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May 10, 2023

Generative Art and Japan’s Bright Future

As Bright Moments Tokyo spotlights a new generation of digital artists, KUMALEON hosts a group of rising suns
Credit: Okazz, Random Tilings #35, 2023. Courtesy of the artist
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Generative Art and Japan’s Bright Future

KUMALEON: How did you discover generative art?

Hasaqui: I first started making art in p5.js in February 2022 when I, alongside Shunsuke Takawo and the TART team, held a discussion on Twitter Spaces following our initial research into Art Blocks. At that time, I realized that I needed to understand generative art at the level of the code in order to analyze it from a critical perspective. Having started out as a student making IDM and ambient music, I was familiar with Processing, and I’ve loved generative art since I discovered it. Drawing by hand and creating with code represent one connected process for me. 

Okazz: I have always been interested in both art and programming, so I looked up “art programming” and came across Processing. That’s how my generative art journey started. 

From there, I fell in love with code as a means of expression and kept on creating. Every day, little by little, I’ve developed my practice and have received reactions on social media. I think the slow pace of my creative approach and the relaxed, open community suited me well.

Reona: At university I joined a robotics club, for which I learned Arduino and used Processing to plot sensor data. But I wanted to explore the software as more than a means of plotting graphs, which is when I started my career as a creative coder. I have always been a fan of manga and anime, but the reality is that I’m not good at drawing. Creative coding appealed because it allowed me to create a variety of graphics through programming alone.

Ten years ago, I was assigned to a software research laboratory, which led me to present a paper on generative art at a conference of academic journals. By that point I was already creating works involving randomness, but, after graduate school, I continued to share my gen artworks on OpenProcessing and NEORT. I feel that creative coding is expanding now thanks to platforms like fxhash, which are perfect for artists like me to release work.

Reona, Zero Gravity Ice Cream #2, 2023. Courtesy of the artist

Senbaku: I studied ethnography as well as arts management in graduate school, which led me to work at an art gallery. But, when I got pregnant, I was laid off. Since then I have had to focus on raising my family, spending my days going back and forth between my home and the park, which led me to lose connection with people. Honestly, that was a difficult time and I sought to do lots of things — making handmade items, drawing manga, and learning Python as a way of reconnecting with society. Then I bought a micro:bit to play on with my child, which is how I encountered Processing. I will never forget the moment I used it to draw my first circle in the middle of the screen. I’ve enjoyed creative coding ever since.

Kaoru Tanaka: I was working in design using Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, which led me to discover the work of John Maeda. I subsequently taught myself Processing using books and YouTube. Every time I created something new, I posted it on my Instagram and other social media — it made me very happy to receive comments and discover great artists from all over the world. I soon became obsessed with Arduino, and, while experimenting, I created an interactive necklace with a variable design and multiple sensors. Then I bought a 3D printer, which allowed me to further extend the range of materials in my practice. Ultimately, I discovered TouchDesigner, which is the software I now use to create my work.

ykxotkx: I first became aware of generative art following the NFT explosion. Works like Fidenza (2021) and Generativemasks (2021) impressed me because I had never previously considered software algorithms as tools for generating art. Like many gen artists, I am a software developer and love coding as a way of making work. Platforms like fxhash are a perfect outlet for someone like me to release work.

Kaoru Tanaka, (Still from) Memories, 2021. Courtesy of the artist

K: Tell us about your creative process. What is your experience of working with autonomous systems?

KT: My inspiration usually comes from everyday experiences, like the flowers I see on my walk or a passing view of the city. I also gain inspiration from movies and music — I guess I am not totally conscious of my creative process.

However, by training an algorithm to output the feelings I felt when I had that inspiration, I can create a pool of expressions.

O: Because my work is generated through code, I am careful not only about the algorithm, but also about my color palette and use of preparatory sketches. It may seem that I am too obsessive, but I believe that this is what makes me unique as a generative artist. At times, I get stuck while at other times I am flooded with ideas. When you are stuck, you feel alone. But those lonely times allow me to reflect on myself — they are essential to my creative work.

R: Because I adopt a playful approach to my work, imagining it more like a doodle, I don’t have a rigid process. Recently, I have been working on projects that require me to keep to a strict schedule — for example, when minting NFTs or collaborating with technology magazines — so I note down observations such as: “I have been too busy lately to update my Instagram.” In a sense, this is both a process and an output.

ykxotkx, ukiyo-e seascape #142, 2022. Courtesy of the artist

Y: In general, my creative process follows one or a blend of two approaches:

1. Write an algorithm where I do not know what kind of output I will get. Then, based on the output, develop the final artwork by improving the algorithm.

