Is there gender equality in the digital art world?

Roxanne Vardi and Pau Waelder

Composite photo of the artists (left to right): Dagmar Schürrer, Snow Yunxue Fu, Marina Zurkow, Claudia Larcher, Alexandra Crouwers, Tamiko Thiel, Claudia Hart, Sasha Stiles, Yuge Zhou, and Chun Hua Catherine Dong.

It is a well-known fact, although not properly acknowledged, that over the course of history women artists have been underrepresented in the art world, and in general have been undervalued and underpaid at auction houses, galleries, and museums. As the art historian Katy Hessel, author of the celebrated book The Story of Art Without Men, points out: “it’s actually down to who has been able to tell the story of art history.” Women artists have been routinely erased from art history, or included in relation to male artists, their talent minimized as they were portrayed merely as lovers or muses. In the art market, women artists have not fared better. Traditionally, art galleries have represented far more white men than any other group combined, and as recent reports indicate, the situation hasn’t improved: the Burns-Halperin Report on equity and representation in US museums and the art market, presented in December 2022, indicates that auction sales of works by women artists represent only 3,3% of total sales worldwide, and that only 11% of acquisitions and 14,9% of exhibitions in US museums feature artworks created by women.

The introduction of the digital arts and the emergence of the new media art scene have given women artists the opportunity to become early adopters both of photography and of alternate digital technologies such as VR as these novel mediums also allowed for political and artistic provocation of the accepted norms. Today in general there is also greater awareness towards this unequal tendency, and so different organizations focus on balancing out the different groups of artists which they represent. At Niio we have made it our mission to focus on presenting and promoting the works of women artists whether through the content distributed on our apps or in our editorial section. In 2022, the gender balance of our artist solo shows amounted to a total of close to 60% by women artists. This month, we are honored to showcase the artworks and art practices created by the women artists, and to present this brief survey among ten outstanding artists who have generously answered our questions.

Would you say that the digital art community behaves differently than the contemporary art world in terms of gender balance and visibility of women artists?

Alexandra Crouwers: not really – although my personal field of view in the ‘digital space’ is taken up by a generally much, much more diverse constellation of artists than the ‘traditional’ contemporary art scene I’m embedded in. Likely, the global accessibility and distribution of digital art plays a role. I do suspect museums and other art institutions working with digital media are, perhaps because of the reason above, a bit more aware of adding more women artists in exhibitions compared to the ‘traditional’ art world.

Alexandra Crouwers is an artistic researcher working in the digital realm, and oscillating between escapism and activism.

Claudia Larcher: I don’t have numbers for that, but no, I think that the visibility of women in the art world in general is still unbalanced, be it in the art world or digital art. More attention is now being paid to the issue, but the big solo shows are almost always given to the men.

Claudia Hart: Yes, although strides have been made, I would have to say that the contemporary art world is still way out ahead of the digital space. The engine running digital is innovation culture. I would even go so far as to say that digital art culture functions more as beta testers for new products.  It’s a culture of next new things, so it suffers from extreme ageism. The lowest ranked players in the digital art world are older women – not news not now, not glamorous.  It’s a cute young world.   

“The lowest ranked players in the digital art world are older women. It’s a cute young world.”

Claudia Hart

Dagmar Schürrer: Talking from my own perspective I feel that female identifying artists are quite present in the digital art community. I am based in Berlin, and I am very lucky to be surrounded by a network of strong women creating and researching in the digital art scene. Digital and new media is still kind of uncoupled from the classical art market and rather conceptually driven. It often tackles issues that are closely linked to female politics – like embodiment, social hierarchies, identity, or bias of new technologies. For example, the scene working with XR technologies is very experimental and constantly developing, and is open for fresh and unusual perspectives, which might be resonating with a female experience of a changing society. Nevertheless, it is a sad fact that women in the cultural sector are still outrageously underpaid. Statistics of the German Künstlersozialkasse (artists’ social security fund) show that in 2022 female artists earned an average of 24% less than their male colleagues, the Gender Pay Gap is therefore significantly above the German national average! 

“I feel that female identifying artists are quite present in the digital art community. Nevertheless, it is a sad fact that women in the cultural sector are still outrageously underpaid.”

Dagmar Schürrer

Tamiko Thiel: Until recently, fame in the media art world was driven more by academic voices and the few institutions that showed media art, because the art market was not interested in media art at all. This was primarily Ars Electronica due to its prestigious Golden Nica award, the ZKM because it was the primary institution with an archive and collection of media art, the festivals Transmediale and ISEA and the art gallery at SIGGRAPH.

It was always my impression that these media art institutions however tended to focus very heavily on hardware technology, “boy toys” and a very male view of what is interesting in media art, rather than taking a wider view of the value of media art. I personally was told in a private conversation by a (male) member of the Ars jury, perhaps a decade after I had submitted my VR projection installation Beyond Manzanar (2000, with Zara Houshmand) to the Interactive Art category at Ars, that the others on the jury insisted it was not innovative because it only used a simple joystick as an input device. That is to say they focused exclusively on the hardware, without considering the complex interactive narrative of 13 scenes interweaving the historical Japanese American incarceration in WW2 and similar threats to intern Iranian Americans during the Iranian Hostage Crisis in 1979-1980, and how we had constructed an interactive structure in which the user’s agency led them to be complicit in their own incarceration.

Tamiko Thiel is a pioneering visual artist exploring the interplay of place, space, the body and cultural identity in works encompassing interactive 3d virtual worlds (VR), augmented reality (AR) and artificial intelligence art.

In 2016 Heather Dewey-Hagborg and Addie Wagenknecht started the “Kiss My Ars” hashtag after noticing that in the 37 year history of Ars Electronica, 9 out of 10 Golden Nicas had been awarded to men, putting a hard number on my more vague impression of an unconscious gender bias in values.

In 2012 the new director of the Transmediale, Kristoffer Gansing, shut me down when I responded to panelist Kathy Rae Huffman’s invitation to talk about my AR artwork during what was billed as “open conversation about video art and net culture, media collectives and counter-publics”. (See this webpage for a detailed description and audio recording). This was all the more odd because the festival’s theme “in/compatible” explicitly celebrated 25 years of art interventions and proclaimed in Gansing’s curatorial statement that: “Contrary to the fear of the incompatible, so prevalent in the age of cloud-computing, the festival raises the question of what happens when incompatibility is brought to the fore rather than hidden away in the dark underbelly of digital culture?” Kathy Rae and I of course asked ourselves, if a male curator on the panel had called on a male artist to describe their work, would Gansing have shut them down, as he did to us? It was painful for us as well that no one in the audience, not even the several famous feminist artists present, said anything at all during these encounters. Gansing had just taken over Berlin’s most prestigious media art venue, and I assume no one wanted to get on his bad side.

“In 2021 the art market became aware of digital art for the first time when Beeple sold a NFT for the equivalent of $69 million. The fact that this was roughly 35x the price of the highest selling work by a female artist, ixshells, speaks for itself.”

Tamiko Thiel

Chun Hua Catherine Dong: I think the digital art community and the contemporary art world are very similar in terms of gender balance. Gender imbalance exists within the digital art community, especially in technical and coding writing. Women also are underrepresented in the field of game development and software engineering.

Chun Hua Catherine Dong‘s artistic practice is based in performance art, photography, video, VR, AR, and 3D printing within the contemporary context of global feminism.

Do you work with code-based art? If so, do you write the code, or work with collaborators? What is your experience with the community of coders and engineers?

Sasha Stiles: I’m a lifelong poet who’s always been very interested in science and technology. Though I don’t have a computer science or coding background, I’ve been writing with AI-powered large language models since 2018, and have learned basic coding to fine-tune text generators and experiment with generative visual poetics. I’ve also had a hands-on role for many years now as poetry mentor to the AI android BINA48, built by Hanson Robotics and the Terasem Foundation. I’ve frequently been in the minority at meetings and conferences, but I’ve also found a lot of support for my work in places where I didn’t expect to.

