Award-winning Iranian-born, Brooklyn-based digital artist Marjan Moghaddam creates buzz-making, almost dystopian post-digital NFT artworks. She gives Brytehall a compelling introduction into the world of VR and AR with her deft use of 3D computer graphics, and also shares her admiration of like-minded female creatives who transcend cookie-cutter moulds.
How would you best describe 'Marjan Moghaddam' in the creative sphere that you inhabit?
I am [a] digital artist and animator who explores post-humanist aesthetics through an avant-garde, fine arts, figural lens, using primarily 3D CG (computer graphics) and related technologies. I have done various collections as large format prints, 3D printed sculpture, installations, AR, VR and net art.
My most recent collection was with #arthacks, which I started in 2016 as a way of redefining form for digital art, radicalising curation and democratising the exhibition space, while engaging in a critical discourse that I saw missing from exhibitions at that time. The work then went viral with millions of views, and it has since been widely exhibited at galleries and museums in curated shows. In 2020, I also started minting and selling NFTs of the work into top collections on SuperRare, Institute and Vertical Crypto, to name a few. I’ve been into science fiction since childhood and [I] continue to be, currently on book five of The Expanse.
What was the path that led you to become a 3D CG artist?
For me, 3D CG was instant love. It’s the true pioneering artistic medium of the 21st century, and one that has been heavily marginalised by the fine arts world, as often happens with new artistic movements, art historically speaking. But I’m committed to the medium in my practice regardless.
What do you see as trends when we talk about AR and VR? Do you see mass adoption of these tech elements taking place soon?
AR is already mass adopted to some extent with social media lenses, and furniture apps, for example. VR less so. I feel as if every era drums up a lot of excitement around VR since the 1990s, that then fizzles out as the mass adoption market fails to materialise. I think the financial investment that has been made into Cryptovoxels and Decentraland might change that because it’s now a financial asset class, and even JPMorgan has a lounge in the metaverse in DCL with a portrait of Jamie Dimon. So it remains interesting to see if NFTs can eventually break through VR via the metaverse in all the ways that other marketing and branding approaches have failed to. As for [head mounted display]-based VR, until headsets become substantially lighter and more comfortable, mass adoption may prove elusive. A lot of progress has been made with the Oculus; but still, it’s a niche market, and not anything even remotely close to mass adoption.
What types of work by female creatives in the NFT space are you inspired by?
I respect the few other women working with 3D CG in the space, because it’s still a fraction in comparison to male artists. But mostly I admire women working in all artistic disciplines who have an original or unique vision that doesn’t quite fit into what the world expects women to deliver as art. I feel as if men are always celebrated for doing avant-garde work, or work that employs an uncompromising vision, or radical aesthetic, because there’s always an automatic assumption of intellectual worth and merit to what a man does, whereas when women do that kind of work nobody knows what to do with it. It’s as if we’re all expected to do pretty flowers or pretty females, or else we can’t be branded as anything sellable.
Here, I respect the British art market more because of the success of artists like Sarah Lucas and Tracey Emin. In the United States’ art market, female artists are more pressured to fit into preferred moulds, and to cross all their t’s and dot all their i’s in terms of the right ‘art career’, with the right relationships. So, while bad boys get celebrated as geniuses, ‘bad girls’ are often sidelined and marginalised as freaks. What inspires me is other women boldly pushing the boundaries and expanding aesthetic possibilities, and resisting these gender stereotypes in art.
Would you take us through the process of creating a digital art piece?
I usually do a lot of my own modelling unless I use 3D CG assets, and I do all of my own animating and rendering. Sometimes I also do my own motion capture, like for Scab (Siggraph 2009) for which I did all the mocap as well. But I also use mocap libraries. Sometimes I do the music and sound design as well, although I try to avoid that these days because it takes up a lot of my time, so I work with musicians for that reason. I like to employ a stream of consciousness, creative flow when working. I like discovery and the unknown, so I’m open to many directions. Sometimes, my pieces start with procedural or special effects tests that I set up and then flesh out into fully finished projects, other times with modelling, without a clear idea of how I’m going to animate it. So there’s a lot of experimentation before I start to refine and finish a piece. And sometimes I’m affected by world events which make it into my work, or even a piece of music or something someone shared online. So, I’m also open to our crowdsourced and aggregated imagination via the internet.
Does much of your work centre on material you perceive as part of the post-digital age? What do you think will transpire during this post-digital time? If so, is there hope left for humanity?
My work is firmly situated in the post-digital, but I’m not an utopian-ist with it. We know through various studies that time spent on the digital can decrease compassion, and if you were to check Twitter regarding any trending hashtag, that becomes evident fast.
We also know that technology creates flatness, not just by flattening 3D physical space into 2D screens, but by also destroying complexity, nuance and content and knowledge depth. Clickbait is now all culture, mimetically speaking, and unfortunately that means we’ve lost much of the profound and sublime aspects of art and culture, which were previously a huge part of our sensemaking apparatus. Ultimately, what creates deep compassion for another? Virtue signalling on Twitter based on trending hashtags or spending meaningful and contemplative time reflecting on the experiences of another human being? So, I feel as if this sublime, nuanced, complex and profound aspect of culture has been lost in terms of the digital, and it can only be brought back through digital cultural work, and like I said it’s a necessary part of our sensemaking apparatus.
If all we value is clickbait and the flatness of technology multiplied by the power of the digital, then indeed we are doomed. But if we can bring back the humanity and the profound in our culture, arts and discourse via the digital, then we can co-evolve in a manner that enhances our potential individually and also collectively. Hope for humanity requires that we choose better, now.