2. Picture the final artwork at the outset and then develop an algorithm to realize it.

Often the algorithm I produce for one work may not end up suiting that piece, but may be useful in the production of another. Therefore, I try to preserve my algorithms as much as I can. I also love sketching by hand during the conception of a work, which helps me organize my ideas and visualize the final result of the work.

H: Some techniques are commonly deployed by generative art, but, for me, the interesting thing is whether one can use them in a unique way. I sometimes use flow fields to create an arrangement that is both random and regular, or else I explore line drawing by tuning parameters extensively. 

Because the most popular methods rely on publicly available code, what makes an interesting artist is how they use the affordances of the algorithm. Style is dictated by one’s personal approach, but it can also emerge from the combination of different codes. 

On the occasions when I get stuck, I always go back to making rough sketches to broaden the range of possibilities.

hasaqui and Constructive, Echoing Strings #13, 2023. Courtesy of the artists

K: How would you describe your own personal style?

O: My art combines vibrant colors and geometric shapes to achieve pure visual beauty. I am strongly influenced by anime, manga, and video games, and continue to create generative art that is ultimately kawaii. By combining generative art with illustration, I have developed my own unique “Okazz” style. Following a period when I felt like a nobody, now I feel connected to society thanks to my creative activities as a generative artist. 

KT: In the genesis of my works, I do not choose a particular theme in advance. Rather, I let my curiosity guide me and enjoy the process of trial and error. I love the feedback that I get from the computer and shape my work as I go. There are times when I have a strange feeling of déjà vu as I continue this process, and I feel this is the moment when a new direction for the work comes to me, leading me to further develop my ideas.

Y: In works like Traveler (2022), Stargazer (2022), and Flower Arrangement I have been working more with landscape and figurative motifs. My current works in progress are also mostly in that vein. Personally, I like works that carry an atmosphere of fantasy, science fiction, and surrealism. However, I plan to continue to make more abstract works like Celestial (2022) and Mugen (2022) as well.

Senbaku, Random_Gradients #24. Courtesy of the artist

S: People often describe my work as “warm,” which I think reflects my chosen color palette. The reason I love the motif of the ghost (“Obake”) is that it expresses that which is invisible. 

When I was a student living in Tokyo, people like me were ghosts looking out from their own inner worlds. I had days when I never held any conversations with anyone. 

Of course, ghosts can also serve as projections of a viewer’s imagination.

H: I have a series of works on fxhash called FLUX (2022) for which I created images and intentionally broke them down into pixels in a recursive process. In code, an abstract circle or rectangle can stand in for an idea in the philosophical sense. Pixelation creates the sense of an idea decaying over time, in contrast to the persistence of the blockchain. As is likely evident, my philosophical interests are inextricably intertwined with my work. But I also research and write critical texts and reviews of the NFT art scene, which is another important part of my activities.

Reona, Gradation #9, 2022. Courtesy of the artist

K: What has been your experience of the generative art scene in Japan? What makes it unique and how can we ensure its future growth?

R: I have been doing creative coding for more than 10 years now and wish to share the experience and knowledge that I have learned with others. Looking at the current situation, I feel that creative coding and generative art are still not widely known, and therefore the flow of people, technology, and money has not yet been fully established. Japan has a large base for creativity and expression, such as doujin activities, cosplay, game production, and handmade goods. I hope that creative coding can become a similar type of field that can attract many more fans.

H: There are many artists in Japan who practice creative coding on a daily basis and many of them share their code and their work. A culture of sharing is so important because it’s one of the core factors that encourages talented artists and creators to emerge in the future. At the same time, it would also be good for artists and painters who currently have little to do with creative coding to start making generative art. Trying to paint with p5.js allows us to experience the artist’s creative process and the algorithm of their hand movements. 

Today, many generative artists, not least Zancan, capture the shapes of nature in code. While my own project, MOUNTAINS (2023), is an attempt to seek out the algorithms inherent in nature. I believe that this is one of the great possibilities of generative art and I hope to see more Japanese artists working to that end. 

hasaqui, MOUNTAINS #139, 2023. Courtesy of the artist

KT: I feel that many Japanese artists tend to work on their own, and there may not be much of a community. Also, there are not many female generative artists, so I think it would be fun to hold events and workshops that combine generative art with something else. Even if not everyone does programming, new ideas and collaborations may emerge if there is a place where people can appreciate this art form together.

S: I find the Japanese generative art and creative coding community to be very respectful of each other. When I first started creative coding, someone was always there to help me out whenever I tweeted requesting assistance. 

There isn’t a competitive atmosphere here in Japan and, as a result, we are helping each other to grow as artists. 

Processing Community Japan has given me the chance to learn and explore more about generative art. By combining creativity with uniqueness, I believe that our future growth is guaranteed.

ykxotkx, Traveler #159, 2022. Courtesy of the artist

K: How would you describe your relationship with your collectors both within and beyond Japan?

