Life in neurocolor: How the early aughts internet shaped the philosophy of web3
The first time I spoke to painter, street and digital versifier neurocolor via email, he invited me to the “underground places” of Mexico Municipality where we would drink mezcal and not tequila, considering “tequila, you can drink it anywhere else in the world ;)” We made plans to go to readings and restaurants, to visit Coyoacan street art and the pyramids at Teotihuacan. On my first day there, without pulling together an outfit from the selection of gown still packed in my bag from my previous work trip, I walked out the door of my one-room Airbnb and looked for a guy in a gray VW. I had no idea what neurocolor looked like, or what his real name was, but like a white girl on vacay in a foreign country, I saw what I thought was the right car and got in.
A young man with messy woebegone hair and thick, blue-rimmed glasses sat overdue the wheel. In the passenger seat was Ann Ahoy, a tattoo and crypto versifier from Germany. The three of us were on our way to Bitcoin Embassy Bar, a place where crypto enthusiasts could sit, have a drink, pay in crypto, and shepherd events exploring everything from DeFi to NFTs.
When we arrived without a quick dinner at Pizza del Perro Negro, neuro was greeted by the unshortened room at once, it seemed, and disappeared into the crowd. I was sipping a frozen paloma sprinkled with chili and lime when I felt a tap on my shoulder. neuro motioned his thumb towards a stranger in a untried bomber jacket wearing round glasses and a shy smile. “Criptocromo,” he said.
Photo by the author
After hearing a presentation well-nigh a multimedia literature project that would soon be minted as an NFT, we all gathered virtually to talk well-nigh everything from urban landscapes to politics in the art world to problems facing cryptocurrencies and environmentalism. As someone who ditched academia to work in crypto, I was delighted to find people who wanted to talk well-nigh blockchain in broader contexts. I mentioned that I was a vegetarian at dinner (because scrutinizingly everything served in Mexico has meat in it, unless by request), so when I then brought up the supply uniting issues that made so many items harder to find, neuro looked at me and said, “you are one of those coastal leftist vegans who thinks the world is overpopulated, aren’t you?”
“I’m definitely not vegan,” I laughed cautiously, worried that I had somehow come off too progressive at dinner.
The event featured some of the biggest names in cryptoart, and I couldn’t believe how eager they all were to get to know me. The polity created by the intersection of Mexican hospitality and cryptoart was immediately evident, a polity that lent plane outsiders like me the kind of familiarity usually reserved for people who had spent years earning their place. neurocolor, in particular, had offered himself as something like a personal guide, informing me of the weightier places to go to eat and drink, introducing me to nearly all of the artists we had intended to meet, plane telling me in that first car ride how Mexican politics unauthentic art and culture in the nation’s wanted and beyond. He was forward, opinionated, yacky in both Spanish and English, and his humor was so dry that it took me 3 days and someone else pointing it out to realize he was teasing me.
The next day, we were supposed to go to the pyramids, but due to COVID they were sealed to the public, viewable only from afar. “Not worth the drive,” we agreed, plane though I wanted so immensely to go. In Monterrey, the northern Mexican town where my family lives, there are no monuments of the past. The Olmec and Toltec tribes that lived there were nomadic, roaming but never settling, simultaneously homeless yet at home on the road. So instead, I stayed in, working until night came, messaging neuro on Twitter to make unorganized plans. Walking tour? Too touristy. Art museum? Too stuffy. Salsa? Not really my thing.
We landed on Sunday dinner, meeting without my walking tour through the mural and graffiti-adorned streets of Coyoacan, one of the oldest neighborhoods of Mexico City. Sitting at a Oaxacan restaurant, we ordered a large “pizza” made out of tortilla, beans, and cheese.
