were with unknown people and your ecosystem was that of punks who made these weird crypto things and sold digital works?
FV: Well, my entry into this world began by talking to my old man in his office. That is not a minor detail, because I was in his work environment, and I wondered why I had been doing the same thing for so many years and repeating it without being able to make a living out of it. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t make a living from what I was doing.
JB: You mean producing digital works and uploading them to Instagram?
FV: Exactly, and I put a lot of time into it. I spent many hours of my life doing that. And progressing, and following that path. But there was no way to market it. It is paradoxical because now the commercialization is what makes me so angry, but at that time I wanted it, I wanted to dedicate myself to that, and there was no market that caught my attention.
Obviously, it was the same thing many digital artists asked themselves at the time: how the fuck can you sell something digital? And during that talk, a logical question came up again: “Well, which digital things have value?” In fact, my father sells software, so I knew that you could sell digital things. Later, at some point, my father says: “well, cryptocurrencies are digital assets and they have value,” and we thought together: “What if digital artworks could be like cryptocurrencies?” That’s when my head opened up and I thought: “Is there someone doing this already?” I got home really excited and went on Google, and started reading terms like “crypto art.” There were already a couple of platforms that were doing it. I don’t know if I was disappointed, but I thought “When you have an idea, someone already thought of it.” It is very difficult to have an idea that no one else has thought of.
JB: When was this?
FV: End of 2018, beginning of 2019 was when I started doing those Google searches. I don’t know which pages showed up but these first marketplaces were there. I think all of them were there. Actually, there were two distinct times. The first time I searched I found SuperRare… But you had to pay for gas and send a video. At that time I was embarrassed to send a 1-minute video… besides you had to have crypto, and I didn’t have any… I don’t know… There was something that didn’t sit well with me in that exposition, I don’t know why. And then, the second time I entered (this was in a period of not much more than a couple of weeks) there was Makersplace. On there it looked like I could maybe do it. What also happened is that when I went in, a lot of what was there looked underworked or poor quality… that’s the reality. I’m not saying that all OGs are crap *laughs*, but the reality is that I wasn’t motivated by much of what was on the platforms. In mid-June-July 2019 I got back into Makersplace. Still, there wasn’t a soul in Makersplace. At that time Makersplace was minting for you, I had no idea about anything. I didn’t have a wallet, and I wasn’t into the crypto environment. Unfortunately, obviously. So I thought I’d try and upload some works. If uploading here or uploading to Instagram was almost the same thing, I uploaded some of the ones I liked on there. Actually, I uploaded only one at first because I was a bit suspicious. And then I uploaded another batch of five or six works. But that was a little later, between June and December. I uploaded that work and forgot about the existence of all this. I kept on with my life, looking for a way of making living.
I started working on Instagram filters, I performed visuals for shows, and it wasn’t going badly with that. I was making a normal living, in a studio apartment in Colegiales. I had to work so I kept doing my work. There wasn’t much money moving in the crypto space at that time either. I set my prices a little higher than the rest, because I felt, as the egocentric that I am, that my works were worth more.
After a few months, I woke up there in Colegiales, and I had about 10 bids on the 10 different works that I had minted on Makersplace from Moderats… I didn’t know who he was, I still don’t know who he is. I remember seeing it all and thinking “I can’t believe it, if I accept all this, it already changes my life a little bit.”
I wasn’t earning that kind of money, it wasn’t much either but if I added it all up, it was a considerable amount. Obviously much more than what I was earning doing visuals. Then my mind was blown. I thought “What’s going on here?” And I started talking to people, I found some people on Twitter talking about this. So I got on Twitter, and I started interacting with the ecosystem. If you look at the chart of the money that was being spent in the crypto space in 2017–2018… until that moment when I got in, it was very flat, there were very small amounts of money coming in. I joined a little bit before everything went up progressively.
The interactions were very bizarre, but I was very used to talking to anonymous people on the internet because I played online games since I was a kid. What I found most difficult and still find difficult is to talk to someone about selling my work, or the price of my work. That’s what I had to learn… And the people who want to take advantage of you and want to negotiate, they are in a different world… and you are there learning how to sell your work. Dealing with that was perhaps the hardest thing at the beginning. Apart from the fact that there was very little information so there was no one to ask. That’s why CryptoArg was formed, because of particular situations I had with collectors around me. More than collectors, they were people who were trying to do business in this market. I thought “If this is happening to me, there must be Argentines to whom this is happening too”. That’s when you talked to me, and I was also talking to other people. They more or less knew what was happening. I already had this idea of putting something together, and I didn’t know what… And there was this “Discord” platform. Thus CryptoArg was created and with it another era of what this whole movement was, where I met so many people. I met you, and many other friends with whom today we are very close, we go out and have good times together… that’s the best thing I take from this movement. I feel that it changed… the plane of reality appeared, even though we were living in a pandemic, we made more friends than in the last few years. But it was because we were all in the same place, discovering this new world.
JB: When I met you you were quite fascinated, not so much with the financial part and the crypto ecosystem, but with the tools and what today is commonly referred to as web3, the possibilities of decentralization, governance, etc. I remember we talked about it at that time and it generated a certain enthusiasm in you. How do you feel about it today? Do you think there is something worth highlighting or promoting?
FV: Today I am very hopeless. At the time what excited me was that I saw a new structure for new people and that there was a possibility of creating things from scratch.
That is what I experienced: I lived the path from the bottom to the top. I surfed the whole wave. Then I thought it was possible for things like that to happen. Nowadays the market is already a monster. It is more of a big-money business, where people with money manage it, and in general, this blocks many things. In the end, the one who has more money buys more votes and gets what they want. I don’t feel that there is a real possibility of making something more equal.
