Note: ✅ This is a translated version of the original IAMAS article. ✅ The original copyright is owned by IAMAS. ✅ The translation has been made with permission from IAMAS. ✅ The translation was done by TART and the responsibility for the English text lies with TART. The original IAMAS articles: https://www.iamas.ac.jp/interview/_024-1/ https://www.iamas.ac.jp/interview/_024-2/
Shunsuke Takawo’s Generativemasks NFT art series has made him the topic of a much discussion in the art community. In the second part of our interview, the discussion turned to his research at IAMAS, his social media activity, and how they feed into his current work.
Maeda: Mr. Takawo, as the artist, how much information do you have about each of the 10,000 collectors?
Takawo: The Generativemasks sale took place on the OpenSea NFT marketplace, and there are currently around 3,500 holders. You can see sales histories and so on, but it’s their crypto wallets that connect a holder to their NFTs, meaning it’s impossible to find their personal information.
But what I’ve found interesting is the Generativemasks Discord community, which has around 2,500 mask holders. There’s proactive, lively discussion on the Discord channels where mask holders talk to each other about how to promote the masks to increase their value. For example, they’ve suggested everyone search for good looking masks to share. One mask holder, “junosz”, created and shared an application that modifies my code to change the masks.
Maeda: As an artist, are you in favor of people enjoying your work through modification, expansion, and so on?
Takawo: Generativemasks was released under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-SA 3.0. So, essentially anyone can modify and share the work however they like as long as it’s for non-commercial purposes and they give appropriate credit. The first modification was a tool that I shared allowing the Generativemasks image to be displayed over one’s face on a webcam, but the idea itself came from the Generativemasks community. I’m very interested in how these exchanges are taking place among mask holders and feeding back into my work.
Maeda: Are the community and tools that you just mentioned only available for mask holders to enjoy?
Takawo: Maybe they should be when it comes down to it, but for now anyone can go access them, not only mask holders. These activities are a way to broaden the unique nature of Generativemasks—they form a part of the promotion, a place for experimentation.
Maeda: With a painting or something like that, the work leaves the artist’s hands the moment of the sale. Contrastly, I get the sense that one of the characteristics that Generativemasks has is that the owners are so open. It feels like they don’t treat their purchase as just their own possession, but as something to use and enjoy along with the artist.
Takawo: Of course, what I sold was completed art pieces, but there’s the potential for diverse variants and sub-variants to emerge through the processes of circulation and community discussion. I think that’s what makes Generativemasks unique when compared to other NFT generative art collections.
Maeda: Your comments about the community reminded me of how you were so active on Twitter while you were at IAMAS. I was under the impression that you were very involved with communication in the online world.
Takawo: There is Twitter, but personally I was most influenced by Tumblr at the time. I felt most stimulated when going through huge volumes of information, I was enjoying surrendering myself to the data. When I was a student, I felt that the true essence of the digital image was in looking continually at the mosaic of good and bad, that enormous amount of data flowing like a river on Tumblr’s dashboard, with my fingers at work on the keyboard. That is the experience that led to my master’s research at IAMAS and to my current work.
Maeda: You organized the #takawo杯 (*1) project too, didn’t you?
Takawo: Yes, I did. #takawo杯 was a contest for puns using words related to tech. I hosted it and got really excited about it on social media.
Maeda: How many people participated in the contest?
Takawo: Well, at its height, there were 1,500 people involved and about 15,000 posts were submitted. With the #takawo杯 project as well, I really enjoyed the process of choosing a winner, sampling the mass of submissions one by one on a spreadsheet through two rounds of selection.
Maeda: From that time on, there seemed to be a shift in consciousness from “creating works” to participation in communities and movements. Was that something that you were aware of?
Takawo: The #takawo杯 experience made me realize that I had an ability and aptitude for community management, to energize a community and create a positive atmosphere, and that’s led to my current work.
