Q&A With: Marjan Moghaddam

Superworld Artist-In-Residence

SUPERWORLD (SW): We are thrilled to have you featured as a SuperWorld Artist-in-Residence! Thanks so much for agreeing to participate, and taking the time to answer my questions.

Your work is imbued with technical sensibility and acumen at every turn, and I’m interested in knowing more about your learning process, and how it relates to your artistic vision. Do you set out to learn something before you create a work, or does learning something (about the world, about a technique, etc.) serve as the catalyst for the art

MARJAN MOGHADDAM (MM): Learning is built into doing innovative work for me, and I think it’s a bit of a feedback loop. Sometimes I have an idea of an aesthetic, effect, or conceptual premise and start modeling or animating and then it takes a completely different form based on what I discover. Other times, I’m modeling or animating without a specific idea and then I discover a completely new visual possibility that then evolves into the critical discourse that I like to work with. With being, within the framework of philosophy, which is the next thing I deal with, there is an aspect of the metaphysical in an ontological sense, and I think that is the magic of art for me as well.

SW: So for you, idea and process are one and the same?

MM: That’s exactly right. I have very little in common with artists who just come up with the idea and use fabricators to deal with the process. Process is a gold mine of innovation, magic, discovery and learning for me and that’s how I come to understand the world as well. And there is always an aspect of the metaphysical to process, whether it be the shamanism of Pollack splattering paint performatively, or Da Vinci disappearing into the sublime depth of his own layering of varnish in creating sfumato. Because my practice is situated and rooted in art history, discovering something new about the world or responding to its exigencies is built into what I do. The dialog of art history to a large extent has been commentary and discovery of the world since the cave painting era, and this is the trajectory I come from.

SW: Many of your pieces, referring specifically to the Glitch Goddesses in this instance, seem both architecturally intricate and anarchic at the same time. How much does chaos inform your vision?

MM: Funny you should ask that, because I spent a good bit of the late 1980s and early 90s working with computer-generated fractals and Chaos Theory, and was even one of the featured artists for the Chaos Conference, where I had to follow mathematician Michael Barnsley, father of the Fractal Transform Theory, in 1995. So Chaos theory and its associative procedurals, like fractals, have been a big part of my longstanding digital art practice. In fact one the large format prints that triggered the first Glitch Goddess to step out in AR was a 15k rendered Fractal niche.

SW: That brings up an interesting question of influence. To whom or to what do you attribute your creativity? The chaotic whims of the cosmos?

MM: Well, I’m also very influenced by much of Modernism and Postmodernism artistically, as strategies of Being, and on some level each piece is a state of being that results in the finished work. With being there is always an expansiveness that goes beyond logic, or the predictable, and I think that’s where the chaos comes in. If I animated #GlitchGoddess in a straightforward or typical manner going from slender to heavy, to pregnant, to buff etc. it would be an illustration for a weight loss supplement. But by adding aesthetic improvisation, unpredictability, stylization, and abstraction within the aesthetic structure, she becomes an evolving, complex idea as a state of Being in flux, and for me this is a type of artistic agency. I think we understand this about painting, sculpture, or performance art, but the expectation of digital art is it’s devoid of this presence or Being, and I disagree, because I based my entire practice on it.

SW: How do you reconcile being perceived as a feminist/political/protest artist with the desire to just be an artist? Their seems to be an almost tautological problem of gendered labeling that, even when intended to be complimentary, still puts you back into the patriarchal-defined box of being a “feminist artist,” which is so frustrating for me to hear. Shouldn’t we all be feminist artists? I’d also love to hear you talk about some of the ways that the cryptoart + art community and indeed the whole SuperWorld community to better serve marginalized and/or underrepresented NFT creators and artists.

MM: Well, I define myself as a digital artist and animator, not a feminsit, or artist of color, etc. And not all of my pieces or even collections over the course of the decades have been feminsit, or even had females in them. Because I’m interested in art as Being, open inquiry, nuance, innovation and exploration, I can’t get too stuck with socio-political ideas. They’re in my work, mixed with various feelings, yes, but so are many other ideas. I take more of what I call a jazz approach: I try not to get too hung up on a single melody, I let it riff.

MM: Take Michelangelo’s David, which was a piece of political art or propaganda really (at least in terms of its commissioning) meant to stand guard before the Florentine utopian state against would be invaders, yet Michaelangelo managed to work all of his Neo-Platonic Greek Philosophy and aesthetics into it, and the piece actually became a lot more profound and resonant across the centuries, specifically for that reason..dogma is not my thing.

SW: So what are you looking for in your own art?

MM: The profound is what I’m after. Much of our critical theory has also lost its connection to the profound, so it has become heartless, punitive, and didactic. This is where the artists and poets have to step in as the conscience of humanity. The great art that inspires doesn’t avoid the ugliness of its time, it explores it and seeks the higher.

SW: You’ve been showcasing digital animations since the late 80s, so you’ve seen a real sea change in how art is created/viewed/appreciated. When did you first sense that NFT or “cryptoart” was a viable platform for you? Did it take some convincing?

