This year at NFT.NYC, I had the chance to sit down with some of my favorite NFT artists and talk about what they’re up to and their opinions on attending one of the largest NFT events in history to date! This week, I’m joined by Nicole Ruggiero: an incredible 3D artist, metaverse pioneer, and fringe technologist. Without further ado, read or watch our interview below:
David Cash: Good morning, we are here in New York City for NFT.NYC. My name is David Cash, and we’re here with NFTs.WTF. We are here this morning with Nicole Ruggiero. Thank you so much for joining us.
So you’re from New York, this is your hometown, but now 10,000 people have joined us here; NFT people no less! So how does this feel for you, being in this space for so long? Now seeing so many people IRL, getting so excited about NFTs?
Nicole Ruggiero: It’s really cool. Like, I’m glad it’s where I live also because it’s been super chill to kind of just leave my apartment, mosey on over to Times Square and hang out with everyone. It’s kind of surreal, you know, meeting people- other artists or NFT people or blockchain people or even people who own the programs that I’m using. It’s pretty crazy. Like everyone in one space, it just feels so surreal.
D: Yeah, it’s beautiful. And I know you’ve had your art featured in Times Square a couple of times now. But how does it feel to have your face in Times Square? Because I know for me, it was insane, being behind-the-camera people, behind-the-scenes people, we never really think that this is gonna be, like us, in a context like that. So how was that for you?
N: It was also really surreal. I feel like everything is just really weird right now, like in the best way possible…
D: Yeah, absolutely. So it’s day four at this point. We’ve gone to a bunch of different things. Has there been anybody that you’ve met or an event that you’ve gone to that’s really stuck out for you? Or that’s been super surreal or cool?
N: Geez, like having to pick apart all the events now? I guess being on stage after Tarantino was pretty crazy. Yeah, that was so super cool and also really scary, but awesome.
D: That must have been such… I was super surprised. How did you feel when you saw him in an NFT context? What was that like for you?
N: I started texting everyone, like my family and my friends. I was like, Tarantino is on stage! Like, what? What is happening right now? Yeah, it was surreal.
D: Somebody mentioned it in an interview- that the metaverse doesn’t exist, but this is the metaverse because we’re all here at once in one place, the people who make this happen. Yeah, it’s crazy.
N: Wait, who said the metaverse doesn’t exist?
D: Well, the Metaverse in its initial definition, doesn’t exist. We’re working towards that; we’re working towards it eventually.
N: I think we’re very much in it already.
D: Yeah? Tell us what you think because, you know, there’s always the omniverse vs metaverse… What’s your perception, because you’re working in that realm quite a bit.
N: I mean, okay, so wait, no, tell me your definition.
D: The Metaverse is, in theory, one system where everything works together- like you could interoperably go-between Decentraland and Sandbox. For me, that would be a Metaverse, but yeah, I’d say each solution is in itself a bit of a metaverse. How do you feel about it?
N: I guess I’m not really used to defining it in the context of NFTs or blockchain or anything. It’s more of just this digital existence and perception. And I think that we’re definitely very much in that already, and we have been for years now.
D: Well, you also come from VR and 3D. So coming from a VR space, I feel like you have interacted with a lot of these people almost IRL because your avatars are there in person. How has that been for you, moving from that to in person? Also, post COVID?
N: It’s really natural for me. I’m someone who’s always kind of existed in that space. So yeah, I think it’s really important to have both in-person like IRL meetups and online meetups, and I’ve very much felt that way for a long time.
D: Yeah, I know that you’ve existed in the space for quite a while. Do you think that we have a future of blending the two? Like, do you want to see more instances of people in VR, being able to experience things like this? Like, simultaneously.
N: Simultaneously, like walking around Times Square with a headset on?
D: Well, maybe when the glasses come out, who knows!
N: I mean, I think we’re gonna’ move more towards augmented reality. Yeah, versus VR, where you can’t see anything. But yeah, that’s definitely coming. Absolutely.
D: So we’ll take a couple of steps back because you’ve been in the space quite a while, and you’ve been in this space as a queer person for quite a while. Yeah, that is something really important for me—representation in this space. When I started doing NFTs, I didn’t see any queer representation for the most part. But I think you’re really quite public and open with your partner, and you create together. How’s the process been for you, coming into, I don’t know… a finance bro space and kind of burgeoning yourself into this context and doing so well…how has that been for you?