Alexandra Crouwers: I AM A SUPERUSER! We’re being overlooked, but that’s another story: there’s such a focus on code and generative abstraction at the moment, people forget most of us use those techniques too, but then as part of more encompassing works (this does not answer your question at all, haha).

Marina Zurkow: I work with coders, usually as an equal collaboration (not with teams). In my intimate work world, at present, I have an even split between male and female identified technologist collaborators.

Sasha Stiles a first-generation Kalmyk-American poet, artist and AI researcher widely recognized as a pioneer of generative literature and language art.

Claudia Larcher: I have limited skills in coding but try to do everything by myself, as I had some bad experiences with male coders. Which was also a kind of empowerment. Actually I don’t know any female identifying coders, which is a pity. The coding community as I know it, is a male-only community. Hopefully it will change in the near future.

“The coding community as I know it, is a male-only community. Hopefully it will change in the near future.”

Claudia Larcher

Claudia Hart: I’ve just produced my first Art Blocks. I was part of a group of women invited to develop a project.  I went to a meeting for the newbies, and I was the only woman present,  The rest were guy coders. I’ve also collaborated with my friend Andrew Blanton, a cute young coder, because I can’t do it for myself. Not sure I would ever do this again. 

Claudia Larcher’s work explores video animation, collage, photography and installation with a cinematic approach to storytelling, extracting narratives from nondescript, everyday spaces.

Dagmar Schürrer: I am working with XR technologies in my own artistic practice as well as a project assistant at the research group INKA at the HTW Berlin – University of Applied Sciences. INKA is an interdisciplinary group of computer scientists and cultural workers like me, producing and teaching XR projects in the cultural field at the Institute for Culture and Computer Science. In the group there are slightly more female developers, but I would say that is rather unusual and a conscious decision to support women in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), which is of course great! This is not reflected in most of those degree programs, where women are significantly underrepresented, so there is still a lot to do to make these fields more attractive for women. This is also similar in the freelance sector; I have the impression that here female developers are very rare.

“My VRML artworks are all code based, and I wrote all the code myself. I have had a lot of support and no problems from the community of coders and engineers.”

Tamiko Thiel

Tamiko Thiel: My VRML artworks (Beyond Manzanar, The Travels of Mariko Horo, Virtuelle Mauer/ReConstructing the Wall) are all code based, and I wrote all the code myself. I have had a lot of support and no problems from the community of coders and engineers in terms of gender inequalities. Since 2018 my husband, the software developer Peter Graf, collaborates with me on some but not all artworks. Since he is a professional coder, he can code much faster than I!

In your experience, has the NFT market benefited gender equality in any way? Do women artists get better chances at selling their work?

Alexandra Crouwers: Not sure yet. Although in the very conservative contemporary art context I’m geographically in, I’d say I had at least a couple of disadvantages: being a women artist and working with digital media. It often felt the combination was just too much for people to handle. For me, the NFT space has connected my practice to a whole network of nodes of amazing fellow women artists, with similar experiences. On the other hand: I’ve never sold so much work in my artist life before, so purely based on that I’d say ‘yes’.

“The NFT space has connected my practice to a whole network of nodes of amazing fellow women artists, with similar experiences.”

Alexandra Crouwers

Snow Yunxue Fu works with imaging technologies, such as 3D Simulation, AR, XR, and the Metaverse in interdisciplinary explorations into the universal aesthetic and definitive nature of the techno sublime.

Snow Yunxue Fu: I do think the NFT market has opened more opportunities for women artists and all artists in general, especially at the earlier stage of its developments and expansion. However, as the NFT market has a tendency to follow the historical art market, there are still many inequalities. It is quite important to have awareness for all parties involved and make efforts to give more support to women artists.

Marina Zurkow: Among niche digital art worlds, perhaps – but not at the high-price & high-profile level. Those “spots” are consistently and disproportionately going to men.

Claudia Larcher: I read that female artists are doing better in the NFT world than in the global art world but parity is still far away. I think that people see an investment when buying NFTs, and male artists still achieve higher re-sales. 

Tamiko Thiel: The NFT market has a specific aesthetic that sells well, and I consider that aesthetic to be a very male gaze shaped by fantasy/science fiction/video games. Perhaps women artists who hide their gender do better, but as a woman artist who uses her real name, I think it helps me for intermediaries to call attention to my work and to tell potential collectors that my work is valuable. THANK YOU FOR HELPING! 🙂

Chun Hua Catherine Dong: This is a good question. I don’t get involved much at the NFT at this moment so I cannot tell whether the NFT market benefits more women artists. But the NFT market definitely is easier to enter while the traditional market requires years to build up one’s reputation.

What is your opinion about female-led NFT projects? Can you mention some projects that you find interesting?

Sasha Stiles: I’m proud to be part of theVERSEverse, a women-led poetry gallery that seeks to empower writers by bringing poets into the art world. Co-founded by Kalen Iwamoto, Ana Maria Caballero and myself, with advisor Gisel Florez and community manager Elisabeth Sweet, theVERSEverse is trying to do something that has never really existed elsewhere, on or offline. I’m constantly astounded by the vision and tireless work ethic of women in web3 and adjacent spaces: Sofia Garcia, Jess Conaster, Micol Ap of Vertical Crypto Art, Danielle King, Diane Drubay, Valerie Whitacre, Ariel Hudes, Raina Mehler, Nicole Sales Giles, Lydia Chen, Mika Bar-On Nesher, Elena Zavalev, Eleanora Brizi, Fanny Lakoubay, to name just a few. I love the FEMGEN initiative from VCA and Right Click Save, and the Unsigned project by Operator and Anika Meier, and I’m represented by such women-owned galleries as Annka Kultys Gallery in London and Galerie Brigitte Schenk in Cologne.

Marina Zurkow is a media artist focused on near-impossible nature and fostering intimate connections between humans, other species, and planetary agents.

Marina Zurkow: Christiane Paul’s curated exhibition Chain Reaction on Feral File is a good example of highly rigorous, thoughtful NFT projects that are female-led or in collaboration. I think very highly of the works of Stephanie Dinkins, Amelia Winger-Bearskin, Sara Ludy, and the McCoys because their work has not only deep logic but they are concerned with what the blockchain can DO; it’s not just another white wall in a white cube gallery.

Claudia Larcher: I appreciate the work of the Austrian artist LIA, who is a pioneer of software and net art. I think that with producing NFTs she was really compensated for her artistic work in an appropriate monetary way.

Dagmar Schürrer: I want to mention the project Unsigned by Operator and Anika Meier. It is a collection of 100 signatures from women and non-binary artists to highlight the fact that a female signature on an artwork can devalue it. Turning the signatures themselves into artworks is a very clever and strong gesture, and I love the focused and minimal realization, both conceptually and aesthetically. It is positively simple, to the point and potentially iconic.

Tamiko Thiel: I find Auriea Harvey‘s and Nettrice Gaskin‘s work simply stunning, beautiful and meaningful. They create beautiful works of art like nothing I have ever seen before, and bring together incredible depths of art history and cultural history together from a very different viewpoint as the previous several thousands of years of art. All hail! I am delighted that ixshells‘ work is valued so highly, but such purely geometric abstractions are personally not so interesting for me.

Chun Hua Catherine Dong:  I appreciate projects that are not made specifically for any kind of markets, but rather for the artists themselves or for the sake of art itself. Maybe these kinds of projects will have the potential to go both into the traditional and the NFT markets eventually, but the idea of “art made for sale” doesn’t sound right for me. Artists such as Claudia Hart, Carla Gannis, and Frank Wang Yefeng are very interesting.

In the 1980’s the feminist art movement began working mainly with photography and the newly available technological tools of the time. Do you feel that with the introduction of video art this even more so allowed artists to question older social models?