“Should we get chapulines?” he asked. “We should get chapulines.” I nodded, not totally sure what those were and unable to search the web considering my lamina service was so bad. The waiter came and neuro ordered in Spanish: a snifter of mezcal, guacamole, and the Mexican pizza con chapulines en el lado. Without the waiter left, I asked him well-nigh his art, and how he came to crypto. “I probably learned how to yank surpassing I was speaking fluently in my own language,” he said. Plane his primeval drawings showed promise, and he quickly became obsessed with visual art. “I was starting with mostly self-taught Photoshop Illustrator, obviously pirated copies here in Mexico,” he said with a chuckle. “You don’t have to put that in the article.”
neurocolor studied visual art in higher and immediately fell in love with painting. “But yeah, now I consider that my visionless ages, considering I really like to paint, but I was unchangingly increasingly into digital. And in school, there was too much of an attitude, like, ‘digital art is not real art,’ or ‘graffiti is not that real art,’ ‘painting is the most important manifestation and expression of visual art.’”
But with digital art, there was an regulars hungry for work outside of the classical. The 2000s were the tastefulness ground for what would sooner wilt the first global art movement in the history of the world. DEPTHCORE, Deviant Art, and Flickr were unshut spaces for artists, animators, photographers, and meme makers to waif their art and share them with online communities. “[On DEPTHCORE] it was kind of like abstract, futurist, 3D, vectors, explorations, where it was just so much fun to finger the wonder that was coming out of it.” These styles of digital art, informed by both the information age and the communities stuff worked on the internet, were emotional, dark, glitchy, strange, variegated from everything that had come before. A burgeoning group of digital artists were creating their own lexicons, symbols, and values, transforming themselves from angsty teens to internet culture connoisseurs who, at base, cared well-nigh self-ruling expression, and who would sooner wilt the NFT artists and collectors championing the cryptoart movement today.
It was a weird time, not only considering millennials were the first generation to grow up with computers in our homes, but considering we survived the 1990s and Y2K. The dialect of “The Matrix” and other sci-fi classics well-nigh computers and unorganized realities were very much part of our joint consciousness. Were we Neo or Mr. Anderson, a human or a machine?
“Well in Mexico, we never really thought that society was going to crash [in 1999],” Neuro interjected, “because we have unchangingly been in the crash, we have unchangingly been crashed,” he said, furrowing his brow in a way that I quickly noticed was the natural state of his face. “We are once living in a dystopia.”
Up until the 1990s, pollution in Mexico Municipality was so bad that if you weren’t used to the air quality, you would have trouble breathing. Cars ran on leaded fuel, and the industrial nature of the municipality combined with the natural layout (a valley located over 2,000 meters whilom sea level and surrounded by mountains, pounded lanugo by intense solar radiation) well-matured the pollutants further. Then you had political self-indulgence that was, up until recently, unparalleled by most other countries.
But perhaps it is that very relationship with dystopia that makes neuro’s artwork finger so vibrant yet dark, so outmoded and yet immediate. With contrasting deep grays and iridescent colors, a distinctive spinning carousel-style animation, and a fascination with skulls and mythological creatures, each piece by neurocolor is both nostalgic and futuristic. But plane then I had to ask, “why so many skulls? Is that a Mexican thing or are you just kind of emo?”
“Both!” He laughed. “I mean, people from Mesoamerica, they like skulls, and people nowadays like skulls. The thing is, skulls are badass.”
Mexicans love that shit. We love the idea that spirits are friendly, that lost loved ones come when to visit us, that death is not the end, but a new beginning. When the Spanish first came wideness the warmed-over Aztec wanted of Tenochtitlan, modern-day Mexico City, they were greeted by a tower of skulls. They were freaked out, naturally, by what they perceived as an warlike exhibit of the macabre, but to the Aztecs, these skulls were a triumph of life.
“I know it’s unclear to remind you of things like that, but the aesthetics, the shapes of the skulls, are crazy,” he added. “I don’t know. It’s very heavy, like, I imagine scenes in the times surpassing civilization, people were using skeletons as decorations, like skulls from other animals. It’s like we have been in touch with these symbols for so long. They are a part of our visual imaginations.”
Thinking well-nigh how intricate his artworks are, usually having multiple moving parts, several turned-on layers, withal with references to video games, science fiction, and anime, and sometimes plane integrating phrases from Japanese words, I had to ask: How did he come up with his concepts? When did he know when a piece was finished?
