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January 25, 2022

An Interview with Qubibi

The legendary generative artist shares his vision of a brave new NFT world with Toshiaki Takase
Credit: qubibi, mimizu: MMZ 213, 2022. Courtesy of the artist
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An Interview with Qubibi

Toshiaki Takase: qubibi, what is the significance of your name?

qubibi: “qubibi” is actually the title of my label, but people started calling me by that name and, over time, it stuck. qubibi is a play on the Japanese words kubi (首 neck) and bi (美 beauty). I changed the “k” in kubi to a “q,” partly because it looks like a neck, and also because of the inverted symmetry of “q” and “b,” which felt symbolic. “qubibi” is a space between two different parts of the body. 

My art exists in an in-between state. 

When I was an interactive web designer, I never knew how a user might interact with my designs. Yet that lack of control never felt unnatural. I had the sense that my works were being created in the space between myself and the end user. Hence, “qubibi.”

qubibi, storeroom: so21F7gx722Cr, 2022. Courtesy of the artist

TT: What motivated your switch from working as an interactive web designer to being an artist?

q: It wasn’t my original intention to be an artist, nor was it a deliberate decision to become a designer. I’ve always loved video games but it doesn’t mean I want to create them myself. I still have a ton of old games in my drawers. The first game I ever bought was Spelunker (1983), which is famously difficult. I was also obsessed at one point by Wizardry, a series of games that started in 1981. For some reason, I’ve always been drawn to video games with unreasonable difficulty settings. Certainly, my work as a web designer and my love of video games have influenced my work. 

I’ve always been preoccupied by the solitary relation of a gamer to the screen. This led me to create immersive realms that exist apart from everything else in the world. 

I tend to divide artworks into two — those that radiate outwards and those that absorb viewers inwards. My output falls into the latter category.

qubibi, (Still from) Drifter, 2013. Courtesy of the artist

TT: I’ve always felt that sense of being drawn in by your work. What can you tell us about your recent release, “Magical” Door (2022), a work of interactive generative art?

q: It’s really just a door opening and closing. That’s all there is to it. A lot of my artworks are inspired by trivial things around me rather than striving for something of deeper significance. I draw deep satisfaction from exerting effort into something so mundane. But that also applies to the audience, whose compulsive interactions with the work remind me of the repetitive reflexes of a child.

I keep a notepad of keywords, which point to different elements. Words often inspire my new work, and “door” is one word that started a creative journey. A door opens and closes multiple times a day, each time making a sound, which then becomes part of the rhythm of life. But a door is also a border demarcating inside from outside that, when opened, externalizes that interior. My work often plays with such notions.

qubibi, “Magical” Door, 2022. Courtesy of the artist

TT: What is your approach to making generative art? 

q: While generative art is created with code, for me, it is not based on intention. In fact, it feels like my outputs come to me by accident. I started out playing around with borders on Photoshop, but when I attempted to program them with code, forms emerged that recalled fish scales. It was only later that I realized I was looking at Turing patterns based on natural morphogenesis. 

My first generative artwork, hello world (2010/2017), sought to imagine how the world takes shape. In its appearance, it seemed to parallel the earliest beginnings and primitives of our world. 

The title, hello world, refers to programmers’ test messages, but I’ve now been using this same code for 12 years. You might describe my projects mimizu (みみず earthworm) and wiwizn (the reverse of mimizu) as further iterations of hello world.

qubibi, hello world, 2010. Courtesy of the artist

TT: These works all seem to conjure a primordial world. But how much of that world is designed and how much is coincidence?

q: Both projects are the result of serendipity in my code. I don’t set out to imagine a particular world view. Rather, I start with multiple outputs and eliminate those I consider unfitting in the process of creation. Maybe the primordial themes that people recognize are the ones that survive that process of elimination.

qubibi, mimizu: MMZ 214, 2022. Courtesy of the artist

TT: Sound also feels like an important component of your work. 

q: Definitely. For a lot of my work, including mimizu, the workflow begins with a sound. I’m also quite deliberate with the sounds and rhythms that I expose myself to during the creation process. 

