Memes, Myths, and Machines

This is an addendum to the last weekly update (3.22).

As part of Singapore Art Week 2022, we visited The Culture Story on Sunday afternoon to see ZXEROKOOL’s first local exhibition entitled Memes, Myths and Machines. He’s done a new series of NFTs that were presented as large format prints, and we spoke briefly about how a new class of art buyers are excited by the flexibility of printing these pieces at whatever size suits their needs or residences, while retaining ownership certification through the NFTs in their wallets.

These were of course familiar arguments for the technology, but his anecdote about a previous exhibition in China and the concern of buyers there about the veracity of a limited run brought home the need for this control, held by the artist, limiting run size as intended. Personally I love that artists can continue to get a cut each time a work changes hands, which is an innovation I don’t think was feasible before smart contracts.

ZXEROKOOL explaining his work to a journalist

I had two favorites at the show: Meme-vangelion and The Garden of Internet Delights. The former is a mashup of Shiba Inu and Evangelion imagery, complete with the Spear of Longinus piercing the puppy’s heart. I left wanting to buy one of them, but by the time I got around to it the next day, some other fan had bought the last edition of The Garden of Internet Delights. No matter, Meme-vangelion isn’t a consolation prize. Though the whole collection plays with the visual vocabulary of the internet as many of us have experienced it over the last decade, I think this work stands alone in its astute selection of two icons that will surely stand the test of time?

Meme-vangelion

Week 3.22

Ladies and gentlemen, you are now hearing from an actual commercial artist, technically speaking. My Misery Men NFT project reached a new milestone: the sale of two works (#45 and #51) on OpenSea this week! 🍾🍾

I’ve been on a break from drawing them since Christmas, but have now resumed “production duties” and will be releasing more leading up to a pair of Lunar New Year ones in early February. One of the new releases is #79, which was fun/therapeutic to make by plonking down hundreds of dots with the Apple Pencil until all the space was filled up.

Misery Man #79

A little more on my amateur art endeavors. I’ve been trying to get a feel for digital watercolors in Procreate, but the results are anemic and frankly embarrassing. I’m happy to own that, so here’s an example. Safe to say this will not be my main medium, will stick to my day job (oh wait), maybe more of a words person, et cetera.

Caveats in Paint (Digital) #4: View of an office building (function assumed) seen on one of my walks (rarely undertaken), 2022.

Yesterday we took our littlest niece out for her animal-themed Christmas present: a visit to an art studio that has cats running around for inspiration and/or distraction. She whipped up a colorful, abstracted cat with acrylics in about 15 minutes and then spent the next two hours playing with real ones. I slapped paint around and ended up with this below. It’s… jarring to move from digital to physical. Not only do you not have Undo and Fill tools, but you have to plan your layers differently. Ugh!

Passing Time, acrylic on canvas, 2022.

Edit: We also visited an exhibition and bought some digital art. More in this follow-up post.

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A few years ago, I made a conscious effort to lose weight by eating better, and discovered that salads are not really horrible and can be quite satisfying as a lunch item. I think I ate salads nearly every day for about a year and lost 10% of my body weight.

It was helped along by an abundance of salad shops in my office area, both reasonably and luxuriously priced. Where we live now, there haven’t been any options, and making my own every day is kind of a last resort I’m saving for the late Elvis or Marlon Brando stage.

BUT! Last week I encountered a new salad vending machine in the neighborhood that isn’t bad/expensive at all. You choose a base and dressing, with the option to buy add-ones like chicken, smoked duck, eggs, and baked salmon. It’s from a company called Shake Salad, and stock is somehow replenished daily. It is ALRIGHT and I ate a salad for lunch four days in a row this week. I think the machine is here as a trial, so I want to be as hospitable as I can and prove the viability of keeping it around full time.

