June 2022, Wonder Fair 4.0 Natural Intelligence opened to the public. A free four-day festival-like experience in New York City, in conjunction with NFT.NYC, allowed people of all backgrounds to experience art in an unprecedented manner. Outdoors, yet, the exhibition brought together what we may consider traditional mediums with digital ones taking the art world by storm. From NFTs to new technologies, Wonder Fair immersed its guests in art and action.
Wonder Fair is the product of two contemporary artists. Erica Simone, a Franco-American photographer based in Los Angeles and founder of NFT photography publication The Modern Analogue, combined forces with Lena Viddo, a Colombian-Swedish multidisciplinary artist and curator with a foundational practice in oil painting, in 2018 to create a limited art-based event that embraces their shared love of experiential and experimental works of art. Debuting at Art Basel Miami and continuing annually since, these artists combined their love of art, passion for the well-being of our world, and desire to establish a truly supportive arts community into what is now Wonder Fair.
From Wander to Wonder
Wonder Fair has proven to be the true synthesis of both Simone and Viddo’s passions, experiences, and greater aspirations for our world. With a distinctive perspective, where art is a catalyst for both understanding and active change, they are here to demolish the white walls of contemporary art that keep us from building thriving creative communities. Taking on an innovative curatorial approach to tackle issues close to both their hearts, Simone and Viddo are sharing narratives from corners of our world rarely explored into inspirational visual forms that ignite connections on a personal and collective level.
TM: Let’s start by learning a bit more about Wonder Fair. How did Wonder Fair begin and how have you seen it evolve since its initial conception?
ES: Wonder Fair is the love child of painter Lena Viddo and myself. The first iteration started in 2018 at Art Basel in Miami and was such a success that we decided to continue them yearly. We wanted to tap into our network of talented artists and performers to create experiential art exhibitions that defied the traditional whitebox gallery format. We are both very inspired by the Burning Man community and creativity and wanted to bring more of that fresh, wild energy into the art world.
LV: Not only had Erica and I both been exhibiting our work internationally, we also found ourselves community building and getting involved in impact and activism projects. We turned Wonder Fair into a goodwill enterprise and established it as a 501(c)(3) with the mission of helping provide artists a more democratic platform and opportunity to exhibit their work and talents. While each incarnation of Wonder Fair has always included offering that space to artists, we also began to incorporate impact projects to the mix like that of Wonder Fair 4.0 Natural Intelligence with its theme of climate change awareness and education. I had also been producing underground art experiential events for over a decade in NYC, and this also added to Wonder Fair’s evolution.
TM: For your latest iteration of Wonder Fair you created an immersive event with an impressive roster of artists entitled “Natural Intelligence” in conjunction with NFT.NYC. This event centered around ideas and issues of our Earth’s climate inspired by a recent trip to Antarctica. To begin, can you tell us what it was about the continent that you found so inspirational that you made these relevant issues central to “Natural Intelligence”?
ES: Following a recent trip to Antarctica, where I was immersed in a weeklong experience that involved many educational panels and discussions around the climate issue, as well as having first-handedly witnessed melting ice shelves, I became very inspired to take action. When the opportunity arose to bring Wonder Fair to NFT.NYC, it felt like the perfect synergy to merge the climate theme with the curation and create a platform to bring awareness to these issues by our attendees. I’ve always found that educating and inspiring through art is a beautiful way to create positive social change.
LV: Although I have never visited Antarctica, I have directly witnessed with my own eyes the dramatic receding glaciers in Northern Norway and Sweden. I’m of Swedish descent and have been visiting Scandinavia yearly for over 40 years. I remember just 20 years ago skiing in July at summer ski slopes in Norway like that of Strynefjellet. I returned several years later to a summer ghost town. Everything was closed and boarded up with no snow in sight. It has been a passion of mine, and I have been incorporating themes of climate change and sustainability into my narrative-driven paintings for many years now.
NFT DIsplay “Manifest Destiny” by Lena Viddo
Performance by Joules Magus and Flambeaux Fire
TM: Building upon this, what impact do you hope to achieve as a result of events like this?
ES: I hope that people who came were inspired to make changes within their own lives as well as to help spread the word to others in their communities. Sometimes all it takes is one person to create a domino effect.