Sasha Stiles: Both my practice and personal life are implicitly feminist in that I embody taboo concepts of womanhood, from engaging in male-dominated fields to eschewing many of the social and domestic expectations that are prescribed to women. So when a large language model fine-tuned on my own work, developed to write like me, expresses misogyny and disturbing stereotypes, for example, it’s powerful. Creative AI as a new medium demands that we go beyond questioning older social systems to infiltrating them, building ourselves into them.

Claudia Hart has worked since the 1990s examining issues of identity and representation with 3D animation.

Alexandra Crouwers: Yes, Pipilotti Rist for me was the one who opened artistic doors by unapologetically using the idea of music videos as an art form, and showing how projections including audio can transform a whole space. This, again, is a very personal example, of course, but, to me, Rist provided a role model in an art education that for 95% was taken up by men.

Marina Zurkow: The number of brilliant, inspiring feminist video artists is staggering. Please don’t forget pioneers Adrian Piper, Yoko Ono, Howardena Pindell, Shigeko Kubota, and the following waves of the likes of Laura Parnes, Elisabeth Subrin, Mika Rottenberg, tackling very different aspects of life through a feminist lens.

“Creative AI as a new medium demands that we go beyond questioning older social systems to infiltrating them, building ourselves into them.”

Sasha Stiles

Claudia Larcher: I believe that video as a medium was new at that time and not yet occupied by men, like painting or sculpture. There was this window of opportunity for many female artists.

Claudia Hart: I am not sure, there have always been women painters, but they were written out of history. I’ve been working with 3d animation and VR since ‘96.  I developed a program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago called Experimental 3D, and my young women students have been institutionalized and awarded. I actually have never had an institutional exhibit, neither group or solo, nor have gotten grants or any kind of award of status. So case in point.

Dagmar Schürrer assembles found footage, digitally generated objects and animations, text, drawing and sound to form intricate video-sound-montages, often extended by Augmented Reality, evocative of painting, collage or poetry.

Dagmar Schürrer: I have the feeling there is a tendency, when new tools or technologies become available, that female and non-binary artists are fast to integrate those in their own artistic practice, before the methodologies enter the mainstream. It may offer a certain freedom and field of experimentation, without the pressure of capitalist art markets, and therefore a progressive opportunity to negotiate and reflect the topics of underrepresented groups.

“I believe that video as a medium was new at that time and not yet occupied by men, like painting or sculpture. There was this window of opportunity for many female artists.”

Claudia Larcher

Tamiko Thiel: Yes, at the beginning of a new medium there is much more room for experimentation, when the market is not established yet and therefore artists can experiment without the pressure to think about the sales value of the work. Initially there is the problem of access to technology – during which women also usually have more difficulty. Then there is a short interval in which anyone can access the technology because it has become commercial enough to be widely available. This is the time in which most innovation occurs. Then when the art market picks up a medium, its values impact directly on the work that is made, as artists try to live from their work.

Chun Hua Catherine Dong: Using new media or incorporating technology in artwork has definitely changed the ways of how to make art. Video art offered artists the ability to create time-based works that could incorporate performance and documentation. The introduction of video art has provided a powerful tool for feminist artists to express their ideas related to gender and identity, and to create works that reflect their own experiences and perspectives.

“There is a female sensibility behind the lens. Even in subtle ways, this changes what the viewers see.”

Yuge Zhou

Yuge Zhou is a Chinese born, Chicago-based artist whose videos and installations address rootedness, isolation and longing within sites of shared dreams.

Yuge Zhou: Video art introduces the time element into social critique. In some way, video art has a huge landscape to mine and to reference with cinema and television and the internet videoscape. With a growing number of women behind the camera and in charge of the means of productions – what they shoot, how they shoot are opening up. There is a female sensibility behind the lens. Even in subtle ways, this changes what the viewers see. Nowadays, both men and women are going into the technological fields like editing and cinematography, and a lot of tools and venues are available to both make and show video art. But there’s still a long way to go in terms of equity both behind and in front of the camera.

Moodies: the anti-emojis by Asaf and Tomer Hanuka

Pau Waelder & Roxanne Vardi

Emotions are complicated, much more than a set of emojis can ever convey. “By one estimate, more than 90 definitions of «emotion» were proposed over the course of the 20th century,” stated psychologist Robert Pluchnik [1], the author of one of the most widely cited theories of basic emotions. In 1958, Pluchnik suggested a structure based on eight basic bipolar emotions: joy versus sorrow, anger versus fear, acceptance versus disgust and surprise versus expectancy. Later on, in 1980, he developed this classification further into a more complex “wheel of emotions,” analogous to a color wheel, in which primary emotions were placed forming a circle, with opposites 180 degrees apart and other emotions placed between them, as mixtures of the primary emotions in the same manner that primary colors can be mixed to obtain secondary colors.

Pluchnik’s wheel of emotions. Source: Wikipedia

Inspired by Pluchnik’s diagram, in early August 2022 visual artists Asaf and Tomer Hanuka created Moodies, a collection of 7,401 artworks generated from a set of 32 original illustrations depicting human emotions in the form of a portrait of a fictional character whose face is a big hole (which the artists call “the cave”), filled and surrounded by different elements that build a visual metaphor of each emotional state. Notably, the brothers Hanuka have updated some of the terms in Pluchnik’s diagram, adapting it to the type of emotions that are prevalent in a society where human interactions are mediated by social media and messaging apps.

For instance, the term “annoyance” in Pluchnik’s wheel becomes FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), a particular kind of annoyance we all experience in the fast-paced “present” built by mass media. Similarly, “aggressiveness” is described as “bullish,” an attitude that is at once celebrated by those who identify with toxic masculinity and frowned upon by those who decry a behavior that preys on the weak and can have fatal consequences (such as cyberbullying). Other changes may seem a matter of semantics, but they are nonetheless significant. Take “serenity”, which becomes “nostalgia,” a feeling particularly connected to Asaf’s and Tomer’s generation, whose childhood was deeply influenced by the culture of the 1980s, which has since been constantly repackaged a resold to them as adults, cashing in on their longing for the past. Additionally, “admiration” becomes “proud,” signaling the growing importance of the self in our highly individualistic society.

Moodies emotion map. Source:

These subtle changes illustrate the attention that both artists have put into creating a depiction of human emotions that speaks to the specific context of social media and the NFT art scene. Moodies stems from the Hanuka brothers’ desire to re-imagine the profile picture or selfie as it is used in today’s world; the image that has come to define us in the social world. Asaf and Tomer therefore describe the Moodies as ‘anti-emojis’ and aim to re-introduce to our social lives conversations about emotions and the inner-self rather than just creating pictures of perfect lives that are usually experienced as cover-ups. 

‘FOMO’, for example, portrays an eyeball with a knife poking down its middle where the face is supposed to be, in the background we see a broken down backyard that looks out on Hollywood Hills. The person in the image has a bad hairdo with bald spots on the top of his scalp, and the grass that makes up his body and the background is far from being green. ‘Nostalgia’ depicts an old tape recorder in place of a face, the figure wears a Duran Duran 80’s hairdo and a jean jacket, and the background is a retro gas station. 

“Our mission is to expand the conversation of feelings. These are the anti-emojis. There is an astonishing beauty to the complexity and intricate structures that govern our moods. This esthetic quality has been erased by outsourcing our social lives to platforms like Instagram”

Pluchnik’s diagram not only provided inspiration but also the blueprint for an algorithmic creation based on combining the elements in each of the 32 original drawings. These illustrations, termed “Pure Soul Moodies,” are each composed of 6 elements: Aura (head), Body (clothing), Cave (face), Environment (backdrop), and Skin (color or texture of the skin). These elements are then associated with the emotion that the Pure Soul represents, thus creating several thousands of mixed emotions artworks, in which each part of the drawing corresponds to an emotion. The compositions resulting from this process, alongside the original 32 Pure Souls, constitute the Moodies NFT collection, each artwork being minted as a unique piece.

