Interview: Gossip Goblin of Goblin Laboratory
On experimenting with NFTs, lore and crowdsourcing creativity.
Gossip Goblin fell down the NFT rabbit hole in February 2021. “At first, I was just confused as to why people were spending so much money on what I would consider terrible art. But, after a few months in the space, I started to understand the perspective that folks in the space have today.”
Now, he is one of those ‘folks’. His latest creation and the culmination of his life work is Goblin Laboratory, an interactive, one-of-a-kind NFT project. Minters received an NFT of a goblin brain which came with components that can be dragged and dropped to their heart’s content.
Each of these detailed properties were pulled together from illustrations that were created by Gossip Goblin over the past 10 years. “Each individual character - whether it’s some chimpanzee creature strapped to a satellite or a woolly mammoth with a light bulb implanted in its skull - referred back to a broader story.” By holding a Goblin Laboratory NFT, holders become part of the goblin universe, giving meaning to their creative assets and partaking in its unfolding narrative.
Got to ask, why goblins?
Goblins have become sort of a catch-all phrase for all the misshapen creatures, goons and assorted monsters that inhabit my artistic universe.
I see how your study of both anthropology and sculpture informs your work. What drew you to these fields of study?
Sculpture was an obvious pick for me. I was already a relatively decent illustrator, and so I thought learning the technical and conceptual approach to sculpting physical pieces would be a fun compliment to that. As for anthropology; I think it's probably one of the most interesting things you can study in university (and perhaps the least lucrative, along with sculpture). I studied abroad in rural Kathmandu while I was a student, learned Nepali, and ended up returning to Southeast Asia where I spent another 2 years in India, Nepal and Malaysia. This had a profound impact on my art, writing and overall approach to life (which is a pretty typical cliche white-guy-in-Asia thing to say), though ironically in the end I returned to San Francisco, got a job at an AI startup, and began my career as a product designer in tech.
Coming from a background in tech, what avenues of growth do you see for the tech-side of NFTs?
When I joined the NFT space in early February 2021, generative PFP projects weren’t much of a thing (with the exception of a few outliers like Cryptopunks, etc). The market was almost entirely 1/1’s from emergent artists. At the time, it felt like the only required “utility” of an NFT was that it looked cool or made some kind of statement. With the runaway success of BAYC, we saw an explosion in the NFT space with projects emulating their success (via 10k procedurally generated avatars).
“Utility” started to become a bigger and bigger factor in NFT projects as a means of differentiation from the crowd. In most cases - utility referenced (and still does) ambiguous concepts like community, clout, and a pseudonymous identity in the mysterious “metaverse”. In the last few months of the year, utility has evolved to encompass things like tokenomics - the idea that your NFT can yield passive income, as well as more robust games, which leverage NFTs as avatars or access keys for interacting with games, chat rooms, and new “metaverse” experiences. That’s all to say - the space is evolving rapidly, but the “tech” underlying NFTs is really secondary to the hype.
As far as growth goes, I imagine we’ll start to see a lot more services that aggregate NFTs into shared worlds, rather than all these siloed games and experiences that likely won’t have much staying power on their own.
Let’s talk Goblin Laboratory. How did the idea for the drag and drop experience come about?
So, I have done the art for several PFP projects (most notably Geckos). It's insane what procedural generation can do, and as an artist it's really exciting to see your work come to life in the form of 10,000 or so odd characters. But it has its limitations; every single property has to align perfectly with every other layered property, which can be quite limiting from a creative perspective.
With Goblin Laboratory, I wanted to leverage my past decade of illustration work, which, for obvious reasons, doesn't lend itself to conventional procedural generation where everything neatly stacks. The workaround to this was to collaborate with a developer and friend to build out our drag and drop tool which we call the Goblin Laboratory. We had to develop this tool from the ground up; nothing like it has ever been done before in the NFT space, and the engineering time put into building out this new tech was quite extreme compared to conventional NFT projects, which use off the shelf code (e.g. candy machine) and don't need to build out anything proprietary.
There’s a dedicated lore channel on Goblin Lab’s Discord server. How does the relationship between words and art complement each other?
The "lore" or stories underpinning my art are a mix of satire, science fiction, and alternate history; they're kind of oddball vignettes that explore some of the more bizarre nuances and ironies of our world.
These stories help to fuel the art and steer the creative direction of each piece, and they also give the viewer/reader another lens through which to interpret each piece.
I think the lore gives another level of depth and perspective that would be lacking if each drawing was solely interpreted at face value.
Goblin Laboratory also acts as a mintpass where holders would be entitled to airdrops and more NFTs. Are they all designed by you or some by the community and other artists?
Goblin Laboratory is sort of like a platform from a genesis NFT (the Goblin Experiment). We want to continue growing this world and diving into the various nuances of the art and lore. The best way to explore these other avenues is to continually develop compelling content (NFTs) for our users. The community is helping to actively steer the direction of the airdrops. For instance, the first airdrop, Sentinels, explores the wetware surrogates from the consciousness farms that power the future metaverse. Each airdrop has exceptional quality art (that could easily be a project in and of itself), compelling lore behind it, and acts as a mintpass to help unlock subsequent airdrops, many of which will leverage the drag and drop technology we've built out.
Some of the airdrops are designed by me, others are commissioned from up and coming artists, who I am acting as creative director for (e.g. Sentinels). Another one of our airdrops, The Goblin Villager project, is community-created. We've provided the community with a template and are collecting submissions, which we'll then release to holders, who can edit their own goblins in our laboratory using properties created by myself and the community. I reckon it's one of the first crowdsourced projects on Solana and should be quite interesting.
I imagine that crowdsourced projects, like Goblin Villager, gives rise to a hive mind of creativity. But, what are some challenges to crowdsourced projects?
It’ll be interesting to see how the crowdsourced pfp project idea plays out! The upside of the Goblin Villagers is that the contributions of individual artists tend to play off each other - so there’s this creative network effect where everyone is stimulated and challenged to create their best work.
At the same time, the lack of cohesive pieces is definitely real; 100 different aesthetics might not always fit together so nicely, but I think there’s probably some meme potential even in the pieces which don’t turn out so nice.
All in all I think, like everything else we’ve done, it’s an experiment in what’s possible. The Goblin Laboratory is forging a lot of new ground; we’ve created a tool that enables people to build their own NFTs and we’ve crowdsourced art at a scale that’s never been done before. We’re continuing to explore and uncover new opportunities to expand what’s possible in the NFT space.
The market might not care about our contributions, but at the very least we are trying our damned hardest to do something refreshingly new and innovative. Regardless of how the individual projects within the laboratory perform on the market, I am proud to be working on the frontier.
Thank you Gossip Goblin!
Get a Goblin Laboratory NFT here.