Artist Gabriel Massan uses video game world-building and the blockchain to reimagine the meaning of ‘Third World’


As a boy growing up in Brazil, artist Gabriel Massan was fascinated by maps and the finer points of cartography. “All my life I have been interested in geography,” he says. the art newspaper“in the study of the world map, looking for capitals and economic summaries.” He became interested in the politics, economy and geography of his country and came to understand the inequality of Brazilian society and the privilege of the upper class, which he witnessed daily in Rio de Janeiro. But he was saddened when he heard that Brazil, which celebrated its bicentennial in September, was described as a “developing country.”

Massan’s cultural, national and geopolitical awareness adds a special charge to the name:Third World—has given to the collaborative world-building video game he’s creating, for release in 2023, with Serpentine Artists Technologies; with a related blockchain project built on the open source platform Tezos. The project is part of the London-based Serpentine’s Artist Worlds programme, which was set up in 2021 to examine how artists could use game engines and simulations to build new worlds and bring audiences into a live-streamed experience. Massan sees Third World as a way to offer access to his own world, to question what it is to travel, as well as the attitudes towards Brazil and Brazilians he has encountered around the world—it is part of his practice, he says, to question inequality—and to give other artists and developers a platform to explore and build on.

A scene from the world building video game. Third Worldwhich Gabriel Massan is making in collaboration with his fellow Brazilian artists Castiel Vitorino Brasileiro, Novíssimo Edgar and LYZZA. Image courtesy of Gabriel Massan

Third World it will be released as an online video game and will be featured in an exhibition of Massan’s work taking place at the Serpentine in London in the summer of 2023. Massan is also working during Art Basel in Miami Beach with the blockchain of Tezos to issue limited edition tokens Based on Third Worldat an event co-sponsored by Tezos and Serpentine on November 30.

The Miami event coincides with the release of the Serpentine’s latest strategic report, Future Art Ecosystems: Vol 3. Art x decentralized technology, part of a program to bring artists closer to advanced technology and involve society as a whole in the work they produce. Serpentine’s mission is to “build new partnerships,” Hans Ulrich Obrist, artistic director of Serpentine Galleries, said at the report’s launch in London. “New connections between artists and society”.

The Serpentine team manages to push artists, says Massan, “to create the possibility to experiment, to create a dream.”

For Massan, who now lives in Berlin, Third World it’s been a collaboration on a challenging scale since day one. He has worked online with the Serpentine Artists Technologies team, a host of developers (he contributed 30 pages of notes to the first R&D discussion), and a growing team of artists from around the world, with particular contributions from his Brazilian colleagues. . the artists Castiel Vitorino Brasileiro, Novíssimo Edgar and LYZZA. And the project has grown to become massive and detailed, with a separate narrative, built around three scenarios, at each level of the game. The Serpentine team manages to push artists, says Massan, “to create the possibility to experiment, to create a dream.”

A scene from the world building video game. Third Worldwhich Gabriel Massan is making in collaboration with his fellow Brazilian artists Castiel Vitorino Brasileiro, Novíssimo Edgar and LYZZA. Image courtesy of Gabriel Massan

From maker of objects to creator of systems

Bettina Korek, CEO of Serpentine Galleries, says the collaboration with Massan on Third World It stems from Serpentine’s long-term project to turn the white cube model for museums and galleries into a real art experience for the user. Users will be able to find Third World in a gallery, download from the Steam platform or play live on the popular game streaming site Twitch, then archive and share your experiences on Third World-images and screenshots from inside the game, on the Tezos blockchain. Taken together, these multiple points of contact create a “deep exchange,” says Korek; and they are enabling Massan to move from being a maker of art objects to a builder of systems. (This kind of artistic trajectory is at the heart of the new Art ecosystems of the future report.)

A fundamental system that Massan and Serpentine Artists Technologies have generated is that of collaboration with other artists and developers. Massan sees the work as “not just me, but a group of artists and thinkers.” Live via video conference with collaborators in Europe, Brazil and Japan, he says, “the chat was full of links, plays, new ways to program the game.” Sometimes, he says, it felt like a study group in college.

An innovative system that Third World The collaboration team seeks to introduce is the use of smart contracts to record the contribution of all of Massan’s creative partners and maintain that record, as a permanent ledger, through any subsequent transactions involving NFTs produced in connection with Third World.

A scene from the world building video game. Third Worldwhich Gabriel Massan is making in collaboration with his fellow Brazilian artists Castiel Vitorino Brasileiro, Novíssimo Edgar and LYZZA. Image courtesy of Gabriel Massan

For Eva Jäger, curator of artistic technologies at Serpentine, the project addresses the challenge of using smart contracts to create a (long-promised) secondary market for art on the blockchain. An artist and their collaboration team, he says, should be included in such contracts from the start, so that the benefit doesn’t just go to the token holder. The creative team’s initial investment in the artwork would be protected and they would become part of the community creating NFTs from the game.

Massan was familiar with Tezos prior to the start of his relationship withThird World, and already felt at home in its open source environment. “Friends were coining [tokens] on Tezos-based systems,” he says. “It was one of the few platforms where artists minted and collected every day. With a huge amount of interactivity, giving value to this community. With Tezos, I started collecting work.”

A world without maps

Massan started the Third World project by creating six or seven original three-dimensional sculptures and then inviting other artists and developers to collaborate. He was inspired by classic world building games like sim city Y Grand Theft Auto and for advice he received on community building from New York-based Danish artist Jakob Kudsk Steensen, whose primal tourism—a live multiplayer virtual event developed with three other artists and focused on the interrelationship between ecology, sustainability and technological advances— was the theme of The Serpentine’s Art Worlds program in 2021.

Gabriel Massan, a lifelong cartographer, has deliberately given his game no map for players to follow. Photo: Hick Duarte

A thoughtful speaker who takes the time to answer a question, and considers it answered, Massan wants Third World to be a place where other artists and players “stop to listen and listen to see”. Think and then choose. When he presented the concept in Germany, showing stills from Third Worldhe asked the audience to “close your minds to begin with” and was very pleased when a young visitor told him that he had closed his eyes, after studying the stills and concept, “to try to liven up the game”.

Massan wants Third World to be a place where other artists and players “stop to listen and listen to see”.

Lifelong cartographer Massan has deliberately not given the game maps for players to follow. This is “so that people find in their own way,” he says. “To think about what there is… beyond inequality. also where [they] they come geographically. To find another way.” And he is using Third World to play with time, always a prime consideration in games, and the power of memory. At any level, he and his collaborators can create five artifacts, he says, three of which are related to the memory of that space. These artifacts can be moved between levels and “bring those memories from one level to the next”.

For Jäger, bringing an artist into a live-streamed world-building game has “monstrous potential appeal: with music, fashion, DJs helping to reach different audiences.” For Massan himself, the scale and variety of the game-making experience: recording audio with an artist, working one-on-one with another; in person and online, it has been an intense experience. Sometimes, he says, he feels like he might actually be living in his own game. The experience has informed his discussions with other artists who have practices that include the blockchain. It has also given him a different perspective on the traditional art world.

Third World it’s an ever-evolving world that artists and developers can add to, what Massan calls a “metaverse within an environment that people can access.” And when the game launches in 2023, he says, “that’s just the beginning.”

• Sheets derived from Gabriel Massan Third World will be delivered to guests at Tezos x Serpentine, SLS South Beach hotel, on Wednesday, November 30, from 9 pm to 1 am

• Art ecosystems of the future: Vol. 3. Art x decentralized technology was published by Serpentine on November 25

• Gabriel Massan and Third World will be featured in an exhibition at Serpentine North, London, in summer 2023