One-page story by Asaf Hanuka explaining the making of Moodies.

A meaningful PFP project

Moodies belong to a type of NFT projects known as PFP, which stands for profile picture: these are illustrations intended to be used by their collectors as profile pictures on social media. Increasingly popular thanks to the success of early projects such as Larva Lab’s CryptoPunks or the ubiquitous Bored Ape Yacht Club, that have inspired an endless array of copycats, PFP NFTs combine the uniqueness of the artwork with the desire to create a personal identity on social networks that is at the same time distinctly individualistic yet belonging to a group. However, Moodies stands out for introducing a narrative and an underlying concept that is lacking everywhere else. Award-winning illustrators and storytellers, Asaf and Tomer Hanuka have succeeded in creating a series of artworks that respond to the driving aesthetics of the NFT space but also introduce a reflection on the need to express one’s personality and emotions. As Pluchnik stated:

“Although personality is usually taught in universities as if it had little or nothing to do with emotions, words such as gloomy, resentful, anxious and calm can describe personality traits as well as emotional states. An individual can feel depressed, or be a depressed person, feel nervous or be a nervous person. […] Thus personality traits may be conceptualized as being derived from mixtures of emotions.”

In this sense, the Moodies aptly connect the depiction of a combination of emotions with the construction of one’s personality, and more specifically, one’s persona in a social environment like those provided by Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and so forth. The chaotic combination of elements in a surreal and somehow uneasy relationship becomes a perfect illustration of Pluchnik’s description of emotions as unstable processes: 

“Emotions are not simply linear events, but rather are feedback processes. The function of emotion is to restore the individual to a state of equilibrium when unexpected or unusual events create disequilibrium.”

The artists have therefore succeeded in creating a series of artworks that reflect on our digital identity and our need to belong to a group, which nowadays can be made of a large number of geographically distant and anonymous people, but also invite expressing our inner self in a playful way: “We wanted to create a group of people that care about feelings,” state Asaf and Tomer. “Instagram is about looking good and feeling happy: this is manipulation, forcing you aggressively to be happy. For us this felt fake, and we wanted to turn this inside out. Inside you have darkness, pain, love, we are made up of a cocktail of good and bad.”

Into the Moodieverse

Moodies goes beyond the depiction of mixed emotions in a set of algorithmically combined portraits. The artists are currently developing a larger story that builds a whole world around the initial idea of bringing the wheel of emotions to life. Central to this story is a character known as The Great Moodie, “a brilliant physician turned mentalist who modeled the principles of electromagnetics to uncover the mysteries of the unconscious mind.” This enigmatic character, which according to the story created a machine capable of tapping into the collective unconscious, known as the Soul-Ray, is said to have disappeared and will soon resurface in the Metaverse. 

The Soul Ray. Source:

The Hanuka brothers consider this character essential to the plot that unites the whole Moodies project and will lead its continuation beyond the initial launch of the NFT series, which quickly sold out and is now only available in the secondary market.

“The relationship between the great Moodie and the Moodies is that first we wanted to create generative art, something we wanted to control mixed with random decisions, and then we needed to define a concept to justify this loss of control, which brought us to creating mixed emotions. The Great Moodie is us trying to visualize feelings. There is this visual metaphor: The Great Moodie is what it means to be an artist.”

Just like The Great Moodie, the Hanuka brothers have big plans for this project which they keep under wraps for the moment, but that will unfold in a fully developed narrative and a growing community experience for their NFT holders. The project has already expanded beyond the blockchain to create experiences with people in the real world: the Moodies have been touring the world, making appearances in Los Angeles and at NFT NYC 2022. Their latest stop is Tel Aviv, where the Hanuka brothers have displayed a selection of the collection at SAGA, a cave-shaped gallery in Jaffa.

Moodies LA Takeover. Source:

Asaf Hanuka is based in Tel Aviv and serves as the Head of Department at Shenkar College of Engineering, Design and Art. He is also an illustrator and comic book artist. He has won multiple international awards including the Eisner for best US edition of international material for The Realist, an autobiographical weekly comic, and recently published I’m Still Alive with writer Roberto Saviano (Gomorrah). 

Tomer Hanuka is based in New York and has most recently worked in visual development with Netflix and Sony for live-action and animated projects. He is an illustrator and cartoonist who regularly contributes to magazines such as The New Yorker, Time Magazine, The New York Times, and Rolling Stone. Tomer has exhibited at international museums such as The British Design Museum and has won multiple industry awards including Gold medals from The Society of Illustrators and The Society of Publication Designers. 

They have also co-created, with the collaboration of writer Boaz Lavie, The Divine, a graphic novel which made The New York Times bestseller list, was nominated for a Hugo, and won the International Manga Award. Publisher’s Weekly described it as “Heady, hellacious, and phantasmagoric”. In addition, the brothers Hanuka have contributed a story to the Attack on Titan anthology, published by Kodansha Comics.

[1] Robert Plutchnik. The nature of emotions. American Scientist ; Research Triangle Park Tome 89, N.º 4, (Jul/Aug 2001): 344-350.

Katie Torn on beauty and decay in a hybrid world

Roxanne Vardi and Pau Waelder

Katie Torn’s work explores the female figure in a world shaped by digital technology and obsession with self-image boosted by social media and consumer culture. She uses 3D graphics and video to build assemblages of natural and artificial elements that question the boundaries between beauty and decay, body and prosthesis, organic and synthetic, and between a person’s own self and the image she creates of herself. 

In the series Dream Flower, composed of two artworks commissioned by Niio, the artist draws inspiration from Victorian-era botanical drawings and the work of Mary Blair in the animated fantasy film Alice in Wonderland, produced by Walt Disney in 1951, to create the portraits of two exotic flowers with female-like features. In this interview, she elaborates on the connections between these characters and the ways women have had their bodies shaped by aesthetic stereotypes, as well as the contradictory beauty of decaying matter. 

Most of your artworks, including Dream Flower I and Dream Flower II, exhibit female figures. Could you please elaborate on your interest and explorations of representing women through your works?

Like many digital artists my background is in painting. I studied classical figure painting as a teenager and spent many hours in museums studying the “Old Masters”, male painters whose subject was often the female form. I was taught that light falls on the female body the same way light falls on a still life of a bowl of fruit. How I create my animations and digital paintings is informed by my study of the history of painting. I compose my works much like a 20th century painter who is responding to classical painting, starting with a figure as a central subject in relation to a picture plane and then fragmenting the form to create an abstraction.  In my work I use virtual space and digital tools to break down the figure. I wouldn’t say the figures in my work are women. They are creatures that have attributes that are female-like, but they also have attributes of plants, animals and inanimate objects.  

Katie Torn, Dream Flower I, 2022.

“I was taught that light falls on the female body the same way light falls on a still life of a bowl of fruit.”

In your artworks we find references to Victorian drawings, as well as dolls and children’s toys. Which connections would you draw between that time and our present consumer culture?

My animations Dream Flower I and Dream Flower II  were specifically inspired by Victorian botanical drawings of flower arrangements. I came across a few prints in my Great-grandmother’s apartment and noticed how they were composed almost like portraits of flowers with a large bulb situated in the middle of the arrangement like a human head. Many of the toys I use are virtual models either scavenged online or physical objects found at thrift stores and not tied to any specific era. What I do find interesting from the Victorian era is the way the fashion from the time distorted the female body almost like a physical filter. At that time corsets and bustles were used to sculpt the female form to fit an imagined ideal, in present consumer culture we use photoshop, filters and now AI to create imagined versions of ourselves.  

“What I do find interesting from the Victorian era is the way the fashion from the time distorted the female body almost like a physical filter”

In your work, there is an interplay between the apparent desire to please and the eerie quality of the scene. Would you relate this to our exposure to mass media and advertising?

