Tranceflora: an interview with Sputniko!

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In an interview with Verse from May 2022, artist Sputniko! (real name Hiro Ozaki) discussed her journey as an artist and her latest exploration of the potential of non-fungible tokens (NFTs).

Sputniko! began her artistic career in 2007, after studying mathematics and computer science. She became interested in how technology shapes our future and decided to pursue a career as a musician, creating music videos and films.

Sputniko!, Menstruation Machine, 2010. Image courtesy of the owner.

Mimi Nguyen: You are a multi-media artist, working at the intersection of tech, art, and even bioengineering. You've been studying at Imperial College London and later at the Royal College of Art, how did this transformation come about?

Hiro Ozaki: I was a computer programmer. However, I became increasingly interested in how technology shapes our future and changes the way we live, think, and interact with each other. This led me to pursue a career as a musician, creating music videos and films. I started performing in London, and I started creating music videos and films. And then I started making objects that appeared in my films. That expanded to installations in different art museums and gallery spaces.

For the exhibition 'Magical Realism', Sputniko! brings us back to her project Tranceflora. The project was commissioned by Gucci. It was exhibited first at the Gucci Gallery in Tokyo, before being shown at Victoria and Albert Museum’s exhibition Neo Nipponica in 2016, and later acquired by the V&A Museum for its permanent collection.

Tranceflora is made with genetically engineered silk developed by scientists at the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences. The ensemble, consisting of a jacket, pants, and boots, is made from woven genetically engineered silk and showcases the "fantasy of bioengineering", as the artist said, in the fashion industry.

Previously an Assistant Professor at MIT Media Lab and the director of its Design Fiction Group, Sputniko! is known for her exploration of convergence between creative practices with technological innovation; Tranceflora is a prime example of this. Tranceflora was created in collaboration with a group of scientists led by Professor Hideki Sezutsu. The team worked with silkworms, introducing different kinds of DNA to produce new kinds of silk fabric that glowed in different colors.

Hiro Ozaki: I discovered Professor Sezutsu, who was doing really fascinating research after studying various scientific articles. And what he was attempting to do, was to work with silkworms. He was adding several types of DNA into silkworms in order to create new types of silk fabric. What's mesmerising is that, if you add the DNA of a luminous jellyfish or a glowing coral, you can create silk that glows green, red, or orange. And it was absolutely astonishing, incredibly beautiful, and mind-boggling that such an innovative fabric could be created through bioengineering. So I contacted professor Sezutsu to see the silk. The fabric was then sent to a kimono company called Hosoo, which is based in Kyoto and has been creating kimonos for 1300 years. So I proposed that we use this amazing new fabric to create a dress with this Kimoto craftsman.

Sputniko!, Tranceflora, 2015. Installation space seen through orange filter. Image courtesy of Gucci.

Sputniko! has recently been exploring the potential of NFTs and has been creating more works in this medium. She believes that NFTs have the potential to revolutionize the art world. In her own words, "rather than staying away from it, I'd like to explore the potential through doing and making."

Mimi Nguyen: Can you tell us more about the NFT works of Tranceflora?

Hiro Ozaki: Tranceflora is a series of photographs that we created from this dress. This time, I chose to produce NFTs from my photograph collection as a creative. NFT for me is for me, it's like an experimenting playground for me at the moment, when I first encountered the ideas behind NFT. It took some time for me to get my brain around it. But then I remember being so excited when I recognised their potential. For two or three days, it was difficult for me to sleep at night. But then I have this deep understanding and intuition that it is a system or a platform that could fundamentally transform how artists create their work, share it, create a community around it, or fundraise for it.

See the works of Sputniko! on Verse's exhibition "Magical Realism: Part I" on Wednesday 14 December at 6:00PM BST | 1:00PM ET

Mimi Nguyen

Mimi is a Creative Director at verse. She is a assistant professor at Central Saint Martins, University of Arts London where she leads the CSM NFT Lab. Her background is New Media Art, having previously studied at the Berlin University of the Arts (UdK) and Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. She now also teaches at Imperial College London, Faculty of Engineering, where she leads Mana Lab - a “Future...
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Sputniko! (Hiro Ozaki) is a multi-media artist and filmmaker creating works on themes of gender, feminism and technology. Her work has been exhibited at the MoMA, Pompidou Metz, V\&A, the Cooper Hewitt, and she was awarded Vogue Japan Woman of the Year in 2013. Sputniko! taught at the MIT Media Lab as an Assistant Professor and was the founder of Design Fiction Group from 2013 to 2017. She is...
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