By MARIEPET MANGOSING, July 2022
Meet photographer, Erica Simone, and painter, Lena Viddo, the co-founders of the art collective, Wonder Fair. Together they’ve staged art festivals at Art Basel in Miami over the past five years. This year, they brought their art festival, Wonder Fair 4.0 Natural Intelligence, to Waterline Square, a glittering park on the Upper West Side of New York City for the NFT.NYC international conference.
An official satellite event of the conference, the mission of Wonder Fair’s latest incarnation was two-fold and included joyful and creative activism to address the pressing issues of the climate crisis while simultaneously delivering a multi-sensory art exhibition showcasing an impressive roster of over 50 international NFT artists, dozens of performance artists, musicians and DJs. Boasting a 34ft LED wall, a long row of screens aligning the park's perimeter and an elevated stage accented with floral arrangements, disco balls, other sparkling curiosities, including a muscular state-of-the-art Danley sound system, Wonder Fair was a visual and sensory delight for all who experienced it. Viewers, attendees and rostered participants were all important actors in its grand design.
The weeklong, action-packed festival promised and delivered interactive and immersive art experiences, performances, panels, and other creative programming, bringing artists, tech people, art lovers, and crypto/NFT holders together. Film screenings by award-winning photo journalist and artist, Colin Finlay made the roster of incredible events. A roving omakase food experience, avante-garde contortionism, New York’s finest fire dancers, a Balinese mask workshop, and a world class sound journey were just some of the festival’s many activations. At the head of the sprawling 2.5 acre lawn of Waterline Square, an interactive futuristic fountain invited children and adults alike to cool off on hot summer days. The green open space with its stone rivers and waterways that make up Waterline Square added a nice dash of the wild and natural to the Wonder Fair NYC experience.
Over the span of four days during NFT.NYC, Wonder Fair organized panel discussions and live podcasts, topics included emerging climate and blockchain technologies, social impact in web3, and art’s role in raising awareness and solutions to these pressing issues. The premise of Natural Intelligence was a play on AI, taking it to the place where tech and nature meet. Artists, performers, and speakers were invited to elaborate and showcase what the earth and, more specifically, climate change means to them.
Simone says, “We want to address the problems planet Earth is facing, while also highlighting solutions by presenting organizations that are affecting change with real and tangible results. Our partners, Project Vesta and C16 Biosciences, are developing carbon capture technologies and alternatives to palm oil, respectively. How to use the blockchain for social impact is another big focus.” Simone continues to say, in sum, that the question Natural Intelligence is asking is: “How do we move forward as a species to utilize technology to stop harming the planet and to become in much greater harmony with it?”
With an eager and fast-growing community and its interest in the potential effects of web3 and what that might mean to our collective futures, Wonder Fair was placed on a solid platform for conjecture on these burning and important topics of strategizing and implementing these plans in real time. Simone relays, “We are trying to present creative ways to start a conversation on how to reach sustainable solutions.” For example, using the latest web3 discoveries to directly mine information from the blockchain’s data analytics to ultimately break down the statistics to pinpoint exactly where the problem areas are.
Along with the more technological side of the fair, Simone and Viddo wanted Natural Intelligence to be an inclusive experience, gathering the community through positive advocacy. They designed the event to invite and welcome every level of curiosity, skillset, or knowledge level, despite how much or little someone might understand. Simone talks about the idea of “joyful activism” as the art festival’s main language, something she was inspired by on a recent trip where she learned more about the crisis at hand. She shares, “I was in Antarctica with an incredible group of thought leaders and changemakers, where we held many talks and discussions around the environment. The conversation really focused on how to engage people in a positive way, using creativity to educate.”
Partnering with Viddo and the team at Wonder Fair, they set out to do just that. Viddo states, “For me, I’m always interested in creating spaces and communities where we as artists can exhibit our work and talents, collaborate together and make a difference. I am driven by a desire to synergize with like-minded creatives. For me, the third entity that is born out of two wild imaginations, like mine and Erica’s for instance, is profoundly gratifying and exciting. It’s the equivalent to an adrenaline rush. We take each other to the next level. Each one of us upping each other’s game until what we are left with is something truly fresh, unique and sometimes even trailblazing.”
Having come from the traditional art world, Viddo became restless and bored of the white cube-gallery model. Her experiential events date back to the late 90s, but it wasn’t until 2016 that the tide shifted and immersive art experiences began to have a renaissance and appeal to broader audiences. Straddling art, experience, social impact, and now blockchain tech, Wonder Fair is the crown jewel of both Viddo and Simone’s projects. Viddo says she wanted to “get radical” and do something different after their previous events at Art Basel in Miami. “We did Wonder Fair 3.0 and dove into web3 and NFTs. Real estate developer, philanthropist and art collector, Avra Jain, offered us a space in her new venue Factory Town, Miami’s latest and greatest venue. There were incredible events each night and everyday we had throngs of attendees. During the 5-day-long event, we had over 15,000 visitors come through the gallery which boasted a mosaic of screens with incredible art and activations. So with that we set our sights on NFT.NYC and Wonder Fair 4.0, transforming it into an immersive outdoor living gallery.”
Natural Intelligence was a success and a bright spot among the many events on offer during NFT.NYC. The art festival gathered quite an audience of all ages, many of whom brought along their families and friends. From the hard-working staff and the attention to detail (they used state-of-the-art digital screens to show the artwork, screen the films, and even laid out Turkish rugs and fluffy pillows to lay on during the sound baths), Simone and Viddo made sure the space and event felt energized, engaging, and positive. It was just the right temperature to discuss where our help is most needed in saving our planet and what that might look like through this ever-changing, technologically advanced lens while celebrating life, art and the beginning of summer outside under an open sky.
For more information about Wonder Fair, please visit https://wonderfairart.org/
For more information about Erica Simone, please visit https://www.ericasimone.com/
For more information about Lena Viddo, please visit https://lenaviddo.com/
Mariepet Mangosing is a bi-coastal writer and graphic designer from Jersey City. She has worked in brand packaging, web and print design for the past decade. Her feature length screenplay The Batholiths has been shortlisted in the Macro x Blacklist Feature Screenwriting Incubator program. In her work, she advocates mental wellness and accurate cultural representation in film, television and other media. She examines relationship dynamics through a first-generation immigrant lens. She has her BA in Visual Communications from Ramapo College of New Jersey and is an MFA candidate in Screenwriting at Loyola Marymount University.
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