In my work I like to use the tools of advertising such as slick 3D renderings, photoshop and liquid simulations to entice viewers and pull them into my world. The story I am telling is about a human trying to adapt to an environment that is in decay where the physical and virtual world are colliding and creating a hybrid like a newborn cyborg trying to function. 

Can we interpret in these works a reference to the submissive roles given to women in conservative societies, from the Victorian era to Post-War America and up to the present? 

I wouldn’t say that, no. The female-like creatures in my work are like goddesses. They are in control of their own ecosystems. 

“The female-like creatures in my work are like goddesses. They are in control of their own ecosystems”

Katie Torn, Dream Flower II, 2022.

You have mentioned that in some of your artworks there is a strong influence of the work of Mary Blair. What inspiration do you take from Blair’s work and life?

I love Mary Blair’s unexpected color combinations on the work she did for Disney in the 1950’s. Specifically in Alice in Wonderland and Cinderella, her art direction added a moody quality and sophistication to the animation. Since I was making creatures that were botanical for Dream Flower I and Dream Flower II I decided to rewatch the flower scene in Alice in Wonderland for inspiration. 

An interesting concept in your work is the use of waste, both by incorporating disused objects, elements that are constantly dripping or falling apart, and by depicting wastelands. What do you find interesting in this concept?

Destruction and decay is fighting but it can also be beautiful on a purely aesthetic level. Like watching a forest fire from your computer screen. It is awful and heart breaking but can be watched slightly removed like an explosion in an action film. My work stems from the ironies we see in industrial disasters in nature like the most beautiful pink sunset that is caused by pollution or being awestruck by the colorful beauty in an oil spill.  

Lately, you have been involved in the NFT space. Can you please share some of your insights of this new context of creation, dissemination, and commercialization of digital artworks?

I have been making short format looping video animations for years and have always struggled to find a place for them in the art and film world. They aren’t long enough to play at a festival and the lack of physicality made it impossible to really sell them at art fairs. NFTs legitimized the format. Physical objects like painting and sculpture have always been tied to money. It makes sense that digital currency would have its own digital art version. It’s been great to see digital artists who’ve careers I’ve followed for years finally being able to make a living off their works. 

“My work stems from the ironies we see in industrial disasters in nature like the most beautiful pink sunset that is caused by pollution or being awestruck by the colorful beauty in an oil spill” 

Naked terrains: the imaginary landscapes of Franz Rosati

Roxanne Vardi and Pau Waelder

A musician and digital artist, Franz Rosati explores a broad spectrum aesthetic experiences in the intersection of digital music and real time 3D renderings, that he presents in the form of audiovisual concerts, screen based installations, software art and printed artworks. His artistic production is characterized by the creation of dystopian landscapes and autonomous virtual entities, in series such as Latentscape, Hyletics, Map of Null, and Machine & Structure.

His work has been exhibited in international events, festivals, and listed for galleries and platforms such as NIIO, Framed*, ARTPOINT, Dong Gallery, NEAL Digital Gallery, The OUTPUT, Sedition Art, and Mana. In our curated art program, Rosati’s work has been presented in several artcasts, such as Wanderlust and Rare Earths. We sat down with him to talk about his creative process, his favorite software, and the multiple dimensions of his work.

Sound and music are the key elements in your work that are presented with engaging visual compositions and often use generative techniques. How would you describe the relationship between the sounds and images?

It’s a pretty parallel process. Each project, even Latentscape, starts as an audio-visual concert with a strong narrative that develops over time. With the screen based artworks, I extract the main theme and timbral features of the audio parts to build a piece which can’t be a full track because there’s no time for such development, but can deliver the average impression and mood of the sound while you can stand in front of the work between 10 seconds to 3 minutes and you can still catch it. The sound comes from a main idea of the work, but then when I develop a concept I try to separate between the two things, as different emanations of the same artwork. In this sense, screen based artworks and audio visual concerts are the ways I can experiment with different languages.

Franz Rosati, LATENTSCAPE KV4A, 2021

There is an important immersive and performative element in your work, exemplified by the installations and live performances. Taking this into account, how do you conceive the duration of your pieces, the rhythms in them, and the presence of the viewer as a body in an enclosed space, exposed to sounds and images?

It depends on the project. In the past I was more into improvisation. I always had a canvas to work on, but I didn’t know the development before the concert, so it was different in that sense, a flow of sounds and generative visuals out from my custom made digital instruments with defined possibilities to explore freely.  I changed this approach in the last few years because I felt like I wanted to work in a more cinematic way. Now I have different kind of visualizations and moments such as chapters and interludes and so forth. In this moment I see myself more like a director than just a musician or a performer. Right now, I know exactly what material palette, depth, and sound I want to use in specific moments. About the screen based artworks I decided to choose some specific camera movements for Latentscape which is limited to upward, downward and zoom-io/out movements because I want the audience to feel a sense of ascension or falling-into when in front of the screen. For the sound I wanted something rich and textural but still maintaining the “full spectrum” approach I had in the past and when it is possible in the venue, I like to have multichannel speakers and very loud sound pressure.

Franz Rosati, LATENTSCAPE XV4A, 2021

In that sense, how do you see the works that are on Niio, which are more intimate for the user, in the context of your work?

I like the intimate dimension. When I play live I can have 200 or 2,000 people in front of me, on Niio I can have only one person in front of the artwork. To me this is fascinating because it forces me to tailor my project so that can talk to everyone without giving up its identity, and this means mediating a lot to find a common language and expressive balance. It can be on an 80 inch screen or on 3 small computer screens, and this can allow the audience to get closer to the screen instead of being surrounded and overpowered by huge screens and loud sounds. With the Latentscape works, I like to configure them as going up and going down, changing direction, doing sliding and zooming movements instead of complex camera movements, slow movement and slow changes, slow cinematic sequences and what you can perceive on both large and small screens as a shift in perception. It is like exploring a big painting with your eyes or seeing the ground from a plane. Latentscape depicts a landscape that doesn’t exist, it’s everything we know from experience, but it’s imaginary. An aerial bat above the ground, but at the same time you are watching something that is not moving but it’s just you.

In this moment I see myself more like a director than just a musician or a performer.

Can you pinpoint the reason why you used to be more into improvisation whereas today you like working with a clear narrative? 

From 2007-2012 I mainly played electronic, electroacoustic and noise music so I was a lot into improvisation and I used to play with radical-jazz musicians too, so when I went on stage myself I was still into this kind of stream of consciousness approach even if my first attempt with a cinematic approach was Pathline #1 in 2011 but than it was only in 2016 with Map of Null that I went back on a Cinematic approach. I was also in a moment in my life when I needed to express myself in a more instinctual and physical way. But right now, I am more focused on designing my projects, so I want to balance and craft more details in what I put on screens and what plays out of the speakers. At the time of improvisation I played a lot at small clubs and festivals, and my setup was more flexible in a way. Right now, my works cannot be played on smaller stages, because I need a good screen or projector and a at least a couple of big subwoofer to deliver everything properly. There are also a lot of cultural differences in my own growth and development. Ten years ago I was more into music than into digital arts even if I was already doing large scale printed generative artworks and visuals.

“It is like exploring a big painting with your eyes or seeing the ground from a plane. Latentscape depicts a landscape that doesn’t exist, it’s everything we know from experience, but it’s imaginary.”

In your work we often find the presence of generated landscapes that can be located in the edge between real and imaginary, figurative and abstract. What role do these landscapes play in your work? Would you say they have become a signature element that identifies your work?

