Artists Visaya Hoffie and Wayan Preston on What Web3 Means for the Next Wave of Creators

POPSUGAR Australia is dedicating the month of October to featuring the next generation of inspired thinkers and courageous individuals who are building and manifesting a brighter future — because the next gen is unstoppable. We will deliver personal essays from young Australians who are making a name for themselves, as well as inspiring thought pieces and interviews with rising talent in the Web3 space throughout the month. Find all of our pieces here.

Visaya Hoffie and Wayan Preston met in high school, with a friendship forged at Cleveland station before “working, travelling and partying together.” Eventually, they founded Liz and Betty.

At first glance, Liz and Betty is a classic e-commerce site. But, navigating the flashing display page, you’ll find an excruciatingly tight edit: a Devil Wears Prada-Cerulean full body “snake belt“, a cartoonish NFT-style tufted rug, a few puffy pants and slogan tees. Check the Liz and Betty blog and you’ll find a wall of mixtapes full of staticky cloud rap and shoegaze.

Liz and Betty are serving a haunting, dial-up internet vibe that for millennials might summon early memories of our glitchy first adventures on Web1. In this immersive project, this aesthetic collides with third-wave “internet culture”, Web3.

Both Visaya and Wayan are 22-year-olds with backgrounds in traditional art making. Visaya is a trained painter who has exhibited widely, and Wayan is an industrial designer. Their collaborative work effort, Liz and Betty, is in direct conversation with the metaverse-fuelled aesthetics shaping fashion and beauty. They intentionally push the boundaries between art and commerce, seeing the commercial element of their work as a key component of their creative practice — something Web3 is, or should be, enabling.

Creating in the Era of Web3

Web2 allowed consumers to directly engage with fashion via blogs and digital media publications. As seen with the rise of the influencer, it allowed consumers, rather than designers, to become tastemakers.

Now, Web3 — a decentralised online ecosystem based on blockchain — is shifting these dynamics again. Theoretically, Web3 allows creatives greater control over their work, and greater ability to monetise their work outside of centralised systems like retail, galleries and agencies.

Visaya doesn’t necessarily see Web3 as incongruent with her more traditional artistic practice.

“There’s a certain curiosity around the terminology [for things like NFTs], the exact meaning of which seems to be in flux,” she tells POPSUGAR Australia. However, as Visaya was already engaging with avatars and alternate “ways of being,” in her work, the notion of a third world, third financial system and ephemeral art market felt natural.

“Also, we’re both from a mix of cultural heritages, via our parents, which has made us aware of the benefits of working across and between traditions and cultural expressions.” For Visaya and Wayan, Web3 is just that, a cultural expression.

They are, however, both skeptical about the creative utopia that some are suggesting Web3 will provide for creatives — particularly women and minorities.

Wayan says this comes down to the unchanged systems and power structures outside of the metaverse.

All evidence indicates the NFT Art market is overwhelmingly favouring male creators, with female artists making up just 5% of sales over two years, according to Bloomberg. Where women make up just 16% of the NFT art market, the majority (55%) of NFT sales were made by fewer than 20 male artists in 2021.

Wayan sums up the state of play saying: “Power still travels in the same direction, the ability to ascribe value is still held in the hands of the few.”

For Visaya, populist players like Zuckerberg making moves on the metaverse demonstrates that the metaverse “draw[ing] in the same old systems and frameworks, rather than forging new ones”. This is also reflected in the aesthetic language of Web3.

Liz and Betty mixtapes
Image Credit: Liz and Betty

Are NFTs Even “Art”?

The aesthetic merits of NFTs, merits which have been panned everywhere from Vice to the Financial Times, are a central question for the art market.

“It seems like a lot of the NFT buyers are gamers who were already moving in that world,” Visaya says. “NFTs simply reinforce [the buyers] existing aesthetic choices and values.”

This isn’t unproblematic. For Visaya, the purpose of art is to interpret the spirit of the times, and in doing so, challenge existing power structures or the way an audience may think, feel or respond.

“The fact that NFTs already look so familiar means they are not challenging the visual language,” she explains, “they don’t force us to re-think things.”

Indeed, the only thing disruptive about them, Visaya says, is the debate caused by their materiality.

“The only really challenging aspect seems to be that people are willing to pay good money for something that is essentially intangible,” she says. 

Both creatives feel the momentum behind NFTs and the metaverse are reflective of an increasing “unreality” in our physical lives, and there is a danger of consumers “tuning out” in the metaverse when they should be tuning in to global emergencies.

“When the environmental crisis becomes too much to think about, the world turns its interest to NFTs, cryptocurrencies and planning a holiday with Elon Musk,” quips Wayan. From the world of finance to the arts, Visaya says this unreality is becoming “more real than the tangible world we’re living in” as our actual reality becomes less recognisable, shaped by pandemics and environmental disasters. 

Image: Liz and Betty

Art and the Metaverse “Dead Before They Began”?

For Visaya, the very fact that human beings are willing to invest in such an ephemeral phenomenon “raises questions about the way we’re relating to each other and the planet we’re currently a part of.”

In terms of issues with the sector, Wayan and Visaya believe the central challenge is the escapism and myopia Web3 and NFTs enable. Wayan says it’s imperative for the sector to develop a capacity for critical evaluation, citing its complete disengagement with issues like the environmental crisis and sprawling social and cultural injustices.

Ultimately, there are no a-political spaces left, even on Mars. Visaya says that whether it’s “realms or sectors or levels of consciousness” we can create change in any space humans come into contact with.

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