Artist Vivian Fu Wants to Fight You

The Los Angeles-based creator makes NFT artworks that explore her conflicting roles in the world.

Vivian Fu, ‘Fight!’ Commissioned by FWB and OpenSea. Courtesy of the artist.

NFT artists can be polarizing figures within the traditional arts space. But Vivian Fu, along with thousands of others who believe digitally native art can (and should) live online, are hedging their bets on creating works in Web3. Fu, an L.A. native still based in the area, makes highly personal, at times cute and simultaneously aggressive, portrait photography that represents the performative nature of existing, both in the real world and on the Internet. Through her images, Fu—who works a day job as the creative content producer for the Web3 arts marketplace Foundation, and also helms the podcast JPEG2000 with her cohost, Noah Kalina—contemplates her place in the world as a young Asian American woman. Her latest work, titled Fight!, was commissioned by Friends With Benefits, an Internet-based co-op known as a DAO (Decentralized Autonomous Organization) founded by Trevor McFedries, who also created the first CGI influencer, Lil Miquela. This year, the organization held Friends With Benefits Fest, an IRL festival that took place in Idyllwild, California in August. OpenSea—an NFT marketplace—partnered with FWB on the event to put $100,000 toward commissioning NFT artworks by up-and-coming artists in the Web3 space, including Ezra Miller, Petra Cortright, and Fu.

In Fight!, Fu wears “a janky muscle suit—like, it’s literally tights filled with pillow stuffing,” the artist tells me over Zoom during a trip to New York City, “but I’m wearing this pink, hyper-feminine, Valley-bimbo look.” Below, Fu discusses Japanese photo booths, why weightlifting has become a priority in her life, and her favorite NFT artists.

How did this project come into your life?

I had previously done self-portraits in Purikura photo booths that doubled as performances. A lot of the personal photography work I’ve done in the past has centered performing yourself: taking pictures with the knowledge that somebody will be looking at them later, and navigating knowing that people are going to be able to tell that I’m Asian, because they have eyeballs. It’s about exploring Asian American identity, performing Asian American identity, and performing expectations about femininity.

Photograph by Molly Matalon. Courtesy of the artist and FWB.

You seem a little nervous to talk about this.

I am being squirrely. [Laughs]. It’s hard to talk about work that might be influenced by identity without identity becoming the center of the conversation. Even though, in a way, it is the center of the conversation. I don’t want to suggest that all of my work is about being Asian, because when I talk about the work like that, it assumes I’m making this work to educate the audience, who is presumably white. And that’s not necessarily what I’m trying to do.

Why did you choose Purikura booths as your preferred set for these works?

These photo booths are such a loaded space that’s imbued with Asianness—watching people enter them and seeing the pictures that they take, how they pose, is really interesting. They’re doing the Korean heart with their fingers and throwing peace signs. Asian culture is trendy: Asian skincare, Korean cinema. I’m not trying to say anything in particular, but I’m just wondering, what’s that about?

How does a question like that inform Fight! specifically?

The piece is called Fight! because I’m trying to fight, low-key. I’m pissed because people interact with me a certain way due to their perceptions or assumptions about Asian femininity. Part of me is like, If you think I’m that, then I’ll perform that, but I’m also mad about it. I will do that for you, but I want to fight you also. This is another reason why [my concepts] are hard to talk about, because they feel like two very disparate things that are, actually, in the same thought.

The event for which Fight! was commissioned, Friends With Benefits Fest, touts the concept that the blockchain supports emerging artists by paying royalties. As an NFT artist yourself, is this a real thing you’ve experienced?

Yes. The royalty structure within Web3 art is particularly interesting. I like that it’s an opportunity for art that is digitally native to be sold in a digital fashion. For example, my piece Fight! is a gif—how would I sell a gif in a more traditional art world? If I turned my piece into photos, would that be as impactful? I don’t have experience selling things on secondary—meaning, after my piece sells to a collector, that collector can then sell it and each time it sells, I get paid. But I still think that’s sick. Your work always accrues value and you get to maintain that. I think in the traditional art world, you wouldn’t get any of that sale.

This might be a dumb question, but after you’ve purchased a piece of NFT art, what do you do with it?

I just let it live in my wallet.

Do you scroll through them, like your camera roll?

Kind of, yeah. I use Context, which is a way for you to follow people’s wallets in a visual manner. There’s a link to my Contact profile, which follows my wallet, and you can see what I’m into and what I’ve bought. I’m not a flipper type, even though I should probably take profit.

Onto the Culture Diet questions. What is the first thing that you do when you wake up?

Depending on how stressed I am, I will listen to a Headspace. I find that it calms me. Even if I wake up and I don’t feel stressed, I try to be in the habit of just doing it. But usually, I just flip over and I look at my phone and tap multiple apps before drinking coffee.

What is the last piece of art that you bought or that you have your eye on?

I just bid on this piece by the art duo Hypereikon, the title is Weird Symbol. It’s GAN art—or AI art—of flowers, and it’s very pretty. I’m hoping nobody else outbids me.

What are your favorite social media accounts to follow?

Not to plug more NFTs, but there’s this project called Allstarz. I like following Allstarz because it’s this community that I’m a part of, and they make cute little memes for their projects. My friend Maya, who actually bought my piece Fight!, did this art blocks project that is referential of Instagram infographics about self care. Whenever she posts, I’m excited.

What’s the last song you had on repeat?

I’ve been listening to the Nine Inch Nails’s “Closer.” It’s a really good song for stomping around, or walking, or driving on a freeway or deadlifting at the gym.

Are you a weightlifter?

Yeah. Which is also why I wanted Fight! to show me as a buff person. Because the idea is, Oh, Asian girls, you’re all so tiny. And I’m actively trying to be massive and scary-looking.

Are you into astrology?

I like astrology and I like being a Leo because it affirms things I want to be true, like, you have good hair and everybody loves you. I’m actually a double Leo: I’m a Leo sun and a Leo rising. So I’m not like other girls.

What TV shows have been keeping you up at night?

What’s comforting to me is King of the Hill. I watched all of King of the Hill during lockdown, and then I finished it and I was depressed. I tried watching other TV shows and none of it made me feel comforted, so I just rewatched King of the Hill.

What is the final thing you do before going to bed?

Be annoying to my boyfriend.

What does that look like?

I do a lot of pranks before bed, and they’re not even funny. I’ll try to trick my boyfriend into thinking I fell asleep, so I’ll slow my breathing and maybe snore a little, and then I’ll jump up. He gets annoyed and is like, You need to stop. And I go, Okay. I’ve pushed the limits far enough. Then it’s actually time for bed.