He’s half an hour late. Artists. Like inspiration, he materializes out of nowhere. I met Taketo Kobayashi, aka humanoise, the week prior at a gallery he was curating called Digital G-O-D: A Digital Art Print Show Like Nothing on Earth. In the gallery, heavy boxes hung like old televisions from metal wires. Their screens were made of translucent vinyl and were printed with the digital drawings of fourteen artists from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, and the United States. Each box had a switch on the bottom.
The idea is layering. Viewers are invited to physically interact with the prints, flipping the switch to reveal a new dimension of elements. When turned on, the prints become three-dimensional. Sometimes, it’s just a burst of color that makes the image pop. For others, the switch reveals new images and new colors that re-contextualize the work completely. The flicking of the switch is the expansion of art enabled by technology, illuminating the digital frontier behind the formerly 2D landscape.
Taketo Kobayashi is a post-digital artist – a “digital shaman.” His prints are psychedelic, and a little demonic, but his primary medium is 3D printing. When not in Asia, he usually works out of Denver, the Silicon Valley of printing, which these days uses all sorts of materials from plastics and nylon to carbon fiber and even gel. When we met at the gallery, Kobayashi had a palpable passion for the vast arsenal of artistic tools and the new frontiers technology allows. I was fascinated and had to stop myself from asking questions with answers I wouldn’t remember.
Though he steers clear of white wall galleries, Kobayashi has been curating and producing exhibits since 2013. After arriving in Singapore just over a year ago, he attended art shows around town and was lucky enough to connect with great talents like the artist featured at Digital G-O-D. He credits this luck to the intimate size of Singapore’s art community – it’s a small island and everybody knows everybody.
We meet at a bar in Singapore’s red-light district; Kobayashi’s wearing a black t-shirt with Galaga invaders stitched into the left breast pocket. His bucket hat, washed in metallic light blue and pink, is the same one he wore in the gallery. He fidgets with it constantly, tightening and loosening the chin strap, adjusting its position on his head, alternating in formality from Navy Seal to Gilligan’s Island. Sometimes he removes it, but never for more than a minute or so.
We cheers our beers. I ask him about the genesis of Digital G-O-D.
We each have our own divinity, not related to any religion, but in ourselves, each of ourselves. I wanted to show that divinity of this new digital technology.
Kobayashi: Digital G-O-D is a show about combining art and technology, using MIMAKI’s UV printer. It’s mainly for commercial use but hasn’t been used for art in the same way. So I wanted to introduce this new tool to artists, and for MIMAKI, it’s a good promotion for their product. The concept is to show our divinity through this new technology. We each have our own divinity, not related to any religion, but in ourselves, each of ourselves. I wanted to show that divinity of this new digital technology.
Suber: Was the goal to create new religious icons?
Kobayashi: Digitality is a religious icon. I got this idea from American Gods. (Laughter) In that drama, it’s a fight between old gods and new gods, the technology god. I wanted to do that in a more peaceful way. We can create such beautiful things with our knowledge and technology, but at the same time we create mass destruction. Technology always comes with both sides of the coin. How we use it depends on our mind.
Suber: It’s like a light switch, like with the pieces in the gallery.
Kobayashi: Right. I think humankind has been outsourcing our evolution to technology. If there is, and I believe there is, evolution beyond humanity, we have to grow with technology. We have to grow up, and have a more mature mentality, otherwise we’ll destroy ourselves before we evolve to the next step.
Suber: How did the artists react to these digital mediums?
Kobayashi: Many artists, even street artists, are familiar with digital prints, so none of them had a problem using Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator etc. I introduced the technology to them, showed them how the printer works, and explained the scene – then of course they would send me 20 layers of photoshop so I had lots of back and forth with each artist, talking about the best way to simplify the layer structure and create their intention. Many of them had done at least a little with that sort of day and night layering before.
Suber: What does a digital medium let you express that you can’t otherwise on a canvas or a wall?
Kobayashi: The best part of the digital tool is boundary disillusion. It dissolves boundaries. For example, I use ancient Japanese artifacts from 5,000 years ago for my 3D printing artwork. We can’t modify real artifacts, but once they’re digitally scanned, I can use it in any way I want. Data is equal. There’s more freedom of creation.