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Media activity:

  • Finished Psycho-Pass 3 on Amazon Prime Video. Was not left as excited as I was with the first season a decade ago. Perhaps sign of maturity. Will eventually watch the three-part “movie” sequel to this series.
  • Marvel’s Eternals was an awful waste of time.
  • Still reading Plum Rains.
  • Finished NEO: The World Ends With You. Was not left as excited as I was with the original DS game 15~ years ago. Maybe down to its design, but it doesn’t feel like a full-priced console game. More like a portable/handheld game. Thanks to the Switch, those lines are now blurred. But it really has about a couple hours of content stretched to 30 hours thanks to repetitive battles and pin grinding. If there’s ever a sequel to this sequel, I’d like to see a real evolution of mechanics and storytelling.
  • Played more Disco Elysium on the Mac. This is hands down the most impressed I’ve been with a game in years. Now that it’s out for consoles, I hope everybody (except minors) gets a chance to play this. The atmosphere, world building, writing, and voiceover performances are best in class. It’s also very funny, despite the bleak subject matter, thanks to your detective’s absurdly broken moral compass. Once, I paused to tell my wife about a joke and couldn’t get it out for laughing every time I tried to start. I ended up in tears.
  • So I had to read up on the team behind it; the writing surpasses most novels I read last year, but I never saw the author’s name mentioned anywhere. His name is Robert Kurvitz, an Estonian writer, and the story of how it got made sounds amazing and documentary worthy. Kurvitz and his band mates came up with the world in 2005, and then wrote a novel set in it, which was published in 2013. When that failed to sell, he spent three years in alcoholic depression (much like the main character), and eventually emerged to found a video game company (with no game dev experience) to bring it to life again. They somehow managed to secure funding, hired a team, and created this insane, beautiful, sprawling adventure and won multiple awards in 2019. Instead of stopping there, they went back and polished it, recording every line of dialogue, and released the enhanced Final Cut version in 2021 for no extra cost. Recording sessions for the narrator’s voice took eight months (the performance by Lenval Brown is excellent).

Week 51.21

  • The Christmas dinners have begun, with a large potlucky one yesterday at ours that was vegetarian but not at all lacking. Impossible!, you cry. Yes, we did have their meatballs. And already this afternoon we’ve eaten too much and had a gift of some sugary pastries arrive unexpectedly. This all follows swiftly after a five-course dinner on Friday night, the last in a trilogy of pandemic-struck celebrations for my sister-in-law’s no-longer-news wedding. I expect I still weigh the same regardless, having lost a significant amount of moisture to wearing a suit for photos in the middle of the day. I wonder if that’s what the stillsuits in Dune feel like: being rolled up in one of those hot towels they give you on Singapore Airlines flights.
  • After dinner, we played a new party game I discovered on the Apple TV (also available on Xbox and PlayStation). Jeopardy! PlayShow is a premium title, not to be confused with the various ad-ridden free mobile games released over the years, with insultingly easy multiple-choice questions. No, this is the real thing for everyone who’s ever watched a game show and answered aloud alongside the contestants. It’s that exact experience: streaming video of real Jeopardy! episodes, except you can buzz in and answer (using your voice!), and see how you stack up against the champs. S$14.98 gets you the base game with 10 episodes, and each additional pack is another S$14.98. Oof! Buyer beware… the game’s servers stalled halfway through our play test, so we had to move on to SongPop Party (Apple Arcade). Epilogue: I gave Jeopardy! another go the next morning and it worked fine.
  • I finished The Space Between Worlds which I was reading last week (five stars), and have moved on to Xiran Jay Zhao’s Iron Widow, a bonkers story about giant mechs fighting alien invaders, piloted by couples in a mind meld that usually kills the woman (twist: not this time!), set in a world/society inspired by Chinese history. It starts a little rough, but once you get into her style and some jarring cultural references, it goes hard.
  • The Goodreads Reading Challenge hangs around my neck like a large bird. Even after Iron Widow, I’ll be two books short of my modest 24-book target in a year where I really have little excuse. It seems unlikely I’ll be able to do it with just 11 days to go. Nevertheless, I plan to follow this up with Christina Sweeney-Baird’s The End of Men and Naomi Alderman’s The Power, to construct a sort of male-murdering fantasy trilogy.
  • Last week’s viewing of Babylon was anime disappointment, but I’m now watching a series on Netflix called Vivi: Fluorite Eye’s Song that more than makes up for it. It’s an unsung (sorry) masterpiece about a robot singer who receives a message from the future, and follows her on a 100-year quest to change the course of history and prevent a war between humans and AIs. It works because the art is beautiful with few compromises, the writing is sharp, and it isn’t afraid to skip large chunks of time abruptly to keep things moving.
  • Speaking of time, you don’t believe you could watch a 1-hour and 20-minute-long video on how Garfield has been transformed by internet fans, but give yourself some credit. Michael, my main inspiration for these weekly updates, often posts about the video essays he discovers, which is something I never thought would be for me, but welps the YouTube algorithm has a new thing for me now. We’ve all seen that Garfield minus Garfield project on Tumblr, but trust me, this goes way beyond that. You won’t believe the depth and quality of fan art and lore that’s out there.
  • I’ll leave you with an update on the Misery Men project. There are now 73 “artworks” published on OpenSea, and every so often I look at one of them and think the quotation marks could soon be dropped. Like, it’s not impossible to imagine a couple of them blown up and framed in a home somewhere. Maybe not a very nice home, it might be a caravan, but I think there’s something here.
  • If you chat with friends on Telegram and want to send them a sticker expressing a specific sort of sadness or disappointment, you may now add my Misery Men sticker pack for absolutely free. I’ll be updating it with the latest ones periodically.
What was on my plate last night. Photo taken with the newly updated FiLMiC Firstlight camera app on iOS, which has some lovely film-inspired filters.
Misery Man #72
Misery Man #73: one of my personal favorites.

