Minting Monarchs with Eric Hu

Monarchs is a limited edition series of 888 generative NFTs by Eric Hu and Roy Tatum. Each artwork features a unique one-of-a-kind butterfly with varying wing shapes, colors, bodies and patterns. Eric Hu is an acclaimed New York art director who was formerly Global Design Director at Nike on the Sportswear Brand Design team and Director of Design at SSENSE. We caught up with Eric earlier this week.

Did you face a lot of backlash with Monarchs?

EH: Not for Monarchs, I think by then a lot of people had come around to it. But I did get some pretty angry messages and things like that. When I first started doing it in February and March, there were some really emotional messages from young students like, “I looked up to you. And now I feel frustrated and it’s really hurtful to see you participate in this.” A lot of the critiques have been either from people very much younger than me or much older than me.

But those emotions are all really valid. It’s been a difficult year for a lot of people. I benefited a lot from this year, but I’m in a very small minority. And so the least I could do was really listen. But also being a veteran of arguing on the internet, I can tell very quickly now if people have already made up their mind, and they're just trying to dunk on me and I don’t really have as much patience for that.

I also understand it, because we’re used to having to ask every time there’s a new technology, “Who’s getting screwed over now?” I don’t criticize people that criticize me at all. I know exactly where they’re coming from.

It hasn’t always been easy, because the elephant in the room is that there’s a third of the people that think this is something that could bring a lot of equity and inclusion to a space that has been disadvantaged. There’s a third that think this is just a Ponzi scheme, multi-level marketing thing on a mass level. And then there’s a third that’s like, “Oh, you’re boiling the oceans and destroying the environment.”

“We’re at this point where something has to change. These big companies are already making very big moves into the Metaverse.”

And where do you fit in?

EH: ​​I think there’s a tiny bit of truth in all three. I do think there are people that use it to make a lot of money and to not really care about the art. I do think some NFTs — the way they’re created — might be more energy-intensive than others. But this is kind of the problem with web2, where we’re so used to everybody being forced to have an opinion on something. And now the stakes are higher to have the wrong opinion. And after Trump, after all these years of just arguing against each other, what we’re doing, ultimately, is increasing Twitter’s share price.

Also, because of how blockchain works, where you can see all the information and data, you’re able to see how much energy the networks of a lot of blockchains use. So we know that’s high. But we don’t really know the numbers for YouTube, online gaming or streaming. The fact that we know that it takes up energy is interesting because it’s the only major thing that is willing to show us exactly how much energy it takes.

And a lot of it is really blown out of proportion. I don’t think it’s going to be relevant in a year. The biggest NFT blockchain that everything exists on is moving to proof of stake next year where 99.9% of the energy is being cut. And right now you can mint an NFT for less energy than a single Google search.

It’s changing pretty quickly.

EH: Yes. And we’re at this point where something has to change. Big companies are already making very big moves into the Metaverse. The other day this artist whose Instagram name is Metaverse had her name taken from her by Instagram and Facebook, because they wanted to use it. And that’s impossible in web3.

If we don’t really want to participate in it, then they’re going to lead, and change web3 into web2.5. Because they have way more economic resources than these newer technology stacks.

“I don’t know if the right answer is taking an Uber to go halfway across town to see a Jeff Koons sculpture that just flew in on a plane from Dubai, that was built in metal in overseas factories.”

How do you see people reacting? Are NFTs a fad?

EH: I don’t think this is a fad. I think maybe NFTs in this current incarnation are a fad, but an NFT can be any type of file. And we’re going to see some different use cases that maybe aren’t art. I do have a lot of criticism about the space and I think it could go very badly, but I think there’s more ingredients in there to do really good things, like royalties and economic equity.

What I hate seeing is people not being given the chance to try to make something just a little better. It seems like the public is expecting perfection at this point. And if it’s not perfect, they’re willing to stick with the garbage that they’re used to.

What’s your advice?

EH: I hope there’s more creatives that, even if they are critical of it, definitely just engage with the space. Talk to the actual people that make these platforms, really have your voice heard. You don’t have to participate in it without criticality, you can criticize it, but I think non-participation is where nobody wins — when people don’t participate, or even try to engage or even try to discuss things.

Web2 has forced us to have a hot take on everything, to view other people as villains. But there’s not enough self-reflection. I don’t know if the right answer is taking an Uber to go halfway across town to see a Jeff Koons sculpture that just flew in on a plane from Dubai, that was built in metal in overseas factories.

How inclusive, really, does this space feel right now?

EH: It’s definitely getting a lot easier for anybody to do. Week by week, literally — there’s so much that happens within a few weeks now. Everybody’s trying to make better tools for everybody. There are services like Manifold that help you make your smart contracts without code, to be platform-agnostic and really own your art. There’s the Mint Fund, which helps fund BIPOC creators minting NFTs for the first time.

Me and my partner, Roy — we made the Monarchs NFT project together — we’re doing something called Decentralized Beauty, where we’re going to offer resources to onboard artists who are skeptical or haven’t engaged with web3. Whether it’s helping pay for their costs for minting, helping them code their own contracts, and partnering with them to launch their collections that aren’t on a Foundation or Zora or another platform, and trying to replicate what we did.

Most of the world doesn’t have a bank account, like a lot of the people don’t have means to enter into the financial system. And we’re seeing NFTs do some really cool things in Barbados, Ethiopia, India and the Global South.

This is an excerpt from primary research conducted by Dims. on the fast-changing landscape of blockchain and NFTs. Sign up for more timely updates.