From a technical point of view, I was interested in landscape generation techniques, because I like the expressive possibilities of the shapes and feature of the naked terrain with no buildings, vegetation or traces of human presence, it’s just what we see from above when we look at the world. It’s fascinating because at some heights there are things you cannot distinguish anymore and disappear, and just shapes and colours remains. At the moment I am still working on Latentscape, I don’t want to stop it as I like the workflow and the style. But at the same time, I am working on a a new project, Distantia, based on complex satellite imagery. I am talking to researchers and trying to figure out what I can do with that huge amount of informations. I want to develop an aesthetic which is in continuity with Latentscapes but will be separate. It will be more scientific accurate, which would give totally different results. In the end I think that the landscape at the moment is the main framework of intervention I want to work because it’s clear but can carry many meanings.

Franz Rosati, Hyletics, sequenza H301A, 2020

The visuals and sounds you create are usually not encapsulated in themselves, but enriched by external data. How do you choose and modulate this data? How do you balance control and randomness in the use of this data and in your live performances?

Latentscapes are made of elevation maps generated from a GAN which was trained with a custom dataset made of thousands of DEMs (elevation maps) I’ve collected in about 6 months. For the sounds I made the same kind of approach collecting sounds and music recordings  generated by machine learning algorithm SapleRNN and other Autoencoders. In both cases, the collection of the dataset, (a very long and human based practice) was the big part. For example I created sonic dataset made of Baroque Musica and Sound Design to see what the algorithm could generate from this mix. I tried to make some clashes in this sense. AI is not so smart but it’s precise, so if I tell it what to do it starts to become an interesting game. I am not a big fan of AI as a creative tool for final outputs, I am not sure how much I will use it in the next projects but in Latentscape it was interesting to use it for particular sounds and the shapes.

“I was interested in landscape generation techniques, because I like the expressive possibilities of the shapes and feature of the naked terrain with no buildings, vegetation or traces of human presence”

For the colors, instead, I collected a lot of photography and concatenated together and extracted the color scheme I like. Sometimes I grab a leaf of a plant and put it together with the color of a metal packaging that I like. I like to consider data not just as a digit, not just as numbers. A famous and brilliant couple of Italian philosophers, artists and hackers, Salvatore Iaconesi and Oriana Persico, suggested that data is more about experience instead of only visualizing or  extracting numbers from real environments or statistical events. So it’s part of my data. A collection of my own experience. I love to work with technology and humanize technology. I ask myself who I am when I work with technology and don’t let technology take over to my feelings and tastes.

In the creation of your artworks you use software that you have developed personally. What does this software bring to your creative process that you cannot find in off-the-shelf commercial software? What do you think about open source software and creative coding environments such as PureData, Max/MSP, Processing, VVVV, or openFrameworks?

I use Max/MSP and TouchDesigner for a very big part of my works even if I really started around 2004-2006 with Processing and PureData. Max is my main tool for sound and in the past for visuals too. Latentscape, instead, uses complex workflows that starts with GANs, to end up in Unreal Engine with a specific attention to Blueprint Materials programming.
I always had my own instruments and tools made in Max for the sound, which allow me to play the music and do sound design how I want – so it is customized and tailored for me. It’s nice to design a tool for yourself. This is why I like to design my own instruments. At the moment my Latentscape Live Set is only built around Ableton Live and Max communicating with TouchDesigner, while the production of screen based artworks and video content for the live set is fully based on Unreal Engine.

About AI as I told before, I use it in a very functional way. At the moment I’m exploring a bit Stable Diffusion and Dall-E and what I don’t like is that you can customize a notebook, lines of code, features, but the problem is the dataset – it’s very wide, endless and the nature of the dataset but at the same time very general and the fine tuning from the company is another limit. I think that AI is be very cool to create a variety of outputs from a single idea. For Latentscapes I did that for landscapes as well as for micro-texturing with GANs, which gave me a wide range of variations in just one click.
I’m struggling to see DALL-E or Stable Diffusion as a real creative instrument. I look at it more as a “recursive subconscious stimulating search engine”.

Would you say that these tools have fostered a new generation of digital artists?

I remember years ago here in Rome there were really few people experimenting with digital arts. Open source was a real revolution. It’s still a revolution even if from a political point of view. I don’t consider OpenAI or DALL-E a good use of the open source paradigm. Calling something open source just because the source is open it’ doesn’t work for me. In the case of AI there’s a dataset involved which most of the times means data collected without any authorization by big companies. There is a wide shade of things to analyze about the open source movement today.

Going back to the question I see what the algorithm is telling me that it thinks, it’s something hyperrealistic, or it can give me a suggestion of something strange which I didn’t imagine but It’s always very similar, it seems to have it’s own artistic trait in some ways, and you cannot do anything to make the tool your own. The final user is just the new audience in that sense, an active audience –but the audience is not the artist. Being an artist means having a vision, feeling an urge to translate that into matter and so called traditional digital tools to me are still the way to really develop a unique style if you want and you need to do it. The main observation is that the same thing was told about 3D and digital animation back in the days, but this time there’s a huge difference which is the data involved.

Your professional career includes collaborations with other artists and musicians as composer and sound designer. How have these collaborations been developed? What would you point out as key elements in a collaboration, particularly when it involves sound and visuals?

In the past I worked a lot with other artists as a technical artist, such as my work with Quayola. But I collaborated only a few times with artists on collaborative projects, for example doing visuals for Plaster, which is a very important and quiet an historical Italian techno/electronic project as well as doing several remixes/reworks or more recently collaborative audiovisual pieces for a serie of events curated by Edward Paul Quist for his own Embryoroom/Embryogallery project or producing music for Daniele Spanò videoartistic installation, which is a very clever italian artist and friend.
Then recently I’ve been involved into the Sentio tour by Martin Garrix with one custom Latentscape artworks, and it’s pretty insane to see my stuff on such gigantic ledwalls with literrally tens of thousands of people dancing on this very powerful and energetic music.

Franz Rosati, Map of Null T010N, 2018

With my own projects I have assistant collaborators. But I am a control freak for the workflow and I like to always keep my hands on the work. So I start alone doing lot of technological a nd conceptual research and then bring in someone to help for specific tasks, then I give the final form to the project by mysels. In the last four years I opened up a lot in that sense, also talking to researchers about remote sensing or machine learning in my case or in depth Unreal Engine techniques. But I am not really a collaboration artist, because I work slowly. I am not a machine gun when I produce works. Usually it takes me 3-6 months or more to publish a work but maybe it’s in the pipeline from an year. So it’s difficult for me to commit to someone. Difficult to align to other people’s workflows also because I am also a Sound Design and Media Art teacher so I need to schedule my time properly not to neglect my students and my artistic carreer.

Did any of these collaborations inspire you to do something else?

Working with Quayola was quiet an enlightenment. I learned a lot watching him at work, especially to scan and organize the work, keep track of everything and keep the focus on specific aspects of your output. It was a very important encounter from both human and development point of view mostly thanks to Andrea Santicchia which is a very important figure of Quayola Studio and dragged me into this. Also the Jazz musicians I was talking at the beginning, at the time gave me the right approach to put my inner self out there with music. In the end everyone you meet is your master in life. This is the same with my students, I learn a lot from anyone of them.

“I love the idea of the artcast, because seeing a platform that is active in publishing, not just showing your artwork but doing curatorial activities with your work makes a lot of sense.”

You have worked with several digital platforms, such as Sedition, FRAMED*, and of course Niio. These platforms offer artists different services and forms of distribution of the artworks, what is your experience with them? How would you describe the possibilities that artists now have to distribute and sell their work through online and device-specific platforms?

In general these platforms were a big game changer for me, they gave me an opportunity to put out my work differently. When these platforms came out it completely changed the game. Sedition was the first one I worked with, but I lost track with them a bit, at some point it seemed like a good art shop instead of a platform but the initial idea was very forwardthinking. When Framed* came out it was a blessing because they don’t just have a shop, they have a whole device ready to display the artworks and also involved us artists in several public events. Artpoint is also a very clever company based in France mainly focused on distributing artworks on real spaces and contexts which is something I feel very good with.