Week 48.21: Musings on Misery Men

  • Paraphrasing what I wrote on my NFT page earlier in the week, my sometime dabbling in the Web3 scene as a technology gawker and small-time buyer evolved to a new level this week when I started minting some amateur sketches on OpenSea (as promised back in Week 46.21). Everyone has been really kind and saying nice things about them the whole time, which is sweet but also suspicious.
  • It’s been cool to notice how my own perspective and approach has been changing even within this short period. It began with emotional distance and defensiveness, like “I’ll toss out a few doodles and price them preposterously high for fun, like thousands of dollars, so no one would buy them, and nor would I expect them to.” And then, the more I drew and spent time coming up with new ideas for them, the more I felt like I might as well be doing a better job of it.
  • So my drawings started to improve from the repetition and experimentation, and I began to view it as a learning activity (plus it’s been a lot of fun). I joked that the publication of this collection was me learning to draw in public, in real time, on the blockchain. I can’t delete anything that’s now owned by anyone else (I’ve given a bunch away) and I’ve locked some of the older ones into decentralized storage so they’ll be haunting me eternally.
  • A breakthrough occurred when I drew no. 39 while talking to Rob, intending to make a portrait of him. It was the most detailed one yet with hair partially obscuring the basic head shape; suddenly, I had more freedom. The quality improved from there, and I started doing them in color with skin tones, starting from #49. Looking at the contrast between the first one to the latest, after a week and a half’s worth of self practice, I’m frankly stunned as a person who hasn’t done much drawing in general.
  • The way I see it now, it’s not enough to just throw some stuff on OpenSea for a laugh. Nothing’s stopping me from larping as an artist, so I’m gonna keep on doing these to see where I end up, but until I actually sell one, I can’t say I’ve had the full NFT experience. So I’ve been taking the prices down to try to find a couple of different price points that the market might accept.
  • It was also Black Friday, which I didn’t get too excited about for once. A couple of days prior, I got a little bit of money from an airdrop and couldn’t think of anything I actually wanted to buy for myself. I asked a couple of people what they’d get, and none of the answers gave me any inspiration. Maybe not having any need for retail therapy is a sign of… not needing therapy anymore? In the end, I just ordered some things that were already on my Christmas gift shopping list, renewed my VPN subscription, and downloaded Doom Eternal for the Switch at 60% off.
  • Speaking of the Switch, it’s now also my sole source of exercise via Ring Fit Adventure. At the height of pandemic lockdowns, supplies of this game and its physical accessories were so constrained that scalpers were selling it for nearly S$300. I got mine now for just S$76, and I’m certain it’s better than any gym membership or fitness video. I’ve done two sessions so far and it’s hard work, but doing gamified squats and crunches to battle monsters is a fair bit better than just doing them to bad music or trainers who look better than you ever will.

