As part of our fourth exhibition "Issue #04 Intersection" riiis joins TGAM for a casual conversation about his practice and generative art.
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The Generative Art Museum: Hello riiis, first of all how are you?
riiis: Thanks. I'm good. I'm literally shaking right now because either today or tomorrow I will become a father. It was a long awaited trip to this point. We just got back from the clinic. It doesn't seem like the child is going to come in the next few hours and we need to actually help him arrive.
Also this is the first time for me doing an English speaking interview. So I'm honoured. Thanks for inviting me.
TGAM: Let’s answer the million dollar question, how many “i”’s should we use for your name?
r: However many fit the screen or the space. Last time in Valencia, I was signing postcards so it was really cool. Basically, I think the origin goes to the problem when your nickname is taken already and I was just inputting how many i's until it was okay for the platform.
Part of my developer career was focused on making mobile applications. So I was spending a lot of time just checking all the responsive variations, like the iPad, the different dimensions for different phones. So being responsive has kind of stuck as a practice for me. So I'm trying to be responsive.
TGAM: What’s the story behind that nickname?
r: I was living in Vietnam for some time and I was working at a kitesurfing place. I was working as an administrator and there was this food delivery service I was always ordering rice from. So after some time they just started calling me rice. The correct pronunciation for rice there is riiiis. So people started to call me by my name, space, riiiis. And I liked it because my name is very hard to pronounce in many countries. Plus I'm a sucker for short nicknames.
TGAM: When we were preparing the material for the current exhibition, you preferred not to have a traditional bio explaining your work, is it just rebellion against the traditional way of doing things or a marketing approach?
r: Well, it's a great question. Thanks. I think it's from the origin of making things fun and to be fun and to have fun. So I tend to believe that there is really only a few people who actually read descriptions so I tried to put as little as possible but also to maintain some kind of sense in it until it works for me.
But actually yeah, maybe I need to come up with a good nice looking bio, I suppose. I don't know if it's actually true, or if it's needed. I think the last one that I sent to you was some kind of joke, because I've seen many times people use some kind of bio like I am a father of like twelve dogs or ten cats and it always made me giggle. So I was just making fun of it. I think maybe my short bio is not so interesting. It's the same as anyones. I'm a developer, I don't know, teacher or father, lover. haha.
TGAM: The first time we met on a really interesting video call, you explained to us a bit about the origins of your first pieces and the inspiration that brought you there, could you explain a bit more where did it all begin for you?
r: I suppose at the moment I was born, it was the start. The origins, I think I've explained a bit in the description of my latest FX Hash work. It's not ready to mint, but it's kind of ready. My mom was working as a computer science teacher. My dad had already abandoned us. I think I was like three or four years old at this time. So I was spending most of my time with my Mother. There was a room filled with old computers and really bright colors and I was really attracted to them. It was kind of magic.
So this kind of limited palette just sticks in my brain and basically I feel attracted to this early PC era aesthetic and I think this explains the inspiration, especially for the full first works, that I've minted.
TGAM: It’s evident that your pieces brought fresh air to the generative ecosystem, “peaks” was your first project minted in fx(hash) but long before that, almost exactly one year before today (31 December 2021) you minted your first NFT, and funny enough, it was not generative art! It’s a photo of a rainbow on the waterfall Makhuntseti in the Georgia mountains. We could extract from this event that you like photography too. Tell us a bit more about that piece and the reasons to mint it.
r: Yeah, that was a long time ago. A year or so in this space is basically like a whole lifetime. So one year ago, at that time I was already hooked into the NFT space and FX hash in particular, I was spending a lot of time looking through all the amazing artworks being minted nonstop. I think at the time there was no schedule, so on the last day of the year, we were traveling to the mountain resort and we took a break in the middle of the road near this kind of rainbow in the mountains, or not rainbow, but waterfall. There we saw a rainbow. It was super cool stuff. We really liked it. And yeah, I was just itching to mint something and I remember in the last hours of the year I decided to mint this artwork. I think it was like free or 0.1 xtz something like this. I like photography, I spend a lot of time with cameras.
