From iMovie To On-Chain Art: Exploring Internet Culture With Maya Man

*This article is part of our editorial series, Gallery Selects, where we showcase the diverse artists, collectors, and curators who are creating and sharing their NFTs on Gallery.

In the tiny digital art community, only a few artists have managed to understand the complex relationship between tech, web, and creativity as adeptly as Maya Man. With a solid academic background (computer science + media studies), her practice offers a unique perspective on the digital and web zeitgeist. From early experiments using basic pre-installed software, to deep explorations of (post)identity and femininity in the internet age, Maya’s works highlight the transformative power of code as an artistic medium.

Her projects like ‘Glance Back’ and ‘FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT’ serve as both art and conversation pieces, prompting viewers to consider the performative nature of self and the authenticity of online identities. Her exhibitions have been featured globally, including venues like bitforms in NYC, SOOT in Tokyo, Vellum in Los Angeles, Power Station of Art in Shanghai, and Feral File online.

Maya’s work has also been recognized in publications such as Art in America, DAZED, Forbes, Zora Zine, and others, highlighting her contributions to contemporary identity culture on the internet.

We recently had a chat with her.


Reflecting on the genesis of your artistic journey, could you describe your earliest encounters with art and the internet? How did these initial experiences ignite your passion and begin to shape your artistic path? We would also like to know more about your academic background here.

Growing up, I used to spend hours on my parents’ desktop Mac in the kitchen making music videos on iMovie and taking photos on PhotoBooth using the crazy filters that came preloaded with the software. I also spent a lot of time on YouTube, watching videos other people uploaded. The online culture at that time felt very amateur and participatory. I wanted to be part of that universe on screen, contributing to a world outside of my suburban Pennsylvania town. I’ve always seen the computer as an artistic medium, but when I was younger I did not realize that meant I could be an Artist.

I went on to study Computer Science and Media Studies in college. They were two totally separate departments but studying both in parallel heavily informed my practice. In my Computer Science classes, we were learning about algorithms, programming languages, manipulating bits and bytes. In my Media Studies classes, we were reading and writing about technology and its societal effects. I always wished and believed that there should be more crossover between the two disciplines because they feel so intertwined in my heart.

As you choose tech as your main creative tool, what were the challenges and triumphs you encountered in mixing code & art? Can you share a defining project or moment that characterizes this shift for you? For example, ‘Glance Back’ appears to be a significant marker of this transition. Right?

Early on in my career, I grappled with always wanting my projects to appear overtly technically “impressive” so like an engineer guy would look at it and be like “wow she really can code!” Which obviously came from a constant battling of insecurity that nobody looks at me and thinks that usually. But eventually, slowly, I started to release myself of that desire and started to make work that spoke to my personal obsessions which have always been surrounding ideas of performance of self, femininity, and concepts of authenticity online.

Glance Back‘ is the first work I made that I felt successfully captured my conceptual interests through code as a medium. It remains an extremely special project to me today because so many people around the world continue to engage with it every day. The software runs on their computers and it is meaningful to them because it captures their life. It’s not really a work about me at all and that still feels really beautiful to me.

Glance Back
Glance Back

Your work offers a deep commentary on URL social interaction. Could you elaborate on a piece that particularly embodies this exploration, and how you balance critique with participation in the very culture you examine?

In my piece ‘FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT‘, I wanted to capture the absurdity of the ways that beliefs about “how a person should be” circulate online today. I started working on the collection with a heavy sense of criticality around this genre of Instagram graphics that promote “self care” and “wellness” with posts that feature pastel color palettes and bubbly type. It felt pseudo-religious and dystopian to me that people online craved meaning and guidance in their life so strongly, yet found it by passively consuming these graphics on Instagram. But at the same time, as I worked on the project, these graphics and their phrases also became very profound to me. So often, I would read an output generated by my FITYMI algorithm and think wow that deeply resonates.

I make work about these aspects of culture because I very much feel that I exist inside of them. And I feel complicated about existing in that way. Can you enjoy something and hate it at the same time? I definitely can and I do, but it’s confusing and that’s why I make the work that I do. It feels like turning myself and my relationship to culture inside out.