When I approached Niio for the Open Call with Samsung at the end of 2019, my perception was of a very serious platform which was more curated and prestigious with a wide network behind. I love the idea of the artcast, because seeing a platform that is active in publishing, not just showing your artwork but doing curatorial activities with your work does something for me and makes a lot of sense. 

Now that NFTs came into the game, do you feel there is a wider space for artists to come in?

About NFT I am really critical. I did something around Hicetnunc mainly, so on Tezos – the green blockchain, and this was pretty good, I’ve met very clever artists and collectors, but I didn’t push too much to be in the NFT space because I feel that it’s too risky. I don’t like that everything goes through Twitter as it can lead to bot collectors or just some kind of overproductive approach. But at the same time there are several companies working with NFTs in a more healthy way.

I like the way some companies such as ReasonedArt, which I’m collaborating with, works with the Matic blockchain, which is green too, and also because they use the NFT/blockchain paradigm to works mainly in the real space doing also public events and broadcasting such as projections at the train stations like it happened recently. These are artists and curators using NFTs in a more realistic way. When I hear people talking of crypto art it’s not really my cup of tea. It’s like calling wall art something you put on your wall. So I am not interested in the NFT space as a space itself. I tend more towards the notion of talking about NFT as a system so when used in a good way with a proper method it’s cool, even if it’s a technology that carries some very equivocal meanings itself. The focus should be on the art, otherwise, just to cite Salvatore Iaconesi once again, in one of his latest articles about NFTs, we run the risk of living in a reality in which “everything becomes a financial transaction, so much so that it is impossible to conceive of anything else…”

Yoshi Sodeoka: human audio visualizer

Roxanne Vardi and Pau Waelder

A multifaceted artist, Yoshi Sodeoka creates a wide range of audiovisual artistic works that include video art, animated gifs, music videos, and editorial illustrations. Influenced from an early stage in his career in noise music and glitch art, as well as avant garde movements such as Op Art, his work is characterized by breaking down the structure of the musical score and visual integrity of the image to find new forms of artistic expression.

A multifaceted artist, Yoshi Sodeoka creates a wide range of audiovisual artistic works that include video art, animated gifs, music videos, and editorial illustrations. Influenced from an early stage in his career in noise music and glitch art, as well as avant garde movements such as Op Art, his work is characterized by breaking down the structure of the musical score and visual integrity of the image to find new forms of artistic expression. His projects, developed individually or in close collaboration with other artists, materialize in fields as diverse as music (Psychic TV, Tame Impala, Oneohtrix Point Never, Beck, The Presets, Max Cooper), illustration (New York Times, Wired, The Atlantic, M.I.T Technology Review) fashion (Adidas, Nike), and advertising (Apple, Samsung). His work has been exhibited internationally, including at Centre Pompidou, Tate Britain, the Museum of Modern Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art, Deitch Projects, La Gaîté Lyrique, the Museum of Moving Image, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and Laforet Museum Harajuku.

In the following conversation, Sodeoka discusses his work and influences, focusing on the two artworks from the series Synthetic Liquid recently commissioned by Niio.

Could you elaborate on how your background in music influences your artistic practice when creating new media artworks?

At the beginning of my abstract video art projects, music and sounds usually come first. I guess in a way, I’m trying to be a human audio visualizer. I usually start by picking up some interesting sounds that I want to work with. That could either come from a friend or from myself. It really depends on how I feel. I’ve been a long time user of Logic (a MIDI sequencer software) so I usually cook up something quick in that. I’ve always played electric guitar since a young age, and I still have a collection of synthesizers and instruments. I’ve been a big fan of experimental noise and ambient music. I am lucky to have some really talented music friends that provide me with the exact sounds I’m looking for if I’m not in the mood to do my own. Anyhow, then I would try to come up with the idea of what sort of visuals go well with that sound. Experimental/Noise music is just a perfect fit with the videos I make.

Yoshi Sodeoka, Synthetic Liquid 7, 2022.

Why are you interested in glitch and noise?

I feel that everything is broken anyway, nothing is complete. In computer glitches, something interesting happens, in terms of color and composition. I am mainly interested in these colors and shapes. For me it comes from an aesthetic reason, I am not a conceptual glitch artist. I use it for everything.

However, these particular artworks I created for the commission look more organized, with more neutral colors. It relates to how I feel about the project or what influences me at a particular time, but I really can’t tell why.

“If you depend on the programs and machines you are using, then your creative process becomes shaped by the vision of the person who made that software or those machines.”

The neo-psychedelic style of both commissioned works from your Synthetic Liquid series with its kaleidoscope of colors resembles the aesthetic used by Futurist artists in the early twentieth century, and you have also mentioned your interest in Op Art. Would you say your work relates to these avant garde movements?

Yes, to some certain extent. I like Futurism, particularly in its more abstract manifestations. And in this particular work that I’m presenting in Niio, I should say I’ve been more influenced by Op art. I like the work of Bridget Riley and Victor Vasarely, among others. I just like the idea of making video versions of Op art. I enjoy seeing those visual triggers: Op Art makes you question what you are seeing. The arrangement of colors and shapes make your brain think. I like the idea of trying to make animated Op Art, because when you see it your mind goes someplace else, and this is fascinating to me. When you look at a landscape, for instance, you feel calm, whereas with Op Art there is a different feeling.

Yoshi Sodeoka, Synthetic Liquid 8, 2022.

Can you tell us about your artistic process and about the different digital softwares that you use in the creation of your video works and the process of moving from analog practices to digital practices? 

Sound and visuals are strongly connected. My interest in experimental noise is that it does not have a structure, which goes well with abstract videos. I have been playing music since I was 12 years old, and at the same time I studied painting. Doing both at the same time from a very young age, when I discovered video art there was no question that I wanted to do that. 

I’ve used a lot of analog setups in the past. But I use less of it now. I still like a pure analog setup, but I’m just in a different phase. I like to keep it simple with fewer gears in my studio at the moment. I incorporate the ideas that I have learned from working on analog videos into the digital video-making process. One of the things that are fascinating about what I can do with analog video is video feedback. I try to simulate that in the digital setting. The exact process might be different. But the concept is the same either in analog or digital. 

 “I imagine that the future of computing will be more organic and fluid.” 

I still have a video analog setup in my studio. For me it started to get kind of boring, and to break out of it one of the solutions was to buy more gears. I feel that the parameter is very limited because if you buy gear, then your creative process becomes shaped by the vision of the person who made that gear. I don’t like that, so I use my own video feedback technique with After Effects, which not many people do, and therefore it feels like it is my own tool and my own technique.

I also randomize a lot of elements in my audio production, working with a set of parameters. I set a tone, add notes from here to here, and allow a bit of randomness. But that’s as far as I go. I don’t use a coding environment such as PureDate to make audio compositions, but I use audio production software and randomize it, which is similar in a way. 

“I like the idea of creating Op Art, because it makes you question what you are seeing”

When experiencing your works, one cannot help but think of the beginning of the creation of everything with the representation of fluids and water.

Ha, I’m not sure. When people think of computers and technologies, they don’t really think of liquids and water. Machines are always dry and hard things. But I imagine that the future of computing will be more organic and fluid. People are using liquid elements in computing and I am fascinated by it. My videos feel very organic, particularly because they have an analog component, so it is not only about zeros and ones. I want to make everything organic as much as possible. It’s not easy, but I take it as my challenge to make things look more organic.

You have recently also been active in the NFT space, could you please share your experience with us on these projects and how you imagine NFTs becoming part of the more traditional art industry as a whole?

It’s been such a crazy ride with NFTs! I’ve sold plenty of work as I’ve never had before. And I’ve made a lot of new friends, and I discovered a lot of great artists I’ve heard of before. Overall it’s been a good experience for me. But I’m not a big fanatic of it either. I’m staying pretty low-key about it. Things come and go and I have no idea where this is going, honestly. I just focus on making good art, which has always been my thing.

