This past October, when the Any NFT function was realized, allowing the ZORA auction house to sell all ERC-721 tokens permissionlessly, a new standard was established: it led more artists, builders, and curators to have the space for developing personalized modules to fit their visions and needs on top of a bullet-proof protocol. Artiva is one such project which has harnessed ZORA’s potential: pre-Any NFT and post-.
Neokry, the Web3 pen name of Artiva’s Prometheus, had the foresight—from months of collaborating with artists and curators on building marketplaces and auction houses, respectively—that not all folks will have the necessary technological literacy to produce these spaces. Indeed, if Web3 is about accessibility, and culture is what propels the movement forward, then Artiva is the antidote to staid ivory-tower dynamics.
“Artiva further pushes the envelope for creative autonomy,” remarks Jahmel Reynolds, aka Jah, the self-avowed multimedia storyteller who dropped his haunting vignette-and-poem NFT, “Are You The Image Of God?”, on the platform. “As an artist, to curate our platform and bring our audience into a whole creative experience speaks to precisely what Web3 is, and Neokry has been super helpful with putting that together.”
Forging context around work isn’t just something reserved for brick-and-mortar galleries with press releases for their artists; it’s something that NFT creators should also consider: carving out a community and formulating a story or myth on which one’s work is founded to imbue value and provenance. If there is a common thread with the litany of Artiva’s users (take @TeamRelms, @AlunasNFTs, or @IAmSound), it’s that this platform is a premier springboard for worldbuilding.
Michail Stangl (ZORA): Tell me about yourself, how you came to be Neokry, and what drew you into the NFT and Web3 space as a user, but also somebody who's building.
Neokry (Artiva): I've been a developer for about four years, and I was working in the traditional development space as a full stack engineer. I've always loved art and digital artwork; I used to make a lot of digital art myself while I was in college, but I realized the only path as a digital artist would either [be to] build a huge Instagram and try to sell prints, or try to do the commission route and do commissions for people…and it's not really your work. That was a turnoff for me as an artist. So once I discovered NFTs at the beginning of this year, it just totally clicked with me, because it's really a way for digital artists to fund and capture value from their work directly.
I started tinkering around with the NFT standard, ERC-721, figuring out how to build my own marketplace by looking at other open source marketplace contracts, and then eventually stumbling onto the ZORA universe and how you guys made it super easy for anyone to build their own marketplaces. I found that so much better than everyone spinning up their own marketplaces, like using their own custom code. So after I discovered NFTs, I really started doing some contracting work and building out different things for people. A lot of people were requesting custom marketplaces, or auction houses, for an event, or artist, or certain drop collaboration.
I thought it should be a much easier way for someone non-technical to have their own marketplace. That's how Artiva became a thing: I started prototyping that March/May, then started getting some traction at the beginning of last year…now it's a whole whirlwind of activity going around Artiva, which is incredible.
MS: What does your tech stack look like that you work with regularly? Obviously for many artists entering this, this seems to be technologically complex. What is that stack that one needs—either as an artist or as a programmer—to be able to navigate it as eloquently as you are?
N: I really use Next.js as the core of the Artiva product, and it's just a super easy react framework to work with. And then, obviously, ZORA contracts for the back end. The ZDK is super helpful with spinning up the auction house stuff and making sure everything is getting put in its proper place. Then as a developer, you also need to know a bit of the graph stuff. Now the ZORA indexer stuff is coming into play, where you can query different NFTs and get the right properties, and make sure you're getting the right data from the blockchain in the best way. So I think the subgraph has been super helpful for that.
Then I use Ethers.js a lot whenever I'm trying to interact with the blockchain, because I think that's just the library I'm most comfortable with; they make it really easy to bridge between wallets and blockchain stuff. And then for the Web2 stuff, I do a little bit of caching with some AWS CloudFront just to make things really snappy for people, and then I store all the off-chain data we need, such as platform customizations, on our own database.
MS: Go a bit more into your approach to designing Artiva: start with what the solution was that you were trying to create; what is the typical user for you of Artiva?; and what will they find in the product that they might not be able to find anywhere else right now?
N: I think what we're trying to do in the main focus of our design is making it simple for anyone to spin up an auction house. If you go on the Artiva site now, it's pretty much four clicks to get an auction house set up, have your own branding, and then invite the artists you want to work with. And then once you want to do a little bit more in-depth customization, you can hop into the settings and tweak some of the stuff—none of that should be complicated at all. It should be just as easy as setting up a regular Web2 site with Shopify or Wix or something. That's always the ethos I had when designing and thinking about the user experience of Artiva.
MS: A majority of the people reading this will be developers themselves. Could you—from a developer perspective—talk a little bit about what it’s like to work with the ZORA toolset? Initially you started to build an auction house template for ZORA NFT, but now that ZORA pivoted to being a marketplace protocol, which is a much bigger extension of the ideas, how is it for you as a developer to implement them?