H: I keep in touch with collectors who purchased my early works on Foundation via Twitter and they have become good friends. One of the best things about the NFT art scene is that I am able to establish relationships with collectors from all over the world. I know many of the Japanese collectors and sometimes meet them in person and also plan exhibitions with them. Since I started sharing my work on fxhash, I have been able to get to know more and more collectors. They sometimes give me advice or introduce me to new people. I feel very grateful for that.

O: I personally have not been able to communicate with collectors as much as I would like, but I often receive DMs from collectors who have acquired my works and from others who see my #dailycoding on Twitter. While there remains a language barrier in communicating with people overseas, engaging with a global collector base is a very positive aspect to NFT art. It also motivates me to keep on going with my work. 

Y: Thanks to the NFT and blockchain mechanism, I can see who owns my work easily. I can also communicate directly with my collectors around the world via Twitter. I am very grateful to the enthusiastic collectors who share their thoughts on my work and sometimes even showcase my work on social media. The presence of collectors, whether in Japan or overseas, is a great encouragement for me to continue creating.

Senbaku, Signage Ghosts, 2023. Courtesy of the artist

R: I am grateful for all the support I have received through the sale of my NFTs. In the past, when I tried to sell generative art as a product, I had no choice but to cut it out as a static image or video. I used to print T-shirts inspired by generative art, but they were only capable of expressing one pattern of a generative output.

Today, both technically and experientially, NFTs allow us to deliver the entire artwork in itself, generating all or as many patterns as we want, thereby sharing a wider range of options to collectors.

I also enjoy seeing what kind of editions the collectors are creating on fx(params) and Crayon Codes. The feeling of working with them to create something together means a lot to me. 

S: I have not yet built a close relationship with collectors. But when I mint my NFTs, I receive warm responses that I am so grateful for. I actually take screenshots of each message and put them into a folder called “Happy.” Sometimes I look back at it as a form of motivation. 

Kaoru Tanaka, (Still from) Archaea, 2021. Courtesy of the artist

K: What would you change about Web3?

S: To be honest, this question made me realize that I have been passive up to now, waiting to see how Web3 will turn out. But I have a lot of enthusiasm for the non-traditional art market, not least because I have worked in art galleries and have ongoing concerns about how the secondary market continues to be organized. It is amazing that artists can receive royalties via the sale of NFT art, even on secondary. 

Y: This is a difficult question to answer because I am still to understand the true essence of Web3 as well as its future potential. For me, Web3 is still in its infancy and there remain many issues that need to be resolved before the public will be willing to engage fully with it. For one, it is not sufficiently decentralized nor is it regulated, while cryptocurrencies are unstable as legal tender. Nevertheless, Web3 has already made it easier for many citizen artists like myself to create and distribute their work.

R: There is still a lack of awareness and appreciation in Japan for how Web3 can impact one’s daily life for the better. This can only happen through meaningful knowledge sharing. I personally enjoy being able to design and coordinate rooms virtually on Bondee, and I wish that NFT art could be implemented as a form of virtual interior design!

Okazz, Enclosure #91, 2022. Courtesy of the artist
Okazz: Web3 has been hugely liberating for artists and I believe that, in the future, new art forms will continue to emerge here that move beyond digital art of the past. 

KT: I am not an expert in Web3, but since the principle of a decentralized network is that an individual’s data may be freely communicated over the Internet, we now have the chance to extend the extraordinary opportunities currently reserved for artists to society at large. 

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With thanks to Avenue Chang and Ryu Yoshioka.

Hasaqui began his art career drawing and painting in 2016 and has since worked with machine learning to create his work. Since joining the generative art space in 2022, he has been an active participant, creating art, contributing articles, and writing books rooted in his academic background in aesthetics and art history.

Okazz is a generative artist and creative coder who was early to the NFT scene in Japan. He is the resident artist for KUMALEON.

Reona is a creative coder who has been involved in the Processing community since 2010, holding her own art exhibitions and speaking at online conferences. She is an active participant in the community who has also published books on generative art and creative coding.

Senbaku is a Japanese creative coder who has been active as a generative artist through his #dailycoding since 2020. He is a member of Processing Community Japan.

Kaoru Tanaka is a generative artist who uses TouchDesigner to create digital projects as well as physical and interactive installations. Her unique sense of the world is inspired by her experience of everyday life.

ykxotkx is a creative coder based in Japan who broke onto the scene with his project, ukiyo-e seascape (2022). He has participated in a number of recent exhibitions, including “Unblock Gaudí,” while, in 2022, his project Traveler (2022) ranked 36th in fxhash's overall ranking. His work is included as part of TENDER icons and is in the Permanent Art Collection of the Tezos Foundation. 

KUMALEON was born in Japan and has grown to love generative art. Its online evolution continues.