Week 46.21

  • We’re about six weeks from Christmas when it feels like it should be six months. This year’s time progression has been slippery; because I had clear point in the middle when I started to take time off work, it feels a little like two years in one, and yet much less. I’ll bet it’s the same for everyone buried under lots of work and not going out enough anyway, because a lack of New Stuff happening each day just makes them go by faster.
  • I read something somewhere about the mental health toll that working from home is taking on people, and of course someone quoted said the lack of human contact was bringing them down. Something in my head said, “well now you know how work felt for everyone who doesn’t love being surrounded by lots of people, but had to do it anyway for all of their lives”, but I’m sure that’s already been said. I land somewhere in the middle: I can do either infinitely and hate them equally.
  • I met Khairul for a coffee earlier in the week, for the first time in maybe a year. He’s been exploring new interests and possible personal projects during his time off. So it was great to talk with someone in virtually the same boat, and we both gave each other some homework to research and think about before the next chat. After that we took a short walk around Chinatown where my first-gen Ricoh GR got some use.
  • Speaking of projects, I was inspired by this Twitter thread of Venkatesh Rao’s wherein he goes down the web3 rabbit hole and ends up minting NFTs out of his old blog/newsletter artwork. What happened with me was initial dismissal, curiosity, then buying a couple of NFTs to see if I was wrong, before moving onto other topics (currently trying to grok DeFi 2.0 bonds) without considering that I could make some NFTs of my own, just for kicks. I hardly have the skills for it, but why should that stop me?
  • So now I think I‘ll do it, starting with a collection of these Misery Man doodles I started drawing by accident a couple of years ago, which became a joke signature/tag of sorts I’d leave on whiteboards around the office. I’ll probably draw a bunch of variations, maybe a hundred, and put them up on OpenSea soon.
Basic Misery Man
  • I spent a little time on Decentraland this week checking out the alternative metaverse. It’s rough by modern game standards, but it’s cool that anyone can create assets and straight plug them into what is essentially an MMO, or sell them on an open marketplace. I wandered downtown and saw buildings that companies had built as shrines to themselves, on plots of virtual land that they’d bought and now hold as NFTs. It’s early days because no one really knows what to do with them. One company recreated their org chart in the lobby as photos on shelves, and if you go upstairs to a cathedral-like space with glass and high ceilings, you can browse their website in a Jumbotron-sized window.
  • Speaking of giant things, KAWS’s Holiday artwork is now in Singapore as part of its world tour, albeit embroiled in some legal mess that means it can’t officially open to the public yet. That said, it’s still up, and it looks great (better?) from afar. I love the idea of a giant character chilling out in different cities, but it loses that magic for me the closer you get. We had the opportunity to visit before it was meant to open, and yeah if there was merch on sale, I’d say definitely go. If you’re just nearby on the Helix Bridge, that works too. I brought my D-Lux 7 out for that. The iPhone is great and all, but as I said to Joseph in a chat yesterday, everything is so crispy and bright and HDR these days, it’s a relief to shoot with a “real” camera based on aging technology now and then.
  • We’re watching Only Murders In The Building, a 10-episode series set in New York, with some strong Manhattan Murder Mystery wannabe vibes. Instead of Woody Allen, Alan Alda, and Diane Keaton, you get Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez. And oh, they’re making a podcast of their amateur murder investigation as they go. It doesn’t always feel consistent — there are some admittedly cool ideas choppily shoved in but they mess with the tone and pacing — but I’ll take what I can get because cozy, fun weekend viewing is rare these days.