TGAM: The second piece you minted it’s also a photograph and it’s a really interesting one, it’s called “Waiting” and I quote from the description: “Waiting is crucial to success — on the most cliche things you can hear. But that's what I've learned from my mistakes during an intense December of 2021, as I jumped into the NFT world. You should HOLD!” Looking at things from the perspective of time, were you talking about you holding your creations? What mistakes did you make?
r: Yeah, before tezos I was on Ethereum buying some pfp pictures and it's just the cliche. Maybe I should just have a tattoo on my forearm to not forget about it because I continue to make this mistake. Selling too early. Naturally, I'm a really chaotic person and I've made so many rushed decisions in my life that I've regretted later but it is what it is. I wasn't planning anything at this point and basically I don't plan, it's not natural for me. So it was the cliche, I think, to me, I thought if I put it on the blockchain, maybe I will listen to the advice a bit more. But yeah, it is what it is. I think at that point there was the Onion Friends. I suppose I sold all of them before Gary Veynerchuk bought in and it became really crazy. I was really frustrated about this. It was my first experience being frustrated by selling too early.
TGAM: Undeniably, those initial photographs were beautifully taken, and a lot of expressivity was in place: nature being almost always the main character in a state of observation of the brutal beauty in nature. It’s obvious you like photography and exploring through that medium, what role does it play in your artistic career?
r: I've been taking pictures since I was a kid. I have a photo of me aged 6 holding an old film camera, yeah, I've been taking pictures all my life. There were some professional activities, not a career, but I was doing fashion and studio work. I was also taking a lot of nature stills as I was hiking or having some kind of adventure. I used to work with a lot of adventure companies, and they hired me as a photographer and a guide. So nature for me is one of the few places where I can get energy from. Absorb the stillness and the mighty mountains and the pleasure of being alone.
TGAM: Was this the point where you decided to be a generative artist?
r: It wasn't planned. It's a tough question because I don't know what makes an artist. It's a super tough question. I've listened to so many lectures about this. I’ve tried to find the answer, like, who's an artist? If I am an artist? So I don't know. I just do what's kind of fun to do right now, if I'm having fun, if other people are having fun, that's cool. Then we should definitely keep doing it.
TGAM: On the 7th of June 2022 you released your first long-form generative art project in fx(hash): peaks, which you described as generative mountains with dots.
r: Yes. So the origin goes to the technique. There is a great video from Coding Train on the technique. I encourage everyone to try this because it's one of the amazing pieces of code written that is actually used quite a lot right now in image compression. I was talking earlier about this kind of early PT aesthetic. I used to have a gameboy, the old one, the black and white style pixel art one. I was always attracted to it. There is actually one great game, quite modern. It's called obra din. They basically use shaders.
The other work that inspired me was Kim Assendorf. I was a long time fan of his work even before I knew of the NFT World. I was checking his work out about ten years ago. I suppose I was working in design at the time so I was into this kind of design book stuff, all these different European designers, like the modern Berlin movement. A lot of great stuff. A lot of the Funk design, as I call them, the guys who invented something new, in some sense, it's like the brutal way, playing with pixels. The origins of my work with the pixel style is this dithering algorithm and it's kind of broken.
I've broken it and tried to recreate it, and it started to produce this kind of glitch that some people think looks a bit like cellular automata, but it's not. But it's similar, but still it's not.
I was influenced by Mountains, of course, and the greatest pieces on FX hash, like the Landscape Meta, I think, the Fog Road, if that's what it was called? There were moving mountains. I don't remember right now. But yeah, the first time I've looked into code, I thought like, holy f*ck, this is rocket science stuff. And yeah, I actually always tend to like the minimalist approach and minimalistic works of modern artists and older artists.
So, yeah, I'm not as smart as those guys, eg Piter Pasma. I always wanted to do something like it. So as I was playing with my kind of poetic algorithm that was producing this kind of result that you don't think will happen, it's kind of similar with film photography that I was into. This just came together. I think I made it in like two days.
And I remember the cycle on fx hash was closing. I thought, yeah, this is the day I'm doing it and I minted it literally at the last minute. I was chatting with Liam in the Node Support Channel because I had problems with minting it. But, I figured this out and minted it, and it was instantly minted out. I was amazed because it was kind of a fun game for me to try to flip something for the purpose of collecting more. But now there was $1,000 more available, so I could collect even more. It was really cool.