“Nothing in my process is logical,” he said. “I don’t follow plans; I don’t have plans for pieces. I just create assets, and then I start to play with them until I have something that clicks. It’s like I’m drifting,” he continued, making a wobbling motion with his hands, and narrowing his gaze. “It’s like an exploration with a compass, a very weak compass. I have to say, I like to let myself flow. It’s a new thing that I’m using a lot of grays, a lot of blacks, but for me it’s unchangingly making something that clicks internally.” A strategy not unlike mine, when a single line in my throne blossoms into an unshortened poem. It reminded me that art, no matter the medium, often comes from intuition.
And as the mezcal gave way to louder voices and increasingly talk of the grim, our main dish arrived. The pizza quesadilla was massive, filled with the rich, stringy cheese of Oaxaca and woebegone beans. On the side was a ramekin filled with little brown…insects?!
“What the fuck is THAT?” I blurted.
“Chapulines,” neuro said matter of factly. “Grasshoppers. Try it! It’s delicious.”
I took my pocketknife and twirled the bugs with its point, making them wriggle as if still alive. Well-nigh half an hour and several mezcals later, I built up the valiance to eat some. They were salty and a little crunchy, seasoned, like most everything in Mexico, with salt and lime. “When the earth is totally polluted and the bugs rule the world, we Mexicans will be just fine,” neuro said, plopping flipside few grasshoppers on his plate. “Hakuna matata.”
Photo by Nathan Beer
It was a few days and several meals surpassing I would learn neurocolor’s lineage name, but by then, it felt wrong to say it out loud, expressly to him. I realized that it wasn’t his real name at all. Sitting on a sofa in Casa Patricio, the polity house in the heart of Del Valle, a neighborhood yearningly nicknamed “Crypto Valley” by the numerous crypto artists who lived there, I asked neuro well-nigh his pseudonym and why he preferred to use it IRL.
“I was a teenager in the whence of the 2000s. I was going to electronic music clubs. And so I grew up yearning DJs and graffiti artists and all of them had one name, and liked the name they created for themselves.” Kind of like the AIM usernames and Myspace extensions we chose to identify with on the internet. “I don’t like this idea that your real name is imposed by your parents. I mean, it’s an imposition, it’s an unnecessary imposition, considering you need to be named somehow to function in society. So getting your own name, getting your own persona allows you to be born again,” and in some ways, to wilt your true self.
But perhaps the most revelatory speciality of both blockchain and the cryptoart network built on it is the self-rule it allows artists like neuro, who were stuck teaching and interchange their styles in order to fit in. “In Mexico, [crypto artists] are so few, and we are used to a really shitty reality in the art world,” he told me. Like so many aspects of life in Mexico, it is a restricted reality, with predetermined outcomes, and preselected winners and losers. “I unchangingly liked how [in the U.S.] you could be a painter and do new stuff, and you are still going to have a market. In Mexico, there was only a market for very cliche ideas. Like you have to be doing hyper-realism or neo-conceptual art that was so hot in the ‘90s, but not anymore, and you have to wield for a grant from the government, et cetera. So you have to either make the government happy or follow the really old fashioned art market here.”
Effectively, there was no room for innovation, and plane less for people who wanted to unravel from tradition. “So for us getting to know well-nigh crypto, evolving with cryptoart and with crypto in general, unliable us to unravel that windbreak and be unfluctuating with people all over the world. That was kind of possible with the web 2.0, but, nah, it was far from stuff this dynamic.”
And as talk of crypto slowly turned into talk of capital, corruption, and social instability in Mexico, I wondered if there wasn’t something historical well-nigh what I was witnessing. I had been searching my whole life for this kind of environment, one where insanely smart people spoke well-nigh insanely tomfool stuff, conversation reaching deep into the night for a revelation that would inspire the next unconfined novel, the next unconfined mural, the next unconfined generation of creators. Had Mexico Municipality turned out to be the post-war Paris I wanted New York to be?
