In Conversation with Emi Kusano

Photo of Emi Kusano by Shuhei Shine
In Conversation with Emi KusanoIn Conversation with Emi Kusano


In Conversation with Emi Kusano

Photo of Emi Kusano by Shuhei Shine
In Conversation with Emi Kusano
Photo of Emi Kusano by Shuhei Shine

Emi Kusano, born in Tokyo in 1990, began her artistic journey as a street photographer on the streets of Harajuku in her teens, leading to an exhibit at the V&A Museum. As a multidisciplinary artist, she explores the intersections of retro-futurism and modern technological acceleration. Her unique AI-infused art has graced the cover of WWD Japan and has been featured in Christie's and Gucci auctions. 

Internationally recognized, her work has been exhibited at venues such as the Saatchi Gallery and the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa. It has been collected in more than a dozen countries around the world.

In addition to her visual arts career, Kusano is the lead singer and self-producer for Satellite Young, a band that creatively reinterprets 80s J-POP styles through a modern, technologically-driven, sci-fi lens. This innovative approach has garnered international recognition, including an appearance at SXSW 2017, and extends their creativity to installations.

In her own words, she explains:

“In my work, I explore the transient nature of memories through the lens of retro-futurism, melding the past's vision of the future with today's reality. This exploration springs from a fascination with the nostalgic allure of vintage science fiction and the timeless aesthetic of 60's ~90s pop culture.
Utilizing a blend of artificial intelligence and various mediums such as photography, music, anime, digital fashion, and installation, I create visual narratives that delve into the whimsical and sometimes melancholy interplay between memory and modernity. The choice of medium is integral to my exploration, as it mirrors the rapid technological advancements that continually shape and reshape our perceptions of the past and the future.
Inspired by the Japanese Animistic belief, my work is also an ode to the ever-evolving relationship between humanity and technology. It's a quest to understand how our collective nostalgia, fueled by the media and pop culture of yesteryears, influences our expectations and acceptance of the technology that propels us forward.”

On February 28th, Kusano will release her latest collection Melancholic Magical Maiden, curated by Art Blocks. According to the artist, “Melancholic Magical Maiden deconstructs the aesthetics of the ‘magical girl’ genre from ‘90s anime, where girls who possess magical abilities typically use them through an ideal alter ego into which they can transform.” The Exponential Dutch auction with settlement will take place on February 28th from 10 am PT to 11 am PT. The collection contains 300 pieces.

Techno-Animism #111

OpenSea: Can you tell us about your journey to becoming an AI artist?

Emi Kusano: I was not good at drawing or programming, but I always had an infinite desire to express myself. Discovering ChatGPT and the ability to “program” in natural language felt miraculous. Since early 2022, I've been creating prompts daily, leading to my "Neural Fad" series at Bright Moments, inspired by my teenage years as a street photographer.

Neural Fad #28

OpenSea: Can you walk us through how you integrate AI into your artistic process, from ideation to execution?

Emi Kusano: When creating post-photography, I primarily generate pieces using prompts. I detail the landscape I envision in Japanese, translate it, and then input it into the prompt. Sometimes, I blend images together to create something new. For “Pixelated Perception,” I combined realistic post-photography depicting scenes from 1990s Japan with pixelated, chemically inspired patterns.

I also use AI for ideation. For my coding project, “Melancholic Magical Maiden,” I directed the creative coder using images generated by Midjourney as references.

With the advent of various AI tools, my creation process is becoming increasingly diverse.

Furthermore, I often seek assistance from ChatGPT when writing prompts.

Pixelated Perception 001

OpenSea: Could you share with us how platforms like OpenSea have influenced your artistic trajectory and the opportunities they have provided?

Emi Kusano: My first OpenSea collection was my son's pixel art series "Zombie Zoo" in 2021. It changed my career trajectory, connecting me with collectors and artists worldwide, and even leading to the co-founding of the animation studio Shinsei Galverse with a collector, Devin Mancuso.

Zombie Zoo #229 Zombie Polar Bear

OpenSea: What inspired your forthcoming collection with Art Blocks, "Melancholic Magical Maiden”? What themes or concepts can we expect to see explored within it?

Emi Kusano: This collection, a weekend project since late 2022, is a fully on-chain piece, incorporating Japanese anime aesthetics and ironic subtitles that blend ‘90s magical heroine quotes with societal pressures on gender roles. It's the first time I've ventured into code generative art, made possible with the support of creative coder Yurika Sayo.

Melancholic Magical Maiden

OpenSea: Collaborations and community seem to be a recurring theme in your career, from your son's discovery on OpenSea to co-founding "Shinsei Galverse." How do these collaborations influence your artistic process and vision?

Emi Kusano: Collaboration is integral to my process. I thrive on forming teams to realize ideas, whether it's with subjects for photography, lyricists and singers for music, or the community for NFT projects. "Shinsei Galverse" and my current work with coders feel very much like collaborating with AI itself.

Melancholic Magical Maiden

OpenSea: Your work often merges elements of fantasy and melancholy. What draws you to these themes, and how do you infuse them into your AI-generated art?

Emi Kusano: I'm fascinated by the complexity of things and the non-singular nature of truth. The irreversible fact that we can't return to the past captivates me, as does the reflection on the transience of life and its inherent melancholy.

Melancholic Magical Maiden

OpenSea: With the rise of NFTs, there's been a surge of interest in digital art. How do you see the intersection of AI art and NFTs evolving in the future, and what opportunities and challenges does it present for artists?

Emi Kusano: The rise of NFTs has allowed me, a Japan-based artist, to hold exhibitions worldwide and make a living from my art. The ability to exhibit globally and directly connect with the community has been transformative. However, the most important aspect remains creating high-quality work.

I've explored various realms of digital art, from Profile Pictures (PFPs) and post-photography to generative art. Each area has its unique community and culture, each slightly differs from one another, which I find fascinating. This situation somewhat resembles how artists participating in art fairs differ from those in biennales. I aim to navigate these diverse intersections of art from multiple angles.

Digital art, especially involving AI, often faces the critique of not being "real" art. Yet, history has shown that what is initially rejected as art often becomes a significant part of art history. This pattern demonstrates how new technologies and modes of expression challenge and expand the traditional boundaries of art. Therefore, I firmly believe that I am at the forefront of contemporary art. Digital technologies and blockchain, in my view, serve to extend the nature of art, opening up new possibilities and avenues for exploration.

Melancholic Magical Maiden

OpenSea: Looking ahead, what are your aspirations for the future of your artistic career, both in terms of individual projects and broader impact within the AI art community?

Emi Kusano: I aspire to create physical works and delve into interactive and game art, maintaining my thematic focus, regardless of the medium. My ultimate goal is to leave a lasting legacy and become a star in the art world.

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