TGAM: After your huge success with “peaks”, at that same month (June 24) you released your second fx(hash) project: “⍉ 🪡 ☵ 🌊 ❏” where we could start to see more cryptic messages in the titles, adopting emojis as the only way to name the projects. How would you describe this project?
r: I think I need to talk a little bit more about the process. So usually I play with an algorithm. I try to put more into the system to make a difference in the outputs. I'm kind of iterating more and more until I start to see something in the output, for instance it starts to look like mountains or at least peaks.
At that point, I played with it and it started to look like embroidery to me, and like water. So I thought that's embroidered water. Which is actually what's encoded into the title. There is the waves emoji, a needle, and little, like, patches.
TGAM: You always combined long form generative pieces with curated pieces that were periodically released in editions. What was your approach with these curated editions?
r: There was no approach. It was really chaotic. I encourage everyone to try objkt because I think there's a small percentage of art, that mint their generative long form as WIP (work in progress) outputs. The origin was I titled it as a kind of work in progress piece. i minted the pieces that I really liked because I've have tens of thousands of outputs. Some of them are cool, some of them are not so cool.
But I had no plan which I sometimes regret about not having a plan because if you're trying to do something like this, I think it's better to have a plan but always stick to your heart. If it feels natural, do it. At that point of time it was natural for me just to mint something and it was really fun, the people digged it.
TGAM: You have minted pieces in a lot of marketplaces both in Tezos and Ethereum, do you think Tezos is the initial place to go for artists and then if you’re successful try on eth? Or that’s just a myth?
r: Tezos kind of reminds me of this underground design movement as I've mentioned before, this kind of Berlin style design community and most of the stuff that I see, I really like.
Compared to the Open Sea stuff or the Ethereum stuff, there is a lot of visual noise that you need to dig into. I was working as a creative director and art director, I used to curate a lot of stuff in my work. So I was finding a lot of cool stuff on tezos. It was also super cheap to mint. I think it was much easier to mint on open sea though, because at that point of time, there was only art blocks which was curated.
So that would be a long process for me to get involved. I was also a longtime CodePen user and FX hash clicked for me as I thought of it as a CodePen for blockchain. I also think that codepen lost its opportunity to introduce this kind of minting which fx hash did.
TGAM: For each marketplace you seem to have an strategy in terms of what to mint, in Versum we can see the “jvari” pieces, again showing your love for nature, in OpenSea we can see curated pieces of the algorithm, and recently on Foundation, you released a slightly different approach with b/w pieces. What is your approach for minting in each one of the marketplaces?
r: Yeah, that was the main idea, to try different styles for different platforms. Because at that point of time, I was really sticking to one kind of algorithm, which is the Toma One.
br/> I was minting the photographs on Objkt at the time and I just wanted to try different kinds of marketplaces and with opensea there are a lot of collectors which would send me direct messages and ask to mint something.
I think I will try to do more on Ethereum next year, but at this point of time I've been blocked on opensea. I tried to find out the reasons, but chatting with support is a real pain because they just don't answer. I've seen similar problems from another collector and I think there's a VPN issue because occasionally I needed to use a VPN for my work to upload a bunch of videos for the production studio and I used a VPN for one of the blocked countries on open sea.
I think that's the reason why, I will try to fix it but I don't know how long it will take before I can continue to mint on Ethereum.
TGAM: “to ma · & toma” is your latest long form generative where you explain a bit more your origins. How this piece connects with your history?
r: Yeah, it connects quite a lot. Because this year has been one of the most amazing ones, but also one of the most frustrating ones. Because the war came to my family and it was destroying the experience for me. It's quite hard nowadays because the war never stopped and the war never changed. TOMA piece is called TOMA and To Ma in the description, meaning to my mother, and my mom's mother. We have a really difficult relationship with my mother, the connection with my mother and with my grandmother also because I was raised by my grandmother.
I wanted to channel this emotion into the work. It was super personal to me and that's why I was kind of postponing it again and again and again. I think it's been half a year now. Basically it's all about my history growing up as a child, as a teenager, as an outcast. Growing up as an outcast in different countries. I've changed a lot of countries in my life. I don't know, it's been more than ten, I suppose.
