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I Saw It In a Dream and Other Visions from Steve Pikelny (Elated Pixelations Interview #5)
Post NFTNYC II musings
What do you see when you close your eyes and your retinas still burn from computer screen light?
Thus reads the description of Steve Pikelny's I Saw It In a Dream series which dropped on Art Blocks July 7, 2021, and the focus of this interview. The project is Steve's second on the Art Blocks platform, and is followed by two others. A list of Steve's Art Blocks projects is here. For all of his projects, check out Steve's 'hub' page
How long have you been a New Yorker? I am a 'native' of that city, so had to open with that first.
I've been a New Yorker for most of my life. I was born and grew up in Queens, went to college in upstate NY, took a brief 4.5 year detour in Chicago, and have lived in Brooklyn since 2016.
Was the description of I Saw It In a Dream a reference to the inspiration for the project? Did you see something like a piece in this collection after a long screen-day? I admittedly am fascinated with this collection, and have more than a few.
The main inspiration for ISIIAD was actually my work on Fake Internet Money. I spent a lot of time working on nailing the rosette component. One night I was up really late staring at it on my computer screen. So when I tried to go to sleep, I had a similar image burned into my retinas. The next day I riffed on it a bit, and that ended up being the basis for this project.
NOTE: I encourage anyone not familiar with this project to dive into it here and find works not only pleasing, but also repugnant. And the same goes for any collection (Tropism, Glow, etc.) I think that's why I am fascinated: some of the I Saw It In a Dream collection were very ugly to me, but I welcome that now. I can say with certainty that I embrace the whole collection (answering the question: Can artists help the audience’s aesthetic to mature?) Taken as a whole, the 'ugly' ones (to me) enhance the beauty of the 'pretty' or 'pleasing' outputs (again, to me). And vice-versa. The unifying feature to me, here, is mystery; there is a very strong character of otherworldliness present in this generative collection.
Those are interesting selections. #37 because it has one rarity, extended depth, where the points on the stars are much more pronounced than usual. Normally that would result in them overlapping, but the specific number of points here means that they just miss each other.
#18 is also interesting because it's a misprint [!!]. I got a few of those in development, and tried to eradicate them. I'm glad that one (and only one) made it into the final collection.
#24 is cool because it has three layers, which normally makes it difficult to see through the whole piece. But here, it has another rare trait - transparency - that lets you see what's going on.
Since NFTNYC II just wrapped up (pun intended), what is your take on the whole thing, as a creator, attendee, and New Yorker? What do you like best about NFTNYC that you'd like to see preserved in the years ahead?
I feel like everyone I meet during NFTNYC [II] is either an incredibly intelligent and thoughtful person who is going to be at the forefront of building the future of this space -- or they're the most insufferable d—che bag imaginable. And there's surprisingly little in between. It's a little bit of a challenge to filter out the latter group of people, but it's definitely worth it.
Back to ISIIAD, please elaborate on #s 58, 67, and 98…
PRO TIP: to quickly view an output from this collection simply change the last digits on the URL page of the Art Blocks ‘live’ view. So if I want to view ISIIAD #67 after viewing #58, I would simply replace the last two character in the URL with ‘67’. Want to see #317? Replace the last three digits with that number.
In the entire collection, which output first comes to mind, as far as being repulsive, stunningly beautiful, or vastly interesting? In other words, which was most surprising?
I think those other ones you pointed out [58, 67] are cool. No. 98 is nice since it has the double eye. I think No. 70 might be my favorite of the collection. That big, fat eye really plays nicely with the two skinnier layers in the background, and it really feels like you're looking through a portal. Everything just balances out in a very pleasing way.
Yes, #70 is very dilated. Please explain the difference between an output such as 70 and No. 330.
#330 is much more zoomed in on a section of the star shape, so you don't really see the eye.
That's what I thought lol. Such variety.
Thanks! also, if you want to see some more in depth discussion of the algo[rithm], see this convo in my discord https://discord.com/channels/880968182951714856/883034624924729374/980642198842404894
Readers will appreciate that, thanks! My own collection of ISIIAD includes 902. I've always loved the 'peek through' nature of this output. Outside of Autology by Steganon, I can't think of any AB collections that have that feel to them, as many ISIIAD do.