MM: I sometimes think I’ve been waiting for crypto art my whole life! Mostly because I’ve always had to materialize the digital, even though to me the original in this case is the digital. But selling digital art as digital data has always been tricky; I think I tried encryption with keys for a while, but doing it yourself and maintaining it becomes complicated in terms of archivability and longevity. I had collectors asking for it a few years back, and I asked my friend Monika Profitt who had written a book on blockchains, and she spent a bit of time educating me on how to proceed create my own smart contracts etc., but it was too costly and involved for my taste back then. And so about a year ago a collector DMed me on Twitter asking me to tokenize my art so he could buy it. And he guided me to the different platforms etc. and eventually I landed on Superrare, and am now expanding with SuperWorld and other platforms. But crypto is really the right format for selling digital “originals” which are not materialized as a physical form.

SW: How long does a piece or an installation “stay” with you. Are you eager to move on to another project, or does one project inform the next?

MM: I usually work in collections, and I’ve noticed I average about 7 years, so maybe there is something to the 7 year concept. Within each collection I do suites, like my Of Revolutions Collection (2009-2016) with various suites like David & Goliath or Venus and Her Adonises etc. The collections have specific aesthetic and philosophical themes, and the suites are ways of exploring specific pieces better. But there is room for singularities within these collections, when suddenly something I have never done or even thought of before erupts in a way that is a total Eureka moment in comparison to what came before. But it’s really an emotional entanglement, and that’s not done, until it’s done as a process, and then I’m done. Which is why I sometimes think mental illness does play a role in prolific and productive long term art practices, and I’m usually pretty open about it, because I view these things as attributes, not negative things to be ashamed of.

SW: I love the music and embedded texts you sometimes include in your work, in particular your own writing on your experience in Iran during the 1979 Islamic revolution. I imagine that kind of upheaval in addition to the upheaval of moving to the US was traumatic in so many different ways. Would you have characterized yourself as an artist in Iran, or do you feel the revolution (and it’s aftershock) spurred you on in a particularly creative direction?

MM: I think I was an overachieving workaholic child sometimes. I painted, wrote the school newspaper, wrote plays, performed music, wrote songs, danced ballet, and did martial arts. My parents refused to buy a TV, so I basically used various art disciplines as a way of entertaining myself. On some strange levels I still do that, which is how I’ve been able to create and maintain an independent art practice. The revolution traumatized me, but it didn’t really increase or decrease the activity, it just allowed me to seek survival in art. Creating for me is like breathing; I feel whole and complete when I do it. I can vouch for the Joseph Cambell line, which is to follow your bliss so if you lost everything you still have your bliss. I’ve lost many things, great and small, and the bliss in the midst of literal and figurative losses has always been there.

SW: Let’s play creative influences, living and dead.

MM:Dead I will try to keep it short: Italian Renaissance and Netherlandish rockstars, plus Bernini, Ingres, Braque, Dali, Picasso, Pollack, Nevelson, Bourgois, Bacon, Paik. Photography: Adams, Abbott, Cinema: Kubrick, Kurasawa, Tarkovsky, Kiarostami, Fellini, Bergman. Animation: Tex Avery and Chuck Jones

Living: Digital art/animation: Chris Landreth. Contemporary art: Richeter, Kiefer, Semel, Lucas, Essenhigh, Media: Aitkins, Sherman. Cinema: Terence Mallick.

SW: The cryptoart community still feels pretty cozy, aside from the occasional shitheads, but the party is getting bigger and bigger by the day. How do you feel about that? And I’m not talking about building some ludicrous Trumpian wall of shame to keep creatives out, but sometimes it seems to me (at least in the realm of social media) that the more a movement grows, the lower the bar gets, the more diluted the dialogue, the more base the insults, etc. How do we keep the #NFT creator community together without devolving into the usual sectarian beefs?

MM: With all the money, flipping, and social media narcissism thrown into this mix, what could go wrong? I’m a huge fan of Digirati Ray Sharkey’s definition of the inherent tendencies of the technology, which is towards speed and efficiency. Now take every worst nightmare that you have, plus every potential utopianist dream and put it on steroids with blockchains, social media, flipping oops I mean collecting….so, you know.

SW: Do you have a “dream” project? This can include a particular collaborator or location or medium or theme, etc.

MM: Maybe a retrospective, a show of my seminal pieces from the 1980s till present, because I think it’s such commentary on everything that has happened.

SW: Where did you purchase your first plot of land in SuperWorld and why?

MM: I went for my fave spot in Midtown during Christmas decoration season, a few fave spots in the art world , and a few places that I always wanted to do something with.

SW: What are you most excited to do creatively in SuperWorld?

MM: I did a lot of experiments with large AR environments and experiences that blended spaces with my figures when I was an artist in residence for Adobe with project Aero in 2019. Aero is so great for rapid prototyping and experimentation that I really felt that I was creating and constructing things I had never even thought of before. I’m actually further developing an Aero story I evolved as an AR animatic now with the Healium app. And I would love to take one of the Aero tests that I did and further flesh it out as an experience in Superworld.

SW: Thank you, Marjan! As I mentioned, we’re delighted to have you as one of our first Artists-in-Residence, and look forward to seeing your vision progress in SuperWorld—and beyond.