Digital Collage: an interview with Nico Tone

By Pau Waelder & Roxanne Vardi

With a history that spans more than a century, collage has evolved as an artistic technique from the pieces of newspaper glued to a canvas to a wide array of forms of appropriating content using digital tools. We sat down with Tal Keren, who established the Nico Tone collective and acts as the senior artist, on their use of found images to create digital collages in their latest series of artworks.

This interview is part of a series of three editorial articles that dive deeper into the different software, technicalities, and processes that go into creating digital artworks, in order to offer our readers a deeper understanding of digital art as a medium.

We speak to Nico Tone as part of a collaboration with Render Studio, a collective creative experimentation for a digital reality. Render Studio is inspired by art, design, nature and technology and aims to explore dimensions of virtuality, interactivity and motion. Nico Tone’s series Cornucopia,  Vintage Matchbox Series and Cosmoscapes are all featured on Niio this summer, and were all created for Render Studio. 

Towards these series, Nico Tone looked at archives of vintage matchbox illustrations from around the world. Can you please explain the complexity of turning older images into novel digital artworks, and the different technicalities that go into this process?

We were very lucky to find many archives of designs and illustrations of matchboxes that were scanned in a good quality. So it wasn’t a problem to take these images from the server, and to put them into different folders. Each of the folders we create is categorized under a different topic such as animals, flowers and space. We took images of each subject and with the use of Photoshop, we cut the illustrations and then used the program After Effects in which we placed all the cut images. To make these series we needed to create many small animations. I equate this process to Lego: animating each image separately so with each artwork we can use the same animations but in different colors, sizes and placements. We also created many animated GIFs towards the creation of the final artworks. We use between 50-70 illustrations collected by the group from vintage matchboxes to create one coherent artwork. From some matchboxes we just take one element or illustration, and for others we can take all of them. We also looked at the reference of stamps and of vintage bills for the Vintage Matchbox series. The artworks are conceived to be symmetrical at first glance so that the compositions are like mirrors, but then the illustrations break that symmetry.

Nico Tone, Vintage Tales I, 2022

In your search for these images, do you have a specific website that you explore or do you start every exploration from scratch using search engines such as Google search?

We tend to use specific links that we are familiar with, and we were very careful about the copyrighting of the images, so even when we found an image that we liked we needed to do a lot of research on the image’s legal copyright conditions.

Do you take these images and try to think about what the different illustrations meant historically, and play with these existing narratives or do you really use these images just as a starting point to create something completely new?

The history of the different illustrations is usually taken into account. It is very important and interesting to know the history of the images. But when we create the artworks, the main focus is on how it looks,  and how something new can be created from these materials. It may reference and remind us of the history, but the outcome is not the history itself, it’s something else, a new world that combines everything together. Each design comes from a different culture and country, and we take everything and mix it up into a new narrative. This type of work is similar to the process of globalization, which is experienced everywhere. Keep in mind  that the vintage illustrations are very small, so we have to work with a lot of small details. This was also a challenge, to try to think what can be done, and how something new can be created from these small historical illustrations.

“Each design comes from a different culture and country, and we take everything and mix it up into a new narrative. This type of work is similar to the process of globalization, which is experienced everywhere.”

Can you elaborate on the different softwares used in creating this series of works?

As I mentioned, for the creation of these works we use Photoshop and After Effects. I make use of a digital tablet and a pen. For the space series, Wandering Stars, we needed to create the backgrounds, so we used the Ipad with a program called Procreate to create them in high quality.

Nico Tone, Wandering Stars I, 2022

In your works you combine subject matters taken from different cultures and different time periods into one coherent whole. How do advanced technical softwares help in creating these new collated narratives?

The size of the illustrations make the available opportunities very limited, but on the other hand this is also a good thing because this also creates abstract boundaries where we need to be very creative. We try to create everything that is supposed to be alive in real life as breathing. Most of the animations are not fast, but instead are very slow and calm. It is like looking into an aquarium, or like when you’re diving and looking at the fish as a spectator. So the focus is on creating something that will be nice to be with. Even when portraying wild animals, we don’t want to represent them as scary but instead as calm and pleasing. Most of the animations portray movement, where the GIFs are created in a loop of movement. For this process, we take the image, for example the head of the bear, and break it apart into different pieces, and then move these different pieces one by one.

Present in your collage works, there also seems to be little stories or narratives, so that upon closer inspection over time, one can see some particular things happening or maybe even expect some things to happen which were not necessarily visible at first glance.

Yes, the artworks are all created in loops. But within those loops of 1.5-2 minutes there exist even smaller loops. These are created purposefully so that the narrative of the work is constantly changing. We like to create small surprises in the artworks, so that every time you see the work you can see something different. Like the half moon in Shell City that jumps out and back into the coffee cup, or the butterfly in Vintage Tales II that flies and lands on top of the boat. Also, as you mentioned, there are little stories that we create firstly for ourselves, where the viewer needs to see the work a couple of times to notice these. For example, in Shell Flower, there is a turtle that is biting into a plant on top of the car. In general, we think about the movement that you see the first time that you see the work, whereas there are other elements that one would only see after a couple of times that one has seen the work.

Nico Tone, Shell Animals, 2022

You mentioned that you would like viewers to take the time to see the artworks, or to live with them. What do you think of how we usually consume images which is really the opposite, fast-paced and ephemeral?

I think that because we are confronted daily with many images and videos that nothing really infiltrates us or touches us anymore. I believe that if you take the time and look at one artwork you will start feeling and sensing its power. This is what we try to achieve. We would like viewers to look at our works for a while, and not just a couple of seconds. I am in favor of technology, but I think that the subject matter that we choose to portray is usually more natural. We try to combine technology and nature for a long term relationship as opposed to a short one.

“We like to create small surprises in the artworks, so that every time you see the work you can see something different.”

You don’t use much text in your compositions, is this done purposefully?

We feel that when you incorporate text in the works, it gives it a more radical feeling or meaning which we want to leave more open. We don’t want our viewers to relate an artwork to one culture or to one language, but instead wish for every viewer to have their own take and perception of the artwork.

Your artworks show many references to Art Historical collage practices such as those initiated by Cubist and Dadaist artists from the early Twentieth century. What do you see as the role of the digital artist in this lineage?

When we are presented with a new technology, we have a new opportunity to do new things. So that we are aware of the history, and what the artists did in the past, but now we can do those same things with different techniques and challenges. I don’t like to create political artworks. The use of technological advancements for me comes out in the small nuances, when we say that we can use technology but in a positive way. The collage method and the digital tools give us the opportunity to portray what we are trying to say. Taking elements from history and from different cultures and with that to advance towards something more positive and more colorful, and to show the similarities between these different cultures. I like the idea that when you put different and seemingly opposite things together in a collage, such as a polar bear next to a tiger, suddenly it can make sense to see these two elements presented side by side.

Nico Tone, Wandering Stars III, 2022. The Mondrian Hotel, Seoul.

You present your artworks on very large screens, which are sometimes a couple of stories high. What do you need to consider, digitally, when your art is presented on such large scale?

On very large screens every detail is seen and scrutinized. Everything needs to be meticulous and have meaning. It is like putting all your imperfections out there, enlarged for the world to see. We have to simultaneously consider both the viewer looking at the collosal screen from very close, and one looking from far away. This does not happen on a normal size screen where a viewer must come relatively close to it. The short distance viewer will be very focused in a limited space inside the artwork and must gain value from that spot alone. He or she will see every detail in that limited scope. The viewer looking from afar will see the big picture. We aspire to convey the message or story of the artwork for both these types of viewers. From a technical standpoint, these colossal screens have very irregular formats and colors that we need to consider. We commonly need to make adjustments in the artworks to fit these unique screens. It is both scary and extremely satisfying to present our works on these huge screens.