While my work is not simply audio visualization, without music there would be no artwork. I feel that music is critical to any broader definition of “art.”
qubibi, leftover: 221230d19vCn30003000, 2022. Courtesy of the artist

TT: Can you tell us about your leftovers, which have become so highly prized in themselves?

q: My work on mimizu produced a large number of scraps — perhaps the leftovers chewed out by the earthwormthat looked cool but ultimately didn’t make it into the final project. I wanted to take care of those leftovers. The mimizu release involved a lot of pressure, and I wanted a project that was relaxing and satisfying, like eating the last morsel on a plate.

A leftover is like a relic, and my leftovers are the last remaining relics of my work. The process by which they are created feels like many centuries of mineral formation. Over time, even scraps can become gems, as long as they survive.
qubibi, mimizu: MMZ 217, 2022. Courtesy of the artist

TT: Are there any major events or influences that have shaped your creative process?

q: My life is an ongoing string of beads and, on reflection, it has a certain order. It’s hard to pinpoint events of special importance, but one major influence is Dušan Makavejev’s work of avant-garde surrealism, Sweet Movie (1974). The film is riven by the contrast between the sublime and the grotesque. I didn’t grasp the film’s significance fully the first time I saw it, but I felt compelled to come back to it multiple times in order to fuse the two in my work.

qubibi, storeroom: 220306r03fLj, 2022. Courtesy of the artist

TT: How did NFTs capture your attention?

q: At first, I was unsettled by NFTs because every post looked like an advertisement.

But one night, sitting around a bonfire with a few friends, the great Japanese designer Yugo Nakamura said to me, “You’re unique in what you’re doing, why don’t you give NFTs a try?” At that moment, I said “no,” but when I woke up the next morning, I minted my first NFT on Hic et Nunc. That was the beginning.

I don’t have much interest in the technical mechanics of NFTs. But I am excited by the impact they can have on digital art and its future. NFTs have given a platform to so many digital artists, especially generative artists, so I think they are a good thing.

qubibi, storeroom: dl19S1jq323Ps, 2023. Courtesy of the artist

TT: Since you started minting NFTs, your career has been borderless, extending well beyond the physical geography of Japan. But how do you view the current state of NFTs in Japan?

q: I don’t have a major domestic presence in Japan, but that might be a good thing. Even though my English is subpar, NFTs have allowed me to communicate with so many art collectors and enthusiasts around the world, which has expanded my world view immensely. It’s been a wonderful experience. 

Installation view of “wiwizn Part III” at Verse, Cromwell Place, 2023. Courtesy of the artist and

TT: What is the essence of your creative process?

q: I don’t set out with particular intentions or goals. This is something I am adamant about because the meaning of an artwork relies on the viewer. My process is one of creation through negation, of fertile elimination, and my works trace their own construction. 

Ultimately, the output is the process itself. That’s what makes my art mine.
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With thanks to Avenue Chang.

qubibi (Kazumasa Teshigawara) is an artist, interactive web designer, and Lecturer in Integrated Design at Tama Art University. A self-taught programmer, qubibi has created multiple projects using screen-based media. In 2010, he released his video work, hello world, based on a unique real-time animation algorithm. His current solo exhibition with Verse, “wiwizn Part III,” is the third and final chapter of his wiwizn series.

qubibi on qubibi: Born in Ikebukuro, Tokyo. Used to live with my mother in the beginning. Later moved in with a new family. Was taken around bars while still young. Hostesses used to like me a lot. I stopped going to school. Played games at home. Cried out of fear when collectors banged at the door for money. Father ran away, got caught. Graduated elementary school. Got into an accident and hurt my neck. Father came back. Father died. Graduated secondary high. Worked at Nihonbashi Textile Processing Factory. Got into an accident, almost died, and hurt my neck. Got into music. Quit point drawing. Bought a Mac. Met some weird people. Said goodbye. Unknowingly entered a bad content design firm and quit immediately. Was scared for days after I quit because the company got hold of me. Worked and quit a number of jobs. At 21, discovered the fun of design. Eventually got married. Had a kid. Got separated. Got the kid. Taking care of the kid. Working quietly under the label “qubibi”. Would like to make a lot of things.

Toshiaki Takase is a Japanese NFT Art producer best known for his involvement in Generativemasks, KUMALEON, and Nishikigoi NFT.

qubibi’s third exhibition with Verse, “wiwizn Part III,” is at Cromwell Place, London until January 29, 2023.