Obviously, I am not that deep in the subject and I know that there are a lot of things that do generate more possibilities of parity. For some things, some systems are very functional. What I do appreciate is that everything can be much more explicit. The blockchain blows my mind and how all the data is right there.
I like that data logging can be used in a positive way, in some super functional way. I also like the possibility of moving to crypto, the currency itself. But the organizations still don’t convince me. It seems to me that it’s a bit like everything, as it always was, those who generate more money can just buy more votes and win. It is as simple as that. But I’m not involved at all, I don’t do much research, and I’m not that interested at the moment. I am trying to focus on my projects, my work, CryptoArg, and Game Disease.
JB: We will come back to Game Disease, but first I want to ask you how you are getting along with the return to AFK [Away From Keyboard]. Do you feel like showing your work? Do you start fantasizing about physical shows or installations?
FV: Yes… I loved the exhibition we did with CryptoArg, I think it was incredible. I like what was generated through sharing, from that shared achievement. I think that gives me much more happiness than doing a show alone. I still want to do it… I don’t know what would be the fuel for something like that within me. Maybe the freedom to show more things, or to develop myself more in the physical plane, which is something that… I didn’t develop so much in my life and it’s something that is also difficult for me. I look at it as something for the future. I had a physical show before crypto. I didn’t have the budget to rent screens, so I printed some works. Some people that I didn’t expect showed up, whom I didn’t know, and that I know now. Who came because they liked Frenetik, because they followed me on Instagram. And it was really nice… sharing with people in person. It doesn’t compare to chatting and virtual meetings. That’s why I’m excited about it and yes, doing something alone is on my mind. But I don’t want to rush anything.
JB: Let’s talk a bit about Game Disease. How did it come about? And where is it now?
FV: Game Disease came up at this moment when I was having this discomfort with the whole NFT space. I was talking to several fellow artists and I saw that we had that in common. There were many people with whom I shared that vision. I had been expressing it in my work but there were things that I thought I wanted to do that I could not do alone with the resources I had… and I didn’t want to do alone. I felt that there was this feeling and that many people felt something similar. I had a drop scheduled on Nifty Gateway for Frenetik, but I didn’t want to talk about Frenetik. Then I talked to [Milton Sanz] and “Daro” [Oxeegeno], two artist-beasts and very good friends now, who were thinking the same thing, we chatted virtually and shared the same feeling, this rejection of everything that was happening. We thought: Let’s do something that talks about that. What is happening to us with all this, and let’s laugh, at the end of the day we shouldn’t get angry, we should take advantage of this emotion. And that’s where the first drop came from, the genesis of Game Disease. When I see the works today and what was happening at that time and the repercussions it had, and all the potential it has to have repercussions in the future, it seems to me that it was genius. It is incredible what we did with the guys, I am very, very proud of what came out of it. It also did really well. I feel that the timing at a conceptual or narrative level was very good. It started out like that, as a way of expressing ourselves and laughing at what was going on.
JB: Correct me if I’m wrong but there was a performative component in the logic of the publication of the work, even in the marketing dynamics… The happening was quite self-referential and performative.
FV: Yes, the drop was an artistic event. From the prices to the names of the works, to the descriptions, to how they were marketed.
There was one in particular that we set at an exorbitant price, which to me actually makes sense in relation to the sales that were happening back then, in the millions, but our idea was to generate… to generate what? That’s a good question… I don’t know what the driver was, but I do know what it generated afterward. We published it in a “drawings” dynamic, which was a Nifty Gateway format in which people could enter a raffle, and if someone got it by chance, they had permission to buy the work. What happened was that many people entered because at that time it was not clear whether people could pay for it or not, obviously it was ridiculous because the price was extremely exorbitant, and at that time I think that the transactions in Nifty were credit card only, so it was impossible. A lot of people understood it, some people thought it was a trick that gave you a chance to win something, and there was a lot of speculation around that.
It was something that we loved because it reinforced the fact that the number is what moves the masses’ attention. Just the number. It was the only thing that was talked about, more than about the work itself. In some way, the work is the number too. That’s how the performance went. There was also agility on the part of the people from Nifty, some of them understood what we wanted to do and reinforced the performance a little bit. It was a game and we continue to do it in all the spheres in which we are moving, the main thing is not to lose that way of doing things. That event was the most direct. In what we are doing now there is a less pointed narrative. We are trying to create a universe from this because the aesthetic that emerged was so good that we saw the potential to generate a whole universe. Game Disease is now in a moment of generating a whole conceptual, narrative, aesthetic universe that we will continue to spread, always in that spirit of laughing at ourselves and at the market in which there are many “logis” involved… like us, I guess.
JB: I’d like to close with a question: What are you missing? What would you like to start to see happen? Or what would you like to develop in your work in the future?
FV: I always think that what I’m missing is something more experiential, more than anything. Now that my work is successful for what it is, that allows me to have economic stability. That allows me not to have to work to make a living. I feel that what I’m missing is a return to that attitude of living as inspired as possible, doing what I like, what I want. I still don’t know what it is.
Frenetik came out of something that I needed to come out, and now when I need it, it appears. But in the interim, I like to play video games and I do it, I like to feel good so I’m trying to do the things that make me feel good physically and mentally. But I feel it’s discovering more things that I like, giving myself the time and energy to continue to grow as a person, and creating new things that do good for me and others. I also want to keep helping, I do it but always from the same place, I would like to be involved more experientially in things… I can’t complain. I wouldn’t say that there’s something I’m missing. And if I complain about something, it’s about my lack of capability to feel calm and to live a sensitive life, and not an altered one. At the same time, it is paradoxical because I need to be in an uncomfortable state to create.
Maybe I need to learn how to create while being well… or from a structure that is not self-harming.
*Many thanks to Frenetik Void from everyone at MOCA. We love you *