Artist: Taketo Kobayashi
It’s only now that we’re standing on the edge of catastrophe that we realise we should have been celebrating all the blissfully uneventful days that have gone before. As Joni Mitchell said decades ago, “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” Whether it’s waking up to the blight of a carpark for profit where paradise once stood or being confronted by the precariousness of our own livelihood during a global health crisis, the question is, will we really go through with the changes we’re promising ourselves when it’s all over so it doesn’t happen again? Taketo Kobayashi knows all too well how things can return to ‘normal’, ready to be repeated, even when we’ve looked terror in the face. After enduring the Tōhoku Tsunami in 2011, the Japanese digital artist has been watching as his country grapples with the same infrastructure and the same challenges that it met with before the disaster. “The issue isn’t technology. It’s the thinking behind it in our economic and political systems,” he says. So, Taketo is reverse-engineering the problem and using technology to change our thinking instead.
The sculptures that Taketo creates are intricate, colourful and tactile figures that invoke the mythical. When you realise that they’re the result of harnessing software in radical new ways and then sequencing data to print in painstaking 3D form, they’re mind-blowing. The digital native spent years working for Japanese anime companies, like Gonzo, honing self-taught skills as a 3D modeller and pioneering the use of computer software to speed up the traditional anime process. While the system dictated that modellers hand over their pieces to designers when it came to the application of artwork, Taketo’s creative vision saw him invited increasingly to give input on the art direction of his contributions. Then the nuclear disaster at Fukushima occurred and changed his life. “For a long time, we couldn’t work properly. There were power outages all the time and we just couldn’t get stuff done. I found myself hanging out at these bars in the city, having a beer, chatting to people, and I became part of a different community. I started to question things,” Taketo explains. “Technology was being blamed a lot but it wasn’t the cause of the problem. Technology could be used for destruction, but it could also be used for creation. I wanted to show people that.”
“Return of the Machine God” by Taketo Kobayashi
Arty-Fact: "Return of the Machine God" is one of the artworks from Taketo's “YAOYOROZ” project. The pieces created are a modern interpretation of historical statues and figurines from Buddhism, Shintoism and other religions that reflect a higher state of human consciousness.
Taketo’s artwork is a reflection of contemporary society and culture. It is art made for future generations.
The ideas to be found at the intersection of art and technology have been Taketo’s mission ever since. And they’ve led him to an ancient Japanese culture that existed over 3000 years ago. “The more I learn about our Jōmon civilisation, the more I feel we have something to learn. It’s considered a very peaceful period in our history. There’s no evidence of war and people appeared to live in harmony with nature. They treated everything as if it had a spirit inside. I wanted to bring this idea back from the past,” explains Taketo. “We can’t go back in time, but with technology I can bring things into the future. I discovered that the Jōmon people produced very elaborate pottery, so I’ve created models of their work and adapted it with my own artwork to create modern sculptures that can then be printed out in 3D. It’s not possible to share or modify ancient artefacts, but using 3D printing I can share new messages with people.” Ultimately, Taketo believes technology can be harnessed to produce what he calls “a post-modern nature” that has a bigger vision of humanity and thinks in longer cycles than just our own lifespan. “That’s my goal. Maybe it’s not something I can achieve in my lifetime but I can pass it on.”
“Eros-Thanatos” by Taketo Kobayashi
Arty-Fact: This artwork is a 3D scanned image of Jōmon doki (pottery) from Hokuto-shi, Yamanashi-ken, Japan. This doki depicts a mother giving birth.
“I combined the image of ‘life’ with the image of ‘death’, which I believe is just another state of energy. Every material eventually will breakdown, deform, dissolve, but the energy formed from that material will not be lost; it will just transform into something else. The people of Jōmon are said to have these kinds of circular life-death beliefs. I'm recreating their faith with modern technology and art.” ~ Taketo Kobayashi
Taketo was always fascinated with how things fit together. How they could be combined to make something better. As a child he would fashion things out of what was around him, making robots out of boxes and frogs out of blocks. He could always see forms in the layering of shapes. “Of course I loved LEGO!” he responds when the obvious question is asked. Now he uses that skill to create objects of quiet art activism, prompting us to use our intelligence for our longevity instead of our demise. “It’s like a meditation when I work. The ideas move through me and I am just a human vessel through which inspiration flows. I don’t ask where it comes from, I just allow it,” explains Taketo. The detailed aspects of the artwork can be trickier because he needs to think in advance about the end process. “I’m lucky to have a partnership with Mimaki printers. I can use resins and nylon in opaque and transparent coloured layers. The possibilities are amazing. The process is not inexpensive though, so I plan what I’m doing. And when it comes to my Jōman-inspired work, the finished product is painted in natural tree varnish so that it’s hard to tell whether or not the sculpture is made out of wood.”
“The NamelessOne”, a symbol of spirituality in the digital era by Taketo Kobayashi
Arty-Fact: The ‘NamelessOnes’ series was created when Taketo (aka humanoise) produced artwork for the ‘Digital G-O-D’ exhibit. “We needed something to symbolise our spirituality using art and technology.”
The spirit of that “something” was turned into reality via a 3D printer. “Humans are a vessel of higher energy. We give visibility to that energy with our knowledge and experience, and by using traditional tools like a paintbrush or a digital tool like computer graphics software and 3D printing. That is art.”
Taketo’s characters are steeped in contemporary Japanese subculture like manga and anime. The characters stem from an animistic belief / feeling rooted in ancient Japanese Jōmon culture. Animism is the belief that objects, places, and creatures all possess a distinct spiritual essence.
“We all had an animistic feeling in ancient times. The idea everything in nature has energy or spirit inside can be found anywhere in the world. I’m not just talking about Japanese culture. It’s under the hidden layer of all humanity.” Taketo believes that’s the reason why Japanese characters, irrational and kawaii, are widely accepted in the world.
“The ‘NamelessOnes’ are a fusion of spiritual energy, an ancient spirit, the unknown - and cutting edge digital technology.”
Now calling Singapore home, Taketo has formed Metamo, his company producing commissioned 3D work for clients, as well as his own arts practice. “Society is more accepting here. But there’s still an education process that needs to take place around accepting digital art as art. We’re on the start of that wave - there’s even collectors now.” When asked about Artificial Intelligence and its role in all of this, he thinks and says, “The technology exists. We can’t fight it. But it’s our job to use it to make us better. We can’t just outsource. We need to make friends with AI and use it as an extension of us. If we can’t solve our problems on our own, technology, directed by us, can help.”
Keep an eye out for Taketo’s amazing creations launching on 31st August, 2020 at Addicted Art Gallery.
“PsychBrain”, A symbol of higher intellect from the ‘NamelessOnes’ series by Taketo Kobayashi
Written by Skye Wellington, Lens & Pen Projects