Oh yeah, [#902] that's a good one.
Other favs from my collection are #s 638 and 673. No. 673 has a mystical vibe to it.
815 is another one of my favorites.
So, interesting fact: we were neighbors in the 'verse long before I collected any of your pieces! Take a look to the left (below)…
My first metaverse home was next to your church. The person who bought it from me kept my build intact lol.
So, I wondered for a while - who did the church? It (the church) was strangely comforting in the 'verse. Later I read something on your site where you mention the pamphlets. Mystery solved.
Steve, how do you like being a 'metaverse' resident, and when did you get your first parcel (was it in Cryptovoxels)?
That was my first and only parcel. Honestly, I haven't really been spending much time in the metaverse recently. I was really into it at first, but then got bored with it. But the church is popular, so now I can't sell it lol. I kinda want to buy the parcel behind me to expand [my property], but I don't want to spend an Eth on it.
So when you turned it into a ISIIAD ad-parcel, I was confused and thought the church owner sold to some obsessed fan of Art Blocks lol.
Not realizing you did the church AND the art, and was simply promoting your art. The 'verse actually has history.
How has ISIIAD influenced your current output? It is a very intense collection, and seems like the type of work that will influence an artist afterward. An artist myself, I know that to be true: big projects influence subsequent ones. Not in the 'copycat' sense, but the artist's trajectory can be affected. Which is an interesting conversation in itself: the projects an artist chooses to take on - personal or otherwise - can and do affect the creative life of the artist.
It's hard to say. ISIIAD was actually a bit of a detour. I was mainly focused on building out Fake Internet Money, and I just sort of stumbled upon this. But I think to some extent it influenced how I think about probability across a long form generative collection. In retrospect I may have spent more time polishing the project in terms of quality and consistency, but I think the feature breakdown is pretty solid. It gives a lot of variety while giving the collection a consistent feel.
Please explain long vs short form generative art, Steve.
I guess short form is generally smaller collections curated by the artist.
Oh ok, say 512 pieces? Maybe that's too much lol.
I dunno, I'd say even less than that - yeah maybe like 10.
10/10. Sounds like we're haggling lol.
I think the artist curation is the more important bit. Tyler Hobbs coined the term and wrote a pretty good article about it.
Cool. I did an AMA with Tyler in January. What was the curation process like for ISIIAD?
Well, none really. I wrote the code, put it up there, and people started minting it. In this format your algorithm doesn't really have anywhere to hide. People just mint what they mint, and that's that.
A very interesting and fair process.
As opposed to me hand selecting the best ones.
Lol. Indeed, minting should be a voting mechanism.
So, program-wise, was I Saw It In a Dream ground-breaking for you personally? What was the most difficult aspect of making the code?
Steve, you have many interesting projects and I would recommend to readers to peruse your links page to get an idea of the range of your output. You seem to have an attraction to what I might call 'fantasy money made real by the participants.' How did this come about? Do you have a background in finance?
Ha, I actually do.
I figured you had to. Projects such as Imagine Coin and Negative Value Certificates seem to be simultaneous economic experiments + social commentary + NFT culture-bearers.
Well I was an econ/finance major in college, and then went into finance for three years before becoming a software engineer and mostly working at fintech companies, so
Great, so you're putting all of yourself into your art. Art has a way of pulling us out of ourselves.
I gotta work with what I got! I was lucky that I had just the right confluence of skills.
The title Negative Value Certificates made me immediately think of negative interest rates currently (pun intended) used by some countries. Penalization for holding money in the bank lol. Anyway, NFTs give you a platform to experiment, educate, and profit from all of it. And others can profit too.
Well I wouldn't encourage anyone to buy my stuff if they think they can profit from it though.
I'm a big believer that [NFTs are] all inherently worthless from a monetary point of view, and you should only buy what you enjoy owning. Or, if you like gambling [just] acknowledge that you're gambling.
Yeah I had to look at that aspect, especially when I didn't like the art from the get-go. What near-future use case do you see for NFTs, perhaps something being overlooked by many?
I think it depends on how quickly the network scales + gas prices but gas aside, I think event - ticketing will probably be one big use case.