N: For me, it’s like you just have to be yourself, and I think that’s most important, and as long as you embrace that, I think other people embrace you as well unless they’re like-
D: -Unless they suck!
N: I’m trying not to say any bad words on camera. Yeah, unless they’re, you know, whatever…
D: The non-positive term of degen, yeah.
N: So, I think, generally speaking, it’s… I think maybe a lot of these people or some of these people haven’t encountered too many queer people. So there’s some education going on, for sure. That’s okay, as long as they’re respectful and receptive.
D: Right, and I think the best thing you can be in this space is authentic, and people appreciate that.
N: Definitely, yeah.
D: And then just following up on what you’ve been creating with your partner for now. How has that process been for you? For anybody who doesn’t know, Nicole creates together with her lovely partner. Do you want to talk about your partner, about that creative process that you guys have together?
N: So my partner’s art name is Plant Daddy, and we actually met through NFT on a shill thread that I created on Twitter and then, you know, we flew back and forth after COVID. We couldn’t meet for a couple of months, but we flew back and forth and started making art together. We made a full piece actually, before we even met, which was crazy. So it’s so weird. It was so weird but really cool, to be able to…, almost felt like we were, like, you know, able to meet in a way…
D: Being in the metaverse, dating in the metaverse.
N: Yeah! By making work together like that. It was really cool. So yeah, it’s been awesome, and she’s just an amazing sculptor. And our skill sets really complement each other. I’m really looking forward to moving forward with that, and we’re starting our own studio and are just really excited.
D: So obviously both of you work in the 3d context; you have for quite a while now. You wrote an article about how you know the metaverse facilitates larger-scale sculptures than we’ve ever been able to experience. And you’ve done some crazy things like floating heads in the sky and things that are physically impossible. How has that process been for you? You know, being able to create whatever you’d like in the metaverse. I know you’ve been in for a while. So it’s probably pretty native for you, but maybe give the people a little context on that.
N: I’m trying to compare it with not being able to do that in my head right now. And what does that mean? I’m trying to rewind to when I first started doing 3d. It was awesome. One of the reasons I wanted to get into 3d was because you can create these realistic, surreal pieces of art that’s very much my style. And I think I felt very stuck before this. Because when I first started art, like when I was a kid, you know, I was drawing and I was into realism. And I had a hard time bridging that gap, getting into animation. I was using After Effects, which is really cartoony.
D: And the early days of After Effects sucked, too.
N: I actually started with flash, when I was in middle school, and it was bad. But you know, I did that. And then everything was really cartoony, and it didn’t translate very well. So I think when I first started getting into 3d, I finally felt like, Okay, this is home. I can express myself properly now. And so Yeah, it just feels really good.
D: That’s beautiful. Unfortunately, in the art world right now, unless you’re Jeff Koons, you can’t do large-scale sculpture pieces. Can you share with people what’s the largest-scale or most intense piece you’ve done that you would not have been able to do without, 3d or without the metaverse?
N: Larger-scale stuff… So I’ve done augmented reality and virtual reality exhibitions; I actually have been showing this project called “how the internet changed my life,” which is six portraits, and it’s also VR, AR, and a website and it talks about the six individuals and how the internet has really been integral to their identities. And so, yeah, I mean that project was probably one of the biggest ones I’ve worked on with my collaborators. The glad scientists and Dylan banks really awesome people and a few other people who have been really wonderful throughout the process as well. But yeah, just making larger scale pieces with VR, you know, stuff like that. It’s just so cool and fulfilling, especially, you know, when the person coming to your show puts on the headset and might be using VR for the first time. And just like really immerses themselves in it.
D: You see their face without their eyes, but they’re so excited.
N: Yeah, and they just love it. Giving people that experience is just so cool and fulfilling. We use hand-tracking also. I just went to Basel, Switzerland, to show this. There’s this one woman, she did the whole experience and then afterwards, she took off the headset, and she was like, “That was so cool! That was the first time I’ve ever done VR”. And I was like, what? Because she just seemed so natural. I’ve done experiences with controllers before, but this one, you just use your hands, which is a newer technology. No haptics, just hands; its hand tracking. And it was so cool to see that bridging of the gap. Where you’re not using controllers, you are just using your hands.
D: And it’s so native…
N: Exactly, it’s like people can more naturally do those experiences, and that was something for me as an artist that was so cool to see.