The best part of the digital tool is boundary disillusion. It dissolves boundaries.
(He shows me a picture from his Instagram – it looks like a piece of ancient pottery has been infected with a cybernetic parasite.)
Kobayashi: This is a digitally scanned actual artifact, from Jomon culture, combined with my shape, and then 3D printed. It’s a chimera of two different Japanese cultures. I think of it as a gigantic cycle – once we connect with the ancient culture, it’s more like a spiral. My vision is to connect the two cultures going into the future.
Kobayashi is casually philosophical. I’m hoping the recorder picks him up over the delivery truck and shallow music stumbling from the bar’s outdoor speakers. He has the stoned gaze of someone who could talk about the new frontier of digital art, or Netflix’s Altered Carbon, for hours.
Like his view on evolution, Kobayashi believes technology will be the main driver of artistic progress. The digital printers he’s talking about, MIMAKI’s UCJV300, are remarkable. Using UV curing, they can print on literally anything. Textiles, plastic, canvas, concrete, ceramic, skin or, in the case of Digital G-O-D, translucent vinyl. When we first met, Kobayashi and I discussed the possibility of Virtual Reality art, where a consumer could literally immerse themselves in a piece of art, the ultimate disillusion of boundaries. “Digital art is total freedom,” he proclaimed.
Kobayashi began his career as a 3D printing creator for Gonzo, a Japanese anime studio. When an earthquake struck Japan in 2011, everyone lost electricity. To this day, the island experiences radiation from Fukushima. After that, Kobayashi knew he wanted his skills and his art to have a tangible impact on society. Disaster made him an artist, and since then he’s been working full-time on projects including murals in Denver, projection light shows, and 3D printed prosthetic limbs.
When it comes to human enhancements through technology, Kobayashi practices what he preaches by donating his artistic style to the online global community E-Nable. For those born missing fingers and hands, or who have lost them due to war, natural disaster, illness or accidents, volunteers from all over the world use their 3D printers to make prosthetic devices and open source the designs for anyone to use online.
More than a helping hand, these devices are works of art. A notable E-Nable participant is Robert Downey Jr., whose contributions allow children to hit the playground with badass Iron Man prosthetics. “This is what I mean with the things technology and art can do,” says Kobayashi.
Suber: Do you think people interact with digital art differently than they interact with a painting or graffiti?
Kobayashi: It requires more time. Virtual graffiti, and virtual modeling, is already happening but artists are still thinking about it like 2D graffiti. They have to think about it in a different way.
Physical transporting is a huge energy cost. With 3D printing you can send the art anywhere. It’s just data, so we don’t have to spend the world’s energy transporting it.
Suber: It’s baby steps, ‘oh that’s possible, oh that’s possible, oh that’s possible.’
Kobayashi: People adapt so quickly, but we need to have a new perspective towards digital creation. Culture Cartel did a digital graffiti competition two years ago, but all the artists created 2D style graffiti in the 3D virtual space. It’s a new frontier. As Americans say, the final frontier.
Suber: Do you think AI can do art?
Kobayashi: AI is a different form of intelligence. If it were to create artwork, we wouldn’t be able to understand it. It would be like trying to understand an alien song. But I would love to collaborate with AI. I’ve put my artwork into Deep Dream; you can upload your image, then the AI twists it. In that way, we can collaborate with a different intelligence.
AI is a different form of intelligence. If it were to create artwork, we wouldn’t be able to understand it. It would be like trying to understand an alien song.
Kobayashi hopes to take Digital G-O-D to Japan next, and eventually to the United States. MIMAKI, the printing company that sponsors the show along with Ultra Super New Gallery, has a European branch in Munich and an American branch in Georgia. Be on the lookout for a growing field of genre-bending digital creations, coming to a future near you.
Artists shown at Digital G-O-D:
The Blue Love
To learn more about Taketo Kobayashi and his work, check out @humanoise
To read more of Griffin’s work, check out his personal site, griffinsuber.com