LV: Exactly as Erica states, we hope to inspire but we also would like to synergize with like-minded creatives within a mission not only to create great art that asks questions but also to raise awareness and funds for our favorite impact partners so that they can do their important work.
The strained relationship between humanity and our environment has only been exacerbated by the exponential rise of technology. In a divisive age, we are bombarded with opposing views that make us question the societal and environmental impact of these new modes of information, and now artistic, dispersions. For Simone and Viddo, Wonder Fair is just the place to set the record straight. Through their embracing of NFTs they are showing that they are not only a way to transform spaces and the way we view art but a way to transform our understanding of technological truths in our society today where art, the digital realm, and sustainability are concerned. For this duo, NFTs represent the limitless potential our future holds.
TM: Now, thinking more about your respective backgrounds as a painter and photographer, how have your own practices begun to intersect with the world of NFTs? How has this impacted your production of “Natural Intelligence”.
ES: I’ve really enjoyed immersing myself into the NFT space. It’s an open community with an overall positive, friendly attitude. I was a little intimidated at first, since I knew nothing about it when I first got into it, but having fully sold out my genesis collection in 30 seconds through Quantum, it was hugely exciting and encouraging to move forward in the space. It’s also been very inspiring creatively. I get to discover new, talented artists, and it’s also provided a less-frills marketplace that I can look forward to producing new work in. Additionally, I founded a magazine called The Modern Analogue that showcases fine art photography in the NFT space and that has made me dive into more curating lately, which was very useful for producing Natural Intelligence, as I have been networking so much with artists and generally looking at artwork from a curatorial perspective.
LV: What resonated most for me are the philosophical aspects of NFTs, in particular how it has democratized things for artists. In particular, the royalties benefit received by the artist every time their NFT continues to resell on the secondary market. Also its potential indestructibility and eternal imprint on the blockchain is an interesting concept. I do understand it’s not that simple, and that NFTs can be destroyed by burning or being hacked into, but still the notion of eternally existing on the blockchain is a really cool concept. My genesis collection that I presented at Wonder Fair 3.0 Hyperlink, for 2021 Miami Art Basel, did really well. I was overwhelmed by the friendliness of those in the NFT space. It felt like everyone was invested in the success of all artists delving into it. People were rooting for one another in a way I haven’t experienced in the traditional art world. Instead of a win for me means a loss for you, the feeling was more like a win for me means a win for all, each sale legitimizing and giving credibility to the world of NFTs making success more possible for everyone.
TM: As we have noted, a huge component of your art festival is the realm of NFTs and the growing number of NFT artists in the world today. From your perspective, what does it mean to host a climate themed event with an NFT emphasis, as these two are often controversially intertwined?
ES: I think that anyone who raises controversy around the NFT/energy discussion isn’t properly informed on the issue and that rumor is quickly dissipating anyway. As ETH transitions into proof of stake, the energy impact of mining will get reduced by 99%, and the energy consumption of minting an NFT on the Solana network is totally immaterial—the equivalent to a Google search. Also, the crypto space is said to use approximately 45% renewable energy. We hosted Natural Intelligence as a way to create joyful activism through art in order to raise awareness, so we are tapping into an optimistic and inspiring way to touch people. Creating sensorial personal experiences will hopefully touch people more than fear-based, click-bait headlines.
Performance by Darrell Thorne
A Mission, A Vision, An Experience
From its inception to the present iteration, there is a word that keeps being used to describe Wonder Fair, synergy. The founders, the artists, the curators, and even the mediums within Wonder Fair are about a cohesion in the seemingly dissonant. Here, as the traditions of art collide with the innovative and the almost otherworldly, Wonder Fair is offering not just aesthetics but experiences that bring us closer together, collaborating towards revolutionary common goals.
TM: Can you tell us more about the curatorial vision of Nola Kat and James Halldon and why they were selected to help bring “Natural Intelligence” to life?
ES: I was introduced to James Halldon while I was participating in an NFT-focused Twitter Space one morning. When I mentioned that I was co-producing Natural Intelligence and looking for help with curation, he reached out to come on board. James brought Nola to the team and we all had really great aesthetic and energetic synergy. They were a huge asset to the creative vision of Natural Intelligence’s NFT exhibition.