I mean, crashes probably aren't too bad for making the network usable. Gas is much more affordable when ETH is at $1k than when it's at $4k.
True. Gas is a much happier matter these days [Bear market of spring/sumr ‘22].
I think a lot of it will boil down to how well [Web 3] integrates with the trad-fi [traditional finance] ecosystem...this is one area where I'm 100,000% in favor of regulation. I want the government to regulate the shit out of USD-backed stablecoins and the tradfi - defi bridge, more generally.
I'm not as enthusiastic, but regulations are necessary and inevitable. Returning for a sec to use cases: humorously but very importantly, a hacker was served with an NFT a couple of weeks ago! The law firm decided to use an NFT in that novel way, sending it to their wallet. Awesome in my opinion.
Ha, I’m not sure how I feel about that.
Please elaborate, Steve. Love to hear your thoughts on this ground-breaker.
I mean, it's definitely funny, and useful for that use case, but I think that's one area of NFTs and soul-bound tokens [SBTs] that feels like a bit of an invasion of privacy where you can now have something associated with yourself that you don't want. I was arguing with someone on twitter about SBTs, and one good example they came up with was sending someone a revenge porn token.
Gotta love NFTs folks. So, just to clarirfy, what is a soulbound token, or SBT?
Basically an NFT that you can't trade but the issuer can revoke it.
Whoa. Sounds unfair. So all those whack 'gift NFTs' on my OS page are soul-bound lol. Because I'm not supposed to interact with them, not even burn them because any one of them could be malicious. So I guess I know what soul-bound tokens are and don't like them lol.
Yeah, spam [those 'gift' NFTs] is one example. A less extreme example might be associating some ad tech garbage with my wallet.
It can basically be [thought of as] a cookie I can't get rid of.
I think a great wallet would be one where you'd have to accept the crap or not. What do you think? Cuz I have waay too much garbage (example below).
Yeah, but it doesn't really matter what my wallet says - if it's there it's there.
Is there a way to block junk? Have a 'closed' wallet?
Well, if I step in the ad tech dog shit and I have a SBT sent to my address, then I can hide it when I look at my wallet, but it's still there. It's still on chain.
...And other platforms that are listening for transfer events are going to see it.
Hmm. So what was the disagreement about, regarding soul-bound tokens?
I think they were arguing that they were unequivocally terrible, and I was arguing that they could be useful - that the ecosystem could build around it to some extent.
Give me some examples of good use cases.
Like, maybe we come up with a standard for putting SBT blocked tokens on chain so all applications know what to ignore. I don't know. I guess one example is if you want to designate membership to some organization but you don't want people to transfer membership to other people [cancelling a secondary market for the membership].
Great example! Yeah, I think some things shouldn’t be sellable.
[Say] you just want some single entity or DAO to decide… so ultimately I think there are some decent use cases and some potential for terrible use cases, but any impactful technology is going to have good and bad. It's like someone in 1997 arguing that the internet will be horrible because they're predicting all of the dystopian shit we ended up with.
I think that's a good way to look at things. A couple of more I Saw It In a Dream questions and we're finished unless you have something you'd like to add. Please talk about No. 412 and 467 (my name for 467 is 'generative jellyfish').
Oooo, 467 is pretty cool and very unique. Don't have much to say other than that it looks cool.
LOL. Indeed it does, (former) neighbor. Steve, thanks for your time and a well-rounded interview. I'm looking forward to new, brow-raising projects from you.
I'll close out the interview [not the article] with a piece of yours in my collection I've pet-named Spidey (484). I looked at many pieces from the I Saw It In a Dream collection, and am increasingly intrigued by the outputs. Now I have to go through half of everybody's collections to be fair.
Btw, that ‘very interesting building’ mentioned in one of the pix shown earlier is imusee for technic for art (no cap, literally) in Voxels world, here. I met the owner in-world (aka the ‘verse) not long ago and he’s up to many very cool things; maybe he’ll accept the opportunity to be interviewed for an upcoming issue/episode…
Though there is art o’ plenty to feast your eyes (and perhaps wallets) upon in this episode of Elated Pixelations, including abundant linkage, I cannot and will not leave you artless at article’s end.
Tweets can be NFTs, right? And currently most NFTs are art, so