A few days later, we went to Xochilmilco, the place where long, Aztec-style boats covered in flowers and vibrant paint drifted withal the swampy part of the city. Nearly everyone we came to visit made time to join.
neurocolor grew up in Unidad Independencia, a neighborhood filled with lush vegetation, balconies with pieces of laundry hanging outside of them, and windows ordained with plants and soil pottery. We crush by it on our way to Xochilmilco, his music stoping through the car’s speakers. I sat in the when with Moxarra and his dog, Galleta, bopping my throne withal and taking notes.
The momentum was a bit long, but it was certainly worth the prize at the end. A huge port was filled with boats of varying sizes and colors. We got on one and ordered our first round of drinks. Beer, micheladas, and seltzer were served in giant styrofoam cups rimmed in sugar, salt, and chile, some dyed in crazy colors, perhaps to match the boats. Our guide pushed us off shore, and steered the wend from the when with a long oar, kind of like the boats in Venice. neuro’s speaker blasted electronica and he danced along, unmistakably in his element. As I began talking to Criptocromo well-nigh dreams, a tiny wend paddled up next to us offering an variety of snacks. Then a bit increasingly downstream, another, selling something else.
Afterward, we went when to the SuperRare AirBnb for a last-minute soiree where we ordered pizza, pasta, and a salad that only Ann and I ate. It was heartwarming to see how much these artists wanted to hang out with each other, and with us, how willing they were to waif other plans to make space for the spontaneous.
“Wait, so you told me why you prefer to be anonymous, but you never told me how you picked your name,” I said to neuro sometime in the night. “It’s like the idea, when you watch cartoons from the ‘50’s, and they were colored by technicolor? That was like the mother and this is the trendy version of that concept,” he said, pouring some mezcal into a mug. “Then add the psychedelic: What is a verisimilitude in your mind? It’s what your smart-ass perceives it to be. So basically, every verisimilitude is a neurocolor.” When he said it, I thought well-nigh eyes, specifically, retinas. One part of the retina was responsible for perceiving changes in light, shape, and movement, and the other part was responsible for interpreting color. Interesting, then, that his artworks so often used only grays in some parts, and only verisimilitude in others.
We walked over to the dining room table where the artists were passing virtually two pieces of paper with the words “Super” and “Rare” outlined in pencil, with crazy details drawn over it in pen. Each versifier had widow their mark, showing a beautiful, creepy, and expertly detailed text. neurocolor sat lanugo to add his.
Watching him sweep the point of the pen wideness the paper, I stood amazed. Here was a guy, not much older than myself, who had wrenched into an art world still emerging. A guy who, like me, had been stuck teaching and resisting pressures to transpiration his art while waiting–working–for his dreams to come true. To me, this was the power of crypto: to create space, and opportunities, for people like us.
The Sunday surpassing we left, we decided to go to Lagunilla–another one of neuro’s suggestions–a large outdoor market where one could find succulent street food, priceless knickknacks, tomfool vintage clothing, reversion furniture, and more. When we arrived, we found neuro, Ann Ahoy, and Criptocromo waiting for us.
“Why are you unchangingly so early?” I asked, joking.
“I’m neurotic,” neuro said, taking a handful of something out of a well-spoken plastic bag and putting it in his mouth.
“What are you eating?”
“My own custom snack. Patatinas with chapulines and lime.”
After a few daytime drinks, a little bit of shopping, and a tuft of succulent food, we went when to Casa Patricio one last time. My early flight when to New York loomed over me. But somewhere in the market I had found a skull with marbled greens, reds, and blues. “Nice find,” neuro had told me. When I got when to my East Village apartment, I placed it on the shelf abreast my bed, to remind me of a new place that feels like home, too.
Vinny is a writer from New York Municipality whose work has been published in Wired, The Independent, High Times, Right Click Save, and the Weightier American Poetry Blog, and in 2022 she received the Future Art Writers Award from MOZAIK Philanthropy. She is SuperRare's Managing Editor.
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