I cannot say more right now, but I will definitely say more about the piece later. I tend to tell more about the pieces that will be minted because there are some hidden secrets in it. So my ongoing Twitter activity is a call to explore variations and to try to find some of them. I was looking at the outputs and thinking if they remind me of something. For example, one of the pieces that someone shared, they said it looked like a skull graveyard. I was shocked by this because the city where I was born was bombed at some point at that time. I saw those pictures where I grew up, where I used to walk around, play with my friends and it was literally on fire and a lot of people died. So I was kind of shocked to see this. It wasn't planned but some people told me that some of the outputs with black colors looked like a whole bullet. But there is some positive stuff as well, that's for sure.
TGAM: We have seen your collection and it’s impressive. What do you enjoy most, creating or collecting?
r: I think it's both. Unfortunately, it’s not every time that I create something that I like it, because I tend to create a lot of pieces, like, a lot of outputs, not every day, but almost every day.
Most of the time I mint only those that I return to after some period of time and I think yeah, that's great. Then there are other days when I’m in a chaotic mode, and I’m just like, yes, that's cool, I should mint it. But yeah, I enjoy collecting, as much as creating and putting the artwork out. But yeah, if you put something out and it instantly mints out it's an amazing experience. I don't know how to explain it, it's such an awesome experience.
TGAM: We had the pleasure to share some thoughts in Valencia for the NFT Show Europe. The interest for this kind of events has grown considerably but it seems that the world is still pretty much ignoring what we believe is the art of the future. What role do you think physical events should play in the near future?
r: Well, I think one of the main roles, because I'm a museum person myself and I always try to go to different museums in new countries as much as I can because I really enjoy the process of exploring the art and we're kind of tied to our laptops and screens, digital screens.
The way of perceiving the work is not controlled. I cannot control how my work can be perceived. Especially with a design algorithm, there is a lot of stuff going on on the high pixel density screens. I do not like how it looks and I cannot control it. So the only way to control it is to kind of show the pieces the way that I'd love to perceive them myself. So for me, it's one of the goals to try to be in more offline events as much as possible. It kind of makes sense to me because I enjoy being interviewed, but I enjoy offline events as well, like speaking with people occasionally and looking at people, looking at how they look at different works. I loved museums before, so that all makes sense to me.
It's one of the main opportunities to attract more people into the NFT world because the main thought of it is a kind of scam or ponzi or something.
TGAM: We think that gamifying the experience of NFT’s it’s an important part of the path to grow this ecosystem. You are quite a fan of fun dynamics that involve collectors taking actions like burning to get access to some content. What is your approach to building these dynamics?
r: It was a virtue as well, because the moment that I thought of burning was actually the moment when I saw my hometown being burned down and it kind of made sense to me. I tried to tell some kind of story.
But it's also the possibility to interact with the blockchain and it's a native experience, so you do not need to invent any kind of tools to do this. Coming from the experience of making mobile applications, I kind of love the data and seeing how people interact with your pieces. So this is one of the opportunities the artist can take to make other people interact with their pieces. The other thing is the pieces being flipped, so I kind of give an opportunity to the collectors, you can flip it but you can also burn it to exchange it for a new piece. I kind of like these ideas.
TGAM: In every edition of the Issue exhibition we always stumble upon the question of what is generative art and its limits. While computer art still needs human intervention, there will be a moment in time where (similarly to what’s happening with Artificial Intelligence Art), computers will be able to completely generate generative art pieces without any kind of human interaction (besides a prompt). That level of independence opens the door to a multitude of questions, a certain breakthrough about what it means to be an artist. At this point many outcomes question what the traditional art world has been pushing in recent years, and definitely gives all creators a wider level of overall control. What do you think about this new era of widespread generative art into, potentially, so many aspects of our lives?
r: I have zero idea where it can all go because it's already so amazing here.
So much stuff has happened, so many marketplaces. Then it was Dall-e and then it was mid journey, then it was stable diffusion. Now we have Chatbot GBT and it all happened in the last five months or so, I don't know where it goes and I always have a feeling that I will miss something. So I always intend to try all the new stuff because moving at such a high speed frightens me.
But, yeah, I think the future is definitely bright. If we don't bomb everyone, I don't think that will happen, because war is the only thing that stops me from experiencing life in a beautiful way. So, yeah, if humans don't destroy each other, the future will definitely be very bright. I'm grateful for the generative Arts community and for the possibilities it has given me, because literally my last fx(hash) project loomings made it possible for me to come to Argentina with my family.