N: So in the beginning, I started working on this project before the auction house came out actually; I was using the V1 of the toolset and there were some kinks to work out with that, but once the auction house came out, and Tyson [Battistella] and Breck [Stodghill] started talking with me about that, it just opened up a world of possibilities. It wasn't even really reflected until the most recent V2 update you guys did. Now anyone can see the potential of these contracts now: you can auction off any ERC-721 in a decentralized manner, not just things that were minted through the zora.co product. So we started doing that a few months ago and it's really cool being on the forefront of unlocking the potential of these contracts, because they're so open and permissionless.
Even the curator mode that we’ve set up, where someone can take a platform fee, that's all done through the auction house; none of that has surfaced through the zora.co product yet. So it's cool being on the edge of this stuff and giving some feedback to Tyson and Breck on what works and what doesn't. I think they're really taking that to heart and understanding how we can evolve the protocol together: me a consumer of their protocol, and them as the producer of what they're trying to create.
MS: Based on all of that, how do you see Artiva as a product moving in the near future, or even long-term?
N: Our short-midterm goal is to create an in-depth customization experience for people, because right now, you can customize basic stuff like fonts, colors, branding and whatnot, but we really want to help people create experiences around their NFTs and build something that you have in your vision. All these people are talking about creating their own space, their own metaverse, their own story behind their set of works or their collection, and we really want to give people the tools to really build out the context around their works.
MS: What's your take on the NFT ecosystem right now? You've been involved for 10 months—basically the primetime of the technology—both as a developer and somebody who can read smart contracts, and understand the hierarchy of the data. What's your observation in how it's developing, and what do you think artists and developers should pay more attention to?
N: All of this is just so early right now, and it's interesting seeing different artists sprout up or different traditional players, like Christie's and Sotheby's, getting into the game and realizing what the potential is of NFTs now—even in gaming or different stratospheres, not just the art space. Other collectible projects are working on different universes of their collectibles, not just looking at the single assets. For artists, there's a lot of potential with interactive NFTs, some of these generative artworks are now touching the surface of that. I think once we get better support for 3D metaverses, or 3D experiences, we're going to see a lot more interesting things like performance artwork or installation artwork being NFT'd and experienced in a proper way than just the flat 2D interfaces that we have right now.
MS: You mentioned earlier that one of your first investigations was the ERC-721 standard, and probably also the ERC-20 standard. Do you think that the structure that we have right now is sufficient to cover the ground that NFTs are quickly gaining? Or will we find ourselves at some point where the standards are not sufficient and need to be changed, adapted, and extended?
N: I think the hard part about any standard is, once it becomes mainstream and gets real adoption, it's hard to change it or go back and edit certain things. I think we're pretty much stuck with the ERC-721 standard that we have now, but I see a lot of potential for different extensions people could do on-chain while still fitting into the standards. Something that does need to develop more is a marketplace standard: a standard way for a developer like me to interact with different marketplace interfaces. Right now it's all custom, everyone has their own way of building a marketplace, which is cool, but it makes it hard to do any interoperability between any marketplaces. So kind of like how PartyBid had to make these little adapters for any marketplace that they're trying to work with, I think maybe something like that could be helpful to standardize more.
MS: What kind of projects outside of your own work—collections, individual artists, or individual builders of modules—excite and inspire you at the moment?
N: The last conversation we had, I talked a little bit about the Nouns project, how they created their SVG renderer and trying to render everything on-chain. Then we talked a little bit about how you were seeing artists back in the day fitting game renders and stuff on their CDs. Seeing the parallels to that now is interesting, it's going to be exciting when someone puts a game render on-chain for anyone to plug, play into, and work on things like that in a permissionless way. I also think projects like Loot have been opening up the design space of NFTs, where it's something that lives on the blockchain and anyone can interact with, and build on top of, it.
MS: Outside of Artiva, are you working on any artistic endeavors or creative projects?
N: Yeah, I've been messing around with p5.js…and figuring out how to do animations. I’m working on a little script that I've been building and trying to figure out the best way to make it last forever. I have the visuals set up, but it's the technology part that I'm working on now, and I think doing something like that for Artiva could be cool too, having an option for generative artists to come in, upload their script, and then we handle everything else for them. So I'm trying to figure out how to kind of bring those two projects together and figure out how generative artwork can live on Artiva through my own project as a little guinea pig experiment.
MS: Do you see yourself leaving this technology anytime, or do you think that you've found your creative home for now?
N: I don't even know what else I would be doing right now, because this just fits my passions and my history. I just love building in the space, talking to everyone, and understanding the potential of where this technology can go in the future. It's just too much fun to give up anytime soon.
MS: Will you remain behind the pseudonym, or will you—at some point—step out into real life, doxxing yourself?
N: I've already kind of been to some IRL events where I had to dox myself, but I think keeping the pseudonym online is more fun. I can have people look at what I'm putting out, or look at what I'm saying, instead of thinking about what I look like as a person, or my age, or my nationality. It gives it a more neutral feeling on what I'm putting out into the world.