D: I think you touched on something really important beyond just the art itself. It’s part of the user experience, and I think that with the recent project and some of your work, you really design; you go through extra lengths in creating, like a UI UX, but for the user, and when you’re curating these six stories into a context, you’re creating your microsite, you know, the experience. It’s really 360. And we haven’t been able to do that before. So how has that been for you? Because I say, that every NFT artist now is basically a 360 media company, because you have to do so much in the way of producing, etc. Have you built out a team? What has been your process, like in creating context around your work?
N: That’s a hard question to answer. I think it just kind of goes back to what I was saying, like, working with my collaborators, and building out a whole experience is really important, and bridging the gap is really important between the physical and the digital. That’s always been a really integral part of my practice.
D: Absolutely. And I’m curious because it’s been around for a while, but AR is also a very important part, and you’re talking about the blending of physical-digital… So what’s maybe something that you’d like people to check out in terms of AR or that you think is revolutionary right now, that either you’ve done or you’ve seen done recently?
N: Geeze, also a hard question. I think with AR, it’s still getting to the point where it’s becoming more and more integrated. So I don’t know if anything at the moment is supernatural; it’s kind of like, you still feel like you’re looking through a screen-
D: Especially coming from the VR world. I mean, it’s probably hard to compare, right?
N: I think that we’re gonna get to a point where you can switch between AR and VR; you’re gonna be wearing glasses, most likely. And it’s gonna be your whole field of vision.
D: The headset, to the glasses-
N: And you can just switch it on and off. We’re not there yet, obviously, but that’s where we’re heading, in my opinion.
D: Absolutely. Yeah. And then going back to VR, just a fun question. I’m curious, what’s the longest amount of time you’ve ever spent in the headset?
N: A whole day. I mean, I make VR stuff, so…
D: Because you create in-headset, right?
N: Yeah, I definitely spent whole days doing that.
D: Does it take you out of your real-life context when you’re there for hours and hours on end?
N: Being in my studio just feels like that. There are times where I’m just working so much, and I leave my apartment, and I’m just, like, people? Or I’m seeing weird patterns around that I only see with polygons or something. Oh my goodness.
D: So realities are blending?
D: And then talking about that a little more, we’ll wrap it up in a moment. But you know, you’re talking about this blending of realities and mixed reality. What’s exciting you in your work right now in terms of trying to bridge that gap, and have IRL, AR, VR, all of these lovely R words that we like to use in this context?
N: Some of the coolest stuff to me is just the culture that surrounds these experiences, how people form cultural groups, around different topics, and interests. You know, with NFTs, of course, and the different collectibles, I think everyone’s really aware of that. I watch a lot of YouTube, and I see people form groups over fingerboarding, or Pokemon cards or retro gaming, or stuff like that. There are all these micro-cultures that are forming that weren’t able to form before, right? Because these people might be dispersed and not that many, but now that the internet exists, they’re able to group up and form these really cool cultures. So that’s something that I think is just so cool. And something that I really like to focus on, as well as just the forming of emotional bonds online and how people do that.
D: You’re the perfect example of that. I mean, you found love in the metaverse. But going from web2 to web3… The biggest step has been going from building an audience that you almost speak to, building a community, people you interact with, the people you talk to? I’m sure you’ve had many conversations with your collectors and people in your community. How has that experience been for you, really connecting one on one with people who support you and buy your work?
N: Honestly, I feel like I was kind of already doing that. I just like to be very genuine, and I already like to be one on one with people. So I feel like I already had my community, and so just growing, that has been great. I really like to just make friends and chill with people; I don’t really like being put on a pedestal or anything like that. So it’s been lovely.
D: Well, I don’t want to take up all of your day. Is there anything you’d like people to check out that you’re working on right now? Maybe something was launched during NFT.NYC, perhaps?
N: I do have some pieces up for sale. You can check me out or just follow me on Twitter: @_nicoleruggiero. Instagram, just my name: Nicole Ruggiero. And you can find my NFTs through that. And I’ll be coming out with some stuff. Some cool stuff like early next year as well.
D: Excellent. 2022, look out! Thank you so much for taking the time to do this, really a pleasure. It’s nice to finally chat IRL. I know we’ve talked briefly online before, so this has been lovely.
We’re here in New York at NFT.NYC! My name is David Cash. Checking out, and thank you all so much for taking the time.
For more of Nicole’s work check out her links below: