The Y2K aesthetics in NFT art and the Metaverse: Is it necessary, or just nostalgia?
Culture, X-Article

The Y2K aesthetics in NFT art and the Metaverse: Is it necessary, or just nostalgia?

Article brought to you by the SOPRG gallery operating in Somnium Space metaverse – on behalf of the gallery – Milan & Gustavo.

Some of the most prevalent aesthetics in NFT art and metaverse art is the Y2K aesthetics. This type of style preference for visual arts, music, video games, and design was fused with tech motifs, predicting a future that at times seemed optimistic, and at times more in tune with cyberpunk narratives.Y2K, the name given to this type of aesthetic, is a name that draws from technology, as it refers to the scare that computer programs would collapse or have system failures worldwide when the year 2000 came around, as they only counted the last two digits. Meaning that the year 2000 would be computed as 1900. The Y2K aesthetics era lasted from around 1997 until 2004, so it makes sense to give it the name of the technological, apocalyptical scare of the time.

The Y2K aesthetic usually consisted – at least on the visual side of things – of metallic and translucent colors, that gave it a futuristic feel. Some of the most iconic images included a psychedelic or surreal landscape, which gives the images an eerie and other-worldly feel. 

Does this description sound familiar? That’s because Y2K, reliant on CGI and graphic design, is making a comeback through NFT art. Many types of revivalism tendencies are currently taking place, especially in the film and TV industry, so we should try to understand if this is just something that taps into nostalgia from those that lived throughout the end of the 20th century and welcomed the 21st, or if there is something more innovative and revolutionary form the Y2K aesthetic movement that is useful in the year 2023.

From a cultural standpoint, it makes sense that people want to reminisce a time full of promises of liberation that were ushered in by Internet technology, which was still new. The dot-com bubble was still to burst, and the wars that have characterized the 21st century had not begun. So, if this trend is just revivalism, perhaps this would be a more than understandable reason why Y2K is being used on NFT art. A way to remind people that there was a time full of techno-optimism.

However, this would signal (according to Mark Fisher) an inability to imagine new futures. One can interpret the constant revivalism trends, remakes, and nostalgia for past cultural outputs as a symptom of incapacity to create a new narrative for what the future could look like.

The Y2K aesthetics’ usefulness and appeal in NFT art

While there might be an element of nostalgia to the revival of aesthetics, perhaps even an inability to imagine new forms of cultural output and therefore a need to recycle old forms, there is also usefulness to Y2K looks. They can serve as a platform to imagine new, surreal, and futuristic worlds that are not grounded in preconceived notions of reality. Which is a great starting point for finding new ways to imagine the future.

It is also a great way to construct highly creative metaverse worlds that have a unique aesthetic to them because there is so much that was influenced by Y2K. From the design of objects, hardware, and toys – referred to as “blobjects” due to the curves and colors that they had – to architecture (again, featuring lots of curves) and fashion. These aesthetics influenced not only the visual arts, but also shaped all of these aspects that make up daily life. So, the aesthetic can be revisited to see what possibilities it can provide in a time when virtual worlds are being created. CGI, a crucial component of the images created through the Y2K influence, has advanced a lot and could push this aesthetic forward.

An artist that, inadvertently or not, has created futuristic-looking NFT art that reminisces Y2K is Blake Kathryn. Her artwork known as Seasons is basically a dreamscape that reminds one of this start-of-the-century style of visuals. She specializes in iconography, which is something that Y2K aesthetics and visuals rely on heavily.

Another example of an NFT artist using this aesthetic to great effect is FVCKRENDER, whose body of work can also remind of Y2K.

From the vantage point of the year 2023, there is something undeniably hypnotic and appealing about the Y2K aesthetic. With the advances in modern technology to create art, perhaps there is a unique possibility to rehabilitate it and push it even further. Perhaps it could even serve as a way to create the future that was once imagined, but never came to fruition. A way to push back against the assertion that all cultural artifacts are recycled versions of past creations.

One of the cool features of Somnium Space Metaverse is that to a large extend it is shaped by users, who also incorporate aesthetics from the early 2000s. The aesthetic that slowly but surely, through nostalgia or true artistic commitment; is making a comeback. The depth and significance of this comeback are pending evaluation, as well as whether it ends up being the aesthetic that ends up shaping the metaverse. For now, you can head over to SOPRG’s Somnium Space Metaverse art gallery to enjoy these graphics.

NFT artwork in this article is by Mr. Vavříček

February 18, 2023

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