I think that personal ways of having fun are important, and creating #takawo杯 as a space where people could easily share their individual amusement with others was extremely rewarding. I often bring up the story of Tom Sawyer, when he was painting the fence for his work, his friends came around and wanted to join in, then they feel a sense of fun in the work together. I think there’s creativity and activity in this anecdote—fun changes people’s perspectives.
#takawo杯 and my activities on social media are similar to this. Projects often start with me having fun by myself or tweeting random things. I think the *short code(2) that I write for my “daily coding” is also an extension of my tweeting.
Maeda: Generativemasks is also a project that questions the idea of paying money to purchase a work of art. This isn’t just about art—when people buy tickets to a concert or a photo book, for example, they are buying an experience or an object, but I’m confident that there’s also this other aspect of wanting to support the creatives. There seems to be a strong awareness, among purchasers, not only of your works but of NFT art generally, that they're paying to support the activities of artists. Perhaps your daily coding practice, together with the inherent appeal of the works themselves, had a synergistic effect on how well Generativemasks has been received?
Takawo: Because of the ability to copy and paste, code is a medium that rewards daily effort and research. In a strange way, perhaps we’ve come full circle. In the art world up to this point, I think the artist’s private practice and experimental trial-and-error have been kept secret, with the idea that the mystery derived from invisibility creates value.
Maeda: By closely connecting the “image of the artist” derived from your daily practice to your amorphous and dynamic digital works, you seem to have proposed a new kind of work. That became even more apparent with your decision to donate the proceeds.
Takawo: I think that analysis comes more in hindsight than from an intentional design. It seems that my daily coding activities, which I’d been continuing with from before then, have attracted value through providential timing.
In terms of the idea of continuity between the artist’s work and image through the whole of their practice, though, that’s definitely a conclusion that I arrived at while thinking about ideal forms of digital photography during my research at IAMAS. In the summary of my master’s thesis, I wrote something like, “The image of the artist connects to the work during the process of distribution and, going forward, it’s up to the artists to connect value to that whole.” I feel like now I’m applying that idea, not to photography but to the field of creative coding. In that way, there’s a consistency to what I’m doing, and I think my daily coding and Generativemasks are both projects that fit within that.
Maeda: Finally, could you tell us about how Generativemasks will develop in the future?
Takawo: For me, the Generativemasks project is just beginning, and there are endless possibilities for tailoring it. It’s more about delivering the works further and wider than working on the pieces themselves, and the task most important to me now is the donation part. My view is that I won’t have wrapped up the project until that’s settled.
I personally think that the most compelling side of the story is the circulation of these 10,000 pieces made by an ordinary person doing creative coding every day, and how the vast sums obtained from the project will be donated. So, I feel a need to document that. I think it’ll end up being about how one guy confronts society and the system itself and gets batted about by them, and I’d like to bring that aspect in as a part of the work.
Maeda: What are you thinking about for your next project?
Takawo: Even with this project, it wasn’t some big idea that I’d ambitiously kept in mind for years—it was created through the combination of little thoughts and insights from the continuation of everyday life. It feels like a project that brought together non-aesthetic ideas of beauty and justice like, “I wish NFT art were more like this,” “maybe I could give back to the community,” and, “society might be better like this.” I’m aware that I’m not the kind of artist who can create new work through the process of preparing for an exhibition or something like that. Going forward, I’d like to continue daily coding as my life work and, like with Generativemasks, which sprouted from that practice, create through the accumulation of inspiration and things that I enjoy in my daily life.
*1: An online contest organized by Shunsuke Takawo in 2011, in which people competed to create the best IT puns—wordplay incorporating IT terminology. At the time, it picked up a cult following among certain enthusiasts, with huge numbers of posted submissions flying back and forth on social media.
*2: See Part 1 of the interview for more detail. The artist writes code and makes sketches every day, like a diary. You can browse through this activity on Shunsuke Takawo’s Twitter.
━ Interview conducted online
━ Editing and photography by Tomoko Yamada