5 Questions to Sputniko!
In our current exhibition “Creatures Made to Measure” we present a project by the Japanese-British artist Sputniko!. Her oeuvre draws on a strident Japanese Pop aesthetic and narrates modern myths. In the process she combines an artistic with a scientific approach in order to address social phenomena. I was able to ask the very busy cosmopolitan five questions.
You are an artist and designer, and currently working as a project Associate Professor at the Institute of Industrial Science at Tokyo University, where they opened a new design lab called “RCA-IIS design lab” which is a collaboration project with the Royal College of Art, London. You are also a well-known popstar and in 2013 were chosen by Japanese VOGUE as Woman of the Year. How do all these various facets relate to your artistic work?
I don’t set myself in one particular position. As a result, I feel that I have more freedom without being tied up with the rules on Art, Design, Pop Culture or Academic communities. I also believe that having knowledge in a variety of fields extends my range of expressions, resulting in a unique sense of creative style.
Your work “Red Silk of Fate – Tamaki’s Crush” that we are presenting in the exhibition addresses the legend of the “Red Thread of Fate”, which is widespread in Asia. It says that certain people who are meant for each other are connected by an invisible red cord. You teamed up with scientists from the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences (NIAS) in Japan to translate this myth into reality. You created an actual “red (silk) thread of fate”. In the exhibition we thus see both the video in Japanese pop aesthetics and two red-glowing cocoons together with a silk thread from a genetically manipulated silkworm. Can you tell us more about the background to the project and your collaboration with the NIAS?
Science has long challenged and demystified the world of mythologies… however I began to think that perhaps the recent developments in biotechnologies is almost recreating our mythologies in the future. I always wanted to explore this possibility, which led me to create „Red Silk of Fate – Tamaki’s Crush.“ Collaborating with Prof. Hideki Sezutsu from NIAS, his team genetically engineered the silkworm. They injected a silkworm egg with DNA that produces oxytocin, known as the socially-bonding love hormone, which is released when a person is romantically in love and a DNA from a red coral that produces the Red Fluorescent Protein (RFP) which makes the silk glow red. Once the silkworm is genetically modified, it produces red fluorescent silk, rich in Oxytocin.
In your work you combine different fields such as art and science, pop and technology and social and gender topics. What kind of a vision for the future do you have in mind?
I started out as an amateur pop musician on MySpace, then began to post my music videos on Youtube, gathered my followers/helpers on Twitter, fundraise on Kickstater….etc, so I feel like the social media really helped me create the “Sputniko!” persona. I think that the social media is really changing how young artists/designers realize their ideas and collaborate with each other. My vision for the future is more people connecting/collaborating, and more amateurs/young people experimenting with radical ideas through these platforms.
You publish your videos in social networks and on video platforms. What role does the digital space play for you and your work?
I want my work to be accessible to as many people as possible. When I use a digital platform, my audience would be unlimited. On the other hand if my work is only displayed in museums or galleries, people who visit there are the only audience for my work. I often say that I design to stimulate discussions I like to see people start to imagine and discuss about the subject that I bring about through my work. Choosing a subject and creating the story, inspire its theme with music and video, which can be posted on social media venues, such as YouTube, Vimeo, Instagram, etc, to reach a mass audience.
In March 2016, during the Setouchi Triennale Sputniko!’s Teshima 8 Million Lab, a permanent facility on the Japanese island Teshima opened. How does the project relate to your work “Red Silk of Fate – Tamaki’s Crush” and what is its purpose?
Teshima 8 Million Lab is the first Shinto shrine worshipping a genetically engineered life. We renovated a sixty year old Japanese house, turned into the Tamaki’s room and her DIY lab. In this project I wanted to look at modern science from the perspective of Yaoyorozu no kami – a belief in Shinto Animism. It literally means “8 Million Gods” but its actual meaning is “an infinite number of gods”. Yaoyorozu no kami is the expression of the held Shinto belief, that a spirit/life resides with everything within the universe. I thought that we could use this ancient belief to open up an alternative dialogue about how we may perceive genetically engineered life and creating new life forms.