In your broader research of “the act of being online”, themes of identity and femininity are prominent. How do these concepts manifest in your recent works (i.e.FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT), and what conversations do you aim to provoke among your audience?

I have previously described my practice as a hack to get people to talk about what I want to talk about. I am very conceptually driven and with each work I make I hope I can direct people’s attention toward what I find most fascinating and complicated about living online right now. We are living in a time where the internet is like air. It is nothing and everything and it is shaping us constantly. It is the most interesting part of being alive right now to me. Sometimes I think… why doesn’t everyone want to talk about this all the time!!! I always hope that my work encourages people to reflect on the impact that their cycle of consumption and production of media has on their sense of self.


Regarding your audience, it seems that your art has been appreciated outside of the US. Having exhibited your art across various continents, how do you navigate the nuances of international audiences and culture? Is there a specific exhibition that stands out in terms of audience interaction or impact? For example, your exhibition in Tokyo might have been received differently due to the local online culture, trends in selfies, and self-representation.

I very much situate myself and my work as coming from an American suburban perspective. I love showing work internationally because I am curious about the delta between internet culture from my perspective and internet culture as it circulates within another digital ecosystem rooted in a different part of the world.

A challenge for my 2022 solo exhibition ‘Secrets from a girl‘ in Tokyo with SOOT included showing my work that relied heavily on nuanced language in order to understand its critical perspective. I worried that without being able to access the language in the work, visually, the pieces appear more celebratory of the culture I’m inspecting rather than analytical. For that show, it was extremely useful to work with the curator Hiroko Maruyama who helped me translate my statement and explanations of the work into Japanese to make it more accessible.

I also intentionally made a version of the show poster that mimicked the design language of Japanese teen magazines. Previously, I made a poster in the style of US-based Seventeen Magazine.

‘Secrets from a girl‘, SOOT, Tokyo edition 2022
‘Secrets from a girl‘, SOOT, Tokyo edition 2022

Now, we would like to know a bit more about your take on the NFTs space. As you have been involved in the space with drops on the most prominent curated platforms and initiatives like Art Blocks, Feral File, and Bright Moments, what insights have you gained, and how do you envision these tech, and the new internet, influencing your future projects and the landscape of digital art?

I truly believe in the inherent value of digital objects and it’s been so exciting to see all of the energy surrounding excitement about digital art that NFTs have encouraged. I have loved releasing collections that allow for the overt role of randomness through code as well as a higher edition size so more collectors can participate. It’s also exciting to me that NFTs have introduced a method of circulating artwork that is digitally native, but can also be morphed and translated to physical space in a variety of forms.

At the same time, I feel complicated about the culture around self-promotion and pace of production that NFTs have induced for digital artists. I write about this extensively in my recent piece for Outland, ‘The Artist is Online.‘ I’m concerned about the centralization of self that this “distributed” new model encourages. Looking ahead, I am thinking about how to push against that in my own practice and in the way I participate in my beloved digital art scenes.

Turning our attention to the present, what projects are you currently working on, and how does it/they continue your dialogue with themes of tech, identity, and online performance?

I’m currently very excited about hanging out in the physical realm!!! This summer, I’m thinking about how I can curate events, shows, screenings, and other chill happenings in person with friends in New York City. I’m burnt out on being online all the time even though I love it and will make work about it forever. We need to also hang out and have ambient time where we are together but not conjuring content.

Let’s conclude. As we look to tomorrow and beyond, what are your aspirations for the trajectory of your art? How do you hope to influence the evolution of digital art and the broader narrative of internet culture?

I want to keep talking about the internet within the context of contemporary art. The internet is driving culture right now and contemporary art should reflect contemporary experience. For a long time, digital and internet art has operated on the fringes. What if we really look at it? That’s how I feel about so much of what I see online. What if I don’t passively look at it, but really look at it? I want more people to feel that way about digital art. Let’s look at it for an uncomfortably long time together.

Thanks Maya!

You can follow Gallery on X (Twitter)Warpcast, or here on Mirror to stay updated on the latest articles and interviews we publish. You can also join our Discord server to chat with the artists and other community members.




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