LV: We like to collaborate with different curators for each Wonder Fair project. Nola Kat and James Halldon were an amazing curatorial duo. James is well versed in the world of NFT’s, tech and graphic design and Nola Kat is an amazing painter and both have a great eye for identifying talent and good work. The stable of artists that they work with added a new dimension to Natural Intelligence. We also enjoy working together and find that their work ethic, enthusiasm and bright outlook resonates with that of ours. We are very compatible, and we really have fun working together. We plan to continue collaborating together for this Art Basel and beyond.
TM: The artist list features over 30 artists from NFTs, to visual arts, to musical creators. Can you tell us more about how these artists were selected and what messages you hoped to convey by bringing them together in this venue?
ES: Lena has been developing relationships with incredible performers and artists for well over a decade of producing nightlife events in NYC, many of whom we have also been hiring the last several years for Wonder Fair. We merged those who we thought could bring climate-themed performances into the mix with NFT artists who had climate and Earth-themed works to create an overall rounded selection of immersive art that would beautifully convey the theme.
LV: Yes, we are super excited about new technologies. I personally am starting to incorporate the use of AI into my NFT works. Wonder Fair 3.0 boasted a 72‘ long x 14’ high arched 3D LED screen, the latest state of the art tech for a 3D experience. 3D glasses are required with the viewer standing within the arc and is surrounded by swirling, shifting and floating images for an almost fully 3D experience. Wonder Fair 1.0 included a virtual reality installation, which at the time was very fresh. I personally like the juxtaposition of old and new technologies.
TM: Some of the keywords for the festival are “immersive” and “experiential”. How did you bring together these purely digital forms of art and physical sensorial experiences in “Natural Intelligence”?
ES: We collaborated with artists such as No Magic No Fun to create immersive digital experiences, for example a motion-detected, onscreen digital experience where guests could actively control graphics on the large main screen using their hand movements. We also hosted a series of artist talks and programming, such as a breathwork class led by Primavera Salvá and a meditation ceremony hosted by meditation expert Emily Fletcher. We wanted to provide experiences that would create active participation with our guests and not just show art passively.
LV: The key to making an immersive event successful is designing it with an eye towards including the attendees as active participants and actors in its grand plan. It’s not a passive experience where one is entertained by solely watching. While performers, artists and magic makers facilitate, the participant guest is in it.
Photograph by Erica Simone
The Future of Intelligence
Wonder Fair is proving that art truly knows no limits. With no signs of slowing down, but rather ramping up, Simone and Viddo are eager to venture into novel artistic, thematic, and experiential territories as their passion project continues to grow. Dismantling and reconfiguring the relationship between the physical and the technological, this power duo is gearing up to present new methods of engagement, new ways of making art accessible, and racing towards new horizons of groundbreaking art relevant to our daily lives.
TM: As your organization and programming continue to grow and respond to the changes in society as well as the art world, are there any new emerging art forms or technologies you are eager to experiment with in future iterations?
ES: We almost had a hologram machine and I think that could be a really incredible experience for our guests in a future iteration of Wonder Fair. These types of budding technologies that allow us to show art in totally new, far-out ways are super exciting.
LV: Yes, we are super excited about new technologies. I personally am starting to incorporate the use of AI into my NFT works, for instance. Wonder Fair 3.0 boasted a 72‘ long x 14’ high arched 3D LED screen, the latest state of the art tech for a 3D experience. 3D glasses are required with the viewer standing within the arc and is surrounded by swirling, shifting and floating images for an almost fully 3D experience. Wonder Fair 1.0 included a virtual reality installation, which at the time was very fresh. I personally like the juxtaposition of old and new technologies.
TM: With the success of Wonder Fair’s “Natural Intelligence”, where do you see your organization headed in the future?
ES: We would like to be able to grow in a way that allows us to produce events in an easeful and fulfilling way, while being able to showcase a wide variety of talented artists, including artists from underserved communities who may have less access to these kinds of exciting opportunities to show their work. We would like more opportunities to access interesting venues that give us the potential to create unique and ground-breaking events, as well as more financial capabilities to do so.
LV: We have been working on WonderFair 5.0 for Art Basel. We don’t want to say too much about it yet, but suffice it to say we are going to blow it up and really up our game!