Mariana Marquez, founder of VRTopia, works about 13 hours a day to breathe life into her dreams about virtual worlds. She also wants to educate GenZs so that they can also create their own 3-D objects. Recently, Mariana’s artwork became popular gifts in the world of investment banking.
The unique work of Mariana Marques, inspired by such famous surrealists as Salvador Dali, exists at the intersection of art and technology. She is also an inspiration for GenZs who follow her YouTube channel to learn how to create their own 3-D reality. Her project, VRTOPIA, attracted a major American investment firm that has approximately $2.8 billion under management. Mariana’s digital art is now available in the form of NFTs (non-fungible tokens) and they’ve already become popular gifts for finance professionals around the world.
How did you first get introduced to VR?
I first studied art history in Portugal and learned a lot about different art styles and movements, but I missed out on creating my own artwork. So, after I got my degree, I took a gap year to travel around Europe by train. I’m passionate about gothic architecture, as well as modern and contemporary, so I wanted to see more of it on my trip.
While in a hardware store in Switzerland I accidentally discovered VR. This experience changed my career path and put me at the forefront of technology. When I first put the VR headset on, I found myself in a parallel world. It was really shocking and wonderful. I was so intrigued with this new technology, and I wanted to learn more about it.
The only place that I found offering VR classes was the New York Institute of Technology. So, I decided to enroll. At the time, I didn’t even know about PhotoShop, but they accepted me after they saw my drawings — dark and surrealistic.
What fascinates you about VR?
It’s the ability to create my own world, an alternative reality in a way, almost like in the film, the Matrix. I can do anything on my computer and then put on a headset to see it as if I was there. The idea of a virtual universe, where we can have homes, objects, and co-create art together, is incredibly appealing to me.
We live in a 3-D world but, when I was little, everything was in 2D. I remember watching cool movies, such as Harry Potter, wishing I could create my own mystical creatures. Virtual reality gave me this possibility. VR software is incredible. Although it has a long way to go, it’s fast and intuitive.
How did you start your own art project?
I wanted to integrate art and design with VR, without much of an agenda or desire to generate profit. I looked at VR as a business opportunity where I can create valuable assets, communities, and new markets for these communities. At the time, I was working for the United Nations, doing graphic design for social media, and later moved to a financial company where I create NFTs as gifts for investors.
My work has a few components such as a YouTube channel, my art on OpenSea, which is the world’s largest Web3 platform for crypto collectibles, and a shop on RedBubble, which is an online marketplace for print-on-demand products. When I’m creating NFTs to sell on OpenSea, I show the process on my YouTube channel.
I don’t talk during the process, because I am very shy. So, I just record myself, but my OpenSea buyers are watching. The rest of my YouTube audience consists of 12-15-year olds; they buy my stickers and T-shirts on RedBubble. It’s a way to create a community, some kind of fan base.
I think they are watching, because they probably bought VR equipment and are trying to learn how to create their own art. This new generation knows more about blockchain and technology than most adults, and their time has come.
It’s very important for me to help educate them and also build my digital presence. Sometimes, I work almost 13 hours a day, taking breaks to listen to music and to exercise.
How did you end up working with leading financial institutions?
It turned out that my artwork has investment value; so a leading investment bank approached me to develop gifts for their institutional clients. Currently, I use VRTOPIA to allow users to give my artwork as an NFT to funds and other investors. Then, they can either hold it, transfer it to someone else as a gift, or sell it for double or triple the price if they wish. Institutional investors who are clients of the investment bank that I work with have the freedom to use their NFTs to generate profit after the rights of ownership are transferred.
What are the roadblocks for new Art+Tech businesses?
One of the roadblocks is the imperfection of technology. Early adopters, such as myself, are looking for better quality. VR equipment has a lot of room for improvement. But tech companies aren’t innovating. Since the product is still new and popular, it has some bugs.
Most existing Web3 promotional tools have to be improved. Nowadays, many young art entrepreneurs join decentralized apps. But opinions and artwork stay out there forever. Once you post something on decentralized apps, it can’t be deleted because it’s recorded on blockchain.
With Web2, you have the option to delete things that you’re ashamed of, or don’t feel like sharing anymore. So, I recommend staying away from Web3 social media and wait for better products and services, because it’s still not sufficiently developed.