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Coding Asias: urbanism, chaos and artificial organisms in the work of Tesh Nakamura

Japanese generative coder Tesh Nakamura explores his unique blend of the organic, artificial and abstract.

by Manu SharmaPublished on : May 13, 2022

The artist Tesh Nakamura, who goes by “teshnakamura”, creates fascinating, even maddeningly complex artificial organisms out of code. However, “artificial” might not be the right word to use, even though “organic” certainly isn’t. As he explains, “I have been trying to create something that looks organic even if it is drawn by computer programs. But I also feel as though the word "organic" does not sit well with what I wish to express through my work. Instead, it should be a word that relates to lifeforms, the involved bustle of a city or the complexity of bacterial flora. Anyway, what I suppose I am trying to say is that it should serve the idea of something that is self-assembled, and does not involve any pre-established harmony. This idea I am trying to put forth must allow for something unexpected to happen, such as crime, error, confusion and noise, and my system must always possess the ability to regenerate itself, to solve its issues and restore a fine balance.” He explains that he relates this to the idea of “Asia”, or, more appropriately, of “Asias”.

01 min watch Just alive (with no particular aim) with Multi-Standard 20210718, 2021, Movie | STIRworld
Just alive (with no particular aim) with Multi-Standard 20210718, 2021, movie Video: Courtesy of teshnakamura

Nakamura tells STIR that he was born in Japan but has travelled the world a fair bit. Whenever he visits purportedly modern cities in countries such as the United States of America, or European nations, he finds that things seem to flow according to some pre-established sense of harmony. He continues, “But after I get back to Tokyo, I always find that the city itself is quite modern, but everything looks like basic lifeforms - at once single cellular and infinitely complex. Truthfully, I do not have a better word to express this than "Asia", and that's what I have been trying to create.” The artist’s Asias appear as though to be amoebas or paramecium, composed of data-made-visible. There is a highly sophisticated degree of complexity within each one of Nakamura’s creations that bestows a lifelike quality upon it, so much so that his pieces are ironically more realised than a great deal of scientific footage depicting real unicellular organisms may seem.

01 min watch Just alive (with no particular aim) with Multi-Standard 20210718 Recursive Compound Digital Microscope version, 2021, Movie|  teshnakamura | STIRworld
Just alive (with no particular aim) with Multi-Standard 20210718 Recursive Compound Digital Microscope version, 2021, movie Video: Courtesy of teshnakamura

Discussing his process, the artist says, “I use a Java program, which I coded myself in order to generate a shape for the Asia that I am currently working on. This is then developed through various parameters that I define as "seed" numbers. The format I work with is YYYYMMDDhhmm. For example, I would use “202203221653” for March 22, 2022, 16:53. It takes around 10 minutes to draw an Asia, so with that in mind, I can produce approximately 140-200 Asias a day.” With an output this extreme, the artist finds that he must be highly discerning with what he presents to the world, and one would imagine that the bulk of his creative engagement with his craft revolves around observation: he explains that certain Asias capture his attention and imagination a great deal more than others, and that these are the pieces that make it to his website at the end of the day.

01 min watch Just alive (with no particular aim) 20210720, 2021, Movie | STIRworld
Just alive (with no particular aim) 20210720, 2021, movie Video: Courtesy of teshnakamura

Nakamura decided to major in architectural design during his time in university and graduate school. He would find himself spending a great amount of time in the architectural lab, wherein he would come to develop a strong affinity for fractal geometry. He tells STIR, “I became deeply involved in studying fractal geometry, and learning every aspect of it. With fractal geometry, you can create these extremely organic forms that are almost indistinguishable from that which exists in nature.” Unsurprisingly, the artist mentions Benoit Mandelbrot as one of his chief inspirations. Mandelbrot, as some will already know, is the mathematician who coined the term “fractal”. The artist continues, saying, “all of this is possible through very simple mathematical theory. It’s fascinating to think that shapes and forms created through a computer program could ever be this organic. The general perception is, of course, quite to the contrary.” Nakamura is right in his assessment, and indeed, it is a major strength of his craft that he may be able to subvert this narrow perception.

01 min watch Just alive (with no particular aim) 20210910, 2021, Movie | STIRworld
Just alive (with no particular aim) 20210910, 2021, movie Video: Courtesy of teshnakamura

One may wonder whether or not there is a message behind Nakamura’s work, beyond his fascinating merging of the organic and digital. He mentions that indeed, there is, and expands on this, saying, “In some senses, I am trying to evoke alchemy, which was the practice that sought to convert metals into each other. If you think about it, my practice is very similar to alchemy, in that I am also trying to transmute that which is not precious, as in simple geometry, into that which is: the Asias. I suppose when all is said and done, whether it looks digital or organic, what binds it all together is dots. If you zoom into any image on the computer, it will inevitably be reduced to a set of dots on your screen.”

Artist Tesh Nakamura, 2022, image | STIRworld
Artist Tesh Nakamura, 2022, image Image: Courtesy of teshnakamura

Of late, the artist has developed something of a fascination with the emergent NFT art market. He mentions having tried out nearly every major marketplace while carrying out thorough research into which might suit his purposes the best. Currently, he has collections up on OpenSea in order to utilise the Ethereum chain, for the Tezos chain and SolSea, for the Solana chain. The artist is also preparing to present his material on Seabug, as one of their initially curated artists. He explains his approach to the NFT market, telling STIR, “I distinguish my presence on each marketplace through the kind of works I put up. OpenSea is generally where I present my newly released pieces, has become a site for older works, and I have a special collection up on SolSea.” Nakamura ends his interview with STIR by mentioning where he would like to go from here. “I don't want to limit myself to creating static images or even videos. I believe that contemporary art has infinite potential, and so do NFTs. I want to find the key that will unlock the potential of art right now: both for myself, and for all the other creatives out there,” he signs off.

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